Despite the infrequency of Oldfield's live performances, you would have expected the Arena to be sold out for tonight's "Then & Now" take on a stunning career. But either Oldfield's fans are as shy and reluctant to venture out as he is, or he does not command the sort of pulling power he did 16 years ago when a very young version of this writer saw him here last.
Whatever, with a two-thirds full Arena (would not the Royal Albert Hall have been a better bet?), Oldfield treated us to an exemplary show of progressive musicianship. His on-stage demeanour, one of near embarrassment at times, and the intricate nature of his music means that this is hardly a rock 'n' roll spectacular, but his fans make more noise than any hard rock crowd I've ever heard.
From the opening strains of "Songs From The Distant Earth" material, to the inevitable climactic tolling of the Tubular Bells, this was a magical spectacle. A light show helped the sometimes ambient journey, whilst the predominantly female make-up of his band was most pleasing on the eye, especially bassist Carrie Melbourne!
"Ommadawn Part 1" drew rousing cheers, whilst Pepsi Demacque (once a backing singer for Wham!) handled the likes of "Shadow On The Wall" with some sturdiness. Of course, Oldfield will forever be synonymous with one theme and it was the melding of a snippet of "Tubular Bells" with the more techno-inspired "Tubular Bells III" that was the highlight. The haunting "The Inner Child", another high spot for Demacque, seemingly at odds with the metallic "Outcast", with the finale of "Far Above The Clouds" was a stunning climax.
The encores of the always delightful "Moonlight Shadow" and "Family Man" proved that Oldfield is as adept at the pop format as he is with lengthier material, before he returned to the Bells one more time - a fitting end to an awesome night.
Mike Oldfield Tubular.net