MIKE OLDFIELD’S Tubular Bells is perhaps the most unlikely smash hit record ever to be released: the sprawling Celtic-folk-rock opus shot to #1 in album charts around the world in 1973-74, throwing its young composer into the international spotlight and kickstarting Richard Branson’s Virgin music empire.
Now, 45 years later, prodigious Australian multi-instrumentalists Daniel Holdsworth and Tom Bamford have arranged its entire score to be played by just the two of them in a unique theatrical performance, bringing to life the progressive masterpiece with all of its multi-layered madness and subtle charms intact. Well… almost.
That’s the flawed beauty of this ambitious enterprise, which I witnessed amongst an almost full house at the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s South Bank – a step up from the much smaller Union Chapel which the act played a few years ago in an earlier incarnation (founding member Aidan Roberts since taking an extended time out after becoming a father back home in Sydney).
New boy Bamford is equal to the task though: both he and Holdsworth dashing about the stage to play their multiple parts on a myriad of twenty instruments, including glockenspiel, flute, keyboards, drums, a selection of electric and acoustic guitars, and of course the titular tubular bells looming centre-stage behind the pair throughout the performance.
What adds a note of jeopardy to the otherwise melodious flurry is the ever-present risk of a bum note being played during a live-looped sequence of guitar (the multi-layered format popularised by Ed Sheeran) which then can’t be erased so you hear it returning with each new sequence, with the performing pair at pains to work around it.
The half-time break when it arrives provides some welcome respite for all concerned, before ‘side two’ commences and plays out to a much more satisfyingly rocking conclusion.
Lovers of Mike Oldfield’s masterwork can’t fail to be enthralled by this clever, intricately-choreographed rendering, but even if you’re unacquainted with the album through relative youthfulness, you’ll definitely be inspired to give it a whirl after seeing this show.
For details on the rest of the May UK tour, which calls at Watford, Wycombe and Milton Keynes among others, go to www.tubularbellsfortwo.com