Plus ... tubular bells
October 12, 2013 6:46 AM   Subscribe

Known to millions of Dutch children as the chase music in Bassie en Adriaan, Mike Oldfield's avant garde rock classic Tubular Bells is forty years old this year. Largely a one man creation, with Mike Oldfield himself playing most of the instruments from bass guitar to tubular bells, a small army of friends was assembled for the BBC performance of the album's A side.

Apart from Mike Oldfield (previously) on bass and acoustic guitar and his brother Jerry on flute, most of the musicians who took part in the recording were part of the socalled Canterbury Scene, a loose collection of prog rock, avant garde and jazz fusion bands and artists based in and around Canterbury:

John Field (flute), who as Jon Field, together with David Duhig released four albums of instrumental prog rock as Jade Warrior for Virgin Record (Memories of a Distant Sea, from Floating World)

Fred Frith (guitar), John Greaves (Keyboards & bass), Tim Hodgkinson (keyboards) and Geoff Leigh (flute) were all members of Henry Cow, one of the more hardcore avantgarde bands (loosely) connected to the Canterbury scene, who'd later temporarily fused with German-English avant-pop band Slapp Happy for some even more abstract albums. (sample: Beautiful as the Moon)

Steve Hillage (guitar) started off in Uriel, moved on to Khan, but is best known for being part of the classic line up of Gong, one of the key Canterbury bands and was present for the recordings of the Radio Gnome trilogy of albums (Flying Teapot, Angel's Egg and You). After Gong he went solo, moving from prog rock into more ambient music, providing an inspiration to e.g The Orb, which in turn inspired Hillage to form his own electronic dance act, System 7, in the early 1990s. (Live footage of the classic lineup at Montserrat , the Steve Hillage band live at Kent uni, 1979)

Karl Jenkins (oboe), a member of Soft Machine from 1972 to 1984 and ho boy, is the history of that band worthy of a post all its own, but suffice to say that the period of the band he was involved with, from 1976 onwards, as all the founding members had left, is not the most loved one. Soft Machine had started as the most prominent of the Canterbury Scene prog rock bands, then slowly evolved towards jazz/fusion inspired music. (Karl Jenkins profile, with Soft Machine at Montreux, 1974)

Pierre Moerlen (percussion), was the drummer in Gong and after the classic lineup had imploded in 74-75, became its leader. That incarnation of the band was also known as Pierre Moerlen's Gong, which released several albums of jazz fusion inspired music. Sadly Moerlen died in 2005 (Pierre Moerlen's Gong live, Pierre Moerlen solo)

Mike Ratledge (keyboards), a founding member of Soft Machine, who left in 1976 dissatisfied with the direction the band had taken. (1967 performance with the original lineup for Dutch tv, live in Paris 1970.)

Mick Taylor (guitar) you of course already know as the guitarist in the last incarnation of tthe Rolling Stones worth paying attention to. He was also in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and has had a long solo career ever since he left the Stones in 1974. (live from Rockpalast 2009)
posted by MartinWisse (16 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
BBC4 showed an hour long documentary last night on the making of Tubular Bells, it is available on iPlayer for the next 7 days. It was interesting to see how the record became a success and how this affected Oldfield.

My dad had a copy of TB, most dads probably did thinking about it. It had been played so many times the sleeve was in pieces and the record skipped in several places, but it still fascinated me. It along with his ELP and Yes records are probably responsible for my outlook towards most music: It has to be music, you can keep the lyrics.
posted by lawrencium at 8:06 AM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Some love for the Master of Ceremonies please:
Viv Stanshall,
also recently.
Nice post MartinWisse.
posted by adamvasco at 8:19 AM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I still can't believe that my 70s-prog-loving self had never heard of Tubular Bells until I read Losing My Virginity last year. Learning about it was by far the best thing to come out of reading that book.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:25 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Tubular Bells Part Two never gets any love, so I just want to mention that it is now old enough top drink in the USA!
posted by Mezentian at 8:45 AM on October 12, 2013

Never mind Tubular Bells part Two. What about Tubular Bells for two? Saw these guys at the Edinburgh festival this year and they were excellent. Sorry for the crappy linkage, posting from a phone. (
posted by Jakey at 8:59 AM on October 12, 2013

First time I heard tubular bells was probably about '88, when I was ten. Went to visit my wayyyy cool uncle, who was a helicopter pilot. He drove a brand new Lincoln Mark VII that had the first digital speedo I'd ever seen. He also had the first CD player I'd ever seen. He let me play with it while he and my dad chatted. God it felt like the future and success. That special 80's style of future-success. The two CDs I listened to where Tubular Bells and, well, I can't believe I can remember this, Passages by Osamu Kitajima. The latter, which I am sure my uncle read about in Playboy or bought at a Sharper Image, I have never heard or seen since. But I kept loving Tubular Bells, both 1 and 2 since.

But I will always associate that sound with that day at my uncle's house. It was the perfect kind of music to be coming out of those amazing and perfect little holographic discs. (never mind it was already 15 years old)
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 9:19 AM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I got the record recently, having never heard it outside of The Exorcist. And was completely gobsmacked. It took me a while to get past hearing it as horror movie music, but once I did, I was fascinated by just how many shifts in direction is packs into those 40 minutes or so.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:24 AM on October 12, 2013

"I'll listen to a little bit now, and the rest later," is what I thought about 25 minutes ago.

Listened to this album (well, the A side) nearly every day, for months, back around 1975. So hearing it live now, so many years later, is pure visceral joy. I love this song more than I like some people. /factofthematter
posted by datawrangler at 9:52 AM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

My ex was a huge Mike Oldfield fan, and this brings back the memories. I keep thinking about laying out for some Oldfield of my own and not getting around to it. (My favorite was Ommadawn, but Tubular Bells is a close second.)

Also I understand why Book of Love covered Tubular Bells--it's not like everybody and their dog doesn't owe Oldfield--but that was definitely a case of their reach exceeding their grasp.
posted by immlass at 10:16 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

BBC4 showed an hour long documentary last night on the making of Tubular Bells,

Which is what kicked off this post, as I came in about halfway through and after that they showed this and I got to wondering about the people assembled for the broadcast.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:35 AM on October 12, 2013

God it felt like the future and success. That special 80's style of future-success.

posted by hapax_legomenon at 12:57 PM on October 12, 2013

My dad had a copy of TB, most dads probably did thinking about it.

My Dad certainly did, along with some even weirder looking record covers ( Caravan and Amon Duul II, neither of which I ever listened to despite finding the covers fascinating ). It was the first repetitive, layered instrumental album I'd ever heard, and I was blown away by it. Retrospectively it probably laid some groundwork for enjoying both electronic music and more prog-rock sounding stuff.

Looking forward to checking out the documentary! The BBC also did a Krautrock documentary and a Radiophonic Workshop documentary that are worth checking out.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 3:26 PM on October 12, 2013

When John Peel decided to play a long instrumental album by an unknown musician on his radio show, he put the wheels in motion for a worldwide smash, and a whole business empire, reveals Sir Richard Branson.
posted by adamvasco at 4:29 AM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it's worth mentioning that Tubular Bells came out just over a week after Oldfield's twentieth birthday.

Though I didn't know the documentary was on, I listened to the album on a whim this week while I was working - I'd not heard it for many years. It really is astounding, but the thing that struck me were all the imperfections - places where he didn't use a metronome track, so he sped up, or transitions that don't quite fit. It makes the album better for me, actually.

I wish the documentary had gone into how the alternate side 2 ending (with an astoundingly drunken Viv Stanshall free-associating while an equally intoxicated Oldfield and Tom Newman stomp around the Manor playing the Hornpipe on guitar and mandolin) came about.

And since you mentioned Henry Cow, I'd like to point out that not only were they one of the few progressive groups to have women personnel, they had three female members at the same time.
posted by Grangousier at 5:01 AM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Unless I missed it, even Wikipedia missed the fact that there was a live performance
on one of those 70's rock shows (Midnight Special?, Don Kirshner's Rock Concert?)
that was my first encounter with the full piece. I can't remember the show's name,
but I do remember "Wow!". Maybe it was a video feed of the "BBC, filmed on 30 November 1973" performance?
posted by Chitownfats at 5:12 AM on October 13, 2013

Just a note for any Canterbury nerds who might be lurking:

The recent Robert Wyatt '68 album -- unreleased material recorded in the US while Soft Machine was touring with Hendrix -- is pretty damn wonderful.
posted by neroli at 5:45 PM on October 17, 2013

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