Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells - Review
← 286 album.png 288 →

critics' view

Who could fail to be impressed by the scope and breadth of this work – the work of a teenager? Since 13, he had been a folk-rocker, was involved in making albums by 15, all the while building the ideas in his head that would come to fruition after a frustratingly long gestation period as “Tubular Bells”. Painstakingly, the young lad plays almost everything himself, building layer after layer with acoustic guitar, bass guitar, electric guitar, Farfisa organ, Hammond B3 organ, Lowrey organs, flageolet, fuzz guitars, glockenspiel, piano, mandolin, piano, percussion, tape manipulations, timpani, vocals, plus tubular bells. The very thought of it all blows my mind. He eventually found support for his bold vision in Richard Branson, who heard the potential in artistic and commercial terms. “If no-one else will put it out”, thought Richard at the time, “we’ll start something called Virgin Records”. The wily operator invited John Peel to dinner and key support was duly gained [he’ll do anything for a quality glass of red that boy]. On his Radio 1 show, Peel played side 1 in its entirety – and so the momentum for the LP started.

Stylistically, the album weaves a diverse musical tapestry – pop, rock, folk, classical, prog – with tones which veer between darkness and light, sometimes ominous, sometimes carefree. Moviemakers saw potential and, by the end of the year, the opening segment had been snared by the producers of the supernatural horror film, “The Exorcist” – a box-office smash which propelled “Tubular Bells” into the funny-money stakes.

Long after the album has gone, it’s the opening gambit which remains memorable, as does the spoken word of Vivian Stanshall, who plays the role of “Master of Ceremonies” at the end of part one, listing the instruments played in this section, each time followed by an exaggerated playing of said instrument. Stanshall was around due to the fact that the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band were also recording at Richard Branson’s Manor studio at this time – this was one of many happy co-incidences in this storyline. The set of tubular bells that were used on the album had been left by an instrument hire company after John Cale's sessions for “Academy in Peril”. Seeing an opportunity, Mike requested that they be retained – fate had intervened! Having tried to produce a particularly loud note from the bells, using both the standard leather-covered and bare-metal hammers, engineer Tom Newman resorted to a use of a normal heavier claw hammer to produce the desired sound intensity. This certainly paid off – those bells seem like they are right beside me in my music room. Fate had a further part to play when Stanshall humourously accentuated his “tubular bells” shout-out – so tickled was Mike that the working titles of Opus One and Breakfast in Bed were soon ditched.

Before he got on board with Branson, Mike was on the verge of quitting the UK for a safe career as a state musician in the U.S.S.R. Isn’t it amazing what fate can do?

The Jukebox Rebel external-link.png

A one-man work-in-progress website, aiming for ~10,000 album reviews, ~200,000 track ratings and a whole lotta charts, all from my own collection.
thejukeboxrebel.com external-link.png

Care to share?

(if so, thanks!)

© The Jukebox Rebel 2005-2020. All rights reserved. Third-party trademarks and content are the property of their respective owners, and subject to their own copyright terms and conditions. See the website links provided in each case.