Review: Tubular Bells – 40 years, 20 instruments and two affable Aussies

Multi-talented musicians Daniel Holdsworth and Aidan Roberts. Photograph: Joanne Kee
20 Jun 2013 @ 10.52 am
| Entertainment
Multi-talented musicians Daniel Holdsworth and Aidan Roberts. Photograph: Joanne Kee
Multi-talented musicians Daniel Holdsworth and Aidan Roberts. Photograph: Joanne Kee

Review: Tubular Bells For Two
Venue: Grand Opera House, June 19

Tubular Bells is in its 40th Anniversary year and it a triumph of dogged determination, a risky but prudent business decision and sheer hard work and perfectionism in delivering the finished product.

Mike Oldfield had recorded a homemade demo tape which by chance was heard by a sound engineer at Richard Branson’s new recording studio who played it to him. After professionally re-recording it at the studios and then unsuccessfully hauling around all the major record labels, Virgin Records was specifically created to launch the career of a 19 year old musician and a business empire for an astute 22 year old entrepreneur.

In a gigasphere littered with tribute acts and leeching unoriginality I was initially suspicious of maybe just another attempt at a live rendition of a seminal work in album history. I have a well-worn vinyl copy of the album that is viewed with reverence by people of a certain age and I didn’t want my affection tainted by a wasted trip to the theatre when I could more easily just dust it off affectionately and drop the needle on to the grooves for yet another nostalgic and captivating journey.

Tubular Bells is a complex and intricate album on which Mike Oldfield plays 20 instruments. Whereas he had the benefit of multi-tracked asynchronous recording over the course of a week – any live performance has to be real-time and the logistical challenges are obvious and yet here we have just two performers.

And it works. Boy how it works…

Two affable young Aussies walk almost diffidently on stage and begin a performance that grows and grows into something really rather spellbinding and beautiful. The hypnotic theme that starts the album grabs your attention immediately and I’m sure that most of the audience were initially pre-occupied with wondering then discovering just how they would manage the transition between instruments and diverse sections of the music.

By multi-tasking, the judicious use of sequenced loops and sheer virtuosity on a huge range of instruments they deliver an astonishingly accurate rendition of the piece. Both musicians are proficient on lead and bass guitar; mandolin; 4 synths; piano; various percussion; drum kit and of course tubular bells.


The sheer beauty of the performance being live is the immediacy and a slight frisson in knowing that everything has to be right first time – no second chances. The nature of this beast meant that there were the occasional small glitches but it would be churlish to say they spoilt the experience because they didn’t – it’s like saying there’s a couple of spelling mistakes in the script of a masterpiece. The audience clapped and cheered them at the denouement and deservedly so.

They’re in Bradford tonight (Thursday, June 20) and then Leeds on Friday, June 21 if you want to catch them or if you happen to be at the world famous Edinburgh Fringe during August, they’re there all month.