How should you approach a re-recording of such an iconic album as Tubular Bells? Some might suggest that you shouldn’t consider it in the first place, others will demand that you should be as authentic to the original as you possibly can be. Others will realise that you cannot recreate it in that way without having the mind and nimble fingers of Mike Oldfield, and a near fifty-year old recording studio to work in. In reality, whatever approach you take is necessarily going to have your own DNA and the musical personalities of the musicians involved all over it. Any approach you take will be wrong in someone’s eyes (or should that be ears?), but to some this is a “rock standard”, in the same way that jazz has its standards. You can listen to a Mozart CD too, and of course, he never saw a recording studio.
Rob Reed from Magenta is the main man here. He’s released Oldfield related CDs before. This time around Rob has drawn together over thirty-five musicians, including many who have worked with Mike Oldfield in the past such as Rick Fenn, Phil Spalding, Alasdair Malloy, Steve Hillage, Jay Stapley, Les Penning and Jon Field. Quite tellingly, he has also brought in Tom Newman, who worked alongside Oldfield on the original album.
There aren’t really any liberties taken here, with the music presented pretty much as on the 1973 album. The differences are down to Mike Oldfield not playing and that other musicians are. The mix is slightly different in places too with maybe a synthesiser tweaked a little louder in the mix, or another instrument given a little more prominence. But without having the original album playing at the same time many of these changes may not be apparent. What is more noticeable is that the sound is much cleaner than on the original, with much of the 1970s fuzziness gone. The result is quite a pristine listening experience.
Tubular Bells here is presented as two CDs. The first CD follows the two-track version of the original, whilst the second disc is composed of the music broken into eighteen much shorter tracks given simple titles for the most part such as Basses, Blues, Russian, and Harmonics. The second disc also features a different mix, but again you’d require quite an aural memory to be able to notice it all.
The strengths and weaknesses of this release pretty much reflect those of the 1973 release. There are some quite brilliant moments along side those that are quite weak. The Caveman section, always meant to be a fun section will still only work when you are in the mood. The version on this release is much less growly than on Oldfield’s original, and the vocal is drawn back in the mix somewhat. The Sailor’s Hornpipe ending for the suite has always come across as somewhat weak and inconclusive. Some might also consider the second disc to be superfluous as the difference in the mix seems negligible. The dramatic theatricality of Jim Carter’s Master of Ceremonies doesn’t quite work either.
This release, then, is quite a refreshing and entertaining listen, but you may question how likely you would be to regularly listen to this when there are so many versions by Mike Oldfield himself available, few of which can even themselves approach the iconic statues of the original. Consider this an interesting but non-essential release.
All proceeds go to the mental health charity MIND.
CD1 is mixed by Tubular Bells producer Tom Newman. CD 2 is mainly mixed by Robert Reed.
Produced by Robert Reed and Paul Harris
Tubular Bells Part One 27:15
Tubular Bells Part Two 23:40
Tubular Bells Part One
Fast Guitars 2:22
A Minor Tune 1:47
Ghost Bells 0:32
Tubular Bells Part Two
Bagpipe Guitars 2:50
Ambient Guitars 5:19
The Sailor’s Hornpipe 1:58
Robert Reed / Tom Newman / Tubular Bells Live – Phil Toms / Rich Nolan
Steve Smith / James Stirling / Steve Bingham / Brenda Stewart
Tubular Bells for Two – Daniel Holdsworth
Phil Spalding / Jay Stapley/ Steve Hillage / Alasdair Malloy
Robert Reed / Les Penning / Tubular Tribute – Rubén Alvarez
Ariane Valdivié / Richard García / Manu Herrera
Paco Salazar / Chris Kimber / Hubert Razack / Stefano Fasce
Rick Fenn / Jon Field / Miguel Engel Arcengelus / Ryan Yard
Fadalack – Luis Suria / Juan García / Marcial Picó / Pablo Egío
Nacho Soto / Cayetano Ruiz / Silverio Carmona
Álvaro Rodríguez Barroso
And Jim Carter as the Master of Ceremonies
2xCD / Digital
Release Date: 14th December 2020
Label: Tigermoth Records