By Larry Bartleet
Mike Oldfield’s critically and commercially successful prog-rock album ‘Tubular Bells’ has been lovingly recreated by Daniel Holdsworth and Aidan Roberts as a live, two-man performance. It’s a timeless LP, an hour-long musical odyssey which flows more like a classical work than almost any other album of popular music, with recurring motifs and a natural ebb and flow stunningly realised by these two frighteningly well-rehearsed multi-instrumentalists.
The pair take to the stage barefoot, unassuming and dressed in black. The iconic, hypnotic opening phrase begins on the piano and for the next hour the audience is treated to the masterful arrangement of the record. The music visibly moves through the two as they navigate changes of tempo and key. They seem to be completely in sync and if it weren’t for the occasional whispers of ‘again’ or ‘two, three, four,’ their rhythmic awareness might appear to be down to telepathy. They move between the crush of their twenty or so instruments with feline agility and no breaks whatsoever appear in the music. Considering that this is one of the most complex compositions being performed at the Fringe, that’s no mean feat.
The duo are constantly active, sometimes with four or five instruments sounding at once. Loops are used flawlessly to replay riffs, backing the other instruments being played simultaneously: feet might be drumming against the stage alongside a synth loop, while a guitar and two sets of keyboards are played. This set-up could last only thirty seconds before an instrument change is required. The mind boggles at how the two remain so composed: their skill is truly virtuosic, especially in the context of the broad range of instruments.
Particular moments of greatness are difficult to pick out. At the climax of the first half, Roberts relishes the introduction of the various instruments alternately playing the same theme. A wry ‘two slightly distorted guitars’ precedes the inevitable ‘Tubular Bells’, a glorious finale to Side A. Riotous applause follows. At this point, catching their breath and cooling off, the two sit on the cramped stage and take a short break for vital water, charmingly asking the audience to wait while they ‘turn over the record’. Holdsworth hopes the audience is having a good time and unsurprisingly there is more applause. The pair don’t seem too interested in chatting right now though; this show is all about the music. They seem to enjoy themselves most when they are playing and that’s fine by us.
Side B is equally impressive; once more almost everything is replicated from the album, including the five-minute segment of Oldfield’s nonsensical grunts and howls (which were a defiant two fingers to Richard Branson’s request for lyrics on the record). Holdsworth leaves the drum-kit as the piece becomes more tranquil, his heavy breathing filling the room and reminding the audience of the physicality of the music. The finale, traditional melody ‘The Sailor’s Hornpipe’ is dizzyingly ratcheted up in tempo until the two can play no faster. Suddenly it’s all over and many audience members arise for a standing ovation. It’s a testament to the players’ skill that without bombastic effects or lengthy interaction they can mesmerise their audience and inspire such pleasure.
Anyone with an ear for talent cannot fail to be impressed by this performance, but in particular fans of the seminal 1973 record will be in paradise. Before the show, either introducing oneself to or reminding oneself of the music will be beneficial, as will taking in a bottle of cold water. This performance burns bright and the venue is equally scorching.