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For whom the bell tolls – Mike Oldfield interview

For whom the bell tolls – Mike Oldfield interview

If you had written Tubular Bells as a teenager and saw it go on to sell in excess of 17 million copies worldwide, in the process setting you up for a critically acclaimed and eclectic 35-year career, you might be entitled to want to take it easy. Swapping your Reading roots for a beach house in the Bahamas makes a strong “I’m retired” statement too.

But the 2012 Olympics changed all that. One unanticipated phone call from opening ceremony organiser Danny Boyle later and the reclusive musician was taking centre stage in the biggest show on Earth, performing the most famous section from the instrumental-opus that is Tubular Bells.

It set him on the course that has led to Man on the Rocks, his first album of new material in six years.

“When they asked me I fell on the floor!” Oldfield, 60, says of Boyle’s invitation. “I couldn’t believe it. When I first spoke to Danny Boyle I didn’t have to think about it. There was nothing else that would get me away from the Bahamas. It was the most prodigious event you can think of.

“And it lived up to my expectations – fantastic to work with all these amazing people, the best that the country could get together. There was none of this ‘the Olympic ring didn’t turn up’, it all worked like clockwork. Everybody loved it. On the background on my computer screen I have a picture of the show to this day. It really is the pinnacle as far as I can see.

 

“It gave me confidence that I wasn’t this washed up rock star from the 1970s; I was still relevant. And the new album has had a great reception so far. It was a validation that Tubular Bells wasn’t just a flash in the pan or a ‘one hit wonder’. I needed this.”

Buoyed by the reaffirming of his standing, Oldfield started experimenting with different guitar styles and techniques. “It was like going back to when I started out in 1968 with the local blues players in Reading”.

Songs of a rockier, more straightforward nature than associated with Oldfield came to the fore. And out of nowhere there was an album full of demos ready to be sung. Enter Luke Spiller, singer with Oldfield’s label-mates The Struts, who had “the perfect voice” for Oldfield’s new material.

But Mike Oldfield stayed in the Bahamas. “We hooked up by virtual reality,” he laughs. “I just linked to studios in London, LA and here. There were different cameras in different parts of the studio and I never had to leave my chair. I didn’t have to travel at all – the way I like it!”

His Bahaman surroundings also influenced his new album. “It definitely influenced the lyrics. It’s one thing thinking about being on a little rocky island in the middle of this ocean, but it is another thing actually being there. I can go there and be there whenever I want to. The culture reminds me of Reading in the 1950s, it is very British. I am very fortunate.”

Mike Oldfield’s new album, Man on the Rocks, his 25th full length studio release, is out now.

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