Mike Oldfield Tells The Story Of Tubular Bells

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Then fate made it possible, through Virgin, who actually allowed me to make it. Aged just 19, the precocious multi-instrumentalist was all over the credits of Tubular Bells - overdubbing 20 instruments from glockenspiel to penny whistle - but his inimitable guitar touch was already the main event.

For a start, I use all five fingernails on my right hand, not a plectrum, so I get a very pure sound. I often slide down the fretboard at the end of a note, or stop the string with my right hand to give it that characteristic click. And I often play one note with a lot of power to start a melody. I remember, some time in the mid- 70s, I had some money to spend.

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Ommadawn was made in this little shack at the top of a hilltop looking over the Welsh mountains. It was windy up there and there were thunderstorms. Everybody jumped on the punk bandwagon. Progressive music was trashed. I had to sort of survive in that environment. The darkening weather was symbolic.

The guitarist was unravelling. Yet he was in too deep to stop. In the beginning, it was a one-artist label, then they got the opportunity to sign these… to me, they were just skinny guys shouting. But that was seen to be revolutionary, whatever that means. Do you mean the British punk movement?

The label did that to improve their image, really. And everybody jumped on the bandwagon. I had to sort of survive in that environment, and instead of clinging to my true self, I had to make music like everybody else made. We had a fantastic drummer, Simon Phillips, and the hi-hat and the acoustic were locked together in that powerful backing track. Even though the vocals sounded quite folkie, the backing track was steaming.

The acoustic can sound decidedly wimpy. It took a lot of physical energy to play that hard.

The chaotic brilliance of Tubular Bells For Two has to be seen to be believed

Probably in my personality. Certainly, Oldfield seems more poised than the something raver who could be spotted falling out of the clubs of Ibiza in the late 90s. So that gave me confidence. It feels crass to drill into the tragedies that prefaced Return To Ommadawn, but Oldfield readily admits he found catharsis through this material, just as he did with his 70s work.

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There are parts of Tubular Bells that sound like heaven, with choirs and mandolins. With Ommadawn, too.

With Return To Ommadawn, a similar thing has happened. These two epic instrumentals slip gracefully between sounds and cultures, offering rousing choirs, tribal drums, manic flamenco rhythms and knife-through-butter electric lead. It takes time to compose these works, he says. Also, my muscles had gone a bit over the years. He was blown away by what he heard.

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Mike Oldfield: "I used to think 'What's gone wrong with the world?'"

Disconsolate, Oldfield was ready to move to Russia to become a State employed musician. He gave them a week. In a WEEK! They rented over 30 instruments in preparation for the tracking days but it was as the techs were wheeling out all of the stuff used in a previous John Cale session that M. I consider this to be one of the most fortuitous pieces of synchronicity in all of recording history. Oh, by-the-way, did I mention that Mike Oldfield was 19 when he started said recordings?

Good grief. Side One of the album had been entirely transferred from M. It was with this innate understanding of the information that he proceeded to play every instrument for the entire album, bar the flutes, drums, and string bass, himself. Please think about that as you listen to the record.

It is absolutely shocking to consider that a 19 year BOY accomplished all of it. Every instrument.


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Initially it was a total grind and nothing was working. I told you the Cale bit of the tale was fortuitous! Richard Branson had planned on calling the record Breakfast In Bed, and the cover was to feature a photo of a boiled-egg with blood pouring out of it. The un-mixed recording was taken to a music conference in Europe to see if anyone would be interested in releasing it.

Thanks Dad. There was no automation in those days. When the record was finally finished, and mixed, Branson had no choice but to put it out himself and created Virgin Records for, pretty-much, that sole purpose. It sold 17 million copies world-wide and was the bedrock upon which the entire Virgin Empire was to be built. Sales in the U. There was a stat I read once that mentioned that, at its peak, 1 in 4 households in England owned a copy of Tubular Bells , but I fear that this is apocryphal. The cover is a representation of the tubular bells themselves. The reason the bell is bent is artistic license taken from the condition of the real bells used once M.

I always wonder where they are now. I, for one, would LOVE to own that piece of music history.

They probably got thrown away. Little did they know. The story he tells is of the, almost, panic-attack level of anxiety that Mike was experiencing before going on-stage, and how it took them driving around London just prior to show time, and Branson promising to give M.


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  • I always think of this record as his Great White Whale. Safe to say Mike Oldfield fits the description perfectly. He now lives on an island in the Bahamas and continues to put out music regularly, fully embracing the technology of the Internet for that purpose. Please check out the rest of his work, too. It spent a staggering weeks in the U. It is, of course, best known as the theme from the movie The Exorcist. One of the most perfect music placements in film history.

    I will be forever grateful to my Old Man for placing those old Sennies on my head he still owns them and introducing a VERY young me to one of my favourite albums of all time. Oh, and Mike Oldfield celebrated his 20th birthday 10 days before the album was released. Absolutely incredible. Give it a listen. It is as mind-blowing now as it was on the day it was released, May 25th, Side One is my favourite of the two sides.

    Tubular Bells The Mike Oldfield Story

    Hi, Christian.