The Story Behind the Music
Part One Part Two
Tubular Bells is the debut studio album by English musician Mike Oldfield, released on 25 May 1973 as the first album on Virgin Records. Oldfield, who was 19 years old when it was recorded, played almost all the instruments on the mostly instrumental album.
The album initially sold slowly, but gained worldwide attention in December 1973 when its opening theme was used for the soundtrack to the horror film The Exorcist. This led to a surge in sales which increased Oldfield's profile and played an important part in the growth of the Virgin Group. It stayed in the top ten of the UK Albums Chart for one year from March 1974, during which it reached number one for one week. It peaked at number three on the US Billboard 200, and reached the top position in Canada and Australia. The album has sold over 2.7 million copies in the UK and an estimated 15 million worldwide.
An orchestral version produced by David Bedford was released in 1975 as The Orchestral Tubular Bells. Oldfield has recorded three sequels: Tubular Bells II (1992), Tubular Bells III (1998), and The Millennium Bell (1999). For the album's 30th anniversary Oldfield re-recorded the album as Tubular Bells 2003. A remastered edition was released in 2009. Its contribution to British music was recognised when Oldfield played extracts during the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in London.
Oldfield learned to play the guitar at an early age, and was playing in folk clubs with school friends by the age of 12 or 13. His teenage years were marred by trouble in the family home, and to escape from his problems Oldfield would spend many hours in his room practising the guitar and composing instrumental pieces, becoming an accomplished player. He formed a short-lived folk duo called the Sallyangie with his sister Sally, and after they broke up he became the bass player for the Whole World, a band put together by former Soft Machine member Kevin Ayers. The Whole World recorded their album Shooting at the Moon (1970) at Abbey Road Studios over a period of several months in 1970, and the 17-year-old Oldfield was fascinated by the variety of instruments available in the studios, which included pianos, harpischords, a Mellotron and various orchestral percussion instruments. When the group did not have a recording session booked until midday, he would arrive at the studios early and spend hours during the morning experimenting with the different instruments and learning how to play each of them.
The Whole World broke up in mid-1971 and Ayers joined Gong for three months as a touring member of the band. While he was away he lent Oldfield a two-track Bang & Olufsen Beocord 1⁄4" tape recorder. Oldfield modified the recorder by blocking off the erase head of the tape machine, which allowed him to record onto one track, bounce the recording onto the second, and record a new instrument onto the first track, thus overdubbing his playing one instrument at a time and effectively making multi-track recordings. In his flat in Tottenham in north London, Oldfield recorded demos of four tracks he had been composing in his head for some years, using the tape recorder, his guitar and bass, some toy percussion instruments, and a Farfisa organ borrowed from the Whole World's keyboardist David Bedford. The demos comprised three shorter melodies (early versions of what would become the sections titled "Peace", "Bagpipe Guitars", and "Caveman" on Tubular Bells 2003 (2003)), and a longer piece he had provisionally titled "Opus One". Oldfield stated that he had been inspired to write a long instrumental piece after hearing Septober Energy (1971), the only album by Centipede. He was also influenced by classical music, and by A Rainbow in Curved Air (1969) by experimental composer Terry Riley, on which Riley played all the instruments himself and used tape loops and overdubs to build up a long, repetitive piece of music.
Late in 1971 Oldfield joined the band of Arthur Louis who were recording demos at The Manor Studio. The studio was being constructed in the former squash court of an old manor house in Shipton-on-Cherwell, Oxfordshire, which had recently been bought by the young entrepreneur Richard Branson and which was being turned into a residential recording facility run by his music production team of Tom Newman and Simon Heyworth. Oldfield was shy and socially awkward, but struck up a friendship with the two producers after they heard his guitar playing. Oldfield asked Newman to listen to his demos, but they were in his Tottenham flat, so one of Louis' roadies drove Oldfield to London and back to retrieve them. Newman and Heyworth made a copy of the demos, and promised Oldfield that they would speak to Branson and his business partner Simon Draper about them. After the album was released, Newman said he preferred the demo versions: "They were complete melodies in themselves – with intros and fade-outs or ends. I liked them very much and was a little nonplussed when Mike strung them all together."
Oldfield spent much of 1972 working with his old bandmates from the Whole World on their solo projects, while simultaneously trying to find a record label interested in his demos. Oldfield approached EMI, CBS, and various other labels, but all the companies rejected him, believing the piece to be unmarketable without vocals. Increasingly frustrated with the record company rejections and short of money, Oldfield heard that the Soviet Union paid musicians to give public performances, and was at the point of looking through the telephone directory for the phone number of the Soviet embassy when Draper called him with an invitation to dinner with Branson and himself on Branson's houseboat moored in London. Over dinner Branson told Oldfield that he liked the demos, and wanted Oldfield to spend a week at the Manor recording "Opus One".
Oldfield recorded "Opus One" during his one allotted week at the Manor in November 1972. It was recorded on an Ampex 2-inch 16-track tape recorder with the Dolby noise-reduction system, which was the Manor's main recording equipment at the time. To create his work Oldfield asked Virgin for various instruments to be hired, which included guitars, various keyboards and percussion instruments. Oldfield has recounted differing stories over the years regarding the inclusion of the tubular bells; in 2001 he suggested that they were among the instruments he asked Branson to hire, but in 2013, he stated that he saw them among the instruments being removed from the studios after John Cale had finished recording there, and asked for them to be left behind for his own recording sessions.
Oldfield played the majority of the instruments on the album as a series of overdubs, which was an uncommon recording technique at the time. In total, 274 overdubs were made and an estimated two thousand "punch-ins" added later, although Newman said "it was really only 70 or 80" in total. Despite various guitars being listed on the album sleeve, such as "speed guitars", "fuzz guitars" and "guitars sounding like bagpipes", the only electric guitar used on the album was a 1966 blonde Fender Telecaster which used to belong to Marc Bolan and to which Oldfield had added an extra Bill Lawrence pick-up. All the guitars were recorded via direct injection into the mixing desk. To create the "speed guitar" and "mandolin-like guitar" named in the sleeve notes, the tape was simply run at half speed during recording. An actual mandolin was only used for the ending of Part Two. Oldfield also used a custom effects unit, named the Glorfindel box, to create the "fuzz guitars" and "bagpipe guitars" distortion on some pieces on the album.
The short honky tonk piano section at 13:48 was included as a tribute to Oldfield's grandmother, who had played the instrument in pubs before World War II. The staff and workers at the Manor made up the "nasal choir" that accompanies it.
Side one closes with musician Vivian Stanshall, a former member of the comedic rock group Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, introducing each instrument being played one by one. The idea originated when the band were due to use the Manor after Oldfield, and had arrived while he was still recording. Oldfield had liked the way Stanshall introduced the instruments one at a time on the Bonzos' song "The Intro and the Outro" on Gorilla (1967). He suggested to Newman that he would like Stanshall to do the same for "Opus One", and Newman agreed to the idea. However, the shy Oldfield then needed some persuading by Newman to go and ask Stanshall if he would carry out the request. Stanshall readily agreed to the idea and is credited on the liner notes as Master of Ceremonies, but Newman recalled that the job proved to be more difficult than anticipated, with Stanshall forgetting the names of the instruments and introducing them at the wrong points in the recording. Oldfield then wrote out the list of instruments in order, indicating where Stanshall should introduce them. It was the way in which Stanshall said "plus... tubular bells" to introduce the last instrument that gave Oldfield the idea to call the album Tubular Bells.
Oldfield had difficulty in producing a sound from the tubular bells, as he wanted a loud note from them but both the standard leather-covered and bare metal hammers did not produce the volume that he wanted. In the end, Newman obtained a heavier claw hammer and Oldfield used it to produce the desired sound intensity, but cracked the bells in the process.
After Part One had been recorded, Oldfield was allowed to stay on at the Manor to record additional overdubs during studio downtime. He spent Christmas and New Year at his family's home, but returned to the Manor from February to April 1973 to record the second part of his planned album. Branson visited the MIDEM music conference in Cannes, France, in January 1973 and pitched Part One to various music companies, but was unsuccessful. This led Branson and Draper, who had plans to set up their own record label, to use Tubular Bells as their first release. Oldfield was not given the studio time as he had been for Part One, so Part Two was recorded over a period of three months whenever the studio was free. Oldfield had Part Two mapped out and sequenced by the time he came to record it.
The "caveman" section is the only part of Tubular Bells that features a drum kit, which is played by Steve Broughton of the Edgar Broughton Band. The section begins with a backing track of bass and drums, with Oldfield overdubbing all other instruments. The shouting vocals developed near the end of the recording, when he had practically finished recording the instruments for the section but felt it needed something else. Heyworth recalled that Branson was getting impatient and pressured Oldfield to deliver the album, and to include vocals on one of the tracks so he could release it as a single. Angered by Branson's suggestion, Oldfield returned to the Manor where he drank half a bottle of Jameson's whiskey from the studio's cellar and demanded that the engineer take him to the studio where, intoxicated, he "screamed his brains out for 10 minutes" into a microphone. The incident left Oldfield so hoarse that he was unable speak for two weeks. The engineer ran the tape at a higher speed during the recording, so that upon playback the tape ran at normal speed, thus dropping the pitch of the voice track and producing the "Piltdown Man" vocals listed on the credits.
Side two closes with a rendition of "The Sailor's Hornpipe", a track Oldfield had been performing since he was in the Whole World. It was originally preceded by a longer version of the piece, featuring a vocal contribution from Stanshall over musical backing and marching footsteps. This session occurred at 4 a.m. after Oldfield, Stanshall, and Newman had spent the night drinking. Newman placed microphones in various rooms of the Manor and began recording, and the trio set off on an unplanned tour of the house, with Oldfield on mandolin and Newman on acoustic guitar playing "The Sailor's Hornpipe" while Stanshall gave an inebriated, improvised tour of the Manor. In the end, a more traditional instrumental version of the tune was put on the album although Stanshall's version was included on the Boxed compilation. It is also found on the 2001 SACD and 2009 remasters as a bonus track.
Ommadawn PT 1
Ommadawn peaked at No. 4 on the UK Albums Chart, No. 74 in Canada, and No. 146 on the US Billboard 200. The song that concludes "Ommadawn (Part Two)", entitled "On Horseback", was released as a single in November 1975 with Oldfield's non-album track "In Dulci Jubilo". The album reached gold certification by the British Phonographic Industry within two months, signifying 100,000 copies sold. In 2010, Mercury Records issued a remastered edition containing new stereo and 5.1 surround sound mixes by Oldfield and extra material. Oldfield had wanted to make Amarok (1990) a sequel album to Ommadawn, but the idea was not realised until he released Return to Ommadawn (2017).
By the end of 1974, Oldfield had been propelled to worldwide fame due to the unexpected critical and commercial success of his debut studio album, Tubular Bells (1973). He followed it with Hergest Ridge (1974), which generated a more negative critical reaction in comparison, which disappointed him but led to a creative period as he vowed to deliver a follow-up that was "worthwhile and successful", proving he was not a one-hit wonder with the success of Tubular Bells. When Oldfield started to work on new music for Ommadawn, he wanted to avoid professional studios and persuaded his label, Virgin Records, to install a 24-track studio at The Beacon, his home in Kington, Herefordshire. Oldfield recorded Ommadawn at The Beacon between January and September 1975; the African drums were recorded at The Manor in Shipton-on-Cherwell, Oxfordshire, where Oldfield had recorded Tubular Bells and Hergest Ridge. The Manor was chosen as there was insufficient space at The Beacon to accommodate the instruments and equipment. Oldfield is credited as the album's sole producer and engineer.
Shortly after Oldfield started to record, his mother died. He later recalled that working on his new music provided the only source of comfort for him at the time. He faced further problems several months in when he had almost finished recording side one, when the recording tape started to shed its oxide layer, causing irreparable damage. Virgin delivered a machine so that copies of the master tape could be made and Oldfield could carry on working, but the same problem occurred on the new tape. This left Oldfield no choice but to start again using a new brand of tape. He believed that the many overdubs he had put down on the track had worn it out. Oldfield felt depressed to start over at first, but he then noticed that "something clicked inside of me" and realised that his previous takes had become good practice for the final ones. "All the musical pieces fell into place and the results sounded marvellous." The original version of side one was released on the 2010 remaster as "Ommadawn (Lost Version)". Excerpts from the scrapped version were previously used in Oldfield's interview on Tony Palmer's documentary series All You Need is Love and the 1977 film Reflection.
The cover photograph was taken by David Bailey. The album's title came about at the end of its production. Oldfield spotted a collection of words that Irish musician Clodagh Simonds had made up, one of them being ommadawn, and decided to use it. Oldfield in 1975 rejected a claim that the title comes from the Irish Gaelic word amadán or omadhaun, meaning "fool". Later, however, he said it did mean "idiot.
As with Oldfield's first two albums, Ommadawn is a single same-titled composition divided into Part One and Part Two, each designated to a single side of the LP. "Ommadawn (Part One)" has a length of 19:23 and "Ommadawn (Part Two)" runs for 17:17. The latter ends with a song entitled "On Horseback", written by Oldfield and lyrics by Oldfield and William Murray and, while it was banded separately on vinyl from "Ommadawn (Part Two)", it was only referred to as "the horse song" in the liner notes, only properly credited by name on it accompanying single and on remastered copies of the album released from the 2010s onward. The song relates to Oldfield, Murray, and Leslie Penning's time riding ponies around Hergest Ridge
Hergest Ridge PT 1
Hergest Ridge is the second studio album by English musician and songwriter Mike Oldfield, released on 28 August 1974 by Virgin Records. The unexpected commercial and critical success of his debut album Tubular Bells (1973) affected Oldfield, who decided against touring and avoided the press with his newfound fame. Instead, he retreated to Hergest Ridge on the England–Wales border and wrote the follow-up, which he recorded in 1974 at The Manor in Oxfordshire, with Tom Newman returning as co-producer. Similar to Oldfield's first, the album is a single composition split into two parts covering different moods and musical styles.
The album was No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart for three consecutive weeks before it was displaced by Tubular Bells, marking one of the few times an artist has overtaken themselves on the chart in this manner. In 2010, the album was reissued with new stereo and 5.1 surround sound mixes, bonus material, and new artwork.
After the release of his debut album Tubular Bells, Oldfield sought a countryside location to write a follow-up album. In early 1974 he drove around the West Country before turning north into Herefordshire. He arrived at Kington, a small town on the England–Wales border located in the shadow of Hergest Ridge, an elongated hill with a peak height of 425 metres (1,394 ft) which attracted Oldfield to stay in the area. He spotted a house named The Beacon on the edge of Bradnor Hill that was for sale and received permission from Virgin Records co-owner Richard Branson to buy it.
Oldfield settled into his new home but felt unsure of his next career move. His contract with Virgin allowed him a £25 wage and continual offers added to the pressure of appearing in public, causing Oldfield to suffer from panic attacks. He lacked any solid ideas for new music and chose to perform simple undemanding Medieval tunes with folk musician Les Penning at Penrhos Court, a local restaurant, in return for free wine. With encouragement from Branson, Oldfield started to write a follow-up to Tubular Bells following the delivery of a Farfisa organ, 4-track TEAC tape machine, and a mixing desk to his house.
Oldfield felt that half of the good sections on the album were so detailed and buried in the mix, it called for listeners to play the album on a high quality record player. He stated, "I have to listen really hard to pick out something that I know that I'm proud that I did". The climax to the album is something that he was particularly happy with. Comparisons of the album to Tubular Bells irritated him because he considered it a more arranged and fully conceived work. In 1975, Oldfield reflected on Hergest Ridge and thought it contained "some excellent ideas" but its recording was rushed, which affected the performance.
After initial recording sessions at Basing Street Studios, London and Chipping Norton Studios, Oxfordshire were abandoned, Oldfield recorded Hergest Ridge in the spring of 1974 at The Manor near Shipton-on-Cherwell, Oxfordshire, with Tom Newman resuming his role as co-producer with Oldfield. The album was mixed at AIR Studios on London's Oxford Street.
Similarly to Tubular Bells, the album is divided into two movements. Oldfield frequently superimposes layers of electric guitar recorded by first amplifying heavily (to achieve a sustained organ-like quality) and then reducing the volume greatly via use of the Glorfindel Box (a custom guitar effects unit housed in plywood, which was extremely unreliable in its operation; the unit was obtained from David Bedford, who had been given the box at a party by its creator.) The volume was reduced further using the compression channel from the Manor's mixing console, as had been done on Tubular Bells Part 2. Textures are extended further using various organ timbres and the use of voice as an instrument (the voice is never treated prominently and is deliberately reduced as much as possible and thus permitted largely for textural effect).
"Moonlight Shadow" is a song written and performed by English multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield, released as a single in May 1983 by Virgin Records, and included in the album Crises of the same year. The vocals were performed by Scottish vocalist Maggie Reilly, who had collaborated with Mike Oldfield since 1980. It is Oldfield's most successful single, reaching number one on a number of charts around Europe.
The single peaked at number 4 in the British charts, making it Oldfield's second-highest ranked single after "Portsmouth", which reached number 3 in 1976. "Moonlight Shadow" was successful throughout Europe; it reached number 1 in many countries, including Italy, Austria, Switzerland for four weeks and Norway for six weeks. It spent four weeks at number 2 in West Germany, hit number 6 in Australia, and peaked at number 3 in New Zealand and France. It was re-released as a maxi-CD single in 1993 to promote Oldfield's Elements box set, charting at number 52.
A 12-inch single (later reissued on a 3" CD single) featured an extended version of the song with an extra verse, and the single B-side was "Rite of Man", which was a rare instance of Oldfield singing lead vocal. The extended mix also appears on his compilation album The Platinum Collection.
In 1991, the song was re-released in France, and in 1993 it was featured on promos for Elements in France and Spain. The 1993 reissue included "Bones" and "In the Pool" as B-sides, which had previously been released as B-sides with "To France". Furthermore, the name of the song was used for the 2013 Universal Music compilation album of Oldfield's music, Moonlight Shadow: The Collection.
It has been suggested that the lyrics of the song are a reference to the murder of John Lennon despite the fact that the events in the song do not correspond with those of Lennon's murder. Lennon was shot four times just before 11 pm, whereas in the song the time is 4 am and the number of shots is six. Also, the night Lennon was shot (8 December 1980) was a new moon, so there was no moonlight, and in the song, it is Saturday night while Lennon was killed on a Monday night. When asked if "Moonlight Shadow" is a reference to John Lennon's murder in a 1995 interview, Oldfield responded:
Not really... well, perhaps, when I look back on it, maybe it was. I actually arrived in New York that awful evening when he was shot and I was staying at the Virgin Records house in Perry Street, which was just a few blocks down the road from the Dakota Building where it happened, so it probably sank into my subconscious. It was originally inspired by a film I loved – Houdini, starring Tony Curtis, which was about attempts to contact Houdini after he'd died, through spiritualism... it was originally a song influenced by that, but a lot of other things must have crept in there without me realising it.
— Mike Oldfield