14 February QE Hall Rime of the Ancient Mariner for David Bedford 11 March The Venue Downwind for Pierre Moerlen’s Gong [Pierre Moerlen’s Gong Live recorded.]
March 31 Barcelona. April 1 Barcelona 2 & 3 Madrid 4 Paris 5 Dusseldorf 7 Berlin 9 Brussels, Belgium 10 Rotterdam,Netherlands 12 Denmark 14 Bremen 15 Hamburg 17 Munich 18 Frankfurt 21 London (Royal Festival Hall – 2 shows) 25 & 26 London (Wembley Conference Centre) 28 & 29 Wembley Arena. May 2 London Wembley Arena 3 Birmingham (NEC) 4 Manchester Apollo 7 Manchester Belle Vue
Musicians [Band of 11; 16 choir; 24 musician, 2 others =53] Phil Beer (guitar) Pekka Pohjola (bass) Maddy Prior (vocals) Pierre Moerlen (drums and percussion) Benoit Moerlen (vibraphones) Nico Ramsden (guitar) Ringo McDonough (bodhran) Mike Frye (drums) Tim Cross (keyboards) Pete Lemer (keyboards). David Bedford arranged the string sections from London Symphony Orchestra [4 trumpets, 2 flutes, 6 violins, 6 violas, 4 cellos, 2 double basses – conducted by Dick Studt.] 16 girls from Queen’s College Girls Choir.
There had been some talk that Mike was going to Russia originally on this tour. Before he went he told Tune In: “I’m thinking about the money I need for the tour. It’s going to cost a fortune and there’s no way we can make anything but losses.” It was uncannily true.
Virgin apparently suggested using backing tapes but Oldfield wanted people and he took a large road crew of 30. Pierre Moerlen’s Gong players featured heavily in Mike’s line-ups because he felt a musical kinship with Moerlen’s vibraphone playing. Besides his usual habit of trying to recruit classically trained musicians with some experience of playing rock, Phil Beer remembers that, “he was trying to enlist a lot of friends initially, he wanted people he knew around him.” During rehearsals, “he kept on going through keyboards players, deciding that they weren’t what he wanted. Then at one point he decided I wasn’t what he wanted, then he changed his mind.” It certainly was an assertive Oldfield that emerged after radical therapy, and it had a heavy influence on his tour relationships. Exegesis released him from some of the fears about losing control, but exaggerated his capacity to exert it.
Unfortunately the tour was dogged from the start with difficult personal and professional relationships. Richard Barrie met Mike on 14 March in Bremmen [they rehearsed in Germany during January and February] for the first time and was taken on as a tour engineer to assist the main engineer Paul Lindsay. He said of his meeting with Mike, “we hated each other at first sight”, but Mike kept asking him to do jobs after the tour and they developed a long term working partnership. Less promisingly, Mike was said to have refused to hire a tour manager, ‘because he looked too much like a student’. Sally Arnold of Virgin Records was appointed. She had managed the Rolling Stones’ European tour. Oldfield had picked the prettiest girls for the choir and her first task was to sack those whose voices did not match their looks!
Mike asked Tom Newman to go on the tour and put together the PA system with Quad Electrostatic speakers. Quadraphonic sound was then in vogue. Newman told David Porter these speakers “have a lovely sound but have got no projection. We had this enormous row about it and I left the tour. Phil Newell took my place and virtually on the eve of the thing starting forced Michael into a compromise. Everything I originally wanted actually happened but not with me having anything to do with it.”
Mike took a computerised mixing desk and employed it late after rehearsals. It blew up in Dusseldorf, but not before it had caused an enormous amount of bad feeling with his fellow tour members, whose complaints he ignored.
Aside from the ominous dynamics of the tour relationships, the music was very successful. David Bedford told David Porter in interview: “Mike was going through one of his stroppy phases so he didn’t get on too well with some of the string musicians and he asked a couple to leave because they were not looking happy enough on stage. He was in a very bossy and stroppy mood at times and kept himself very aloof but did issue invitations to anybody who had any problems to go to his room and talk to him. So the string orchestra musicians were a bit worried that they might get the sack at any moment. Not that they would have lost any money because they would have to be paid for the whole tour. But it was extremely well received wherever we went.”
In Dusseldorf the band were joined by a group of journalists. Mike went on stage and played while wearing one of their jackets. Their general view was that the first half of the concert, Incantations, was dull, but the second half with the up tempo Tubular Bells , was excellent. For the Berlin concert Mike invited the journalists up on stage with him during the Sailor’s Hornpipe playing small percussion instruments. It unsettled them but they wrote about it.
Tickets to the Saturday April 28 concert at Wembley Arena cost £4.25. Mike played Incantations, for which the lighting was mainly changes in colour but otherwise restrained. Then they performed Guilty to video coverage of two birds flying together. [Did this inspire the later lyric on Islands?] Paper jets were given out by the choir and there were thousands of them flying around Wembley. Finally Mike played Tubular Bells and as an encore reprised Guilty with Tubular Bells segued into it.
Although Ian Emes did animations for sections of Guilty and TB he did not animate anything for Incantations.
There seemed to be a happier atmosphere on stage than off it. 5 May’s Superpop said Mike wore dark glasses one night. Then next night the whole of the backing band and choir wore shades too. The night after the whole of the orchestra had them too. 5 May’s Pop Star Weekly reviewed the Wembley Arena concerts and said Guilty had an interesting video show, and the females in the choir flicked paper darts at the musicians and giggled, Maddy Prior pranced through the audience at the end to the Sailor’s Hornpipe, “The whole show was musically excellent – I have to admit though it would not suit all tastes. Judging by the vociferous cries for more, I’m not the only one to consider the show an unusual success.”
David Bedford, who conducted the orchestra and arranged all the pieces, recalls that there was a rigorous routine that probably did not help the flow of human happiness. “It was coach, soundcheck, concert, sleep, coach, soundcheck, concert, sleep, until the musicians discovered some rule that if there was X amount of hours worked they had to have so many off. So then we had to charter an aeroplane for everywhere.” Another blow for the budget.
Phil Beer’s recollections of the tour were less harsh on the relationships. He said: “It was a kind of reflective tour, it was a bit of a community thing, we generally had a very good time. I think Michael enjoyed himself; he’s a very nervous performer, but he delivered.”
Looking back on the tour in later months Mike commented that, “I knew I had to go on the road and face the people. Because I’d become used to success I wanted everything to be big, so I employed a cast of a hundred, orchestra, choir, rock group, the lot”. [Derek Jewell, Sunday Times].
Its financial consequences were debated in the music papers. Some papers say it nearly bankrupted Mike; others say it did bankrupt him. Melody Maker’s Karl Dallas later put the costs of the tour at £500,000 of which he said Virgin bankrolled more than half. Mike told him: “I personally lost over two hundred thousand which means that I haven’t had any royalties this year. From the taxman’s point of view I’ve got to find 60 per cent tax of that money that I’ve never had. I don’t mind if they [the tours] don’t make any money as long as I get my royalties for next year. I’d rather not have my money involved at all – let someone else put up the money and make what they can out of it.” In November 1980 he told MM that “I knew the tour would lose about £100,000 and we decided to split it between Virgin and me, We thought okay, for the promotion, it’ll be worth it. But it worked out we lost about £500,000.”
The extent of the loss necessitated smaller tour ‘ensembles’ subsequently. It also led to him seeking and discarding a succession of tour managers and agents and ultimately abandoning them in favour of self-management.
In his interviews the theme quickly switched to the philosophy of future tours and the cast that would accompany him. In an interview with a German magazine he said: “Even today I’d like to do everything myself on stage because I feel sure my music becomes what I want it to be like. It is difficult for me to co-operate with the other musicians who influence sometimes prevents me from pursuing my initial conception. That’s the reason why I’ve always been working on my own.”
He was not negative about the tour and found he could pick out the positives. “I hope to be back on the road next year in Aprilor something, and we want to keep all the bits that worked. Some of the pieces worked, and I want to include some of the new album (Platinum), which is what I wished I’d had to perform last year. Platinum was designed to play live. The film stuff worked and I’m going to have more film. The guitar sound worked. The PA sort of worked, but I’ve had it all re-built so that its smaller and easier to transport. I’ve scrapped all that quad stuff, that didn’t work, and we’re selling the computer mixer, that didn’t work.”
“I plan to have 12 people, compared with the large orchestra, but I’m very conscious that it mustn’t be a disappointment next time, just because its been scaled down. I’ve got ideas for the films and I’m going to get Ian Eames to animate them. David Bedford won’t be on the tour. Some of the venue will be huge, like the Wembley Arena is being held for April, I think, but I also want to play smaller places around the country.”
In June 1980 he told International Musician and Recording World, “The next tour will find everybody necessary. I found that we could do without all those strings, after all they’re just one instrument really. I’m also cutting down on the choir, perhaps just four or five really good singers would do. I’m hoping to cut it down to just about 12 or so, we can get away with it easily, and have just as good concerts.” 12 seemed to be the happy number for Mike if you consider the subsequent premieres for Tubular Bells 2 and 3 – but possibly too many for a full tour. When the interviewer put it to him that the Police have good concerts with 3 musicians Mike replied, “You ask the Police to play Tubular Bells, then…”
A large editing job resulted in the music from the tour being released on Exposed: the only fully live Mike Oldfield album.