Mike Oldfield: Tubular Bells/Mike Oldfield Collection

Mike Oldfield's classic reissued alongside reworked compilation album

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“What? Again?” is the probably the first thought when confronted with what seems like the umpteenth re-release of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular legacy (this is actually the third release for the album that first stunned music lovers back in 1973, fourth if you consider the version given away with The Mail On Sunday which so enraged the composer). Maybe so, but this also heralds the beginning of a lengthy reissues campaign for Oldfield’s 37-year back catalogue over which he himself is pulling the strings, much as he did in Oxfordshire’s Manor Studios back in late 1972 and early 1973, under the auspicious eye of producer Tom Newman, when the dreams of the then 18-year-old gradually came to fruition.

Not so much remixed as restored to a sound approaching that which Oldfield originally intended, given the protagonist’s feelings concerning the sound of the 2003 reissue, to be brutally honest, it really would take the ear of a master craftsman like Oldfield to truly notice the sonic minutiae. That said, much of the work sounds as genuinely awe-inspiring as it did when you first heard it.

It has, however, always fascinated me that, given side one reaches such a spellbinding climactic crescendo that remains so indelibly imprinted on the senses, one suspects that for many what was side one IS Tubular Bells. So why didn’t it end the album proper? Having said that however, reappraising the whole album allows side two the chance to hold its own, which, ‘caveman’ section aside, it pretty much does, even if the tail end Sailor’s Hornpipe is no match for Bonzo Dog Vivian Stanshall’s exquisite Master of Ceremony’s delivery that concludes side one.

The new disc comes with two additional tracks, namely a 1974 US single (variations on Tubular’s themes) and a possibly inebriated Vivian Stanshall verbalising over …Hornpipe in a pre-Sir Henry At Rawlinson’s End stylee.

One of the many varieties of releases for the new Tubular Bells comes with what will be a TV-advertised Mike Oldfield Collection, which collates many of his better known shorter pieces between 1974 and 1983. Ostensibly a shortened version of the 1993 compilation Elements, the 14 tracks contained go some way to highlighting that Oldfield was more than just a composer of lengthy epics, even if shortened versions of Ommadawn and _Incantations _feature.

But while In Dulci Jubilo, Portsmouth and his take on the Blue Peter theme could be classed as muso frippery, the moody Five Miles Out, the disco-themed Guilty and Family Man (the latter made famous by US white soul duo Hall And Oates) paint a portrait of an intelligent writer of melodic pop songs.

The three short songs taken from 1983’s excellent Crises, Shadow On The Wall (featuring the vocal talents of Family’s Roger Chapman), _Foreign Affair _and the ever delightful Moonlight Shadow (featuring the delectable Maggie Reilly) really are Oldfield’s pop trumps.

So is this the Bell end? Probably. Until Mike gets round to remixing Tubular Bells II and III, that is.

Jerry Ewing

Writer and broadcaster Jerry Ewing is the Editor of Prog Magazine which he founded for Future Publishing in 2009. He grew up in Sydney and began his writing career in London for Metal Forces magazine in 1989. He has since written for Metal Hammer, Maxim, Vox, Stuff and Bizarre magazines, among others. He created and edited Classic Rock Magazine for Dennis Publishing in 1998 and is the author of a variety of books on both music and sport, including Wonderous Stories; A Journey Through The Landscape Of Progressive Rock.