For two the bell tolls as an old masterpiece rings out for a new crowd
By Michael Dwyer
April 25, 2011
Mike Oldfield’s 1973 album Tubular Bells was a handful for one man to record. For two to perform, it’s a gauntlet.
THE glory days of vinyl aren’t as long gone as you might think. The boom time for collectors was the mid-1990s, when retro-hipsters spent a cheap afternoon flicking through crates of solid gold dumped by shortsighted old-timers secure in the knowledge that CDs were forever.
For teenaged Daniel Holdsworth and Aidan Roberts, Blue Mountains op shops were mines of beautiful sounds. ”We used to go and buy 30 dollars worth of records for a couple of bucks each, just hang out and listen to them,” Holdsworth says.
”For me, Tubular Bells came around that time.”
The parents who had bequeathed their turntables doubtless knew Mike Oldfield’s instrumental masterwork from 20 years earlier. It was number one in Britain and Australia, and sold millions worldwide after its opening theme haunted The Exorcist soundtrack in ’73.
Back then, the freak success that bankrolled Richard Branson’s Virgin Records was as remarkable for its classical/rock audacity as its construction: the English session wiz played nearly every instrument, layered to the limits of 16-track tape.
”About three years ago,” says Holdsworth, ”I went around to visit Aidan and he said ‘Remember this?’ He put on Tubular Bells, we had a glass of wine by the fire and just for fun, we pulled out some guitars and started playing along.”
Performing the album was furthest from their minds. But week by week, as Roberts’ living room slowly filled to bursting with dozens of instruments, the bells of destiny became impossible to ignore.
A year later, Katoomba’s intimate Clarendon Theatre booked the duo’s ”crazy experiment” for a quiet night: Good Friday, 2009. ”They said if we brought a few friends along they’d be happy,” says Holdsworth. ”When we arrived, the room was sold out.”
Lingering affection for Oldfield’s composition was the catalyst. An unexpected bonus was the hilarious spectacle of two agitated musos juggling more than 20 instruments, often playing two at once or layering passages through loop pedals.
”We’re not wanting to take the piss,” Holdsworth stresses. ”We want to do justice to the piece because we really appreciate it. Especially for my generation, I think it’s important to look back at some of these classic records and give them life for a new audience.”
Tubular Bells for Two is performed at the Arts Centre, Fairfax Studio, April 29 to May 5. theartscentre.com.au or 1300 182 183