Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells 50th Anniversary Concert Sage Gateshead 16 February 2023

tub tixA night of memories, all connected, all intertwined and all came together for a special occasion at the glorious Sage Concert Hall, Gateshead. It is 50 years since Mike Oldfield released his unique ground-breaking LP Tubular Bells. To mark the occasion a tour, orchestrated by Mike Oldfield’s long-time collaborator and musical director Robin Smith has been gracing concert halls across the UK performing the work in its entirety.

But first the memories.

Filmgoers_waiting_on_line_to_see_The_ExorcistMemory 1. This first memory is a little hazy. A group of friends and I made the trip to Newcastle in 1973 to see one of the first showings of the film The Exorcist. I think, local councils had the final say as to whether this controversial horror epic could be shown in their city. Sunderland decided to ban the film, but nearby Newcastle decided to allow it to be shown. It was a Sunday afternoon showing, we had all read a lot about the movie, and how scary it was. The film was showing at the Essoldo cinema in Newcastle (see image from Wikimedia Commons of the film opening in the USA). At this stage I had not heard Tubular Bells but, from that day on, the movie and the recurring piano theme from Mike Oldfield’s classic album are linked forever in my mind. To say the film was scary is an understatement. The impact the film had upon me and my friends cannot be underestimated. We were terrified, especially by the scenes where the possessed Regan lay on the bed spewing green slime, emanating smoke and screaming expletives including “your mother sucks c***ks in hell!”. I can watch the film now and it doesn’t seem too bad, but on that Sunday afternoon as a teenager it seemed to be the most frightening thing I ever saw!

tub lpMemory 2. Having heard Tubular Bells in the above film, and read about the album in Sounds, I decide to go out and buy the LP (I still live in the land of vinyl and like to call records LPs!) I play it to death and becomes, and remains one of my favourite albums of all time. The mix of piano music, orchestral, Viv Stanshall’s announcements of the instruments including the tubular bells themselves, electronica and jazz remains an entrancing experience for the listener. I still possess a copy and play it now and then.

TUB PIC 2 2023Memory 3. Newcastle City Hall 1974 (see ticket). The progressive rock/psychedelic band Gong go out on tour along with a film of the recording of Tubular Bells. Another hazy memory. I think the film was shown last, after performances by Hatfield and the North and the aforementioned Gong who were well into their crazy pothead pixies phase. I seem to recall quite basic graphics with a projector showing the hour-long film on to a quite simple screen. The film followed the recording through the phases of the album, showing the musicians playing each part. It was the closest we would get to any sort of performance of Tubular Bells at the time and was very entertaining.

TUB PIC 2023Memory 4. Newcastle City Hall again. 1975 (see ticket). This time an orchestra is performing Tubular Bells to a very empty hall. The support act is Last Exit to feature on bass guitar, Gordon Sumner, otherwise known as Sting, who would, of course, go on to achieve international fame with his later band The Police. Interestingly, the guitarist in the orchestra performing Tubular Bells was none other than Andy Summers, who would later join Sting in The Police. Did they meet that night and forge an early friendship? Who knows. Such is the stuff of legend. An interesting evening spent with a couple of hundred other attendees.

TUB PIC 4 2023Memory 5. The City Hall yet again. The 1980s and Mike Oldfield has decided to go out on the road with a band and perform selections of his material including Tubular Bells and segments from his other albums. He had also achieved singles chart success with the lovely song “Moonlight Shadow” sung by Maggie Riley who, I think, joined him on at least one of the two performances I attended (See example ticket: there were two concerts in different years). Two great evenings with a true genius.

tub 2Now, I take the opportunity to see Tubular Bells performed once more, this time by a small orchestra/band in the Sage Gateshead. No appearance by Mike Oldfield on this occasion. The performance is advertised thus: “To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Tubular Bells, the iconic masterpiece will be performed live with a full band at Sage Gateshead next Spring, conducted and arranged by Oldfield’s long term collaborator Robin Smith. Tubular Bells was the debut studio album by English multi-instrumentalist, composer and songwriter Mike Oldfield conceived in 1971 and finally released in 1973. Oldfield who was just 17 years old when he started composing the music, recorded and played almost all of the instruments on the album. It gained worldwide acclaim when the opening theme was used for the soundtrack of the horror film, The Exorcist and went on to become the highest selling instrumental album of all time. A bold and progressive fusion, Tubular Bells is a journey through classical, jazz, folk, prog rock and electronica.”

tub 1The performance is in two segments. The first short 30 minute segment comprises short sections from Mike Oldfield’s other works including the aforementioned “Moonlight Shadow” performed exquisitely by a female singer. They also perform “Family Man” which was a hit for Hall and Oates. I was not aware that Oldfield wrote that song. You learn something every day. After a short interval the ensemble returns and performs Tubular Bells in its entirety, authentically, and just like my old LP! It starts, through a fog of dry ice, with The Exorcist accompaniment piano piece, performed by Robin Smith on a grand piano. He then moves on to conduct the band through the remainder of the piece complete with excellent twin guitars, fuzz guitar, Viv Stanshall (his voice, that is) introducing the instruments and first class vocalists. An hour later and the performance concludes with “the sailors Horn Pipe” just as on the album. Mike Oldfield used to perform this when he was a member of New World, a band led by Kevin Ayres. Another hazy memory: I remember New World performing at Sunderland Top Rank around 1970 supporting someone like Quintessence. Sadly, I was too young to go along to that show. And it is all over, on time at 9:30 PM. No photography was allowed hence no images of the show on this blog entry. An excellent performance and a very pleasant evening for my carer Jackie and me.

Another memory created, each of them having a great piece of music as the common thread.

Setlist: Theme from Tubular Bells 11; Theme from Ommadawn; Theme from Return to Ommadawn; To France; Moonlight Shadow; Family Man; The Gem.

Second-half: Tubular Bells

8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John Johnstone on February 19, 2023 at 10:09 pm

    Hi Peter,

    Great memories, I too went to see The Exorcist when it was originally released and was completely spooked by it. However, I did see it at the ABC in Sunderland, so they must have shown it for a while before the council banned it. I never saw Mike Oldfield performing the piece live but I remember buying the album when it first came out. Although I was a heavy metal fan at the time, it was an album that was so different and opened up another world of music genre that I still enjoy to this day. Sounds like your concert was excellent.


    • Posted by vintagerock on February 20, 2023 at 12:32 pm

      Thanks John I may be wrong about Sunderland banning the film. Maybe we just went to Newcastle because it was shown there 1st. Yes the concert was excellent best wishes Peter


  2. Posted by treetopflier2009 on February 20, 2023 at 2:04 pm

    Hi Peter. I also remember when Tubular Bells came out. I was still at school and I was a guitar rock fan but all my “prog mates” who were into Yes & Genesis etc all went and bought it! It was like every party you went to Tubular Bells was playing that year. I saw The Exorcist as soon as I could at the Wallaw in Blyth. The scene I always remember is when then priest is sitting on his own in silence thinking and the telephone rings!! I nearly jumped out of my seat!! It’s still a great film, I have a VHS of it somewhere to this day! My favourite Mike Oldfield song is Shadow On The Wall from the Crises album. It features my favourite singer of all time Roger Chapman. It’s been in his set on & off for years!


    • Posted by vintagerock on February 20, 2023 at 2:54 pm

      Hi thanks for sharing. I too am a big Roger Chapman fan and have seen him many times. I may well have seen him play that song, without realising it was originally by Mike Oldfield! Happy days Peter


  3. Posted by David Dennis on February 20, 2023 at 8:41 pm

    Hi Peter. Enjoyed this review. Had the same experience with “The Exorcist” and after that the Tubular Bells album. Stirred up some memories …Thanks and keep doing what you are doing!


    • Posted by vintagerock on February 20, 2023 at 9:14 pm

      Hi David thanks. Yes The Exorcist was a seriously scary film. I still think about it when I hear the start of Tubular Bells. However, Tubular Bells is still magnificent! Thanks for the encouragement. Happy days Peter


  4. Hi Peter

    Many thanks indeed for this

    I’m just playing the original album on Spotify.

    It’s just as great 50 years on.



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