Incantations Reissue Interview - Stuart Maconie

July 25, 2011
Radcliffe and Maconie
BBC 6 Music

Stuart Maconie (SM) interviewing Mike (MO) by phone from the Bahamas about the 2011 reissue of Incantations:

SM: This is BBC 6 Music I'm Stuart Maconie and I've had a lot of correspondance coming in throughout the show which is testament how many of you are very interested in one Mike Oldfield. Incantations, Mike's album of '78 it was initially issued is getting a deluxe remastering and reissue which has prompted us again to have a look at this terrific record. I'll play a little bit of Incantations part three then I'll be talking to Mike who'll be joining me live from the Bahamas.

[Plays excerpt of Incantations part three]

SM: That's the opening section of Incantations part 3 by Mike Oldfield who I very much hope can join me now. Hello Mike.

MO: Hello there, can you hear me alright?

SM: Yes! Yes I can.

MO: Jolly good.

SM: Yes I can, I think I ought to ask you to tell us where you are and what it's like there.

MO: Well I moved to the Bahamas about three years ago now. It's wonderful, the only downside is sometimes we get threatened by hurricanes, but the houses are kind of built to withstand them but otherwise it's great and I've got a studio here and carrying on working as usual and can't complain at all.

SM: Is that a part of the world you've always liked because you were in Spain for many years weren't you?

MO: I was in Spain for a couple of years, yes. What happened was some chap turned up with a big coloured brochure and said "you should go to the Bahamas, it's really nice there" and I thought, OK, came over here and liked it so much we ended up moving here permanently

SM: OK, that seems reasonable enough doesn't it, yeah, and, has Bahamanian music gripped you at all? I mean, what's Bahamanian music like?

MO: Well, there's one local radio station that I listen to and whenever I'm driving around I'm so impressed. Sometimes we go down to Jamaica which is not far from here and that's reggae of course but they still have calypso here you know, you hear that it's died out you know but here it's kind of evolved and taken on modern technology, ProTools that kind of thing. Some of the artists are just superb, but the trouble is that they never say who it is on the radio so I couldn't give you the name of anybody apart from going down to the radio station and going "Who was that?". I really like that one.

SM: ProTools Calypso is a fascinating concept!

MO: [laughs] You should check it out, I'll send you a link to the website

SM: Great, OK! We can play it on the freak zone on Sundays... Ehm, Incantations then, tell me about this, 'cause weekend. Incantations we played, pretty much in it's entirety once, or certainly three sections of it as our featured album. It is, I mean obviously Tubular Bells looms largest in your canon that's always bound to be the case inevitably but for a lot of people Incantations is a real favourite of theirs. Looking back at it now, with this reissue, what do you think of it?

MO: Well I think that at the end of, part one of my musical life because I'd had Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge, Ommadawn. By then things were getting a little bit difficult with my record company - Richard Branson and Virgin - and things were changing really. My record sales weren't in the mega millions like they were before and I think Richard was looking for something new so we kind of drifted apart and of course they went on to start a whole new thing with the punk rockers and during the recording of Incantations, which was three years, at the end of it I underwent a complete change, I went through this rebirth experience, on this seminar and I suppose the end result of that was a complete change of musical direction which was represented by the track "Guilty" which is now included on this remastering. On purpose because it kind of represents how everything changed and what it changed to. So it's the end of part one and the beginning of part two really.

SM: So, just to go back to that for a moment, so this was the Exegesis seminar. And some people say that you can actually hear the change in you, in your personality, over the course of Incantations. Is that right?

MO: Errr, as I remember, and you've got to remember it was a long time ago, 33 odd years ago, I wanted to make a double album and I'd kind of got three sides together and then during the recording of the fourth album I went through the rebirth experience and so there could be an element of truth in that maybe at the very end you can hear it's slightly different but the big change is represented by the guilty track.

SM: Which for people who don't know was a hit single

MO: Yes I found myself on Top Of The Pops, very surprised

SM: What was that like?

MO: Oh, being a mainstream pop hit? I found it quite amusing you know. I liked it a lot, it was quite different to being the sort of lonely hermit-like person up on the Bradnor hill in Herefordshire you know with his studio and refusing to answer the telephone. I used to put millions of cushions on it because everyone was trying to get in contact with me and I didn't want to talk to anybody.

SM: No, this would be around the time of when you decamped up there and made Hergest Ridge wouldn't it?

MO: Yes, and Ommadawn at the same place and then moved down to Gloucestershire that's where I had converted a stable block into a studio and recorded Incantations there.

SM: Yeah 'cos Guilty, the most striking thing about it is, it's kind of a disco record isn't it?

MO: Well yes, I upped sticks and went to New York and booked the best session men I could. That's one of the reasons why the remix of guilty is as it is because there've already been mixes done with lots of echo and effects. If you just simply play the track as it was played by the musicians, like dry, almost bare bones of it, it still sounds great so I thought rather than do another overproduced or produced mix I'd just do a bare bones mix which is what that is. So you can hear the actual performance, you know you can zoom in. And that's what was actually played, without any frills or any tinkering you know in the studio.

SM: Well, actually my idea Mike, I was going to play a bit of Canon for two marimbas which is a beautiful thing, 'cos tell people a bit about the extras are that they can get on Incantations now.

MO: Well, actually the Canon for two vibraphones is part of it but there are a few - undiscovered gems if you like. The trouble was with the Incantations multitrack masters - now these are magnetic tape, and I've moved around so many times and tapes have been in one store and the end result is a lot of the tapes got lost. In fact the track you just played, I searched high and low I could never find it anywhere, obviously it doesn't exist any more. There were tracks that the edits had fallen apart where you stuck the magnetic tape together with editing tape which is basically sellotape and they'd fallen apart and the tape had perished, so you get holes in the tracks. There are bits that I'd never found so I couldn't remix it all. We were very lucky with Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn the masters have been much better preserved and Incantations unfortunately suffered from decay over time, stored improperly, been to different storage rooms, suffered a winter in one kind of shed somewhere. But the good side is that I found a few - outtakes if you like - things that I was tinkering with at the time. There was a beautiful piano improvisation, I can't even remember doing it. I do remember having a beautiful Bosendorfer piano and sitting there I must have obviously switched on the tape recorder and just played for a few minutes. It's that kind of thing you've got the bare bones Guilty mix, you've got Piano Improvisation and you've got - there's a bit of Northumbrian pipe playing. I remember I spent an entire year learning how to play those Northumbrian pipes, you can't just pick them up and play them, you have to build them you have to make your own reeds from bits of cane with sealing wax and putting your hair in the little slot where the reed makes so I made my own reeds and I leaned how to play them - not very well. And I found the track of me playing Northumbrian pipes.

SM: Well all these things are on there on disk 2 and I think, given that you mention Guilty,and what a transitional work piece of work it is, how you have stripped it back to the original session mens recording lets have a little bit of the new mix of Guilty.

[plays excerpt of Guilty remix]

SM: That's the new mix of Guilty which is included on the deluxe remastering of Mike Oldfields Incantations. Mike is with me - well not with me in person Mikes in the Bahamas - I'm in sunny Manchester, Mike is I imagine in the appreciably sunnier Bahamas. The reason I like Incantations so much in your canon of work if you were is it's really diverse in terms of the styles on there it's sometimes folky, sometimes orchestral, sometimes it reflects your interest in the American minimalists like Philip Glass and Steve Reich doesn't it it's a very diverse record.

MO: Well, I suppose it's whatever occurred to me at the time. I've never been one to stick to one style. I have a broad range of interests, well I did at the time of music. Eveything from folk to hard rock I mean it's wonderful to hear "The Who", I heard them just before I came on. Of course I was young enough to see the birth of all that and be sort of part of it, only on the fringes.

SM: But you were pretty much a jobbing Rock'n'Roller from the age of about 15 of 16 weren't you?

MO: Oh yeah I was in the back of the transit van up and down the M1, not that it existing then. We had some of it, they were just about building the motorways then when we were going up and down there. And meeting in the middle of the night at the Blue Boar services, bumping into other bands you know coming in and out. We always went to the transport park 'cos it was cheaper there. Nice fry up at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning.

SM: Well you know what Mike, you've just been kind enough to send me that link to these Bahamanian Calypso people. I should say that if you can get the BBC archiver, Peter Paphides, the journalist who's just done a terrific documentary which went out on Radio 4 about a week and a half ago and I'm sure you can still find it called "Late Nights at the Blue Boar" about the Blue Boar services and its central importance to rock culture at the day because that's where bands were hanging out.

MO: Oh it was, yes, definitely, it was kind of nice because there were some real big bands you'd bump into now. I'm sure I bumped into people like Black Sabbath, Genesis, Pink Floyd, certainly Free. All these people were doing the same thing, you'd go up and down and up and down the country playing at all the colleges and things.

SM: I love the idea of you and Roger Waters and Tony Iommi and Peter Gabriel sharing sausage, chips and egg at the Blue Boar I love that.

MO: [Laughs] "Paying Your Dues"

SM: Yes, paying your dues is what it was called wasn't it. So many people have got in touch from all over the world let me just look from Terry who's in Australia, we have a gentleman who's got in touch from Spain, we have people who've got in touch from Korea from rather closer at home we have Stella in Lichfield and Stella wants to know, before I let you go Mike, you had a project at some point involving the Telecaster guitar, is that still ongoing?

MO: How did you hear about that! That was supposed to be secret!

SM: Aaaah, Six music spies are everywhere, is it a secret or can you tell us anything?

MO: I did have an idea of making an album just using a Telecaster guitar

SM: That sounds good!

MO: But then I sort of cheated, I got a Telecaster guitar with special humbucker pickups and then I thought well that's not really a Telecaster, that's more like a Gibson Les Paul or something but I will tell you one thing, I've still got the ideas from that and I've just done a recording session remotely by Skype with one of the best session drummers in Los Angeles he's called John Robinson and that worked out really well which means that now from my sort of master control centre in the Bahamas I can do sessions anywhere in the world you know using internet and I'm very excited about that. There's other things in the works, working with another musician who lives over here this side of the Atlantic doing some club remixes of old material. There's some very early discussions about a possible live show next year. Meanwhile I'm playing with my kids and I've got two beautiful lion fish down at the end of my house and I go and see them every day. I have to watch out they don't come out and sting me.

SM: Forgive me for my ignorance, what's a lion fish?

MO: You should look it up on the internet, they're very beautiful fish. They apparently do a kind of hypnotic trance dance before they attack so as long as they're not doing that you know you're quite safe. They've got long sort of whispy fins almost like a veil, so they do a dance of the seven veils before they kind of attack you. And we've got baby barracudas here and lots of nurse sharks. It's quite interesting, slightly different from following my brother on the River Thames going fishing you know, we've got very big fish here.

SM: Yes, so a lot of people want to know about new material so there may be a possibility of some new stuff next year and live shows, is that right then?

MO: Possible, just early stages, I can't say any more than that at the moment. I'm still here, and I'm still working and producing.

SM: And in the meantime of course, if your battered copy of Incantations is ready for a trade-in then you can get this fantastic new version of it - well you can get all kinds, there's a double vinyl edition, there's a 3 CD - or one double CD and a DVD edition and I think that's out tomorrow I think I'm right in saying in the UK. Mike it's lovely to talk to you, thanks for spending time in doing this.

MO: A Great pleasure, I'll send you the link to the local radion station perhaps you can hook up with them, lovely music I tell you.

SM: Thanks Mike, bye bye

MO: OK, Bye

Mike Oldfield
Mike Oldfield