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Virgin EMI are delighted to announce Mike Oldfield’s first album of new material since 2008. Featuring 11 brand new tracks, MAN ON THE ROCKS is a deeply personal song-based album that reflects many of Mike’s different influences. Recorded in the Bahamas, Mike’s 25th studio album has been produced by Mike with legendary British producer Stephen Lipson (Jeff Beck, Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox). Man On The Rocks features players such as legendary bassist Leland Sklar (Phil Collins, Crosby, Stills & Nash, James Taylor) and drummer John Robinson (Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, Daft Punk).
Although Oldfield has worked with some of the world’s most famous vocalists in the past, here he has found an incredible young talent to interpret his words, Luke Spiller from the Struts. Its working title, ‘Rock’ emphasises the album’s directness, heard especially on the guitar-driven ‘Irene’, inspired by the category 3 hurricane that hit the Bahamas in 2011. However, it is – as you would expect from the man who gave the world Tubular Bells and so much more besides – an album of great variance and contrast; from the commercial punch of opening track, ‘Sailing’, to the beautiful folk-influenced ‘Dreaming In The Wind’ to the emotional gravitas of its closer, a cover of William McDowell’s gospel song, ‘I Give Myself Away’. “It has been a pleasure making Man On The Rocks with such a dedicated team of performers,” says Oldfield. “For a long period, I felt that I wasn’t going to record any new music again. But, after the elation of the Olympics and the explorations of my catalogue, I felt the time was right to return with this, one of my favourite albums to date.” Man On The Rocks will be released on 3rd March 2014. Pre-Order the standard CD – 00602537606955 NOW from: http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00FR0WL46/darkstarofficia
Paul Harris Previews Man On The Rocks
With two weeks to go until the release of Man On The Rocks, we can share some early thoughts about the album. Paul Harris wrote the foreword to the acclaimed new biography “Mike Oldfield – A Life Dedicated To Music“, and has an advance promo copy of the album from Virgin – he says:
Having spent a large part of the 1980’s writing songs and shorter pieces almost under duress from the record company, this is probably the first album where Mike has put together a collection of songs with more traditional rock or pop structures without having to please or appease anyone. This climate has undoubtedly created a more harmonious environment for the creative process even if many of the songs deal with the fall-out from Mikes personal circumstances. In any case, the creative impetus derived from his situation and the will rather than pressure has I believe given the songs on this album space to develop and breathe, where previously there may have been an unwelcome under current which shaped the music, production and delivery.
Not every Oldfield fan will welcome this album as it is a departure from the format of his most critically acclaimed and admired works. Others may feel that it does not break new ground in the way that some of his other output has done. It may also be suggested that as most of the instruments are played by “session” musicians rather Mike, that this is not a Mike Oldfield album. This is nonsense, Mike has had many guest or session musicians appearing on his previous works. These things said, there are many things that are positive about this album. There is clearly a lot of emotion and feeling in the tracks, particularly in Man on the Rocks, which Luke really seems to bring out in his dynamic vocal delivery. For the guitar fiends, there is plenty of trademark Oldfield guitar solos featuring across all the tracks. The two marry together particularly well on the track Castaway.
The tracks have a clear crisp production with less layering than regular listeners might be used to with Mike’s more complex works. I like the energy of the album, there are a couple of tracks which are potential single contenders such as Minutes and Dreaming in the Wind. Although it is “heavier” than much of Mike’s catalogue output with some rockin’ tracks such as Chariot, and and a liberal dose of power chords and anthemic guitar solos such as the one on Nuclear. My initial thoughts are that these are a bunch of well crafted pop songs. They might not be to everyone’s taste, and it may divide fan opinion, but this could well win some new fans, particularly as the record company seems to be gearing up the promotional engine to get this out to a wider audience.
In terms of comparisons, which I am only suggesting for those that have not been priviledged to hear it, the style is Moonlight Shadow with some Shadow on The Wall, Discovery and a dose of Outcast. Clearly, there is much more variety than this on the album, but Mike has drawnon the successful formula of Moonlight Shadow but cranked up the energy and created a bigger more dynamic sound. A key ingredient in the atmosphere and feeling created by the tracks is Luke Spiller’s vocals. He delivers an incredible range and a number of different styles from the anguish ridden Nuclear to the more gentle and laid back Following the Angels Down. His selection as vocalist is a triumph.
Sailing aside as most folks have heard that, Moonshine reflects on an experience shared with Phil Spalding in Ireland back in the mid 80’s. which is captured through an “Irish” feel in part due to the pipes. Castaway starts off with a gentle acoustic, lo-fi style be-lieing the subject matter of the song, which then launces into a catchy and ear-worm like anthemic track, and Mr Spiller delivering a sterling performance.
Minutes and Dreaming In the Wind both have Moonlight Shadowesque qualities which could yield potential hit singles should the record company or the record buying public demand it, both are a pleasure to listen to.
The title track and Nuclear deal with the fall-out from the breakdown on Mike’s marriage. The lyrics on the former are touching, on the latter deep and demonstrate the turmoil left in the wake of the separation from his wife and children. Luke delivers an emotive vocal carrying the sentiments directly into the listener.
A couple of the tracks don’t grab me in the way that most of the album does, Irene a track about the hurricane that hit the Bahamas in 2011 and Giving Myself Away (a cover version) are perhaps a little too formulaic and MOR for my liking, but that doesn’t mean they could be slow burners.
Overall the instrumentation is largely acoustic drums and percussion, bass, rhythm and acoustic guitars, Hammond organ, vocals and lead guitars. A few tracks have backing vocals, piano on the soporific Following the Angels Down, pipes / possible fiddle on Moonshine and what sounds like synthetic brass on Irene. Most of the tracks, have guitar solos lasting around a minute or so, Castaway has a 2 minute plus solo!
The album is undoubtedly Oldfield, with some guitar solos to rival some of his best. In terms of broader appeal, Mike has used the awareness generated by his Olympic appearance to fuel a rennaisance in his interest in writing and recording music again. Has the potential of a wider appeal for his music driven the format or a natural platform for the catharsis of his personal circumstances? Listeners can make their own mind up. The style of the album, has clear commercial intentions and may well be prime for raising of Mike’s profile again in the American market. The formula on this album may be proven, but 30 years on from Moonlight Shadow, Radio 2 have now A listed Sailing, yielding the possibility of a new Oldfield single in the charts.
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Mike Oldfield Talks About Man On The Rocks
“Being included in the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony really did me some good, because it validated Tubular Bells as an iconic album that stands the test of time,” says its creator Mike Oldfield.
“The logical thing for me to have done would have been to make another Tubular Bells-style album to try and cash in, but I’m not that kind of person and the new album Man On The Rocks is all live, back-to-basics rock.”
Oldfield began playing solo guitar in folk clubs as a prodigiously talented 12-year-old. And even in these earliest live performances he was plotting the course for what would become a unique musical path, playing both concise songs and extended instrumental compositions on steel-stringed acoustic guitar. “I was as good a player at the age of 12 as I am now,” he admits. “I was really obsessed by playing.”
Still just into his mid-teens, Oldfield played with his elder sister Sally in the duo The Sallyangie from 1967-8. His next significant step into the spotlight came in 1970, playing guitarand bass in Kevin Ayers & The Whole World.
Borrowing the band’s Farfisa organ, he experimented with a repetitive motif at home in his Tottenham flat. Gradually adding new parts and different instruments, he recorded a demo of this lengthy piece, which became the first part of the album Tubular Bells.
Released on Richard Branson’s newly formed Virgin Records in 1973, Tubular Bells was initially a sleeper, taking a year to reach number one. But once it had lodged into the public consciousness, it never really went away, selling in the region of 17 million copies worldwide. Not bad for a teenager’s 47 minute, largely self-played piece presented in two parts, which was a curiosity even in the heyday of progressive rock.
But then looking back, Oldfield has perennially charted a parallel path to the musical mainstream, recording ambitious albums – Amarok from 1990, one of his personal favourites, is an hour-long instrumental piece – and yet also achieving success in the singles charts. ‘Moonlight Shadow’ reached number four in 1983, while to Oldfield’s delight, its successor ‘Shadow On The Wall’, became an anthem of sorts in the pre-Glasnost Eastern bloc.
Historically, Oldfield is a man who people have turned to for the big occasion. In 1981, he briefly adopted the sort of role occupied in times past by court composers like Henry Purcell, when he performed his Royal Wedding Anthem as part of the festivities the day before the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. “It was nice, it was a free afternoon concert outside St Paul’s Cathedral,” he recalls. “I also got the freedom of the City of London. Apparently I can drive my sheep over London Bridge.”
Oldfield’s wide-ranging musical tastes are exemplified by the contrast between his last album, Music Of The Spheres – an orchestral composition that topped the classical charts on release in 2008 – and the essentially live rock music of Man On The Rocks.
Always drawn to new technological developments, when recording Man On The Rocks, Oldfield used Skype in conjunction with a number of cameras to give an audio and video link between studios in London and Los Angeles and his home studio in Nassau, in the Bahamas. “I love working that way – I don’t have to leave my comfortable semi-retirement place to function globally,” he laughs. But he was keen to avoid the excessive use of compression that has become a modern production cliché, which can make the music sound louder, but at the expense of its inherent dynamics. “I wanted it to sound like it was made in the late 60s, early 70s, so I took a lot of time trying to get an analogue tape recorder feel to it,” Oldfield says.
Oldfield’s first thought was to work with a selection of well-known vocalists, as he had done in the past, to interpret his words. However, Mike Smith, his A&R man was excited about a new band, The Struts, and their vocalist, Luke Spiller. When Oldfield heard Spiller’s voice he was truly blown away, as he was exactly what he was looking for. The fact the pair hadn’t met when recording the album made it all the more interesting and underlined how with the internet you can communicate not just by not being in the same room, but not even on the same continent.
Although rich in moods and contrasts, Man On The Rocks has a unified feel, using the same basic pool of musicians. And lyrically it’s knitted together, to an extent, by elemental and maritime imagery. Maybe Oldfield was unconsciously influenced by his adoptive home, but he is adamant that there was no grand plan or concept behind the album.
“I didn’t actually set out to make an album, I had things inside me that I wanted to express in music and that’s a totally different thing,” he explains. “I had all these emotions bottled up in me and that’s really what it was all about. I suppose it’s like turning on a tap and you don’t know exactly what’s going to come out.”
Mike Oldfield – Man On The Rocks: Track-By-Track
“You get this lovely feeling as you go out into the open sea – freedom! I had a tune for a rocky track and I had the word, “sailing” for the chorus and thought, No, I can’t possibly just use the word “sailing”. There can’t be another ‘Sailing’, there’s only one and that’s Rod Stewart’s. But then I thought, why the hell not? And so I just went for it.”
“I have bits and pieces of ideas that hang over for years, like the song that ended up as ‘Moonshine’, which I’ve been working on for 25 years. It was originally called ‘Whiskey In The Wind’. It was a true story: we were on a band outing to the west coast of Ireland at Galway Bay and there was a bottle of whiskey, and it was bloody cold!”
MAN ON THE ROCKS
“Almost by accident it ended up a song about addictions, which can be to drugs, to alcohol, to certain situations, or even addiction to failure. The big problem of that song was working out who is singing – the addicted person or another person looking at the addicted person – and it suddenly struck me that what is singing is the addiction itself.”
“I was remembering my fears, as a child, of abandonment. I’m psychologically at peace now, having gone through years of psychotherapy. But memories of how I used to be and childhood traumas are still inside me, although I can look at them and they don’t control my life anymore. Children need security, that’s why I dedicated the album to my wonderful children and children everywhere.”
“A song about leaving situations behind and how it feels when you really miss somebody. It has a little instrumental hook and I was trying to get back to the sound of the tracks that were around in the 60s – Buddy Holly, early Shadows, Adam Faith and Joe Meek – that my sister used to listen to on her Dansette.”
DREAMING IN THE WIND
“It’s about the afterlife, death, it’s about visiting a chain of islands near here, the Exumas, which are mostly uninhabited. It’s like a different planet, beautiful blue waters, hardly any people… there are some times when the music just has to speak for itself.”
“My Grandfather, Michael Liston, died when I was very small. He was Irish and was drafted into the British army in the First World War. One of the most powerful experiences I’ve had in the last 10 years was when I went to Ypres and Passchendaele and saw where many members of his regiment, the Munster Fusiliers, were buried. I’m very tuned to residual atmospheres of places and you can still feel the desolation there. It’s a song about frustration anger, desperation. I wanted a powerful word to put it all into a song and “nuclear” came to mind.”
“’Chariots’ is a bit like ‘Shadow On The Wall’ – a rallying cry for anybody or any group or any culture that feels oppressed. Sometimes you have to fight your way through an obstruction or situation that you’ve got into, where nothing is going to change unless you rise up and revolt against it. It’s one of my favourite tracks.”
FOLLOWING THE ANGELS
“From my perspective onstage, everything in the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony was coming down from above. There were cascades of pyrotechnics; then ‘Her Majesty’ descended from the helicopter; then all the Mary Poppinses came tumbling down. That evening was so extraordinary – I remember coming to the stadium and thinking how lovely London felt.”
“Hurricane Irene in 2011 was a category three hurricane. The strongest is a category five, but that ispretty damn hairy – the eye was right over the house. It was terrifying but it was exhilarating as well. I was so energised I thought, I’ve got to write a song about this, so as inspiration I listened to some old Rolling Stones tracks. I love the roughness of their sound. I played these old blues slide guitar sections in open G tuning, which is what Keith Richards uses.”
I GIVE MYSELF AWAY
“I heard it by accident and thought it was one of the most beautiful songs I‘d ever heard. I found out that it was a song of worship, by William McDowell. But I just changed a few of the lyrics so that it was applicable to everyday life. I wasn’t going to include it, but [co-producer] Steve Lipson thought it was great, and as a finisher on the album it works really well.”
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