After the release of Tubular Bells, the music critics had waited with knives sharpened for its successor. Hergest Ridge, despite its complicated layers and melodies, had been cut down in full flight, so many waited to see and almost expected the next release to meet the same fate.
Before this on the 17th January, Virgin released the Orchestral Tubular Bells (V2020) which had been performed at the Royal Albert Hall towards the latter end of 1974. This version of the Bells would eventually peak at No 17 in the LP charts, which, for a classical recording of the great tune, was quite a success. Virgin then released a retrospective of the labels early work. Titled V (VD2502) it included a long version of Don Alfonso plus a track by Tom Newman. This track Sad Sing, was to feature Mike and also be included on Newman’s own LP released later in the year.
Within a month of the V release on February 21st, Mike released his second single. Titled Don Alfonso (VS117) it was on the same lines as Froggy went a-courting and showed that, despite his lack of communicative skills, Oldfieldstill had a sense of humour. Perhaps the two most interesting features about this record were that firstly, the B-side on all copies contained a different version of In Dulci Jubilo (for Maureen) which was dedicated to his mother who had died the year before. Secondly a German version had lyrics sung in German by the anonymous Paul, to which even Oldfield only learned of its existence recently.
In July, Harvest records reissued Kevin Ayers’ Joy of a Toy and Shooting at the Moon as a special double LP set (SHOW 407). As you will recall Shooting at the Moon was the first LP that featured Mike as part of the Whole World Band back in 1970.
In January, Mike had returned to the Beacon to start the recording of his third studio LP. For the first time all the recording was to be done at the Beacon and involve artists such as Paddy Moloney, from the Irish band The Chieftains, African drumming group Jabula, his sister Sally and brother Terry; Clodagh Simmonds and Bridget St. John on vocals; Leslie Penning on recorders, and Gong’s percussionist Pierre Moerlen. Recording continued from January until September with Mike producing the entire album. Released on the 28th October, Ommadawn (V2043) (which was a nonsense word resembling the Gaelic for idiot) was greeted much more favourably by the music press than it’s predecessor. The album itself began quietly enough but increased in tempo throughout with beating African drums forming the basic rhythm and texture before finally exploding into a crescendo of guitars and voices. Ommadawn also contained an additional track called On Horseback, which expressed the simple virtues and pleasures of horse riding. To most this additional track seemed laughable, but on close inspection it was seen that as much care had gone into its construction as that of the main LP. Many said that this was an album produced straight from Mike’s soul, with all its different moods and melodies most evident, while among the fans it was, and still is, one of the finest LP’s that Mike has recorded. Later in his life Mike was to comment that “Ommadawn was done really in a vacuum on my own and it was very emotional, In fact the end of side one is probably the piece I’m most satisfied with, what I wanted to do I did it as well as I have done anything. I’m not saying it’s the best thing I’ve done, but as far as my intention in a certain direction it was the most efficient realisation of what I wanted.” The album peaked at No 4 in the UK charts and in the words of one critic…
“For a man still in his early twenties, the possibilities now seem almost limitless.” An interesting promotional record also exists which was one of the first 12″ formatted records released. Titled An Extract from Ommadawn – Part 1 (VDJ 9) with An Extract from Ommadawn – Part 2 as the B Side it is a rare and collectable item, despite the fact that the extracts included are taken direct from the LP.
On November 14th, Virgin released Mike’s third single. This consisted of a different, re-mixed version of In Dulci Jubilo (VS131) from that on the B side of Don Alfonso, whilst On Horseback featured on the flip side. The success of Ommadawn seemed to help the sales of this single although the nature of the A-side, with Mike playing all the instruments included, made it an interesting track. A promotional video, recorded at his new home at Througham, highlighted this multi-instrumental track even more by showing Mike playing each of the instruments as the screen was split to show each. This single was a success and eventually reached the heady heights of No 4 in the UK singles chart.
The release of Ommadawn was to prove his last studio LP for three years and he was to become more involved in collaborations with other artists. One of the more interesting partnerships to involve Mike was that of the recording and release of Tom Newman’s debut solo release Fine Old Tom (V2022). As you will remember it was Newman that first brought Oldfield’s demo of Tubular Bells to the attention of Richard Branson, and before meeting Mike, he had been a member of many groups and a recording artist in his own right. Fine Old Tom consisted of 12 tracks recorded between 1972 and 1974, with Mike, as the sleeve notes detailed, being involved in the following:
Suzie “Little twiddly bit after 1st and 2nd verse and Pretty Gaelic tune over end”
Ma Song “Keith Richards type guitar solo”
Sad Sing “Two acoustic guitars Electric twiddles 3rd & 4th verse”
This album also featured an unusual and amusing sleeve design with a hole cut out on the front, revealing Newman with a bottle of Fine Old Tom gin. The reverse included a photo of Newman surrounded by all the supporting musicians, including Mike, Fred Frith, Chris Cutler and Mick Taylor all dressed as members of the Salvation Army!
His association with David Bedford had continued throughout 1975 with Mike firstly, on 31st April, appearing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall for the live performance of Stars End and secondly playing guitar on Bedford’s adaptation of Coleridge’s 1817 poem Rime of the Ancient Mariner (V2038). Although most of this album was recorded at the Manor or on the Manor Mobile, Oldfield preferred to record his guitar at his Beacon studio. Virgin then released the recording in the autumn. His last collaboration of 1975 was on The Edgar Broughton Band’s second LP called Bandages. He featured on three tracks, Speak Down the Wires, The Whale and Fruhling Flowers (For Claudia).
1975 was also to be the year that Mike was to win his first award for a music sound-track. At the US Grammy awards, Tubular Bells was named “Best Instrumental Composition of 1974.” The fact was, that even after two years Tubular Bells was still selling well and picking up awards. If ever there was a testament to the staying power of Mike’s music then this was it.
Below: An advert for the Boxed double LP set released in October 1976. New Musical Express (click to enlarge)