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Why is Tubular Bells a Timeless Album?
Mike Oldfield and Tubular Bells
Music From the 1970s
1973 was the year I became me. I was a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl emerging from a traumatic childhood in Plymouth, Devon U.K. I decided to keep a diary as self-therapy; a challenge I set myself and kept for over thirty years. Samuel Pepys would have been proud of me. Apparently, he stopped keeping a diary because his eyesight became too dim and I've now stopped mine as I'm far too busy nowadays trying to run a property company.
The following is based on extracts from my diaries of the 1970s:
May 23rd 1973:
This was a significant day for Mike Oldfield with the release of his unique instrumental album: ‘Tubular Bells,’ an album so innovative and unique that no-one has ever been able to better it - not even Mike Oldfield himself, although he does try, bless him.
That day was an insignificant one for me though. All I did was go to the pictures and watch a film so boring that I walked out half way through. Wizard was number one in the charts and the 70’s were a great time to be a teenager. Crazy times - and crazy horses! (I've only mentioned the crazy horses in order to please the last remaining Osmond fans). There was talk on Radio One that old LP's might have to be melted down to make new ones due to a lack of fresh vinyl (all to do with the petrol shortage apparently). This was the start of those lean years of petrol coupons, sugar rationing and power cuts. By November 1977, even the firemen were saying they wouldn't answer emergency calls. The army soon came to the rescue with their ‘Green Goddesses.’
The 1970’s were certainly an improvising decade to live in, shortages or not. Who could forget the Bay City rollers with their Tartan army of hysterical fans? Half my class mates decided to rip up the old tartan kilts they wore as children and turn them into scarves. Not to mention the tartan borders sewed onto just about everything else. Royal Stewart would never sell as well again.
I would go to the pictures fairly regularly so I suppose the first time I heard ‘Tubular Bells’ would have been towards the end of 1973 when excerpts from the album were used as part of the soundtrack for the highly controversial film: ‘The Exorcist,’ I wasn't impressed with the film at the time and was probably too young to understand it. I didn't even notice the musical excerpts which were of insignificant length to make any real impact and I achieved far more satisfaction from actually gaining entry to the cinema since I was still under age.
It was not until sometime in 1975 that I first saw the album cover of ‘Tubular Bells’, not in a record shop but in the window of the lower-sixth form room which I passed several times each day on my way to lessons. If the person who put it there ever reads this, a huge: ‘Thank you’, for unwittingly making my life that little bit happier. I was still in the 5th year and thinking of staying on to do ‘A’ levels.
‘Tubular Bells’ is one of those unique album covers you can never forget. Displayed like a poster in the window that faced onto one of the school quadrangles, it made more of an impact on me than anything else I remember from my teenage years, or ever since. I didn't know anything about it at the time. I just thought: that`s nice. I wondered what it was, never realising it was an album cover. I intended to find out from one of my classmates but you don't like to ask too many questions when you reckon everyone else knows far more than you do about all things fashionable and you worry in case you might just be the thickest in the class for not knowing. There's a seascape on the album cover and being born in Plymouth, I've always had a love of the sea. There is a vast expanse of sky on the cover too, with a strange but beautiful twisted, metal object hovering over the sea like an alien spaceship. It looks like a cross between an exhaust pipe and a liquorice all sort. Fascinating, I mused, it must be something really meaningful for our headmistress, Miss Edwards, to allow it to be on display for the whole school to see.
'Tubular Bells' Original Album Cover
The first time I heard ‘Tubular Bells’ in its entirety was in the upper-sixth common room in September 1976. Improbable though it seems, it was the only record we had and it just got played and played. I'm searching for the first entry in my diary about Mike Oldfield right now and I'm listening to his music continually as I'm writing this - a writer who can't write without the music she loves. Some would think me sad or even a bit demented to restrict myself to the works of one composer but I would say if it works for you don't change it. I believe that truly creative things can inspire creativity in others and ‘Tubular Bells’ and most of the subsequent albums composed by Mike Oldfield are basically a lifetime addiction for me but at least there are no negative effects, apart from me failing my ‘A’ levels that is.
It must have been the latter part of 1976 when I first wrote about Mike in my diary and included him in my world. I was studying ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,’ in English literature which I thought was bit of a joke to start with, seeing as James Joyce was Irish. I didn't understand it at all and it made me laugh to think this book I was studying to ‘A’ level began with the words: ‘Once upon a time...’
Maybe I should have left after ‘O’ levels like most of my former classmates and found a job in a bank as my teacher had advised me, but I thought I'd be bored to tears counting money all day. Anyway, I was hopeless at Maths (C.S.E. grade 3). If only someone had mentioned you were entitled to hugely discounted mortgages if you became a bank clerk, but I didn't even know what a mortgage was back then. I managed to get ten ‘O’ levels and knew all about the Tudors and Stuarts and Greek Mythology but none of that equips you for everyday living.
I don't know why I'm writing this article; I Should really be doing my tax returns. Is it the self-therapy thing again? Or just self-indulgent? Or is it because Mike Oldfield and his music are the most enduring loves of my life and I always like to write about the people I love. His music has helped me through the bad times and when we are both dead and gone I hope he's there ‘Far above the clouds’ helping the angels to play their harps with a little more feeling than they would have done otherwise. Maybe he's already an angel sent down to earth to give us heavenly music - who knows?
'Tubular Bells' First Live Concert 1973
January 3rd 1977
Ah, here we are - my first diary entry that mentions him -. I'd just managed to tape an extract from ‘Tubular Bells’ when it was in the top 30 album chart of 1976:
‘I think I'll get the album soon as we play it all the time at school and it is really fantastic. I wonder if there are any more like it written by the same group.’
GROUP! It's unimaginable to me now that I was under the impression that Mike was a group! But I'd never even seen his name on the record sleeve; it was always another classmate who’d place the record on the turntable at school. And perhaps because Mike's music is so varied and complex I thought it impossible for just one person to create something that sounded so beautiful and harmonious.
That February I was going to borrow the album from the common room and tape it but by then it was unbelievably scratchy, having been played to death by several years’ worth of sixth formers. Pete, my next door neighbour had a copy and he taped it for me on the 7th of June so after that all I did was stay in my room, forgetting about my studies, solitary person that I was - still am in some ways. He also said there was another album composed by Mike so I ordered it on cassette. I remember I was quite shocked to hear there was another record. How could anything compare to ‘Tubular bells.’ What sacrilege!
I even thought its composer was a woman at one point. This was because another sixth-former had put the record in a female artist's album sleeve and of course the real cover was still on the window of the lower-sixth classroom and somehow I didn't connect the two. Did it really matter if a female had composed the music I loved?
I didn't even turn up to take my English ‘A’ levels never mind fail it, but I don't really blame ‘Tubular Bells’ for that. After all, it was nobody`s fault but my own if I chose to lounge around the sixth-form common room all day listening to music instead of studying. My friend Lorna Rogers was the same - walking out of an exam after only half an hour, much to the annoyance of the history teacher. We were a bad influence on each other, but as far as I know everyone else that year did extremely well.
When the cassette I'd ordered had arrived, there were still no clues as to what Mike Oldfield looked like. The album cover didn't give much away - just a circle of grass with a dog and a model glider in the middle. Being a fan of his was not going to be easy. My schoolmates had Donny Osmond, David Cassidy and the Jacksons plastered all over the walls of their bedrooms and the insides of their desks, but not me. I had thoughts of rebellion for lack of a suitable idol and wondered whether to stick a poster of Marie Osmond inside my desk just to be different but had second thoughts, seeing as it was an all girls' school - there could be repercussions. On the other hand, who knows - it might have increased my popularity but I know Miss Edwards would certainly not have approved.
Back in the seventies, it wasn't easy to discover facts about a reclusive musical genius who was determined not to be in the limelight. Finding anything out on any subject at all usually involved a whole afternoon's detective work at the local library to gather just a few snippets of information. More than thirty years on and we are spoiled rotten with such an abundance of material on the Internet at the mere touch of a button. We can discover almost everything there is to know about everyone, however elusive they may be.
As a somewhat naive teenager, I would often trust the validity of everything without question purely because a trusted friend had told me. So when someone said that the composer of the music I adored was dead, I was mortified.
My Diary Entry for 14th Sept 1977 age 18:
‘I love Mike Oldfield's music and I think I love him but he's dead. I wish he wasn't dead because he'll never write any more music. I don't even know what he looked like when he was alive or how he died. All I know is that he wrote beautiful music and I play his album all the time and I wonder what a marvellous person he must have been.’
So that was it... no use searching for more of Mike's compositions if there weren't ever going to be any. The other music at that time was mostly songs with the same old beat and I just didn't find anything I could really relate to although it was all great stuff to dance to if you were a teeny-bopper. My mum listened to Mantovani and dad adored Dean Martin and Elvis but teenagers like me were mainly influenced by the music of Gary Glitter, Sweet and T.Rex and it just wasn't the sort of music to listen to if you just wanted to lie down in a quiet, darkened room and absorb it into your soul.
I went through the motions of being an Osmond's fan, even accompanying my school friend on an Osmond's fan club trip to America and actually met Donny Osmond (I even chatted to his dad about real estate and had a photo taken with his horse in the wilds of Utah) so I managed to fit in with the crowd. The Osmond’s music although they were all excellent performers, and immensely talented, didn't uplift me. I could listen to it once or twice now and again but there was nothing I felt like playing over and over like Mike Oldfield’s music. I would listen to his second album: ‘Hergest Ridge’ in a friend's car as we drove around West Country roads at the weekend. It has a rural, ethereal theme which blended perfectly with the rolling hills of Devon and the wild desolate Tors of Dartmoor. This all stopped when the friend, Brian, jammed it in the car's cassette player and it unravelled. I jumped out of the car and stomped the seven miles home in my platform shoes, utterly unforgiving of his careless act (don't worry Brian - I forgive you now and you can have a signed copy of this memoir).
On 19th December 1977, I landed a full-time job at Boots the chemist purely because my Aunt Jean was cook in the staff canteen. It's all about who you know, I suppose. Maybe some of the localised fame she had earned from her vast Cornish pasties which spilt over the sides of the dinner plates would rub off on me.
Boots in Plymouth sold records and some knowledgeable assistant in the record department said there was yet another third album by Mike Oldfield called ‘Ommadawn.’
'Ommadawn' Mike Oldfield's Third Album - 1975
Diary Entry for 19 December 1977
‘Mike Oldfield hasn't written anything since 1975. Someone told me he died. That`s a good reason not to write music, I suppose, but it’s a shame if he is dead.’
So I ordered the third album. I even got a 17 per cent staff discount. The record arrived and there was a portrait of Mike that took up the entire cover and it was in colour too. Wow! It was the first time I'd ever seen what he looked like and yes it was definitely 'love at first sight'. Right there in the middle of Boots. If he'd been a little old man with glasses I suppose I would still have loved him purely on account of his music but he was almost beautiful. A Jesus lookalike with long dark hair, moustache and beard, he was peering through a rain-streaked window with piercing blue eyes which had a profound soul-searching look about them (I don't suppose Jesus had blue eyes though, but you never know).
December 22nd 1977:
‘I hope Mike Oldfield is not dead because I saw a picture of him today. It's on the cover of ‘Ommadawn’. He is really gorgeous. I`d like to marry him if he`s still alive!’
December 28th 1977:
‘I don't think he is dead. I read the brochure that came with a new remixed set of all his music called ‘Boxed’ and it doesn't say he's dead so maybe he's alive after all.’
What Shall I Do With All My Diaries?
Reading back over my early diaries is positively painful. I never actually did anything that was worth writing about, but I did find it therapeutic at the time.
At the end of the 70's, I was working as a store-porter/keeper in Boots warehouse which was almost as dull as school and I had certainly not found my vocation in life (that doesn't happen until 2003). Perhaps I should bury all my diaries in a time capsule so some future historian can be bored too, but I think I've saved him that agony as the ink is already fading after thirty years and there is no way I'm re-writing them all.
So, Mr.Time team of the future, be content with your Roman amulets and be thankful that you'll never be troubled by the autobiographical ramblings of a nineteen-year-old Mike Oldfield fan from Plymouth. I would arrive home from work each day and spend the evening in my room listening to Mike's music. Everyone else of my age group was bopping away to ‘Saturday Night Fever’ out on the town meeting sailors but I didn't want any of that. Not only did I detest noisy nightclubs but the atmosphere in those days was heavy with cigarette smoke.
'Tubular Bells' - Interesting Facts
2007/2008 - Present Day:
For more than four decades Mike Oldfield has continued to churn out music prolifically along with innumerable versions of ‘Tubular Bells’- I love them all! I've always wished he would do a classical album and eventually in 2008 ‘Music of the Spheres’ was released. It was just as I've always imagined a classical piece written by Mike would be. I think it's safe to say that as a writer I've probably written as many words as he has written musical notes but apart from being famous while I'm still dismally obscure, he has gone one better and has also written an autobiography which puts all my diary writing to shame - although he did have a little help from a ghost writer so I've heard.
Mike Oldfield is known the world over to be capable of composing every kind of music possible.but I would advise anyone who has never heard of him or his music to buy the original ‘Tubular Bells.’ It may be a relic from the 70’s, as I am, but it's a timeless piece of music which will always be popular. I'd like to think that a few centuries from now the music of Mike Oldfield will be viewed in much the same way as we appreciate the works of Mozart today. There has never been anything quite like Mike's music before or since. People have tried to categorise it and failed - just listen and enjoy! He was only nineteen when ‘Tubular Bells’ was released and managed to play an assortment of instruments with no formal musical training. I would say it's a work of pure genius.
Tubular Bells is also known as the album that launched the Virgin Record company's success as it was the first ever album on the Virgin label One could also quite rightly say that if it wasn't for Mike Oldfield, Richard Branson might not be where he is today and would never have launched into space with Virgin Galactic!
Buy the Original Album From Amazon!
'Tubular Bells' Has Been the Inspiration for an Abundance of Artwork. There Are Also Many Impressive Covers of The Original, Many of Which Can be Listened to on
© 2016 Stella Kaye