IN 1972 ‘TUBULAR BELLS’ BY MIKE OLDFIELD EXTENDED THE BOUNDARIES OF CONTEMPORARY MUSIC. TWO INSTRUMENTAL PIECES OF CONSIDERABLE LENGTH, MERGING VARIOUS MUSICAL STYLES, AND PLAYED BY JUST ONE PERSON. IT WAS NEVER DONE BEFORE. WITH ‘TUBULAR BELLS’ MIKE OLDFIELD BECAME A SUPERSTAR AND IT LAUNCHED RICHARD BRANSON’S VIRGIN RECORDS. NOW, FIFTY YEARS LATER, THE IBB MEDIA PRODUCTION COMPANY IS CELEBRATING THE ANNIVERSARY OF ‘TUBULAR BELLS’ IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE ROYAL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA AND THE AWARD-WINNING COMPOSER/ARRANGER/CONDUCTOR SIMON DOBSON. THIS NEW VERSION WAS RECENTLY RELEASED ON CD AND PERFORMED LIVE THREE TIMES IN NOTTINGHAM, LONDON, AND BIRMINGHAM WITH MORE EUROPEAN TOURDATES COMING SOON. PERCUSSIONIST MARTIN GERNON OWNS IBB MEDIA AND TELLS MUSICOPHILIA.NL ABOUT THE CELEBRATION OF ONE OF THE MOST REMARKABLE ALBUMS OF ALL TIME AND THE CURIOUS ABSCENCE OF ITS COMPOSER.
Many thanks for your participation in this interview about the ‘Tubular Bells’ 50-project, Martin. How are you doing?
“Very well, thank you. It has been a busy few months. The ‘Tubular Bells’-album has just been released and on day one it was number one in the iTunes Classical Chart. So I’m very proud and very happy!“
Can you tell us about you musical education, history and some references?
“As well as having a professional business life, I have been a life long percussionist, playing in some of the top ensembles in the UK. I also run my own brand of percussion instruments called Centre Stage. I come from quite a musical family. My brothers were both musical, and my nephew is currently the Principal Guest Conductor with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.“
How did you get involved in the ‘Tubular Bells’-50th Anniversary Celebration-project?
“Back in 2021, we did a documentary and live show recording of a new ‘Tubular Bells’-show that involved acrobats. Whilst the filming and recording from us was very good, the show unfortunately wasn’t great. However, we were asked by our distributor, Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment, to produce a new album of ‘Tubular Bells’ for distribution through Cleopatra Records in the USA, who were also distributing the DVD of the documentary and the live show we recorded. As this was a new album, I wanted to recreate ‘Tubular Bells’ with orchestral colour, texture and depth. As well as all the original parts being played totally live, we used the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and London Contemporary Voices, who were both amazing.“
Why a new version of ‘ Tubular Bells? You could also re-imagine the existing version.
“Well, as I said earlier, we took the original source material and were very faithful to this. Because, there is an essence of Mike Oldfield that cannot be forgotten or abused. His music is so descriptive of his moods, and in my opinion should not be straight copied. There is no originality in doing this. To add depth, colour, texture, drama, pathos and humour into the music by the additional orchestral parts was a thing of beauty and took the album to a whole new level. Every piece of music is a living, breathing organism and can evolve over time. It’s always difficult to judge what the consumer judgement of your efforts are. But as the album hit number 1 in the iTunes Classical Charts on its release day and a host of fantastic press reviews, I’d say we got the mix of originality and enhancement absolutely right.“
Are the orchestral, choral and band arrangements by Simon Dobson or Robin Smith who arranged and conducted ‘Tubular Bells’ II and III during their live premiere?
“All the arrangements are by Simon Dobson.”
Choir, band and orchestra is a different story than the lone self-dubbed musician that Mike Oldfield is. What was the biggest challenge in this project?
“The biggest challenge was remaining faithful to the original album yet adding the orchestral parts in a manner that did not detract from the beauty of the original, but instead enhanced its beauty. No easy task, but one I think we have accomplished.“
Why is there a dance/theater act at the performance? Is the music not enough?
“You are confusing this with the documentary and live show we recorded last year with Circa. To me, the music is enough, but such is the popularity of the music, why not try it with dance, movement and acrobatics and bring a new meaning to the work.”
What audience do you hope to reach? You probably won’t get a young audience that easily with an orchestra.
“Surprisingly, a lot of feedback we have had is from younger audiences. It isn’t an orchestral recording. It is a faithful acount of the original album, with additional orchestral parts and colours. All the original music can still be heard and is played incredibly well by some of the top session musicians in the world. Good music never goes out of fashion.“
Have you considered having a famous musician or guitarist to participate?
“No. The musicians we got involved in the project are amongst the best in their field. Session musicians are not as famous as some of their more high profile band colleagues, but just as good, if not better. We chose the right musicians for this album.“
Has Mike Olfield been approached to participate? Is he involved at all?
“Mike is now a semi-recluse in the Bahamas and so was not involved in this project.“
What’s your opinion as a musician about ‘Tubular Bells’ ?
“It is a masterpeice on many levels. The compositional flow is incredible, particularly as this was written when Mike was between 17 and 19. The music represents Mikes troubled early years in incredible detail and the emotional outpouring takes the listener on a magical journey full of highs and lows. The recording techniques employed in the production of the album were incredible at the time and probably could not be reproduced on todays equipment with the same rawness, the same originality, and the same feel. As I said earlier, good music never goes out of fashion. This is a piece that deserves classical status and will go down in history as one of the greatest works of the 20th century.“
A tour of continental Europe will follow in 2023. Will the Netherlands also be included in the tour schedule?
“Yes, we hope so. We shall be able to confirm and announce dates during November 2022.“
Michel Scheijen & Servé Smeets