Tubular Bells 2003

Tubular Bells 2003 May 27th, 2003

Cover image by Steve Bedford from an original design by Trevor Key, design by e-xentric

Part One

1. Introduction 05:51
2. Fast Guitars 01:04
3. Basses 00:46
4. Latin 02:18
5. A Minor Tune 01:21
6. Blues 02:40
7. Thrash 00:44
8. Jazz 00:48
9. Ghost Bells 00:30
10. Russian 00:44
11. Finale 08:36

Part Two
12. Harmonics 05:21
13. Peace 03:22
14. Bagpipe Guitars 03:07
15. Caveman 04:33
16. Ambient Guitars 05:09
17. Hornpipe 01:39

Mike Oldfield plays... Grand Piano, Glockenspiel, Electric Organs, Accordion, Synthesisers, Bass Guitar, Electric Guitars, Acoustic Guitars, Mandolin, Spanish Guitar, Piltdown Man, Tympani, Percussion, Tubular Bells.

Other musicians Sally Oldfield - Background Vocals John Cleese - Master of ceremonies.

Produced by Mike Oldfield, engineered by Ben Darlow Recorded at Roughwood August 2002 - February 2003


Additional notes from Richard Carter

Notes On The Instruments

After much pestering from the likes of myself, Mike helpfully listed all of the instruments he used, inside the booklet for Tubular Bells 2003 (but not the 3CD 'Complete Tubular Bells' set), making my job a lot easier - thanks Mike!

Grand Piano - Mike Used two grand pianos on the album, an 8 foot Steinway, rebuilt on a 1920s frame, and an all-original 1920s Steinway 6 foot piano, which is the one that can be seen on stage in The Millennium Bell video.

Electric Organs - Here, he uses a 1970 Hammond L.122 (which Mike claims has been in his garage for the past 10 years), a Lowrey and a Farfisa (I believe a Farfisa Professional).

Synthesisers - Mike's love of Roland synthesisers shows clearly, with him using a JV880 for string pads, an XP50 pianos and percussion, a JV2080 'ethnic' sounds, bass, and a JD990 for pads. He also used his Clavia Nord Lead for bass sounds and some bass sounds from the Korg Trinity, his master keyboard which sits in front of the large plasma computer screen in his studio. Mike also demonstrated his new found affection for software synthesiser: Native Instruments' emulation of Sequential Circuits' Prophet V, the Pro 53, contributes buzzy, cutting analogue sounds to much of the album, while Emagic's ES1 and EVP88 are used for synth bass and wurlitzer piano sounds respectively. Also used was an Akai S6000 hardware sampler and Emagic's ESX24 software sampler.

Bass Guitar - Whereas Tubular Bells featured the growly tones of a Fender Precision Bass, prominent on Tubular Bells 2003 is the thicker, more modern sound of Mike's Wal Custom bass guitar.

Electric Guitars - For the recording of this album, Mike once again used the 1965 Fender Telecaster with which he played all of the electric guitar parts on the original Tubular Bells. Joining the Telecaster are Mike's usual partners in crime, the Fender Stratocaster (listed in the booklet as a '63, but which I've seen before called a '62 - it could realistically be either), PRS Custom and also his PRS McCarty thinline. His PRS Custom 24 is used to play sounds from the Roland VG-8 and I suspect also synthesised sounds like the bass in 'Introduction' and some of the flute and whistle sounds. Some guitars were played direct through Mike's Roland GP-8 guitar effects processor, but he also used his Fender Twin Reverb and Mesa Boogie guitar amplifiers for when a slightly less direct sound was called for.

Acoustic Guitars - The steel string acoustic guitars which Mike used were a 1960 Martin 00.21 parlour guitar (which I believe is used for the melody line in 'Peace'), a 1985 Taylor K22 (a grand concert sized guitar with top, back and sides made of Hawaiian Koa) and an Ovation Adamas (an electroacoustic guitar built mainly from fibreglass and carbon fibre).

Mandolin - Many of the mandolin sounds on Tubular Bells 2003 come from Mike's Mike Vanden mandolin. Some, such as those towards the end of 'Peace', are speeded up electric guitars.

Spanish Guitar - The Spanish Guitar parts come, once again, from Mike's Ramirez 1A flamenco (1975) and 1A classical (1974) guitars.

Piltdown Man - On the original Tubular Bells, the Piltdown Man part was created by speeding up the tape while recording, so that the pitch of Mike's voice was lowered when it was played back. This time, the pitch has been lowered digitally, and he has been joined by a second, more feminine 'Piltdown Woman'. It has been said that this part is in fact Mike's sister Sally - I'm not sure where this information came from; it seems likely to me that it's Mike again, this time pitched upwards (all manner of processing can be carried out on voices using modern equipment, such as the processors from TC-Helicon, which can allow a voice to sound higher pitched without the usual 'Mickey Mouse' type effects).

Percussion - Acoustic percussion instruments used by Mike were a tambourine, triangle and cymbals. Electronic percussion came courtesy of a Boss Dr Rhythm drum machine (he doesn't specify which model - Boss have been producing drum machines in the DR series since 1979 - the original Dr Rhythm was the analogue DR-55, the latest is the digital DR-670), and the Roland XP50 keyboard. The drums on 'Caveman' could well have been played by an uncredited drummer, Thomas Simmerl, who did some drum sessions for the album at Plan 1 Studios in Munich. An alternative is that it could be a set of cleverly programmed samples.

Tubular Bells - After having synthesised/sampled bell sounds feature on Tubular Bells 2 and 3, the real bells return for Tubular Bells 2003. Used here is the same set (which Mike describes as being like a 'toy' set of bells) which Mike sampled for Tubular Bells 2.


Notes On The Musicians

Sally Oldfield - After her first appearance on one of Mike's albums for 25 years, on Tres Lunas, Mike's sister Sally returned for Tubular Bells 2003, to reprise her role as vocalist on Tubular Bells.

John Cleese - Most famous for his role in the ground breaking British comedy sketch show "Monty Python's Flying Circus" (which ran between 1969 and 1974), as well as for his parts in numerous films, including 'A Fish Called Wanda', the James Bond films 'The World is Not Enough' and 'Die Another Day' and of course the Monty Python films. Mike had long been a fan of the Monty Python shows and felt that Tubular Bells had a certain Monty Python-like quality to it, with the way hugely contrasting sections of music were juxtaposed carrying a feel of 'and now for something completely different...'. Therefore John Cleese was, for Mike, a natural choice as a replacement for the late Vivian Stanshall, who had contributed the Master of Ceremonies part to the 1973 Tubular Bells.


Other Notes

Despite feeling that it was musically his best work, Mike had long been unhappy with the quality of the 1973 recording of Tubuar Bells. The recording had been done in a rush, with most of Part One being recorded in a week's trial period which Mike had been allowed in The Manor studio by Virgin boss Richard Branson. Part Two was recorded under even more difficult conditions, with Mike being able to use the studio only in periods when no other artists wanted it, meaning that he often could only work for very short periods, or late at night. Despite the fact that the album went on to become a huge selling, classic recording, Mike later complained that the whole thing sounded out of tune, with there having not even been time to tune the guitars, and that he felt the performances were rushed and out of time. The desire to perfect Tubular Bells may be partly what drove Mike to create Tubular Bells II (1992) and III (1998), but he wasn't able to re-record the original Tubular Bells due to a clause in his contract with Virgin which prevented him from re-recording the album for 25 years after the release of the original album. Come the 30th anniversary in 2003, with the contract recently expired, Mike felt that the time was right to revisit the work and finally do what he wanted with it.

The album was initially recorded into Logic Audio Platinum (v5.3.0) running on a Dual 1GHz Powermac G4 (mirrored drive door model with 1.25 GB RAM, running OS 9 - Mike says 9.4, which doesn't exist; the latest is 9.2.2), with Digidesign Pro Tools (v5.3.1) being used for various pieces of editing, and to provide the half-speed recording capability needed to create the double speed guitars which were very much a feature of the original Tubular Bells. Material was then transferred to a Fairlight Merlin hard disk recorder, from which tracks were mixed down, via Mike's Neve Capricorn digital mixing desk.

The track titles are simply Mike's working titles for the sections they refer to. The division of the album into tracks was done as a result of popular demand rather than any particular desire of Mike's, and as a result Mike chose not to spend any further time thinking up new names for all the sections.

© Richard Carter 2003


Hi There

Just to let you know that we have recorded John Cleese in Santa Barbara, USA. The session was very funny and the finished edited soundfiles were sent via FTP transfer to England. We were in telephone contact during the session and the finished track sounds wonderful. I have finished Part 1 of T Bells in rough for the moment and have started work on Part 2. The full session including all the chit chat will be available to listen to as streaming audio sometime around the release.

Best Regards Mike.


Review by Paul Harris Tubular Bells 2003: Tubular Bells just as Mike had originally intended, and has indeed wanted for the last 30 years. Many aspects of the original have concerned Mike over the years, the timing, dodgy playing, poor edits, changes in tone, background tape noise… to those with less of an musically trained ear, these are all part of the charm of the original 1973 version. From the first haunting piano arpeggios through to the toe tapping Hornpipe, an album of imperfections, and genius side by side.

The influence of Tubular Bells on music is quite simply immeasurable. Popular music is littered with compositional references, downright plagiarism and deference to the groundbreaking impact of the original version. With the release of this new 2003 version, completely re-recorded from scratch, with the benefits of modern day technology, the spectre of the troubled times that engendered its sibling can now be finally laid to rest.

Unlike Tubular Bells 2, which took the original themes, melodies and structure to create an entirely new and different, yet distinctly recognisable piece, and Tubular Bells 3 which only borrowed the piltdown man, the piano arpeggios and tubular bells from its famous brother, the 2003 version is an almost note for note re-recording of the original music.The result is a more polished piece, which is sharper and crisper, with a brighter, cleaner sound, and considerably more dynamics than the original.

Knowing the original version, it is impossible to listen to the re-recording without comparison, and to make observations and draw conclusions. The unique circumstances in 1972/3, created a unique piece of music, with idiosyncrasies that have been now been ironed out. Some might comment that the more relaxed and different circumstances in which this re-recording were made have lost something in the translation. However, the new piece adds some beautiful little touches to many of the melodies, diminutive twists to the sound, and subtle changes to the composition that create a fresh perspective on a very familiar piece.

Many will doubtless wonder how the new Tubular Bells will sound, in particular without Viv Stanshall’s familiar dulcet tones, and how the new Caveman piece created almost as an afterthought in the original, with the help of copious amounts of alcohol, will sit alongside those calming, peaceful tones of part 2 – you’ll just have to listen to find out!

This is clearly a landmark recording for Mike, an exorcism of the past, the fulfilment of a 30-year ambition, and now a movement into a new era. One thing is missing however, what about those oft referred to demo tapes? Mike has revealed very recently that they still exist. It would be a fascinating insight to hear these over 30 year old recordings alongside the new Tubular Bells 2003. How about a release as a special limited edition double CD?

Review by Chris Dewey Tubular Bells holds a very special place in the history of modern music, as it does in every Mike Oldfield fan's heart. When I heard that Mike was to re-record it using current technology, I wondered how he would be able to improve on the enigmatic original.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I first heard Tubular Bells on an old tin box, but still loved every minute of it! It didn't matter that the record player wouldn't have looked out of place playing Fred Flintstone's favourites! Listen to the World's greatest music on acrystal radio and you'd still enjoy it. I'm not suggesting for a moment that great sound quality doesn't make a huge difference, but you'll agree that it's the music that is memorable, not the sound quality.

There are differences here (which you'll prefer to wait to hear for yourself), every note is in perfect time and tune, and the production quality is astounding compared to the original. Technically perfect it may be, but the new recording bounces along happily and misses much of the unique atmosphere of the original, lacking the raw anger that Mike expressed in his music all those years ago.

Mike is well aware that the name does sell, and he's managed to pull it off so far - Tubular Bells II being truly inspired, Tubular Bells 3 one of his best albums yet, and the Millennium Bell very special indeed, but now another Tubular Bells? I can guarantee that the few critics that do spend the time to listen to it will be echoed by the many who will review it without even hearing it and say that Mike has run out of ideas and can do little more than try to recycle the golden success of his launch.

Let's face it, very few people would listen to this and think it is new. As fans who know every note, breath and imperfection backwards, we will all listen and point out the subtle differences in melody, timing, tuning and rythm, but put it on when friends come round and they'll probably just say, "Ah, yes, isn't that Tubular Bells!"

We know that Mike is still capable of true genius, and he will deliver again, but the public image of Mike Oldfield will sadly take a downturn with the marketing suicide of yet another Tubular Bells.

Review by Svend Aage Petersen Tubular Bells 2003 - or "Your Oldest Friend Just Had A Facelift" Listening to the original Tubular Bells is like putting on your old, favorite coat. It gives you a warm, comfy feeling, although it looks dodgy in places. It holds so many memories, and you feel perfectly at home when you put it on. So what happens when you go and buy a shiny new jacket, almost identical to the old one? Will it feel as good, or will it forever be an inferior replacement?

It is likely that the critics will see this album as yet another proof that Mike has lost his touch. "Why do we need another Tubular Bells?" we will hear them cry. I think the answer is "Because Mike needs it". If Tubular Bells 2003 is what it takes for Mike to be at peace with the album, having achieved the sound quality he couldn't get thirty years ago, then so be it. And if the album will only appeal to the long-time passionate Mike Oldfield fan, and be ignored or misunderstood by the casual listener, then so be it. Hopefully Mike can now get on with other projects which will delight his fans in years to come.

In the meantime, what should we make of Tubular Bells 2003? Is it any good? Or does it just sit there like the dead parrot for which John Cleese is famous?

It lives, I'm happy to say! The new recording may lack some of the emotions attached to the original, both by Mike himself, and by the long-time fans. However, it makes up for the jolly, carefree tone by being wonderfully crisp and crystal clear. Suddenly you get to hear those familiar, haunting melodies in the REAL "Glorious Stereophonic sound". The result is a combination of the best of old Mike and new Mike: Intricate, complex tunes and fantastic production. The whole album sounds dynamic and has a depth which the original lacks.

Don't expect huge differences in the music itself. There are twists and variations throughout, but the most important changes lie in the instrumentation and the mix. There are small surprises to be found in almost every section of the album, and they make the 48:33min experience highly enjoyable. It really works very well indeed, perhaps best on the second half of the album.

I would still have preferred a more sombre sounding MC than John Cleese, but he does a good job. The Caveman section has been given a delightful and unexpected twist. The end of part 2 ("Ambient Guitars") is breathtaking as it has gained so much depth and clarity. And as the Sailors Hornpipe finishes in a frenzy of guitars and mandolins, you want to shout at the stereo, "Don't stop yet! Go on!!!".

So will Tubular Bells 2003 withstand the test of time? I think so. It may never feel as true and heartfelt as the original, but as Mike turns 50, it's obvious that he looks back at his 30 year old creation with pride and that he has created a worthy successor to one of the most influential albums of all time.

Review by David Porter In August 1982 Mike revealed, on a programme called 6:55 Special, that, due to the imperfections he perceived in Tubular Bells, he would like to re-record it.

He specified that in the 4 weeks until his tour started this is something he could do, as he knew the piece backwards, and the technology was so much more advanced. It would also have coincided nicely with the tenth anniversary of the work. After the tour his Virgin contract was renegotiated and we have since heard there was a clause that prevented the re-recording of Tubular Bells for 25 years after the original release (either in the original contract or the new re-negotiated deal). The release we now get to hear is the culmination of a wish made more than 20 years ago and with obvious frustration at not being able to do it any sooner.

Instead we had reworking and versions approximating the original but not a wholesale re-recording, as this was apparently by contractual agreement. There has been such a deep and overriding passion to do it right that I for one do not begrudge this release for an instant. The end of side one can still bring a tear to the eye. It is a refined masterpiece that needed to be done and a perfect way to celebrate 50 years on this planet. Now it is out of your system Mike, how about revisiting Amarok?