1987 Back to Basics

Hopes were high that another new studio album was well on the way to release, especially since it had been nearly two years since Oldfield's last offering. The relative quiet was put down to the fact that much time and effort was being put into this new recording as well as moving to a new house, Roughwood Croft, in Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire.

Before that however, Virgin felt fit to release In High Places (VS955), a cut from 1983's Crises LP. Featuring Jon Anderson of Yes on vocals. It was released in May to coincide with Virgin boss Richard Branson's plans to cross the Pacific Ocean in a hot air balloon. The 12" (VS995-12) contained Discovery's 1984 track Poison Arrows which was also on the B side of the 7" and Jungle Gardenia which had previously featured on the B side to 1984's single Crime of Passion. Strangely, this was only released in Oldfield's native UK and like many of his singles released before, failed to chart.

In September, the first single to be taken from the forthcoming new LP was released. Titled Islands (VS990) it featured the gravel voice of Bonnie Tyler on lead vocals and was produced by both Mike and Tom Newman. The B side of the 7" featured The Wind Chimes,(Part 1) whilst the 12" (VS990-12) had an additional track When the Night's on Fire. This track was strangely missing from the LP and cassette versions of the album. Incidentally, for the first time, there was also a cassette single released (VSC990-12) which contained the same tracks as featured on the 12". Contrary to popular belief there was not a CD single released, although an Islands CD Promo Single (CDEP6) does exist in enough numbers to make it widely available to collectors. This promo contained 4 tracks, three the same as the 12" and cassette single plus an extended 5 minute 35 second version of the title track.

With the appetite truly wetted, Islands (V2466 & CDV2466) was released in early October. Surprisingly, Oldfield had returned to the one sided instrumental format, so evident in his earlier recordings, while producing 6 vocal and what seemed highly commercial tracks. The instrumental side, titled The Wind Chimes consisted of ethnic and popular musical textures intertwined with Simon Phillips drumming and co-production evident throughout. The real difference between this and previous full length instrumental tracks, was the use of computer generated sounds produced either through synthesizers or samplers. There was a distinct lack of guitars, the Oldfield trademark, whilst chants and vocal melodies won the day.

The B side seemed more interesting with the likes of Jim Price, and old friend Kevin Ayers making guest appearances. Maggie Reilly had been replaced by his long time girlfriend Anita, who's voice, if not of the same high standards, was an ideal replacement. Strangely though, on overseas versions of Magic Touch the vocals were sung by Max Bacon, formerly with US band GTO, and not Jim Price as seen on UK versions. Why this was done is still a mystery, although it is thought that there may well have been a contractual reason not allowing any material featuring Jim to be released outside the UK. The Max Bacon version can also be found on the fairly rare US samplerA Virgin Compilation (PRCD2113). This CD contains the following 11 tracks. Magic Touch, Magic Touch (Edit), Tubular Bells (Edit), Family Man, Flying Start, Moonlight Shadow, Shadow on the Wall (12"), Five Miles Out, Etude, Jungle Gardenia and North Point.

Unfortunately, Islands was slaughtered by the press and critics alike and it came as no surprise to find that it was to be Mike's first studio LP not to chart in the UK. After all the hard work and time put into it, the whole experience must have dealt a shattering blow to Mike's confidence.

However, in November Virgin chose to release The Time has Come (VS1013) as the second single from Islands. The B side on the 7" was Final Extract from The Wind Chimes, whilst the 12" (VS1013-12) also had a shorter Original Mix of the title cut. It, like the LP, failed to make any impression on the charts.

Virgin then decided to add to the CD back catalogue by releasing Incantations (CDVD101) in February, The Orchestral Tubular Bells (CDV2026) in July and Boxed (CDBOX1) in October. Incidentally, the CD version of Incantations was originally reduced in length so that it could be fitted onto a single disc. That meant the opening segment of Side 3 on the LP was missing from the CD, reducing in length from 16.57 to 13.49. Fortunately the full length Part 3 is now available on CD and can be distinguished by the track length on the reverse. Meanwhile, the CD Boxed proved fairly successful as it reached No 25 in the UK album charts, only 3 positions lower than the original had charted in 1975!

©Peter Evans