1974 View from the Beacon

With the success of Tubular Bells continuing well into 1974, prominent film director William Friedkin decided he wanted to use part of the album as the musical score to his horror film "The Exorcist". This, more than anything, gave Mike the all too important foothold in the American market. With Mike's permission, but with no say in what section was used, Virgin's US distributor, Atlantic Records, edited the piece and the single Mike Oldfield's Theme to the Exorcist was released. It entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart on February 23rd 1974 eventually peaking at No. 7. This, for a short period, anyway, established Mike as a major artist in America, helping to sell nearly 8 million copies of the LP Stateside. On being informed of Friedkin's use of Tubular Bells, Roy Carr of NME was first to note that; A look of fear replaced the tranquility of his placid blue eyes; his frail body trembled ever so slightly as he mumbled, "I wish you hadn't told me that". This American single was then countered by Oldfield himself, who edited the piece the way he wanted, with the final product being released in the UK under the title Mike Oldfield's Single (VS101) on the 28th June. The B side was the strange and humorous Froggy Went a-courting in which Mike and Bridget St. John sang a quaint child like traditional song with Mike also playing guitar and mandolin. This single eventually peaked at a disappointing No.31 in the charts which, after the intial success of the LP, was rather disappointing.

June and July were to prove a very busy couple of months for Mike as firstly he appeared on the track "Little Red Robin Hood Hits the Road" on Robert Wyatt's album Rock Bottom (V2017). He then, on 1st June, made a guest appearanceat the Rainbow Theatre in London with Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Brian Eno and Nico. Mike guested on two tracks, "Two goes into Four" and "Everybody's Sometimes and Some Peoples all Time Blues". This concert was then released by Island records, entitled June 1st 1974, and included both the above mentioned tracks.

Whilst all this was happening, Phil Newell was re-mixing Tubular Bells in Quadrophonic. This process enabled the record to be heard through a four speaker system instead of the usual two in stereo as, at the time, Quad was seen as the next step forward in music reproduction. In the meantime the Quad re-mix (QV2001) was released in June and sold poorly, mainly due to the limited amount of Quad players in circulation.

Back in the autumn of 1973 Mike had moved to Kington in Herefordshire to escape from the pressures of Tubular Bells and to compose a follow up. After leaving The Manor he briefly stayed in Richard Branson's house boat in London. His new home, which was known as the Beacon, had a custom made 24 track recording studio built within it that enabled him to do most of his recording without returning to the Manor. He now put all his effort into his new recording, moving forward with great caution, often eliminating parts that, before Tubular Bells, he would have used. At one point he scrapped a complete section saying that; "Nothing is turning out the way that I want and at the moment I'm not sure how to go about rectifying it. Everything keeps going right out of tune so I've had to re-string just about everything". In his spare time he would walk the hills on which the Beacon sat and fly his remote controlled gliders from their edge. One of these particular hills was called Hergest Ridge, of which he would use to title his next album.

Hergest Ridge (V2013) was released on 28th August to almost critical hostility from the music press. This was due mainly to Mike refusing to promote, let alone talk with the press about his new work. This would, in turn lead to him being christened a "Rock and Roll Hermit Millionaire". The main problem was that everybody expected this new offering to be better than its predecessor. However, probably due to his return to nature, this piece was more peaceful and melodic than Tubular Bells. One reviewer was to comment; "Hergest Ridge is perfect background music for mooning poetically around to - but it won't stand up to much close listening". Despite this lack of enthusiasm, the album shot straight to the top of the chart, being the first record to dislodge it's predecessor Tubular Bells from the number one position and earn Mike and instant gold disc. Before this release it was rumoured that on July 7th, Virgin produced a promotional single titles Spanish Tune (VS112) which was backed by an excerpt from Hergest Ridge. If it was released there are so very few copies in existence that even Virgin themselves cannot confirm it ever existed. Nevertheless, it is still the most sought after Oldfield recording despite its controversial nature.

Album chart listing 1974. Click to enlarge

On September 8th, Mike appeared at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane with Robert Wyatt, who was making his first appearance since an accident had paralysed him from the waist downwards. Apart from Mike, Robert also employed the services of Dave Stewart, Nick Mason, Laurie Allen and Fred Frith, amongst others. In the concert itself, Mike played synthesizer and guitar with one reviewer commenting; "The set, which eventually climaxed with a thoroughly beserk version of "I'm a Believer" with some singularly dirty rhythm guitar from Oldfield".

In September, Mike appeared on and co-produced David Bedford's Stars End (V2020) LP which was released by Virgin. This also featured the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and was recorded by the Manor Mobile at, of all places, Barking Town Hall! This collaboration between Mike, Bedford and the RPO would continue later in the year when the decision was taken to orchestrate Tubular Bells. This task was mainly undertaken by Bedford, the culmination being a live performance on the 5th November of the orchestral piece with Mike playing guitar at the Royal Festival Hall. However, due to the sudden death of his mother, Mike pulled out and was replaced by Fred Frith.

David Bedford had the unenviable task of arranging Tubular Bells and Hergest Ridge to be performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Both pieces were to be played live at the Royal Albert Hall on December 9th but because Mike still had not recovered from his mothers death, his place was taken by Steve Hillage.

However, for a man of such diverse shyness, the prospect of live appearances was to prove quite remarkable. He now settled back to write his next piece, determined to show the critics and public alike that he was not a spent force.

©Peter Evans