Having made his name with enduring prog outfit Magenta and his acclaimed Kompendium project Beneath The Waves, Rob Reed has finally produced a solo album inspired by his lifelong idol.
“I call it Sanctuary,” Reed tells Prog. Mike Oldfield’s music was a sanctuary for me. I’d listen to it in my bedroom on my own at home. I could live within it.”
His passion for Oldfield’s music began when he was growing up in the small town of Ferndale, South Wales. As a young child he and his brother had an album of horror movie themes, which included a funk pastiche of Tubular Bells, used on the soundtrack to The Exorcist. When Reed was given the original album he was soon completely hooked, and became obsessed with this reclusive, long-haired guru and his magisterial yet melancholic music. When he saw Oldfield on Blue Peter explaining how he’d played all the parts himself by multitracking, budding composer Reed started emulating him at home, rigging up a series of cassette players to create a ramshackle multitrack set-up of his own
“The most perfect album Mike Oldfield ever made. He really pulled out al the stops to prove he was more than a one-hit wonder.”
Now, almost four decades later (and with a state-of-the-art studio of his own), Reed plays all the instruments on Sanctuary himself – from guitars to keyboards, from timpani to tubular bells. “I’m a control freak,” he says, “so I wanted to play everything myself and use all real instruments – no drums, and nothing in the computer that can help you cheat. All the nuances and mistakes are in there – which was part of the magic of Tubular Bells itself – and it’s this lovely sound.”
“It has the most perfect opening of any album. The finale – where the instruments are announced – is another triumph.”
Like that classic album, Reed’s work comprises two, 20-minute pieces, and it took 18 months to write and record. “I’d been meaning to do this so long and the time seemed right. It was the most enjoyable album I’ve ever made, and that’s why it sounds like it does. I was totally immersed.”
The album wears its prime influence proudly on its sleeve, with Reed careful to capture the nuances of Oldfield’s compositional and instrumental skill. “The hardest thing to get was the emotion of his playing. On Ommadawn there’s such feel to his guitar playing, its almost a voice, it speaks to you. It’s all in his hands and fingers. His music is so haunting. Parts of it are sad and downbeat, others uplifting, almost comedy, and on Sanctuary too there are sad parts, and euphoric parts.”
Conscious that such a tribute might be seen as a mere pastiche, he sought guidance from the reclusive artist’s loyal online community. If anyone was going to tell him straight if his work was in any way wrong-headed, it would be them. The repsonse was encouraging, and Reed was subsequently introduced to Oldfield’s original producers Simon Heyworth and Tom Newman.
_“It’s very challenging, dense and captivating and it’s also his best sounding album.” _
“Rob sent me a rough mix of side one,” says Newman, now credited as Sanctuary co-producer, “and I just thought it was really, really good. Working on this was akin to working with Michael again. I did what I would’ve done on a Michael album – I created a soundscape for him. There was a lot of joy in the work, and that was refreshing.”
“If Tom had said this is just a rip-off, then I’d have binned it,” says Reed. “He floored me when he said it was like working with Mike in 1973. To me that meant absolutely everything.”
“Quiet and low-key, but some of the melodies are just breathtaking and his guitar playing’s top drawer.”
With Newman adding his expertise to the final mix, Heyworth then offered to master the album at his studio in Devon for standard CD and vinyl, and also 5.1 surround. Reed will promote it with live performances in Cardiff and London later this year.
But the acid test will surely be what Oldfield himself thinks. Newman thinks he’d approve, but there’s a caveat. “He would appreciate Sanctuary’s technical prowess, I’m sure. But the thing is, Mike doesn’t actually listen to other people’s music. He’s not in the least interested!”
“There is a real depth to the music. It has chillout overtones with drum loops, but the melodies and guitar playing are really moving.”
“I would love for Mike to hear this,” says Reed, ever hopeful. “In interviews he has said he was amazed no-one picked up the torch and made an album in this style. Well, here I am! It would be nice to get his seal of approval.”
Sanctuary is out on July 21 via Tigermoth, and will be released on 180gm vinyl by Plane Groovy. More info here [www.robreedofficial.co.uk]. You can read a full interview with Rob in the current issue of Prog, on sale now.