Composer: Mike Oldfield
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
‘Tubular Bells’ was a phenomenon. Its financial success helped establish the Virgin record company and the eerie opening number was used as the theme music for ‘The Exorcist’ and actually enhanced the unease created by one of the scariest movies ever. But time has not been kind to the record. Its initial impact has been diluted by further instalments from creator Mike Oldfield and by his tinkering with the original. Shortly after its release the album, perceived as progressive rock, fell out of fashion as the scorched earth politics of Punk Rock took precedence. This is ironic as Mike Oldfield actually fulfilled the ‘Do It Yourself’ ethic of Punk Rock – he played almost all of the instruments on the album himself.
In ‘Tubular Bells ‘For Two’’ Daniel Holdsworth and Aidan Roberts remind audiences about this last point. They demonstrate how just two instrumentalists can achieve apparently complex musical structures which, when previously performed live, required over two-dozen musicians. Impressively the duo achieves their objective; only occasionally do they resort to using pre-programmed sequences on the keyboard to free themselves to play other instruments.
There were many possible outcomes for ‘Tubular Bells ‘For Two’’ –the sheer ability and style of the performers raises it above the status of novelty event. I certainly didn’t expect it to be so much fun- prog rock takes itself very seriously. To his credit Oldfield went against this tendency ending the record with ‘The Sailor’s Hornpipe’ and using vocals from the eccentric Vivian Stanshall.
While never failing to show respect for the source material Holdsworth and Roberts bring a lighter atmosphere to their interpretation. Surprisingly, in the age of slick rock shows, they not only perform all of the instruments themselves they also dispense with roadies. This back to basics approach – very much in line with Oldfield’s original production – shapes the performance. The need to switch seamlessly between instruments necessitates that the stage be crammed with half a dozen pre-tuned guitars, a glockenspiel, two drum kits, three keyboards and, centre rear stage, a set of tubular bells.
The duo behave like mad scientists conducting a bizarre experiment. Switching between the keyboards behind which they are seated and the guitars around their necks they also bang drums and play glockenspiel. As the evening progresses the performance becomes more frenetic with the duo dashing barefoot around the stage grabbing and discarding instruments. As well as demonstrating the musical expertise of Holdsworth and Roberts this approach also draws out a degree of tension and humour from a work that could be perceived as cerebral and chilly. The live performance is more dramatically satisfying with the guitar and drum playing having a harder more powerful edge. It is difficult to resist being drawn into the performance; groaning in sympathy as an effort to play a dramatic chord change on the bass guitar fails because the instrument is unplugged.
Even audiences who don’t care for the original version of ‘Tubular Bells’ will find something to enjoy in the more direct and joyful interpretation by Holdsworth and Roberts and fans are sure to approve.