Mike Oldfield made a huge but slow burning impression with Tubular Bells and was to follow this up with more of the same (but possibly better) Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn. But, like any right thinking person, Oldfield couldn’t resister a cheeky stab or two at the singles charts.
After Tubular Bells Oldfield had retreated to his parents home apparently to build a duck pond but in reality to escape the pressures of being a performer which makes his singles career more bizarre. The formula was simple, take a fairly straightforward folky tune, play it on something fluty, bung in a bit of trademark Oldfield guitar hopefully turn 2 ½ minutes of tunefulness into a hit single.
First out was In Dulci Jubilo a medieval sounding tune which for some reason evokes a Christmas spirit without actually being a Christmas song.That was just as well as Bohemian Rhapsody was dominating the charts, there was no room for a proper Christmas no 1 but Oldfield’s effort made it to No 4 by January and unlike Bohemian Rhapsody we weren’t all sick of it.
The thing I really like about In Dulce Jubilo is how Oldfield’s guitar takes of half way through, he’s such a lyrical player that the solo is an integral part of the tune and lifts a fairly routineperformance into something far better than the sum of its parts.
He followed this up with Portsmouth, a fairly straight forward run through of a traditional tune where the melody was carried on the recorder and built up in layers in the traditional Oldfield way. No guitar though, the tune doesn’t really go anywhere which is probably why its only 2 minutes long
Oldfield had a huge potential fanbase, there were the hard core rock fans attracted to the new stuff on the virgin record label but he was an intriguing character with his ability to overdub himself on a variety of instruments and he was at the forefront of what would soon be called ambient music. He had the potential to be represented on Radio’s 1,2,3,or 4 . Symptomatic to that was a request to provide the new theme music to long running children’s TV show Blue Peter. The show was tremendously popular but also quite conservative so asking any ‘pop’ musician to be involved was quite a big step. Oldfield gave the tune his traditional treatment but with a synthesiser instead of a recorder as the main instrument. It’s a slippery tune so Oldfield had to record the melody at half speed. Here is the inevitable Top of the Pops appearance with the almost equally inevitable dance routine from Legs and Co, apparently put together in 20 mins.
He was now in the consciousness of millions of children who would hear this twice a week.
As an unwanted bonus feature here is Oldfield playing the William Tell Overture. Its an impressive but fairly pointlessexercise which I’ve never seen before but is unmistakably Oldfield. The strange this is that post Covid the internet is full of people choosing to produce videos of themselves playing all sorts of tunes and looking an awful like Oldfield 40 years ago
. Perhaps the future really is past