Will ‘ acrobatic’ pair beaten by the Bells?
Two Australian musicians armed with 20 instruments are planning to recreate a classic album on stage. MARTIN HUTCHINSON reports
MIKE Oldfield’s Tubular Bells is regarded as one of the greatest albums ever produced.
The first release on Richard Branson’s Virgin Records, it was the result of Branson’s faith in Oldfield’s musical vision – a single album with one piece of music.
It was recorded by Oldfield himself – but performing it live was another thing. It required an army of musicians ( Oldfield played 15 instruments on side one alone).
So for just two people to perform a live version must be nigh on possible. Or is it?
Two Australians, Danny Holdsworth and Aidan Roberts, decided to have a go. Danny explains how it all started.
“The show was originally conceived by myself and Aidan back in 2008. We are both big record collectors, and a favourite pastime of ours is to get together and listen to our latest finds over a couple of drinks.
‘‘ Aidan found an original copy of Tubular Bells, which neither of us had heard in quite a while. As we revisited it, we found it fascinating, so we decided to have a bit of a jam on it.”
He continues: “There’s a famous section at the end of side one, where a bass riff repeats for about eight minutes whilst Viv Stanshall ( Bonzo Dog Doo- Dah Band) announces a procession of instruments, from ‘ grand piano’, ‘ reed and pipe organ’ and so on until you finally get ‘ tubular bells’.
“Now we had most of these instruments lying around, plus Aidan had just bought a loop pedal, which were fairly new back then. So we decided to loop the bass riff, then run around and play all the instruments.
“And from that tipsy jam, the idea was formed to try and attack the whole album with just the two of us, just for fun.
“It’s an amazing piece of music that goes against the grain of pop- music sentiment, and takes you on a weird and wonderful journey, through many different styles and moods.
“After we first performed it we thought that would be the end of it. But then we got invited to the Edinburgh Fringe to perform it, where we instantly sold out and won a string of awards.
“I think the show really fit the Fringe well because, while we’re serious about the music, the situation we’re in is comical and the task we have to pull off is almost acrobatic, so the show is incredibly tense.”
Even though the show could be described as ‘‘ comic’’, Danny is a serious musician.
“I trained as a classical guitarist. I studied composition and music technology at university and have a Masters in Creative Arts, where I wrote a thesis about the history of the rock album and its relationship to studio technology.
‘‘ So that was a pretty good basis leading into this project.
“There are 20 instruments on stage, most of them either string- based, keyboard- based or percussion, and we can play all of them. I had to improve my skills on a few of them, but on the whole I know them all pretty well.’’
Due to family reasons, Aidan has stepped down from touring the show and Danny is now joined by Tom Bamford.
“We’d known Tom for quite a while and we all come from The Blue Mountains, which is just outside of Sydney. We’d played in bands together over the years so we were comfortable working together.”
And there’s another Mike Oldfield link to the tour.
‘‘ Mike’s son Luke is in Gypsyfingers, our support act. They are a fantastic folk band and I hope people really enjoy their music.”
“As for Mike, we’ve been in touch with him a few times and he’s been very supportive of the show.
“The beauty of the show is that it’s not just about the music, it’s also about the theatricality of this ridiculous, near impossible task we’ve set ourselves.
‘‘ Our aim every night is just to get to the end. Sometimes some incredible things go wrong, but that’s part of it. We then need to dig ourselves out of it and carry on.”
Tubular Bells For Two will be performed at The Town Hall, Birmingham on Saturday.
Tom Bamford and Daniel Holdsworth perform Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells album ( left). Photo by Warren Kirby