Reviewed by Bruce Elder for The Sydney Morning Herald
January 12, 2012.
THE stage is awash with guitars, keyboards and drums. The performers, local musicians Daniel Holdsworth and Aidan Roberts, are barefooted, dressed in black and both wearing hats. The setting is suitably stark, with minimal lighting and a black backdrop.
It is a reminder that, even when two people are attempting to play a 50-minute composition involving more than 20 instruments, nothing should detract from the music.
Sure, it is entertaining to laugh when, during one of the many repetitive sections of the composition, Holdsworth pauses for a sip of red wine. But, centrally, this is a sublime study in how far musical technology has advanced in the past four decades and how with passion, a sense of fun and a healthy respect for the music, this hugely successful composition can still entertain and surprise.
It is 39 years since Mike Oldfield recorded Tubular Bells. On the original record he is credited with playing 16 instruments, but this was always a sleight of hand given that seven of those are variations on guitars. It is, however, still a daunting challenge for two people to play live what took eight people hundreds of hours to record in a studio.
There are, inevitably, minor modifications that will only be noticed by the most hardened fan. The early flute section is bypassed. There is also no ”girlie chorus”, and the driving section following the infamous, guttural Piltdown Man features both musicians playing drums rather than the record’s mix of guitars, keyboards and percussion.
This is a musical tour de force. It is genuinely entertaining, amusing and mesmerising to watch Holdsworth and Roberts bounce around the stage and juggle instruments. Most surprisingly, Tubular Bells stands up after 39 years as an accessible and satisfying melange of 1970s British avant garde and folk music traditions.
Tubular Bells for Two is performed at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, from January 18 to 22.