For myself and many others of a certain age, Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells was the soundtrack of our lives, at least for a couple of years in the 1970s. Others will know it from TV commercials or by being terrified by The Exorcist soundtrack. For Australian musician Dan Holdsworth he found Tubular Bells through drinking wine with friend Aidan Roberts and listening to an old vinyl copy, which they ‘found fascinating’ and took one step further by making a show out of it with just the two of them recreating what a whole bunch of musicians playing 20 instruments usually do, writes Michael Holland.
They did a one-off show for friends with a few instruments, then again with more instrumentation, and before long Tubular Bells For Two was born. Since then it has amazed critics at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, won awards and had Tom Bamford replace Aidan. But the concept remains the same: Two blokes juggling over 20 instruments live in a nail-biting tightrope theatre recreation of the classic album. Things can go wrong at any moment, and the slightest mistake or misplaced limb can bring the entire show crashing to a halt.
Dan and Tom, who is also a member of Indie rock band, Yeevs, were both born in the Blue Mountains, NSW, and have been musicians longer than they can remember.
Dan: ‘I can still remember the first time my mum let me put the needle on a record. I was 4 years old. It was ELO’s “A New World Record”… There’s something special about the event of listening to a vinyl record.’
Tom: ‘My parents must have seen something in me, they bought me a blue acoustic guitar for my 12th birthday. I played that thing to death and quickly realised music was something important to me.’
The young boys had supportive parents. Tom says, ‘They could see how important and necessary it all is, which was a real blessing for a young musician.; to be given that freedom to explore and grow without too much pressure.’
Daniel remembers that after early performances they were invited to the Edinburgh Fringe to perform their Tubular Bells. ‘We instantly sold-out and won a string of awards. I think the show really fit the fringe well because, while we’re serious about the music, the situation we’re in is comical and the task we have to pull off is almost acrobatic. The show is incredibly tense.’ Since then it has toured in New Zealand, across mainland Europe, Iceland, and the USA. ‘We’ve even been to Bendigo!’
I wondered if they had to learn new instruments to do this. Tom tells me, ‘Funnily enough, playing the tubular bells was not one of my fortes, however, they are fairly quick to figure out. The other instruments were all within our wheelhouse prior to doing this show.’
Dan reveals other problems: ‘There’s 20 instruments on stage, most of them are either string based, keyboard based or percussion, and I can play all of those instruments. I definitely had to improve my skills on a few of them, but on the whole I know them pretty well… The playing of the individual instruments isn’t what’s hard about the show, what’s incredibly difficult is trying to play multiple instruments at once.’
Amazingly the whole of the album will be recreated by these musical marvels, and I can’t wait to hear two slightly distorted guitars.
Dan is keen to let people know that, ‘For this tour we are lucky enough to have Mike Oldfield’s son supporting us. Luke Oldfield, and his band, Gypsyfingers, will be the opening act… And all with dad Mike’s blessing.’
Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX May 1st 2019. Time: 7.30pm. Admission: £25, £18.75 concs. Phone: 0203 879 9555