1980 Ocean Liners and Flying Machines

1980 was, by the standards set during the last couple of years, to be relatively quiet. It started with him producing both sides of a 7″ Judy’s Gone Down / Jungle Lovers release by James Vane on the Island label. The only other collaboration of this year was to be with Lea Nicholson on a single track, Kopya from the LP The Concertina Record.

Late in 1979 Mike and Virgin had decided to tour again. For this new tour Mike put together a much smaller group of musicians consisting mainly of Pierre Moerlen on drums, Nico Ramsden on guitar, Benoit Moerlen on vibraphone, Hansford Rowe on bass, Tim Cross and Pete Lemer played keyboards, Mike Frye on percussion and Wendy Roberts on vocals. This time the tour would take in most of Europe and include 20 dates throughout the UK. He began in Denmark on 12th April and then moved onto Holland, Germany, Austria before returning back to Germany. The 20 UK dates started in Ipswich on April 4th and also took in Portsmouth, Croydon, Preston, Sheffield and Newcastle, as well as Dublin in Ireland. Most concerts consisted of nearly all Platinum tracks as well as Portsmouth, Ommadawn, Blue Peter, Sheba and Taurus 1. Mike had also asked animator Ian Emes to produce five film sequences which would be played as a backdrop to each concert. Incidentally the later two tracks would appear on his new LP due later in the year. Most of the UK dates were featured in the music press reviews with comments ranging from the title “Ommayawn” for the Sheffield gig to under the title of “What a load of old Bells” for Portsmouth, the reviewer commented; “After a 20 minute break he resumed a tour de force of musicianship with a splendidly sensitive and moving Ommadawn; Mike on acoustic guitar is always at his best when procuring such strength and feeling from the simpler movements”.

During all this Mike had been putting the final touches on his next studio LP. Originally to be called Carnival, both Mike and Virgin opted at the last moment to re-title it QE2 (V2181), which was released on October 31. QE2 was largely regarded by the music press as a poor LP, in their mind only released to take advantage of the Christmas market. Boasting Phil Collins playing drums on Taurus 1 and Sheba, it consisted of nine distinctly different tracks which included a track dedicated to his recently newborn daughter Molly. More surprising was the fact that, for the first time on an Oldfield LP, QE2 did not contain a full one side instrumental, instead relying on smaller instrumental pieces. Some critics even called QE2 an album of Platinum out-takes. The most disappointing aspect of QE2 was Mike performing cover versions.

The LP eventually peaked at No. 27 in the UK album charts. Early copies were different from later by both having a porthole cut in the cover and an inner sleeve with track details and a deck plan of the QE2 ocean liner.

There were to be two single releases from this LP. Arrival (VS374), released in September, had been written by the highly successful ABBA duo Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus whilst the B-Side consisted of Polka, which had been recorded live, in April, in Vienna. Unfortunately this single failed to chart in the UK and the same fate was waiting for the next single release, a double A side consisting of Wonderful Land and Sheba (VS387) which was released in November.

On the 21st June, after the Dublin date, Mike appeared live at the Knebworth Festival. In front of nearly 60000 people he performed versions of Tubular Bells, Ommadawn, and the hit single Guilty. A video of this event was later to appear in 1984 which also contained footage of Mike being interviewed at his home recording studio and Ian Emes animated footage which was used at the concerts.

Not much else happened during this year, apart from Mike moving to Denham in Buckinghamshire where he spent a staggering £160000 on a purpose built studio (which was later to be destroyed by flooding!). Virgin USA then tried to re-launch his career Stateside by releasing a double LP set in a single sleeve titled Airborn (VA13143). The first LP of the set consisted purely of the Platinum LP but was unique because it had Guilty replacing Woodhenge. The second LP of the set was more interesting and makes this US / Canadian release most collectable. The first side had a live version of Tubular Bells recorded on his European tour in March / April 1979, whilst the second side had a shorter and quite excellent edited version of Incantations. What made this track most interesting was the fact that this mix consisted of both studio and live versions re-mixed together to make one shorter 19 minutes 26 second track.

The decade had begun with few people expecting or knowing the path that Mike’s music was to take. If the last seven years were anything to go by the air of expectation that greeted every project undertaken by Mike was never to diminish.

©Peter Evans