1973 – Tubular Bells


Mike (lowery organ, bass, acoustic & electric guitar, mandolin and prehistoric poem) David Bedford (grand piano, accordion, organ, choir master, string arrangement) John Greaves (farfisa organ, electric piano, tin whistle) John Leig (flute) Fred Frith (electric and bass guitars) Tim Hodgkinson (organ, electric piano, fender rhodes) Mick Taylor (of Rolling Stones - electric guitar), Steve Hillage (electric guitar), Pierre Moerlen (glockenspiel, timpani, tubular bells, gongs, cymbals, tam tam) Steve Broughton (drums) Jon Field (flute) Terry Oldfield (flute) Viv Stanshall (MC) Tom Newman (nasal chorus) Girlie chorus (12, including Sally Oldfield and Mundy Ellis). Part two had Ted Speight (electric guitar) Kevin Ayers (bass) Vulpy (viola) Nick Haley (violin) Ashley Mason (viola) Simon Ingram Hill (cello and organ) Janet Townley (violin).

Steve Winwood was due to play but could not make rehearsals due to pressure of work. Robert Wyatt broke his back and so had an even better excuse.

One significance of this show is as a 'premiere'. This sense of an event, or formal launch, has been reproduced for all the Tubular Bells albums and latterly, the Berlin Millennium concert. The story often told is of Mike withdrawing shortly before the concert in panic and being finally persuaded to do it when Richard Branson offered him an old Bentley that used to belong to Mary Hopkin. Does this have overtones of the Sallyangie gig at the Royal Festival Hall or was it simply a severe attack of stage fright? David Bedford recalled that Viv Stanshall cocked up the announcements by introducing instruments not due in.

Three themes emerged from the concert that bear on Mike's attitude to most of his other live performances. Firstly, the technology he used for recording in studios. Mike told NME's Roy Carr: "When we did that concert at the QEH, we didn't use any amplifiers - all the guitars were fed straight into the mixing board, which a lot of people didn't realise. But even that had a lot of major technical hang-ups." This may partially explain the elaborate technical preparation and over-reliance of his first tour.

It was not the concert that caused it, but common to most of Mike's interviews at this time was the opinion that reproduction of the album given its studio construction technique was a major obstacle to his music being playing live.

The second is that Mike simply didn't enjoy playing live. It may have forced him to confront too many things (crowds, working with others, technical imperfection) at a time when he wanted to retreat from his problems. Mike told several interviewers that he hoped not to play live again. [Eg Rock and Folk Magazine April 74]. He told Melody Maker's Steve Lake: "I had a few reservations about the way 'Tubular Bells' turned out as a live thing. I didn't really enjoy it. If I do anymore live things, I shan't actually be playing, because when you're playing its very difficult to have control over what's going on. Anybody could play my bit really, so I'd be free to do conducting and engineering." He added that, "the best part for me in the QEHall concert was the guitar solo with the strings. That was really enjoyable. I'd quite like to do the odd thing with a band as well if somebody asked me. I'vebeen thinking of going to a few auditions."

Those were contemporaneous reflections. After his first tour, in 1980, Mike reflected after a few years (in International Musician and Recording World) that, "Although the audience loved it I was disappointed by the actual result. I never wanted to play the album live because of all the problems recording it. I had agreed with the record company to do the gig so it had to go ahead. I waited until it was my decision before I did another one."

The emerging theme was a strong one: control. Mike felt out of control when his work was played live. One understandable way in which this showed itself was a deep interest in who played with him. "I really wanted folk or acoustic musicians that could play electric like Al Stewart or John Renbourn. Not that I regret that band, they were both technically competent and also enjoying what they did. Perhaps that's more important." One could argue his concern was in part a hang-over from the creative chaos of the Whole World.

©Mark Slattery