Tubular Bells; it’s the famous 1973 master-work by composer and multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield at the age of 19, which has gone on to become a rare example of a legitimate rock symphony.
With its grand structure (one 49-minute piece split on two sides of vinyl) and complex approach toward harmony and meter, the album was the first release on Richard Branson’s fledgling record label, Virgin Records and went on to sell over 30 million copies – kick-starting the Virgin empire – and becoming the soundtrack to the cult-classic film, The Exorcist.
It’s a classic, and it’s a classic that inspired two young Australian multi-instrumentalists to present this modern masterpiece in a challenging live event more than 40 years since its creation, performing every part live with only four hands and four feet between them.
When asked what sparked the idea of this insane project, co-creator Daniel Holdsworth reveals all.
“I ask myself that same question every day,” he laughs. “The show was developed by me and my good friend Aiden Roberts [whose role is now performed by Tom Bamford], and it started nearly 10 years ago now, I can’t believe it. We didn’t intend to ever do this as a show; this actually was kind of an accident.”
With Holdsworth and Roberts being long time friends and collaborators, the two came together for a fireside jam session and a bottle of wine when Tubular Bells made its way onto the turntable platter.
“We were really fascinated by it; we were fascinated because it’s essentially a non-stop, continuous piece of music. At the end of side one, there’s this famous section on the album where this guy called Vivian Stanshall introduces an array of instruments and then the main themes are played and it keeps going through all these different instruments until it finishes with ‘plus Tubular Bells’, and then in come these bells,” he explains.
“So because we had a lot of instruments with us at the time, we thought it would be fun to set up all these instruments around in a circle – by this time we probably had a couple of bottles of wine. So we set up all these instruments, announced them and then ran around and played them all,” he laughed. “By this time it was probably about midnight and we were just having a stupid jam.”
With that night fresh in their minds, the two soon set themselves the challenge of trying to learn the music, and soon becoming so absorbed in the challenge, they decided to attempt a live performance that would sound as close to the original piece as possible with just the two of them and 24 instruments. “It sounds stupid right? It sounds absolutely ridiculous, and it’s nearly impossible to do,” he laughs.
With a point to prove, more than twenty instruments (pianos, organs, electric guitars, acoustic and Spanish guitars, bass guitar, mandolin, tuned percussion, drums, glockenspiel, loop pedals, synthesisers) and a makeshift set of Tubular Bells, they defied the odds and presented the influential masterpiece true to the original recording with all its multi-layered madness and subtle beauty intact to a sold out venue in the Blue Mountains. This was only the beginning of this “weird little experiment”, which would soon see Holdsworth perform the multi-award winning sell-out hit more than 500 times in 35 different countries.
“It’s just become part of my life, it’s incredible,” he gushes. “I think why it works is because there’s these two things going on; one it’s about the music, it’s a great performance of this awesome piece of music, and on the other side it’s about two guys doing this nearly impossible task and there’s this tension that drives the performance. It could fall apart at any moment, it’s so hard to do, and sometimes it does fall apart.
“The music ends up serving as a soundtrack to this epic task,” he continues. “Even the music itself has this great art to it; it starts really mellow and it goes through so many different styles, moods and emotions. There’s gentle, beautiful, melodic stuff, then there’s loud aggressive parts too and then it builds up to this epic climax. That build is a great journey with great art; it’s just a fantastic piece of theatre and I’m so excited to be bringing it back to Australia and bringing it back to Melbourne; it’s been a long time since we’ve done proper shows over here.”
With the duo literally rushed off their feet as they rush around a sea of instruments to replicate the masterpiece, Tubular Bells for Two is truly an intricately choreographed, thrilling 70 minute piece of tightrope theatre that will head to theatres across Australia.
As for the best part of the performance, Holdsworth reveals his favourite part: “Getting to the end…” he laughs. “Look I say that kind of jokingly, but also seriously. The end is a sense of achievement. In the very end, the music is a very beautiful piece that wraps up the whole experience and it’s quite majestic and grand and in the way that it closes everything off, and I love that part.”
Regardless of whether you’re a Tubular Bells virgin, or long-time fan, Tubular Bells for Two is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat. It is one of the most innovative musical performances to grace the stage in many years.
When & Where: The Capital, Bendigo – June 20, Horsham Town Hall, Horsham – June 21 & GPAC Drama Theatre, Geelong – June 22.
For more details and tickets go to www.tubularbellsfortwo.com
Written by Talia Rinaldo