wed 17/12/2014

Tubular Bells, The Charles Hazlewood All Stars, St George's Bristol | New music reviews, news & interviews

Tubular Bells, The Charles Hazlewood All Stars, St George's Bristol

A classic of the 1970s provides an ear-opening lesson in Minimalism

Charles Hazlewood with one of his All Stars, Will Gregory from Goldfrapp

Tubular Bells, the first half of which is being currently revived as a live piece in the UK, sold between 15 and 17 million units worldwide. Quite apart from the work’s innocence being co-opted and made spooky in William Friedkin's The Exorcist, there was something about Mike Oldfield’s first stab at quasi-symphonic rock which seduced the music-consuming public.

Borrowing the repeated motifs of Minimalism – most specifically Terry Riley’s Rainbow in Curved Air – and similarly cyclical tropes that made Ravel’s Bolero and Grieg’s Peer Gynt so audience-grabbing, Tubular Bells wallowed in cliché but also broke new ground: this was one of the first examples of a musician recording most of the tracks himself – guitars, keyboards and percussion – but the mostly instrumental piece’s scale, spread over two sides of an LP, was also innovative, in pop or rock at least.

I am not sure whether to feel pride or shame but I played a part in the piece’s success. I had met Richard Branson – who signed Oldfield to his new Virgin label after hearing his demos – in 1967, when we were both involved in student journalism. He contacted me again in 1973 as he was about to launch his first release – Tubular Bells (pictured right). I was by then working on Second House, a fairly wild Saturday-night arts programme on BBC Two. The show was distinguished by a shambolic and knife-edge sense of experiment: performance artist Stuart Brisley lying in a bath of offal would be followed by a performance of David Bedford’s piece “With 100 Kazoos”, a cacophonous audience participation effort and the Mike Westbrook Band paired with Henry Woolf doing brilliant political satire.

I heard the Mike Oldfield piece and imagined a live version in the studio. Second House’s execs agreed, and Mike Oldfield brought along Mick Taylor of The Stones, Steve Hillage, Fred Frith, Mike Ratledge, David Bedford, Pierre Moerlein and other musicians associated with the label and the early 1970s avant-garde. Director Tony Staveacre, noted for his imaginative multi-camera studio work, visualised the piece beautifully, responding sensitively to the beguiling fluidity of the repeated motifs and the piece’s hallmark moments of drama.

The live version was presented soon afterwards at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall, to which Charles Hazlewood and his All Stars will return with the iconic piece on 6 December. Hazlewood regularly works with Will Gregory of Goldfrapp and Adrian Utley of Portishead, the duo who wrote a stunning new soundtrack for Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. A few months ago, they put together two concerts celebrating the music of Terry Riley. It was Adrian Utley, looking for another similar collaborative project, who came across the BBC Two version of Tubular Bells and suggested it to Hazlewood. “When I had finished rolling around the floor laughing,” the conductor says, “I thought, why not? It does rumble on as one of the distinct parts of the UK’s musical DNA.”

Comments

and of course Monsieur

and of course Monsieur Oldfield was deeply inspired by the French band rehearsing in the Virgin studios while he was waiting for studio time - they were Christian Vander's Magma. Listen to Mekanik Destruciw Komandoh and hear where the main Tubercular balls riff started life. (and you really should listen to Magma, minimal it ain't)

I went to the concert at the

I went to the concert at the QEH in London last night - and I must say I was deeply disappointed by the performance of Tubular Bells. Firstly, they only played part 1, whilst advertising the whole work. This is just cheating the public, especially since part 2 contains some of the sections most obviously influenced by (and showing more strict adherence to) the minimalist movement. Far worse though, was the fact that the ensemble had prefaced Tubular Bells with some clearly expert and detailed performances of music by Terry Reilly and Steve Reich. Harp Phase was particularly impressive and hypnotic. There was also an impressive array of original vintage organs and synthesizers, lending an authenticity to the soundworld of Tubular Bells that even Mike Oldfield himself cannot be bothered to muster these days. However, "cannot be bothered" seemed to be the watchword for this performance. After the precision of the earlier works, this was just plain sloppy, full of obvious mistakes as well as sections (including the final guitar playout) which hadn't even been properly transcribed. The arrogance of Charles Hazelwood as he sneered at the audience for liking this kind of music took the biscuit though. His introduction was full of basic mistakes - he talked about how the music was assembled by Oldfield playing all the instruments (he didn't) with great care (side one was recorded in a week, mostly using the first take of each overdub owing to lack of studio time). He went on to complain about how the finished record sounded too clinical and perfect (really? Oldfield himself complains about the numerous clearly audible glitches, mains hum and sniffs throughout side 1). Mike Oldfield may (most certainly) not represent the height of intellectual rigour within the world of minimalism - playing lip-service to it more as a prevalent style within a rather whimsical Rock Music instrumental. But he was nevertheless responsible for a piece of music the popular imagination to a far greater extent than Charles Hazelwood is ever likely to do on evidence of this performances.

Have to agree about the

Have to agree about the Tubular Bells performance. All the 1st three pieces were excellent, and I really enjoyed each one. At the back of the QEH they sounded terrific. But Tubular Bells had many sloppy moments (guitar mainly) and sounded somewhat muddy from my seat. And I too was also expecting Part Two - they should've made it clearer in the advertising. Personally, I didn't think that Charles Hazelwood was arrogant, and did his usual excellent job of guiding the audience through the music, especially the less well-known pieces. Maybe his "bell end" joke and the "I hope you found that sensual" comment weren't his best moments though .... But well worth the admission for 3/4 of the concert. Maybe it was for the better they didn't try playing Part Two......

Bit unfair how the article

Bit unfair how the article apologetically discusses the album. Mike's music has always had this negative patronising discussion thrown at it. It's a shame that it is always Tubular Bells gets the lions share of new reworkings. Most annoying is the inclusion of a video clip from tubular bells III which the writer is apparently confusing with the original?

I didn't confuse the original

I didn't confuse the original with Tubular Bells III, that was put in by one of the editorial people at TAD, and you're quite right, it shouldn't be there. I will get it replaced with the YouTube clip of the original BBC version that I produced

I don't like Jean-Michel

I don't like Jean-Michel Jarre's Oxygéne, so clearly the thing to do is tour my own version of it, apologising to audiences for how crap it is and then get fawning articles articles written about me. I'll get started on that right now.

Well, I've never heard of

Well, I've never heard of this guy, so I don't know much about his own creativity, but to make such comments about TB is not only arrogant, but shows some clear gaps in his musical education. Sounds like a pretentious hack to me.

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