We are happy to present you this article, created, and (c) by Michel Scheijen. Michel is creator and owner of the Musicophilia website on which he publishes background articles, personal views and other considerations – on prog, rock, electronic and other musical genres and artists. Below you’ll find the translation of the Dutch version which is available on Musicophilia.
Blowing out 70 candles
May 2023 is a special month for Mike Oldfield and his fans. On the 25th it will be exactly 50 years since the release of his debut album ‘Tubular Bells’ on the new label Virgin Records. An anniversary that will be celebrated in a big way with a deluxe reissue featuring some extras including the 2018 demo that mike recorded before he cancelled the Tubular Bells IV project to retire. On May 15, Mike Oldfield blowed out 70 candles. To mark this double anniversary, I use an album discography to tell the life story of the genius multi-instrumentalist who never liked the limelight.
Michael Gordon Oldfield was born on May 15, 1953, in Reading, England. He was the third child in the family of Maureen and Raymond Oldfield. Sister Sally was born in 1947 and brother Terry in 1949. Dad Oldfield is a general practitioner and mother [of Irish descent] a homemaker. Little Mike is a quiet, timid lad who prefers to make his own plans rather than run after the herd. Particularly at school, he shows his contrary side.
At a young age he becomes enamored with his father’s guitar playing. Dad knows only three chords necessary for traditional Christmas carols at home. Little Mike quickly mastered the chords. Not long after, he gets his first guitar [an Eko-six string] with which he teaches himself to play guitar.
In 1961 there is family expansion for the fourth time. The offspring is named David and has Down syndrome. Mike’s mother gives up the child and ends up in a severe depression. From then on, dark times begin at the Oldfield home. Maureen shuttles between home and admissions to mental hospitals. David dies after a year, leaving her in an even deeper hole and dependent on tranquilizers and antidepressants. Mike’s father has to keep all the balls in the air [medical practice, children and sick wife] leaving young Mike to rely on himself a lot. He also misses his mother. Sister Sally goes her own artistic way and brother Terry leaves the parental home early. Mike finds refuge in music. He retreats to his room to learn to play guitar even better. The focus is on the finger picking technique. A technique, originating in classical music and folk, with which he later developed the recognizable Oldfield guitar sound. With structural music education at school, he learns notation and comes into contact with works by Beethoven and Sibelius.
First recording – the Sallyangie
From the age of twelve, Mike has been playing in various folk clubs. He befriends Chris Braclick and Andy Holland with whom he forms a trio that travels the club circuit in Reading. For Mike, it is the ideal way to escape the problems at home. Sally Oldfield, meanwhile, is a celebrated ballet dancer and pianist. She is friends with Marianne Faithfull who is in a relationship with Mick Jagger. When Mike turns 15 [and out of compulsory schooling at the time] Sally gets the chance from the Rolling Stones frontman to record a professional demo with her brother. The recording engineer is Gus Dudgeon who later creates a furor as a producer for Elton John and David Bowie. The demo sessions come to nothing, but Sally doesn’t leave it at that. She came into contact with Nathan Joseph of Transatlantic Records who was convinced of her qualities. With brother Mike, she formed the duo The Sallyangie, which recorded a folk album under Nathan Joseph’s production direction, to be released in 1969 under the title “The Children Of The Sun. After a short promotional tour, brother and sister again dive into the studio for the follow-up. Mike, however, has no appetite for a second album. He no longer wants to stand in the shadow of his big sister. With brother Terry, among others, he started the band Barefoot, which disbanded after only four performances.
Kevin Ayers and Virgin
In 1970 Mike became involved as a bassist in Kevin Ayers’ band which also included keyboardist David Bedford. With Kevin Ayers, he records three albums within a year that come to fruition at the famous Abbey Road Studios. In the empty studio hours, Mike uses the entire instrumentation to make a demo of his own compositions. He wants to make music without interference from others. When the collaboration with Ayers ends in 1971, all sorts of session jobs follow, such as backup guitarist for a theater production of the musical ‘Hair’ and bassist with the Arthur Louis Band. This band records its work in the studio of a huge mansion called Shipton On Manor in Oxfordshire. The owner is a young, ambitious businessman: Richard Branson. Meanwhile, Mike has sent his demo titled “Opus One” to various record companies [including EMI], but is routinely rejected.
Mike also hands the demo over to recording engineer Tom Newman of the Manor studio. He too does not respond. Mike is at his wit’s end. His childhood traumas and consuming soft drugs and LSD [in the 60s and 70s, consuming LSD is as normal as feasting on French fries] make him an emotional wreck. At the moment when, out of sheer desperation, he decides to contact the Soviet embassy in London to become a Russian state musician, one Simon Draper calls; Richard Branson’s business partner. Both are charmed by Mikes demo. After a meeting on Branson’s houseboat, Mike Oldfield, with production support from Tom Newman and Simon Heyworth, is allowed to record his debut album at the Manor which becomes the first record on Richard Branson’s Virgin Records label
Tubular Bells (1973)
‘Tubular Bells’ will be released on May 25, 1973. Ten days after Mikes twentieth birthday. The album contains two instrumental compositions of about twenty minutes spread over two sides. The hard-to-categorize music is a reflection of Mikes unstable emotion carousel where he minimizes the contrast between folk, classical, rock and minimal music. In later interviews, Mike says that the repetitive music on Terry Riley’s album ‘A Rainbow In Curved Air’ was a major influence. On “Tubular Bells,” Mike presents himself not only as an exceptional guitarist, but also as a multi-instrumentalist. In addition to a dozen guitars, he plays piano, organ, chimes and, of course, tubular bells. Guest musicians include flutist John Field, violinist Lindsay Cooper and percussionist Steve Broughton. Forming the background chorus are Mundy Ellis and Sally Oldfield. A starring role is played by an inebriated Vivian Stanshall who, as master of ceremonies, introduces all the instruments. ‘Tubular Bells’ became a mega-success. Leading radio DJ John Peel plays the entire album on his program and when director William Friedkin unsolicited the opening theme for his horror film “The Exorcist,” sales get a mega boost. From one day to the next, man-shy studio musician Mike Oldfield is a superstar who is in the spotlight everywhere. Much to Virgin’s dismay, he shuns the spotlight and evades any publicity. An interview with Karl Dallas turns into a disaster. The journalist has to almost literally rip the answers out of Mike’s maw, who in turn experiences the interview as a public rape.
Hergest Ridge (1974)
To escape all the media attention, Mike packs up and buys a small country house called The Beacon located in the county of Herfordshire near Wales from the proceeds of ‘Tubular Bells’. The serene, rural setting is the inspiration for the second album ‘Hergest Ridge’ whose title refers to the Herfordshire mountain of the same name [now a popular meeting place for fans]. The recordings don’t want to run smoothly. Mike is still an emotional wreck with panic attacks who would rather tinker with model airplanes than make music for the new album. The record company expects a second ‘Tubular Bells,’ but the result is completely different. ‘Hergest Ridge’ is a two-part folk rock epic with Bach trumpets and tinwhistles that, after 15 minutes of listening, brings about hallucinations of grass-green hills populated by ‘The Oriole’-singing hikers on brown sandals without socks. Pithy reviews make mincemeat of the album. Nevertheless, ‘Hergest Ridge’ pushes through to the number one spot on the charts. Sales circulation remains far behind its predecessor, causing young Virgin to fear red numbers.
The Orchestral Tubular Bells (1985)
As Mike continues to refuse public appearances, Virgin invents an alternative promotional effort: an orchestrated version of “Tubular Bells. Mike doesn’t like the idea, but Virgin holds firm. Classically trained David Bedford [ex Kevin Ayers] arranges and conducts the piece of music for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to be recorded at Barking Town Hall in September 1974. After much harping, Mike records an acoustic guitar solo which is added to the final mix for ‘The Orchestral Tubular Bells’ available in February 1975. Unfortunately, the richly layered original does not lend itself to an orchestral interpretation. The intimate moments are completely lost so the result is labeled monotonous.
While preparations for the orchestral version of ‘Tubular Bells’ are in full swing, Mike is working on his third album. Virgin gives him the opportunity to record it at home for which a room in The Beacon is converted into a recording studio. All goes well until one night the tape recorder breaks down and the recorded material is lost. The already unstable multi-instrumentalist is in the squeak again, but recovers remarkably quickly. The diversity of instruments is further expanded by the use of harp, bouzouki, and a Solina String synthesiser. Guest musicians are also busier than ever with vocalists Clodagh Simmons, Bridget St. John and Sally Olfield. Brother Terry plays pan flute and Paddy Malony [The Chieftains] bagpipes. For rhythmic variety, the African percussion ensemble Jabula contributes. Reviews in November 1975 are unanimous in their praise. The album is praised for its musical diversity where folk, rock, African percussion and dreamy space rock constructively unite. ‘Ommadawn’ becomes one of the most popular albums of Mike Oldfield’s career and is now a fan-favourite. The Hosanna mood does not last long. Three months after its release, Mike’s mother dies and in his home country, the musical climate changes dramatically.
Exegesis – Therapy / Incantations (1978)
To stop suppressing childhood traumas and panic attacks with alcohol, Mike attends Robert D’Aubigny’s therapy Exegesis [real name: Robert Fuller]. He comes back as a reborn individual who no longer flees crowds. Mike actually travels to Palma de Mallorca to meet Richard Branson’s parents. With short-cropped hair and a wardrobe in which the baggy jumpers, sandals, and worn-out jeans have been replaced by trainers, designer trousers, polo shirts and jackets, Mike looks unprecedentedly sparkling and fresh. The positive impulses spur the making of fourth album ‘Incantations’, based on paganism and magic [incantation = conjuration]. The new album should be innovative. Besides Pierre Moerlen’s drum parts and a string orchestra, more synthesisers and vocals are added to the production. During concept research, Mike stumbles upon the mythology of goddess Diana and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem ‘Hiawatha’, among others. Both subjects tie in nicely with the album theme. Singer Maddy Prior of Steeleye Span recites ‘Hiawatha’ in its entirety. ‘Incantations’ is Mike’s most ambitious work to date consisting of four epics, each filling an entire record side. The music is symphonic, spacey, expressive, conjuring and the ambition pops from it. Yet even the most fanatical Oldfield fan has to admit that some parts could have been a bit shorter to keep the tension curve tight.
At the time of its release, the punk revolution has hit England. Bands like Deep Purple, Yes, E.L.P., Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin are aggressively derided in the media as long-winded, stale products of the past. Likewise, the complex music of Mike Oldfield goes by the wayside. The press slams “Incantations. Still, sales figures are quite reasonable, but financially ailing Virgin would rather spend its budget on new sensation The Sex Pistols than on Mike Oldfield. After all, the punk craze is a lucrative revenue source. Mike notices that Richard Branson is flipping the revenue model. The label no longer focuses solely on progressive rock. In the Virgin Stores, ‘Anarchy In The UK’ is massively advertised with posters and stacks of LPs, while ‘Incantations’ lies haphazardly in the bins somewhere.
The first tour / Exposed (1979)
Much to the delight of Richard Branson, Mike decides to go on tour to promote ‘Incantations’ for which no expense is spared. Mike’s backing band consists of no less than forty musicians including a complete string and flute orchestra, a choir, and a folk ensemble. The proceeds from the successful tour do not nearly cover all expenses. To meet them, the live album “Exposed” is compiled from the concerts in Germany, Belgium and Spain, among others. Release: July 1979. But it would take another ten years for sales to pay off all expenses.
Mike understands that he needs to adapt his music to the modern zeitgeist. After a trip to the Virgin offices in hip New York, he books Electric Ladyland Studios on the spot to write and record his new album. The catchy finished product is called “Platinum,” released in November 1979. For the first time, the A-side contains an epic and the B-side tracks of short duration, one of which is in the usual song format with lyrics. Little remains of the folk-esoteric sound that characterized all albums up to that point. The 19-minute epic that bears the album title consists of four distinct segments strongly rooted in American rock music and swing jazz. For the finale of the title track, Mike borrows the vocal segment “North Star” by American composer Philip Glass. A leading name in the minimal music genre. With the short instrumentals ‘Woodhenge’ and ‘Into Wonderland,’ Mike shows his innovative side. ‘Punkadiddle’ is a big middle finger toward punk music that had passed its peak in 1979. A modern arrangement of ‘I Got Rythm’ [from the musical ‘Girl Crazy’ by George and Ira Gershwin] is sung by Wendy Roberts. In America, ‘Platinum’ is released under the title ‘Airborne’ on which ‘Woodhenge’ is replaced by the disco-like ‘Guilty’ that comes out of the ‘Incantations’ sessions. All stunts notwithstanding; the modern ‘Platinum’ does not become the success they were betting on. In America, it does not even reach the charts. A tour of various European venues, however, is a success and also profitable, as choir and orchestra remain in the stable.
Sound modernization continues on “QE2,” whose title refers to the British cruise ship of the same name. Simon Draper recommends replacing regular producer Tom Newman with engineer/producer David Hentschel. The latter produced all Genesis albums after Peter Gabriel’s departure. In addition to synthesizers, Hentschel introduces more technical gadgets such as drum machines and the vocoder, making ‘QE2 perfectly in tune with the pop sound of the early 1980s. Phil Collins joins in as a guest musician, but the main presence is newcomer Maggie Reilly.
Mike gets to know the red-haired Scottish singer during the “Platinum” tour. She is the girlfriend of one of the roadies. Her fine singing skills make her a permanent band member for a long period of time. The album contains two covers: ‘Arrival’ by ABBA and ‘Wonderful Land’ by The Shadows. Mike has become such a social gabber that he writes two songs with David Hentschel and keyboardist Tim Cross: ‘Celt’ and the title track. Another notable detail is that the longest song [‘Tauris 1′] is only ten minutes long. ‘QE2’ is imaginative, beguiling and does slightly better commercially than its predecessor. But is no gold mine in 1980.
A horror flight to Five Miles Out (1982)
During the ‘QE2′ tour of Spain, Mike and his crew fly a two-propeller plane from Barcelona to San Sebastian. The young pilot just got his pilot’s license and finds it an honor to have the illustrious company aboard on his first commercial flight. At an altitude of 10,000 feet, the plane lands in a thunderstorm cloud with near catastrophic results. The 45-minute horror trip is the inspiration for the new album “Five Miles Out,” whose title comes from the pilots’ jargon. Mike reverts to the format of ‘Platinum’: one epic followed by short, partly sung songs. Tom Newman also returns. ‘Five Miles Out’ again sounds like a familiar blend of rock and folk. The production is modern, but without the sterile rounding of ‘QE2’. The nearly 25-minute ‘Taurus II’ is a magnificent piece of work and no Oldfield epic since ‘Ommadawn’ has sounded so comprehensive as a solid, consistent whole. Drummer Carl Palmer makes a guest appearance on ‘Mount Teide’ named after the Canary Islands mountain of the same name. In promotion, the title track sung by Maggie Reilly appears on single for which, to Mike’s horror, a music video is shot. The single becomes a modest hit in a number of countries. The second single ‘Family Man’ [also sung by Reilly] does little and becomes a hit in America in 1983 in a cover version by Hall & Oates. Five Miles Out’ received good reviews and sales were much better than its two predecessors. The extensive world tour took Mike to America, Canada, New Zealand and Japan for the first time. After a period of experimentation with disappointing results, Mike was back on top. And it will stay that way for a while.
Back on top with Crises (1983) and Discovery (1984)
After wrapping up the Five Miles Out world tour, Mike dives into the studio with session musicians Anthony Glynne [guitar], Phil Spalding [bass] and drummer Simon Phillips who for a long time also becomes his producer. From this fruitful collaboration emerges the album “Crises,” which hits stores in late May 1983, preceding the world hit “Moonlight Shadow” sung by Maggie Reilly. The album format is identical to ‘Five Miles Out,’ but this time Mike has one hundred percent perfectly tailored his symphonic folk rock sound to the compact production and song structure of the 1980s. The title track is a taut, 20-minute epic where Phillips’ virtuoso guitar riffs and spectacular drumming alternate with atmospheric synth parts from the Fairlight CMI. The Roger Chapman-sung rocker “Shadow On The Wall” [inspired by the plight of political prisoners in Eastern Europe] is as much a world hit as “Moonlight Shadow. It benefits the sales of ‘Crises’ so that it becomes his best-selling album after ‘Tubular Bells’. The successful Europe tour concludes with a concert at Wembley Arena on June 22, 1983. Audio and video recordings of this ended up on the limited ‘Crises’ box set in 2011. Virgin is rubbing their hands together, as Mike Olfield is finally making a lot of dough again.
For the imitator, Mike is set to produce a similarly successful album for which a tour is also planned. For tax reasons, Mike moved with his entire studio to the vacation resort of Villars-sur-Ollon in Switzerland. In addition to the recording sessions for the new album, work is underway on the score for “The Killing Fields. A gripping film by Roland Joffé about two journalist friends during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror in Cambodia. ‘Discovery’ is the name of the new album in June 1984 that continues the success formula of ‘Crises.’ Yet it differs in small details. More use is made of the Fairlight CMI synthesizer, only four names participate in the album [Oldfield, Simon Phillips. Maggie Reilly and vocalist Barry Palmer], and by order of Virgin, all the sung songs are on the A-side this time and the instrumental ‘The Lake’ on the B-side. The once again Maggie Reilly-sung ‘To France’ [based on the life of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots] pairs effortlessly with the success of ‘Moonlight Shadow’. ‘Discovery’ becomes Mikes second bestseller of the 1980s once again followed by a successful tour. With hard work and investment in new technology, the eccentric multi-instrumentalist has secured a place among the young pop gods of the 1980s. Yet in the second half of that decade, everything will change.
Islands (1987) and Earth Moving (1989 / The crisis with Virgin
Between 1985 and 1987, Mike takes it easy. After living briefly in Switzerland and France, he returns to England to build an audio and video studio next to his villa in Buckhinghamshire. In addition to the fine collector ‘The Complete Mike Oldfield,’ Virgin releases two singles to bridge the waiting period for the new album. The first is 1985’s “Pictures In The Dark. Turns out Mike has traded lead singer Maggie Reilly for his new love Anita Hegerland [the writer dezes considers this the biggest blunder of his career]. Norwegian Hegerland is a former child starlet who scored a hit in the 1970s with Schlager singer Roy Black with “Schön Ist Es Auf Der Welt Zu Sein. She is blonde, beautiful, has charisma, and her curves rival a set of stacked Formula One tires. But she lacks the characterful angelic voice with which Maggie Reilly provided the ideal accent to Mikes poppy folk rock.
‘Pictures In The Dark’ flops and the second single sung by Jon Anderson, ‘Shine,’ does nothing either. In October 1987, the new album ‘Islands’ is finally released, for which a large budget was allocated. The complete side-A consists of the instrumental diptych ‘The Wind Chimes’ which, in addition to state-of-the-art synthesizer and sampling techniques, contains the necessary Asian influences alluding to ‘The Killing Fields’ score. The ideas are fine, were it not for the fact that the segments between them come across as very fragmentary, preventing a consistent whole. Side B consists of ultra-commercial pop songs without any folk rock ingredient.
Vocal contributions, in addition to Anita Hegerland, come from Bonnie Tyler, Max Bacon and Mike’s old buddy Kevin Ayers. Production credits are shared with Geoff Downes, Michael Cretu [the mastermind behind Enigma], veteran Tom Newman and Alan Shacklock. ‘Islands’ receives disparaging reviews. The music press rightly speaks of overproduction and demolishes the album. In particular, criticism focuses on the sacrifice of characteristic folk rock for gloopy, bombastic pop songs. ‘Islands’ sells moderately and even poorly compared to its two predecessors! In the British charts it dangles somewhere in the middle of the charts and there is not even a mention of American gold. Since Virgin has no promotional tour in sight, they try to boost sales with the video album ‘The Wind Chimes’ which appears simultaneously on laserdisc [remember this one?]. The video contains video clips of all sung songs incl. a film of ‘The Wind Chimes’ consisting of computer animation and Asian atmospheric images. As extras, clips of ‘Five Miles Out,’ ‘Moonlight Shadow,’ ‘Pictures In The Dark’ and ‘Shine’ are added to the pricey gadget. None of this can save ‘Islands’ from being a financial flop in the end.
Laserdisc edition of ‘The Wind Chimes’ video
Mike and Virgin are flying off the handle. It’s crises! Mike claims artistic freedom and accuses Virgin that their underwhelming promotional efforts [read: not funding a tour] are to blame for the drama. Virgin sees it differently. If Mike just writes another fat hit like “Moonlight Shadow,” all will be well again. He gives in and writes some pop songs that end up on the album ‘Earth Moving’ in 1989. His first record without an instrumental song. In addition to Hegerland, Adrian Belew, Chris Thompson, Max Bacon and…hooray…Maggie Reilly, among others, are behind the microphone. The songs are bombastic and more than just unpretentious pop songs. ‘Hostage’ takes as its theme the Gladbeck hostage drama that killed then-18-year-old Silke Bischoff. The song opens with a short news clip about the escape route of the hostage takers. In “Runaway Son,” Mike reflects on the time he left his childhood home, and “Innocent” describes the parent-child relationship from the perspective of loving parents. The production is tight and conforms to the late ’80s pop sound, though without the vaunted overproduction of ‘Islands.’ But ‘Earth Moving’ barely outperforms its predecessor. In Germany and Sweden, the album achieves some minor successes. The single ‘Innocent’ also becomes a hit in Germany. A live tour was again out of the question. Virgin does arrange some playback performances in European television shows where Mike is accompanied by the cream of the British prog rock scene: Geoff Downes, Phil Spalding, Simon Phillips and Adrian Belew [what the f*ck…no live tour?!].
The relationship between Mike and Virgin drops below freezing. Mike tells Richard Branson that for his new album he is reverting to the instrumental folk rock format of yesteryear. He is fed up with Virgin’s profit-driven pop dogma and wants to get back to making real music without digital production gimmicks. Branson is fine with it. Perhaps there will finally be a sequel to “Tubular Bells” that Virgin has been waiting so damn long for. Mike does as he says and in June 1990 comes out with his bravest and organic-sounding work in years: ‘Amarok’. The music is not an extension of ‘Tubular Bells,’ but rather that of his other masterpiece: ‘Ommadawn.’ The cover photo gives some reason for that. ‘Amarok’ is a 60-minute radical fusion of rock, Celtic folk, flamenco and world music [on vinyl split over two sides].
Mike again plays anything that has strings or makes sound and hurls a fierce chunk of creativity toward the listener. Humor comes in the form of Janet Brown’s Margaret Thatcher imitation “Endings are always beginnings” and the keyboard-played Morse codes that contain a not-so-nice message for Richard Branson. It does not take business acumen to understand that ‘Amarok’ has no marketing potential whatsoever. Consequently, Virgin does nothing to promote it. Commercially, “Amarok” dies a quiet death. Among fans, it is a favorite.
Heaven’s Open (1991) and the end of the Virgin collaboration.
For the latest Virgin album, Mike decides to do something he has never done before: take charge of all lead vocals. Occasionally, he sang some passages on the albums “Five Miles Out,” “Crises” and, of course, on the “On Horseback” appendage of “Ommadawn”…as far as you can call that preaching vocals. Singing an entire song with all the trimmings is a little different. He takes vocal lessons from a strict aunt named Helena Schenel. In his biography “Changeling,” he compares her lessons to drill instruction. With virtually the same instrumentalists as on ‘Earth Moving,’ he records his latest Virgin record titled ‘Heaven’s Open.’ For the first time, the full name Michael Oldfield appears on the cover and the producer’s name is not Tom, but Thomas Newman. The result is not even terribly bad. The five songs sung by Mike…or Michael tell a symbolic story of the struggles with Virgin and the artistic freedom he craves so much. They are entertaining songs with substance, emotion and depth. Thanks to perseverance and focus, Mike delivers a reasonable performance on vocals. Although sometimes you would think someone with a blocked trachea cannula is singing. The instrumental finale “Music From The Balcony” [clock time: 19 minutes] fizzes with contradictory passages, cast in a disjointed cryptic structure. A bizarre piece of work that only the hardcore fan can handle. In the final seconds of the epic, after jeers, we hear “Fuck off” with which Mike bids farewell to Virgin with harsh words to face a new future.
Tubular Bells II (1992)
After ending the Virgin contract, Mike moves to Warner Music [WEA] through his new manager Clive Banks. Privately, things are not going so well. Mike and Anita Hegerland are going through a divorce [his third, by now] involving two children. He slogs through these emotional woes by tinkering with producer Trevor Horn on “Tubular Bells II. His first album for Warner. Virgin is baffled, as Mike always refused a follow-up to his successful record. On August 31, 1992, the sequel is in stores for which expectations are high. In terms of music and structure, ‘Tubular Bells II’ is similar to the first with the only difference being that the sequel does not consist of two parts, but of separately indexed titles that merge here and there. The melodies are a variation of those of the 1973 original. The caveman part is also present and in a very modern outfit. Actor Alan Rickman [sigh…Severus Snape in the “Harry Potter” film series…I know it by now!] occupies the role of master of ceremonies and does so more solemnly than Vivian Stanshall. Fine marketing and musical familiarity make “Tubular Bells II” a sales success.
There is criticism of the sterile, digital production and lack of the organic sound that made the first volume so timeless. Warner pulls the purse strings and sends Mike and a 12-piece orchestra on tour from March through October 1993. His first since 1984. The single “Sentinel” is heavily promoted by MTV and reaches the top 10 in England. Very special: the premiere concert at Edinburgh Castle broadcast live on British television on September 04, 1992, receives a video release. After years in the shadow of everything and everyone, Mike Oldfield is back at the top. For a while, because “Tubular Bells II” will be his last, international bestseller.
The Songs of Distant Earth (1994)
The second Warner album, ‘The Songs Of Distant Earth,’ is based on science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke’s novel of the same name. Mike perfectly captures the story of a utopian human colony visited in the future by travelers from the doomed planet Earth in a beautifully atmospheric album with ethnic moments. ‘The Songs Of Distant Earth’ thus listens like a dreamy cruise through the universe. The share of synthesizers, samples and computer technology is greater than ever and yet the album sounds warmer and more dynamic than the sterile ‘Tubular Bells II’. It is also the first CD with an interactive CD-ROM track. All good fun for those with an Apple Macintosh computer with QuickTime technology at their disposal in 1994. The ntergalactic concept album will not become a sales success.
In the second half of the 1990s, Celtic music is wildly popular due to the spectacular theatrical shows ‘Lord Of The Dance’ and ‘Riverdance’ attracting packed theaters worldwide. Warner wants to capitalize on the craze to make up for the loss of ‘The Songs Of Distant Earth.’ Coincidentally, Mike is considering leaving the synthesizers alone for a while and refocusing on his folk roots. The insightful decision takes shape on the album “Voyager,” full of Celtic themes and serene textures. Nevertheless, at Warner’s request, a veneer of synthesizers is added so that it does not become “pure haggis. The result can be heard. Apart from three beautiful compositions from their own hand [including orchestrated ‘Mont St. Michel’] and a cover by Bieito Romero, the album contains five Celtic traditionals including the well-known ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ and the mourning ballad ‘Flowers Of The Forest’. ‘Voyager’ will go down in history as one of his most popular albums with the familiar Oldfield sound. With a first place in the Hungarian [!] album chart, the album achieves modest success.
Tubular Bells III (1998)
After the acrimonious divorce years, Mike is back in his good graces thanks to attending meditation sessions and mindfulness training. In the winter months, he buys a piece of land in Ibiza to build his own house. Of course, an unworldly recluse like Mike Oldfield doesn’t know that in the summer months the island is overrun by the jet set and feted rich people to party lavishly. Mike gets the apple fuzz and sells the house at a hefty loss to Noël Gallagher of Oasis to return to England. Fortunately, there is Clive Banks who arranges a new album deal with Warner so at least pennies are coming in. The first is “Tubular Bells III,” which is remarkably more than just a continuation of the tried-and-true recipe. Part III is a hip symphony, spikily peppered with Oriental influences and the trendy dance and lounge music of the Ibiza club circuit. The only thing that raises eyebrows is the Cara Dillon-sung “Man In The Rain” which is an almost one-to-one copy of “Moonlight Shadow”! The rained-out premiere at London’s Horse Guards Parade Square on Sept. 04, 1998, like the premiere of Part II, appears as a purchase video shortly after its release. ‘Tubular Bells III’ sells well, but does not match the circulation of the first two.
Guitars and the Millennium Bell (1999)
In last year of the 20th century, two new albums follow on short notice. The first is “Guitars” from May 24, 1999 which, as the title suggests, is completely created with guitar. With the help of innovative MIDI technology, other instruments such as keyboards and drums are also controlled via the strung wood. ‘Guitars’ is an intimate…and a tad boring album that Mike recorded and produced all by himself. Full of confidence, he undertakes a European tour from June 18 to July 31 entitled ‘Then & Now’ where he is accompanied by top percussionist Fergus Gerrand and David Bowie bassist/Chapman Stick player Carrie Melbourne [aka Miss Wipneus U.K.], among others. The most notable appearance is former Wham! backing vocalist Pepsi Demacque who has the thankless task of singing the rowdy “Shadow On The Wall.
Because of its rather high MIDI content, reactions to the tour are mixed. 1999 is also the year of the Y2K panic for which all sorts of frenetic security measures are taken. Mike and Warner want to make a lucrative profit out of it, resulting in the release of ‘The Millennium Bell’ on November 26. It is a ‘Cirque Du Soleil’-like edelkitsch product that no one is happy about. Speculation that the album was filled with leftover material from hard drives for fear of the millennium bug is not wrong. On the last night of the 20th century, Mike, like many a great music name, gives a celebratory open-air concert. He alights next to the Siegessäule in the heart of Berlin. Recordings of this spectacle end up on the CD/DVD compilation “The Art In Heaven Concert” in February 2000.
Tr3s Lunas (2002)
‘Shoemaker stick to your last,’ is the saying Mike is not so much aware of at the beginning of the 21st new century. From the hands of Warner executive Rob Dickins, he receives a copy of the interactive 3D computer game “Myst. Mike becomes so enthusiastic about the interactive 3D skills that, with the help of computer engineers, he develops his own system: ‘MusicVR.’ This system is intended as a virtual reality experience combining images and music in a non-violent and essentially non-targeted game called ‘Tres Lunas’ [Spanish for three moons]. What he fails to take into account is that the average gamer’s preference is for racing or ultra-violent shooting games rather than 3D world design combined with music. The system ends up as a CD rom track on the new album “Tres Lunas,” which is a soundtrack of sorts for the flopped game. The music resembles ethnic chill-out made much better by Enigma.
Tubular Bells 2003 (2003)
“I was never really satisfied with the original recording” is Mikes faint motive behind “Tubular Bells 2003. A re-recorded version of his triumphant debut, rehearsed and recorded down to the smallest detail, thirty years after the fact. Even the most devout fan sighs that the ‘Tubular Bells’ concept is now being milked to death. The 2003 re-recording sounds crystal clear and fresh. In contrast, it lacks all spontaneity and vibrancy. So only the audiophile who has even connected his whistling kettle to a pricey 5.1 speaker set will be content. Living legend John Cleese, as master of ceremonies, is apparently not having his day, because the introductions are anything but amusing. ‘Tubular Bells 2003’ does not score nearly as well as its sequels II and III. Mike concludes his Warner years the same way he did at Virgin: with a hangover.
Light + Shade (2005)
In 2005, Mike comes under contract with Mercury Records UK which is part of Universal Music. His first album for Mercury is a double album with music of contrasting mood. Disc I [‘Light’] consists of soothing, anointing music and disc II [‘Shade’] is rhythmic with dark textures. Some tracks are reworked versions of ‘Tres Lunas’. Despite the differences, ‘Light + Shade’ forms a nicely coherent whole that is tangentially similar to the best moments on ‘The Songs Of Distant Earth’ and ‘Tubular Bells III’. Sales are moderate. Between 2006 and 2007, Mike is the headline act at Night Of The Proms. The stage where his music is at its very best. Those who see the footage conclude that an older Mike Oldfield still comes across as a shy scout boy checking off a pack of condoms.
Music of the Spheres (2008)
2008 sees the release of Mikes most ambitious works since “Amarok”: “Music Of The Spheres. A fully orchestrated concept album based on the theory Musica Universalis which states that every celestial body such as the sun, moon and stars produce music. Music that is inaudible to humans and arises from the movements of planets in the solar system. ‘Music Of The Spheres is an interpretation of what that music would sound like. Mike composed the music with help from composer Karl Jenkins. He wrote the orchestral arrangements and his unmistakable sound palette is a worthy addition to the unique themes. Jenkins, by the way, is an old friend of Mike’s. He played the oboe during the 1973 BBC TV performance of “Tubular Bells.
Mike is a lover of classical music and was influenced by several composers of the late romantic period, especially Sibelius. This manifests itself in the way he combines fast string parts with slow wind parts on ‘Music Of The Spheres’ to create an exciting contrast. The music is imposing with catchy melodies that linger. A transparent structure and cohesive themes run through the album like a thread with strong references to ‘Tubular Bells’ and ‘Hergest Ridge.’ For if there is one album that seamlessly connects to these two, it is ‘Music Of The Spheres’. Piano virtuoso Lang Lang and soprano Hayley Westenra make fantastic contributions, and their presence helps the album receive a lot of media attention. The album receives rave reviews and is one of his most successful. On March 07, 2008 [one week before the release date] Mike, together with the Basque Symphony Orchestra and Heyley Westenra, performs the work in its entirety at the Gugenheim Museum in Bilbao. A live recording of this event ends up on the limited double CD release of “Music Of The Spheres.
A long period of radio silence
After ‘Music Of The Spheres,’ Mike keeps himself mostly busy remixing and remastering his back catalog. From 2009 all Virgin titles from ‘Tubular Bells’ onwards appear on the Mercury label in deluxe double CD editions [sometimes with DVD and 5.1 mix] with many interesting extras such as B-sides, unreleased leftover material, and fantastic live recordings. Limited megaboxes of ‘Tubular Bells’ and ‘Crises’ will even be released. ‘Discovery’ is the last title in the reissue series in 2016. Meanwhile, Mike moved to the Bahamas where he resides to this day. In 2012, he performs at the opening of the Summer Olympics in London. The following year, his fourth marriage to Dutch Fanny Vandekerckhove is on the rocks and he is featured in the BBC documentary “Tubular Bells: The Mike Oldfield Story. A fascinating portrait about the making of the album and in which Mike Oldfield talks candidly about his difficult childhood years with “coupe Ivanhoe.
They are the only public moment in a long period of radio silence. Unlike his musical contemporaries, Mike hardly uses social media or a current website. Not to mention making music or giving concerts.
Man on the Rocks (2014)
To everyone’s surprise, a new album sees the light of day in 2014! A scavenger hunt down his family tree to the World War I generation inspired Mike to create ‘Man Of The Rocks’. An album that, like ‘Earth Moving’, consists entirely of sung pop songs. Permanent man behind the microphone is Luke Spiller of the British indie band The Struts who puts on quite a fine performance.
Many of the songs deal with emotional instability and depression that many of Mike’s former family members also had to deal with. Despite its personal nature, including a fair amount of publicity, the album receives mixed reviews from both press and public. No one is waiting for a second “Earth Moving” now that prog rock is hip again. Certainly not the Oldfield fan! Nevertheless, sales are not bad in the world of the changed and highly fragmented music market where music is consumed differently than thirty years ago.
Return to Ommadawn (2017)
In 2015, Mike is briefly in the news when son Dougal from his second marriage dies at age 33 after suffering a heart attack. The British tabloids pay extensive attention to the tragedy. Mike is devastated with grief. He laments that as a professional musician he was rarely a father figure to his children. Two years later, he surprises friend and foe alike with “Return To Ommadawn. A continuation of ‘Ommadawn’ from 1975 as the title suggests. For those who immediately flushed ‘Man On The Rocks’ down the toilet, this is a full-fledged comeback record consisting of two twenty-minute epics played with a wide range of string and keyboard instruments. The folk melodies are strong, rich in timbre and founded on a palette of dynamic, rhythmic twists with occasional sinister moments. ‘Return To Ommadawn’ is not a granola and oatmeal symphony like its predecessor. Nor does it have the impact of 1975. It is a very melancholy-sounding album that symbolizes Mikes return to his roots as a composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer. Music that stems from his carousel of emotions where ghosts from the past are constantly at the control panel. Ghosts that are now as old as himself. Who keep some distance in between, but will never really disappear. No one expected an album like Mike Oldfield’s “Return To Ommadawn. In that surprise lies largely the appreciation for the studio album with which he honorably and fittingly closes his career.