Following his quest for odd time signatures, classical and fantastical influences, Paul Bielatowicz meets the instrumental genius composer, Mike Oldfield.
Michael Gordon Oldfield was born on May 15, 1953 in Reading, the son of a doctor and a nurse. Oldfield’s music career began while he was still at school, playing solo acoustic guitar pieces at local folk clubs, and then later with a band playing Shadows-style music (Hank Marvin was a big influence). And by the time he left school, Mike was already focusing on a career in music.
In 1967 he formed a folk duo called The Sallyangie with his sister Sally, and they managed to secure a record deal. They released the album Children Of The Sun (1968), before disbanding and Mike turned more towards rock music. He joined Kevin Ayers’ band in 1970, playing bass and various guitars on the albums Shooting At The Moon (1970) and Whatevershebringswesing (1971).
Mike became friends with Ayers’ keyboardist, David Bedford, who encouraged him to develop his composition, which eventually led to Tubular Bells. Mike recorded a number of demos and tried to secure a record deal, without success. In 1971 he was hired to record bass guitar for a record being made at Manor Studios – a studio owned by a young entrepreneur called Richard Branson. Branson already had a number of business ventures and was about to start his own record label, Virgin Records. Oldfield played the studio engineers his Tubular Bells demos; they were impressed and passed them on to Branson. The demos secured Oldfield a week in Manor Studios, during which time he recorded the legendary Part 1 (or side 1) of Tubular Bells. Part 2 was completed over the following few months. Tubular Bells was the inaugural release of Richard Branson’s Virgin Records, and it proved to be a massive success. The album was groundbreaking in many ways, seeing Oldfield playing more than 20 instruments and moving through different and diverse musical styles.
Tubular Bells’ success was boosted when its opening theme was used to great effect in William Friedkin’s blockbuster horror movie, The Exorcist. Oldfield followed Tubular Bells with a string of other successful instrumental albums released on Virgin, including Ommadawn, Hergest Ridge and various Tubular Bells sequels, as well as hit singles such as Moonlight Shadow with Maggie Riley on vocals and his trademark fingerpicked 'bagpipe-like' guitar tone.
In 1979 Mike recorded a new version of the theme tune to the children’s TV show Blue Peter, which was used for the next 10 years. In 1981 he was also commissioned to write music for the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, resulting in his Royal Wedding Anthem. Towards the end of the 1980s friction arose between Oldfield and Virgin. His rebellious response came in the form of Amarok, an hour-long work consisting of rapidly changing themes, supposedly in an attempt to make cutting a single from the album impossible. The conflict inevitably led to Mike’s departure in 1991, since which time he has continued to release albums on various labels.
Although never comfortable with the fame aspect of success, Oldfield's name as a world-renowned multi-instrumentalist and composer is nevertheless assured.
His demos secured a week in Richard Branson's Manor Studios, during which time he recorded the legendary Part 1 (or Side 1) of Tubular Bells.
Mike Oldfield with a tasty Gibson SG Jnr