Tim Cross Q&A

November, 2007
Lars Tängmark

Lars Tängmark: How come you began playing with Mike Oldfield? Were you in bands before 1979, and was this your debut as a pro musician?

Time Cross: I met Mike in a studio called THE BARGE STUDIO in Little Venice, London in 1979. It was co-owned by Tom Newman (who as you know produced the first couple of albums for Mike) who was a mate of mine. I was a freelance musician then, mainly writing and recording TV and Radio jingles. I'd played in a couple of bands by then, but was more of a recording musician. Certainly, the first gigs I did with Mike were considerably more grown up than I'd done before.

After the Exposed tour you joined the Adverts. It's not what one would expect to happen after having finished a Mike Odfield tour, to have a call to join a punk band! How did this happen, and what do you prefer? Prog or punk?

I was introduced to TV Smith by Tom Newman, who was producing their second album "Cast of Thousands", because it needed keyboards on it. I liked TV very much; also I really enjoy working in very different spheres of music concurrently, and nothing could be more different than those two styles.....Oldfield's shortest track in those days was an album side (25 minutes), and punk performers tend to sneer at tunes longer than 2 minutes, so from that perspective it was most interesting. As for having a favourite, it never comes to that....every musical genre has it's fantastic moments, and I'd never want to chose between styles. Why should I? The reason I've stayed working for so long is because I've remained versatile.

When you began recording and playing with Mike, were you familiar with the music he'd recorded 1973-79? What is your thoughts on albums like Incantations ans Platinum?

Yes, I was a big fan of MO since Tubular Bells; I was very impressed that he'd written, recorded and played nearly everything himself, and was very interested in learning how to do the same myself. I really loved Incantations....I thought the structure of that album was amazing. I learnt the whole of side 3 before I audtioned for him, and got the job immediately. I would have appeared on Platinum, because I was working with him at that point, but unfortunatly broke my wrist the day before the start of that album, so Mike and Pete Lemur did the keys on that one.

Around the time you began recording with Mike his music underwent changes. On both QE2 and Five Miles Out there are programmed rhythms and heavy use of vocoder. Since there are several names (yours among them) in the credits for a lot of songs on those albums, I've always assumed that Mike let his co-musicians have a lot of input, and that this is why QE2 and FMO sound so different from his other records. Was it like that? Apart from playing your instruments, what input did you, Morris Pert, Maggie or Rick Fenn have on the music recorded on those albums?

Mike was interested in moving on from his long compositions; I'm sure you would feel the same after Incantations.....it's such an epic, that it's only natural that he'd want to do single length songs, and collaborate with other musicians. I'd say I didn't contribute much to QE2 because the producer of that one (can't remember now) played keys and provided quite a lot himself. I originated and wrote the nonsense words; a trick he adopted and used subsequently...I always liked music that you can't understand the words, so quasi African words worked well. I've recently produced 4 albums of Indian Bhujans with Dana Gillespie, where the words are in Sancrit, and lovely they sound too. Then you can really feel what the MUSIC is telling you. The others used their influence to a certain degree, with percussive ideas, and of course Maggie can sing anything and had a good way of bringing tunes written on gtr or keys to life, but I think that album was different because the producer had a large say in it. Actually, it's my least favourite MO album...it lacks the magic of the others in my opinion. Not that it matters...even Beethoven has his duff moments!

Your CV says "MD and keyboards for Mike Oldfield". Watching the recently released "Live in Montreux" DVD it's apparent that you had a central part in the "group" at the time, but what was it exactly that you did as a musical director?

I knew every part for every musician...by that time I knew the music so well I knew what Mike would do in practically any situation. Also, it's important that the front man turns his back on the band to face the crowd, so it's important that someone is in charge of cues, tempos etc. One time when the fairlite sampler which was essential broke down and I was able to revoice all the sounds on all the other keys simply because I knew the material so well, I could have done it all on a rusty old piano if neccesary. It's very important that a front man can rely on an MD to make sure cues are sent out to other musicians, whist he's concentrating on his own performance, and relationship with the audience.

Around the time when Five Miles Out was released I was 10 years old, and I loved the album instantly. I remember studying the gatefold sleeve for hours, and I remember the colourful tracksheet that credits Tarus II to "Mike Oldfield Groop". Somehow I got the impression that Mike Oldfield now had a band proper. I'm still kind of disappointed that there wasn't a "groop" for the next album (Crises, 1983). I think the two albums you were on sounds more like a band than a solo artists. The musicianship is great and there's an energy that I think Mike's later records lacked. Now to the question; Was there ever talk of a proper "Mike Oldfield band"? Did you, Rick or Morris expect the colaboration with Mike to extend beyond next tour or the next album?

AOh, I think there was a group feeling for quite some time, certainly between 1981 and 1984. I left then because I was 29 and needed to move on to find out what my own musical style was all about....I felt I was losing my own identity a bit, because, as I said, I understood everything about his music, and increasingly less about my own. Besides, I think I'd done nearly 250 concerts by then, and it was time for me to move on, Listening to his albums after I left, I get the impression he's trying desperately to be what he.s not; a writer of singles. He's best at the longer symphonic style of music, so actually my favourite albums of his are TB, Ommadawn, and Incantations. Also, I must say that Mike's insistance in revisiting TB again and again somewhat pathetic. If he wanted to revisit anything, I think Ommadawn is a better candidate.

The fairlight computer. I hear it all over Five Miles Out. Did you operate it? Or did Mike do that himself? What do you think of the Fairlight and its possibilities? At the time, it must have been a dream!

Yeah the fairlite was awesome at the time. In fact I used it on the first jingle on British TV, at the time when only Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and my publisher Weinbergers had one. Initially MO operated it, but on the last couple of tours I was in charge of it. Acutually, at the time I had no concept of how important sampling would be because I didn't own one (they originally cost £14,000 then they went up to £30,000! Not long after I bought one of the first AKAI 900 for £1800 which I've still got) Obviously, since I've done quite a bit of dance music in the 1990's,I got to understand the sheer scope of samplers, but at the time I was too busy performing on the thing to get into it properly at the time.

Family Man. It's got input from the whole "groop" according to the album credits. Who wrote what? Was anyone the "main writer"? And secondly, who was the lyrics about? Mike has said that the lyrics come from an experience one of his band musicians. Is that's an improper question? ;-)

I wrote the majority of the words of Family Man, and it was based on Rick Fenn,who when offered the services of groupies etc would decline because he was "A family man"....it became a bit of a tour joke, so when we were searching for lyrical ideas, which were not Mike's strength I wrote the main part, Later, MO and Maggie Riley wrote an extra verse, which I really hated, because I'd left it in the air whether he would or wouldn't, and they'd rather artlessly pointed out the obvious. I felt completely vindicated when Hall and Oates left that verse off their version (Check it out!)

Orabidoo. This is one of my favorite tracks ever. It's the second group composition of the album. Who wrote the "main part" (ie the one after the quiet intro)? It doesn't sound like Mike's style of composing. I've also heard somewhere that Rick Fenn wrote "Ireland's Eye" (the last part of Orabidoo). Is that correct?

I really can't remember who did what on that track except I know that I wrote the Fugue bit, so the bit that sounds like Bach is me. But yeah, I think Rick and Maggie wrote the last bit. I haven't heard any of this stuff for years....musicians very often don't go back to old material, and I don't think I've heard ANY of it since 1985......perhaps I should give it a go some time............

What did you think of Mike Oldfield as a musician and as a person?

He's a great musician but a very complicated person...practically autistic in my opinion, which explains why he works as he does.

How come you stopped playing with with Mike, and what did you do next (musically that is)?

As I said earlier, I wanted to investigate my own music....and I think we were both a bit tired of each other....I worked with The Adverts, other punk bands, Dana Gillespie, TV jingles...all sorts of thing. Never stopped since, either.

Was Mike's music difficult to play? I know you did live versions of Ommdawn and Tubular Bells. These are very "busy" pieces and ther certainly weren't composed with live performances in mind. Was it enjoyable to play these pieces?

Yes, they were quite difficult, because firstly they are in odd time signitures (TB starts in 15/8 and there are sections in Incantations that go 6/8, 5/8,6/8,2/4/6/8,5/8/6/8,5/8/,then do the same in a different key all through the 12 keys; secondly, a lot of things on keyboard were recorded at half time and I had to learn them in real time, so it's as complex as classical music, but consequently it's great when it works.

From browsing your website (www.differentplanet.biz), I understand that you do a lot of commercial assignments, jingles etc (correct me if I'm wrong). Another great musician, Karl Jenkins, did the same when his band Soft Machine folded in the late 80s. Did you learn anything from Mike Oldfield that is useful today in your work?

A certain amount of recording techniques I suppose, but Mike has got none of the brevity required in writing short pieces of advertising music, so not much influence in that area. Thing is, I've been mixing with very good musician all my adult life, and he's only one influence. Tim Renwick, now he's a real influence, but that another story.

On the inner sleeve of Five Miles Out there are picture from (what I assume is) Mike's home studio. There's a room with tiled walls. Is this shot from Mike's studio, and if so, was the room used for recording?

Yeah, it's Mike's Control Room, next door's the studio bit. Tiles for live, cork for dead. The outdoor shot was taken on a really cold day and took too long.....

I understand it very well if you don't remember or don't have the information I'm looking for. If you run into any other of the folks who were in the "groop", be sure and tell them that Five Miles Out was a truly outstanding album, and I'm sure they all contributed.

Oh, and by the way;

Everyone takes their shirt off to play "Punkadiddle" on the Montreux DVD, but you don't. I think it's because you have good taste, but perhaps there was another reason? ;-)

It's funny, you're not the only person to notice I didn't take me top off....nothing signicant, just naturally modest. Also since that bit of film has lasted that long I'm quite glad I didn't!

Mike Oldfield Tubular.net
Mike Oldfield Tubular.net