Mike discussed on GMTV a tour in May 1990, with possible venues as either the Docklands Theatre or the Albert Hall. It would be interesting to know what he thought might be played at around that time.
1991 HEAVEN’S OPEN
Q magazine’s June issue confirmed Mike as definite for the Chieftains festival that same month but it was premature in doing so. Mike did not play for unclear reasons but, once again, it was reported that Mike would have been prepared to appear announced.
Live performing was nevertheless still in his mind. Interviewed for Music Mart in Feb, 1991 he said “I want to use a delay tower system like they use in stage musicals – I think there’s a lot the rock and roll world can learn from these people. If you’ve got a good system you can hear all the fine detail of something like Tubular Bells without it being too loud. Most rock concerts are unbearably loud!” He said, “Yes I have [the desire to form a group]. Perhaps in the future .. maybe a part-time group”, during an interview with Sym-Info-Magazine in October. There was never much chance of touring with Heaven’s Open because Mike was busy with Tubular Bells 2 for his new contract and new lease of life. Mike was determined to tour with that – perhaps to do what he should, in an ideal world, have done with the original.
1992 FRIDAY 4 SEPTEMBER, TUBULAR BELLS 2 PREMIERE AT EDINBURGH CASTLE.
Robyn Smith conductor [David Bedford was involved with the Orchestration? – said A20p2] Jay Stapley, Hugh Burns, Alan Limbrick (guitars) Craig Pruess, Richard Cottle, Dave Hartley (Keyboards) Adrian Thomas (programmer) Yitkin Seow (Pianist) Lawrence Cottle (Bass) Ian Thomas (drums) Ben Hoffnung, Alasdair Mallow (percussion) Jerry McKenna (banjo) Pete Clarke (fiddle) John Parricelli (mandolin & guitar) Jackie Quinn, Linda Taylor, Edie Lehmann, Susannah Melvoin (vocals), John Gordon Sinclair (MC).
There was originally some talk of doing this at Seville. The premiere was supported by Jane Siberry, a Canadian singer. Proceeds went to the Prince’s Trust charity although Prince Charles could not come. Mike referred on the day (R1 Steve Wright) to a phantom opera singer up on the battlements that didn’t transpire. He said it would be “a little more human than Jean Michel Jarre and a little more humorous”. At a press conference afterwards he said: “I like to think of it as a rock orchestra – it’s an orchestra with a conductor, but with people playing rock instruments. I’d like to think my music can survive without a big light show, even though we will have a light show. There are some shows where people go for the light show and I like to think people come and listen because they like the music. I mean, I’d be happy with just the lights on .. perhaps that’s taking it too far? It has to be somewhere in between a classical concert and a rock and roll concert, I think.”
He also elaborated on his latest view about the tension between perfection of reproduction and the life of live interpretations. “The thing is it’s designed to be performed as it was written, really. To be honest I’m not a great fan of improvisation unless I go to a jazz club .. but in this kind of music… I always remember once about 1969 when I went to see Pink Floyd and there was this organ solo which I loved on the record and he played it differently and I was so fed up that he’d played it differently to how it was on the record. I always remember that and when I do my concerts, they’re going to be like the record, you know!”
He also reflected on different styles of live performance. “I would certainly [play in folk clubs or with a small group] if I came across a folk club and was asked to join in” He also accepted the possibility of playing to small intimate audiences. Thomas Rothenthal posed these questions, perhaps seeking an acoustic style unplugged set. But Mike resisted this concept. “That is part of the encore. I play solo acoustic guitar. Sometimes its good to give the ears a rest when you’ve been listening to a mass of instruments and so many different sounds, just to listen to one thing for 3 or 4 minutes.” He confirmed a developing interest in sound quality that distinguishes him from many conventional rock artists seeking sheer volume. “I’ve learned from all my experience of tours. Most concerts are too loud – this one was really quiet; it wasn’t that you couldn’t hear things, it was just very comfortable. I think a lot of bands overpower the audience with volume so that you’re aware of a power of sound rather than being able to hear all the little details. So that was the first thing, to keep the volume down. The other was, because we have so many synthesisers and guitars, we have a central computer system which changes all the programmes on the synthesisers and changes them to the right volume so that the thing automatically mixes itself.
You don’t suddenly get a guitar coming in too loud, everything has been structured so that its as perfect a mix as it can be by the use of midi and a central computer. The other thing was deciding that its quasi-classical music, its using rock instruments but the easiest thing would be to have a conductor and we’ll score it out. All the musicians are classically trained. That meant all the musicians had to read music and we had to get away from your ‘sex, drugs and rock & roll’ type musicians. They have to be able to read. Its those three things that make it sound as good as it does.
My ideal PA system is a small cluster at the front , then small delay towers going all the way back. I really like the sound at any musical that’s got a good sound system, but the trouble is the PA hire companies, they have this equipment that they’ve invested a lot of money in and they want you to rent that, which is usually this great big central cluster, but I want to take pieces and scatter it around the hall so that we can keep the volume nice and quiet, and that’s the plan for the German tour.
“The Edinburgh show was an outdoor show and we can have fireworks and we can have lots of people and that kind of show is more like a big event, like a Jean-Michel Jarre type of thing and I’d love to do more of those – I love outdoor shows.”
Mike confirmed he was not winding down his live performances, but qualified it with receiving personal satisfaction. “If concerts continue to be successful and I enjoy them as much as I am I’ll carry on doing them.” On 27 September Mike played at Modena, Italy at Luciano Pavarotti’s estate, Bologna in front of 8,000. He played Sentinel to a recorded backing.
Text © Mark Slattery
Photos © Thomas Rosenthal