Sonicbond Publishing [Publication date 18.09.20]
As Ryan Ward suggests in this survey of Mike Oldfield’s music, his calling card Tubular Bells – in 1973 – defined him and was never surpassed. He was only 20. Those of a certain age will remember that at some time they owned a copy of this album.
There’s not much background given to Oldfield’s apprenticeship with sister Sally (‘The Sallyangie’) or his stint with Kevin Ayers as a member of The Whole World, the story jumps in with the magnum opus.
In truth the following albums were patchy and some disappointing. ‘Hergest Ridge’ for example failed to live up to expectations in 1974 although ‘Ommadawn’ and ‘Incantations’ were critically well received. All are documented meticulously here.
Oldfield fashioned a more pop approach in the 1980s, reflected in several Top 20 singles and with Maggie Reilly the resident vocalist. A more organic seventies style was progressively updated with heavy use of synthesizers, a process begun in 1980 with the album QE2.
Oldfield has embraced modern musical trends, not least electronic dance and world music, but – since the early 1990s – he has also mercilessly rechanneled his best known work. ‘Tubular Bells II’ (1992) and ‘III’ (1998) maintained the brand along with ‘Tubular Bells 2003′ in which he completely re-recorded the original album. There has even been talk of a fourth re-visit using analogue equipment, an approach complementing the more organic ‘Return to Ommadawn’ his last studio album in 2017 .
In his introduction, Yard bemoans the sporadic recording activity with the musician “seemingly content in his island paradise, working at a relaxed speed”. We can picture Oldfield basking in the Bahamas sunshine, peeling grapes, and contemplating his next royalty cheque.
This has to be one of the best accounts in the “On track..” series in terms of musical appreciation. Ryan Yard is a professional music teacher and theoretician and therefore adds a more in-depth analysis than unusual. And, in this respect, he also kindly adds a glossary of musical terms. His account will therefore appeal to the musician as well as the casual reader. He also adds in the bonus tracks and various collaborations.
Mike Oldfield’s output over the years may seem diverse and demanding, but Yard is an indefatigable guide throughout. ****
Review by David Randall
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