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Mike Oldfield collaborator Robin Smith reimagines Tubular Bells

Unquestionably one of the great albums, Mike Oldfield’s debut release Tubular Bells is now considered a ground-breaking ‘prog-rock’ masterpiece, one that has come to define a generation – and produce two sequels – since it was first launched to wide acclaim in 1973.

Tubular Bells the 50th Anniversary Celebration
Tubular Bells the 50th Anniversary Celebration

Now, to celebrate the record’s 50th anniversary, Oldfield’s friend and long-term collaborator Robin Smith – a hugely talented musician in his own right – is taking it out on the road.

The Tubular Bells the 50th Anniversary Celebration tour will see the original Tubular Bells album performed in full, along with further Oldfield compositions such as Moonlight Shadow and Family Man (also a big hit for Hall & Oates), across the UK in September and October.

Robin, a Grammy-nominated arranger, composer, conductor and performer, who has also been collaborating with popular Croatian cellist Stjepan Hauser of late, is thrilled to be bringing a work he’s loved since he first heard it in 1973 back to the stage.

He says: “I’ve been Mike Oldfield’s musical director since he did Tubular Bells II Live at Edinburgh Castle [in 1992] – that’s when I first met Mike.

“He needed somebody with a lot of musicality in different areas to put it together, so I worked with him on Tubular Bells II and III and at the Olympic opening ceremony [in 2012].

“This [tour] came about because arranging is my love and I thought I’d love to take Tubular Bells and just reimagine it with different colours, in its entirety, and just try and give it a bit of... not a facelift, it doesn’t need it, but a different colour for a new audience that’s used to hearing Hans Zimmer scores and Game of Thrones… just the way music’s changed in a cinematic, dramatic way.

“I thought well actually Tubular Bells has got all those elements, so I did it, and my partner and I set about finding a platform to perform it live.

“Originally we did it at the Royal Festival Hall [in 2021] with acrobats, which was a challenge, but luckily it came to pass that we got to do it with just the band – and it’s been a massive success.”

Tubular Bells live in concert. Picture: Manuel Harlan
Tubular Bells live in concert. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Why has Tubular Bells stood the test of time so well? “It is totally unique,” replies Robin, the musical director for the 2012 London Olympic opening ceremony. “I mean, it was unique when it first came out, to have a 50-minute piece that was continuous...

“The only reason it stopped is that people had to turn over the record, but it is a continuous stream of creative consciousness that’s really unique – nobody did that.

“I mean Pink Floyd were fantastic and lots of people have done extended works, but a lot of it was extended because you had these huge long guitar solos – Tubular Bells is full of sections, like constructed, melodic or dramatic sections that all fit together in a big, big jigsaw. I think because you’ve got all of these different things going on, it’s still what makes it unique today.”

The opening ceremony at the 2012 Olympics was when Robin first talked to Mike about his idea for reimagining his most famous work.

“I started it about two years after the Olympic ceremony, which was the last time I saw him [Mike],” he explains, “and I played it to him and he loved it. He said, ‘Robin, this is fantastic, finish it off, perform it but don’t include me!’”

These days, Mike Oldfield is based in the Bahamas and comes across as rather a reclusive figure. “You could say that, that’s putting it mildly!” notes Robin.

“We did Tubular Bells III at Horse Guards Parade and he announced then – this was 2003 – that he probably wouldn’t play live again, and I don’t think he really did.

“He did a couple of appearances, I mean he obviously appeared at the Olympics ceremony, but he’s a very private individual, very creative, and I suppose to be creative and come up with these amazing things doesn’t mean to say that you’re going to immediately love that whole area of the industry.

“I think he likes his own privacy and lives somewhere very beautiful now, doing very lovely things – and I think we’d all be doing that if we could. I know I would!”

A big fan of jazz and funk music, Robin’s credits in his long career also include Rod Stewart, Goldie, Cher, Andrea Bocelli, Luciano Pavarotti, and Kanye West, and he has worked on numerous films and television programmes too, including X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent – as well as releasing two albums of his own.

See how Robin has reimagined and updated Tubular Bells when the show comes to the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Sunday, September 17. Tickets, priced £25.50-£58, are available at cornex.co.uk. Visit robin-smith.co.uk for more on Robin.

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