Oldfield at the Night of the Proms in 2006
|Michael Gordon Oldfield|
|Born||15 May 1953|
Reading, Berkshire, England
|Genres||Progressive rock, world, folk, classical, ambient, new-age, pop, experimental, minimalist|
|Musician, songwriter, producer, game designer|
|Instruments||Guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, keyboards, vocals, harp, tympani, drums, tubular bells|
|Labels||Virgin, Reprise/Warner Bros., Mercury/Virgin EMI/Universal|
|Maggie Reilly, Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt, Alex Harvey, David Bedford, Anita Hegerland, Pekka Pohjola|
Michael Gordon Oldfield (born 15 May 1953) is an English multi-instrumentalist and composer. His work blends progressive rock with world, folk, classical, electronic, ambient, and new-age music. His biggest commercial success is the 1973 album Tubular Bells – which launched Virgin Records and became a hit in America after its opening was used as the theme for the horror film The Exorcist. He recorded the 1983 hit single "Moonlight Shadow" and a rendition of the Christmas piece "In Dulci Jubilo".
Oldfield was born on 15 May 1953 in Reading, Berkshire to Raymond Oldfield, a general practitioner, and Maureen (née Liston), a nurse of Irish descent. He has two elder siblings, sister Sally and brother Terence. When Oldfield was seven his mother gave birth to a younger brother, David, but he had Down syndrome and died in infancy. She was prescribed barbiturates, to which she became addicted. She suffered from mental health problems and spent much of the rest of her life in mental institutions. She died in early 1975, shortly after Oldfield had started writing Ommadawn.
Oldfield attended St Joseph's Convent School, Highlands Junior School, St Edward's Preparatory School, and Presentation College, all in Reading. When he was thirteen the family moved to Harold Wood, then in Essex, and Oldfield attended Hornchurch Grammar School where, having already displayed musical talent, he earned one GCE qualification in English.
Oldfield took up the guitar aged ten, first learning on a 6-string acoustic that his father gave him. He learned technique by copying parts from songs by folk guitarists Bert Jansch and John Renbourn that he played on a portable record player. He tried to learn musical notation but was a "very, very slow" learner; "If I have to, I can write things down. But I don't like to". By the time he was 12, Oldfield played the electric guitar and performed in local folk and youth clubs and dances, earning as much as £4 per gig. During a six-month break from music that Oldfield had around this time, he took up painting. In May 1968, when Oldfield turned fifteen, his school headmaster requested that he cut his long hair. Oldfield refused and left abruptly. He then decided to pursue music on a full-time, professional basis.
After leaving school Oldfield accepted an invitation from his sister Sally to form a folk duo The Sallyangie, taking its name from her name and Oldfield's favourite Jansch tune, "Angie". They toured England and Paris and struck a deal with Transatlantic Records, for which they recorded one album, Children of the Sun (1969). After they split in the following year Oldfield suffered a nervous breakdown. He auditioned as bassist for Family in 1969 following the departure of Ric Grech, but the group did not share Roger Chapman's enthusiasm towards Oldfield's performance. Oldfield spent much of the next year living off his father and performing in an electric rock band named Barefoot that included his brother Terry on flute, until the group disbanded in early 1970.
In February 1970, Oldfield auditioned as the bassist in The Whole World, a new backing band that former Soft Machine vocalist Kevin Ayers was putting together. He landed the position despite the bass being a new instrument for him, but he also played occasional lead guitar and later looked back on this time as providing valuable training on the bass. Oldfield went on to play on Ayers's albums Shooting at the Moon (1970) and Whatevershebringswesing (1971), and played mandolin on Edgar Broughton Band (1971). All three albums were recorded at Abbey Road Studios, where Oldfield familiarised himself with a variety of instruments, such as orchestral percussion, piano, Mellotron, and harpsichord, and started to write and put down musical ideas of his own. While doing so Oldfield took up work as a reserve guitarist in a stage production of Hair at the Shaftesbury Theatre, where he played and gigged with Alex Harvey. After ten performances Oldfield grew bored of the job and was fired after he decided to play his part for "Let the Sunshine In" in 7/8 time.
By mid-1971, Oldfield had assembled a demo tape containing sections of a longform instrumental that became "Tubular Bells (Part One)", initially entitled "Opus One". After attempts to persuade record labels to take on the project came to nothing, in September 1971 Oldfield, now a session musician and bass guitarist for the Arthur Louis Band, attended recording sessions at The Manor Studio near Kidlington, Oxfordshire, owned by businessman Richard Branson and run by engineers Tom Newman and Simon Heyworth. Branson already had several business ventures and was about to launch Virgin Records with Simon Draper. Newman and Heyworth heard some of Oldfield's demos and took them to Branson and Draper, who eventually gave Oldfield one week of recording time at The Manor. During this week, he completed "Part One" of Tubular Bells; "Part Two" was compiled between February and April 1973.
By the end of January 1973, Branson had agreed to release Tubular Bells himself and secured Oldfield with a six-album deal with Virgin, with an additional four albums as optional.Tubular Bells was released on 25 May 1973 as the first album on the Virgin label. Oldfield played more than twenty different instruments in the multi-layered recording, and its style moved through diverse musical genres. Its 2,630,000 UK sales puts it at No. 34 on the list of the best-selling albums in the country. The title track became a top 10 hit single in the US after the opening was used in The Exorcist film in 1973. It is today considered to be a forerunner of the new-age music movement.
In late 1974, his follow-up LP, Hergest Ridge, was No. 1 in the UK for three weeks before being dethroned by Tubular Bells. Although Hergest Ridge was released over a year after Tubular Bells, it reached No. 1 first. Tubular Bells spent 11 weeks (10 of them consecutive) at No. 2 before its one week at the top. Like Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge is a two-movement instrumental piece, this time evoking scenes from Oldfield's Herefordshire country retreat. It was followed in 1975 by the pioneering world music piece Ommadawn released after the death of his mother Maureen.
In 1975, Oldfield recorded a version of the Christmas piece "In Dulci Jubilo" which charted at No. 4 in the UK.
In 1975, Oldfield received a Grammy award for Best Instrumental Composition in "Tubular Bells - Theme from The Exorcist".
In 1976, Oldfield and his sister joined his friend and band member Pekka Pohjola to play on his album Mathematician's Air Display, which was released in 1977. The album was recorded and edited at Oldfield's Througham Slad Manor in Gloucestershire by Oldfield and Paul Lindsay. Oldfield's 1976 rendition of "Portsmouth" remains his best-performing single on the UK Singles Chart, reaching No. 3.
Oldfield recorded the double album Incantations between December 1977 and September 1978. introduced more diverse choral performances from Sally Oldfield, Maddy Prior, and the Queen's College Girls Choir. When it was released on 1 December 1978, the album went to No. 14 in the UK and reached platinum certification for 300,000 copies sold.
In June 1978, during the recording of Incantations, Oldfield and his siblings completed a three-day Exegesis seminar, a controversial self-assertiveness program based on Werner Erhard's EST training program. The experience had a significant effect on Oldfield's personality, who recalled that he underwent a "rebirth experience" by reliving past fears. "It was like opening some huge cathedral doors and facing the monster, and I saw that the monster was myself as a newborn infant, because I'd started life in a panic." Following the Exegesis seminar, the formerly reclusive Oldfield granted press interviews, posed nude for a promotional photo shoot for Incantations, and went drinking with news reporters. He had also conquered his fear of flying, gained a pilot's license, and bought his own plane.
In 1979, Oldfield supported Incantations with a European tour that spanned 21 dates between March and May 1979. The tour was documented with the live album and concert film, Exposed. Initially marketed as a limited pressing of 100,000 copies, the strength of sales for the album were strong enough for Virgin to abandon the idea shortly after, transferring it to regular production.
Oldfield's music was used for the score of The Space Movie (1980), a Virgin Films production that celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. In 1979, he recorded a version of the signature tune for the BBC children's television programme Blue Peter, which was used by the show for 10 years.
Oldfield's fifth album, Platinum, was released in November 1979 and marked the start of his transition from long compositions towards mainstream and pop music. Oldfield performed across Europe between April and December 1980 with the In Concert 1980 tour.
In 1980, Oldfield released QE2, named after the ocean liner, which features a variety of guest musicians including Phil Collins on drums. This was followed by the European Adventure Tour 1981, during which Oldfield accepted an invitation to perform at a free concert celebrating the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in Guildhall. He wrote a new track, "Royal Wedding Anthem", for the occasion.
His next album, Five Miles Out, followed in March 1982, which features the 24-minute track "Taurus II" occupying side one. The Five Miles Out World Tour 1982 saw Oldfield perform from April to December of that year. Crises saw Oldfield continue the pattern of one long composition with shorter songs. The first single from the album, "Moonlight Shadow", with Maggie Reilly on vocals, became Oldfield's most successful single, reaching No. 4 in the UK and No. 1 in nine other countries. The subsequent Crises Tour in 1983 concluded with a concert at Wembley Arena to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Tubular Bells.
Oldfield later turned to film and video, writing the score for Roland Joffé's acclaimed film The Killing Fields and producing substantial video footage for his album Islands. Islands continued what Oldfield had been doing on the past couple of albums, with an instrumental piece on one side and rock/pop singles on the other. Of these, "Islands", sung by Bonnie Tyler and "Magic Touch", with vocals by Max Bacon (in the US version) and Glasgow vocalist Jim Price (Southside Jimmy) in the rest of the world, were the major hits. In the US "Magic Touch" reached the top 10 on the Billboard album rock charts in 1988. During the 1980s, Oldfield's then-wife, Norwegian singer Anita Hegerland, contributed vocals to many songs including "Pictures in the Dark".
Released in July 1989, Earth Moving features seven vocalists across the album's nine tracks. It is Oldfield's first to consist solely of rock and pop songs, several of which were released as singles: "Innocent" and "Holy" in Europe, and "Hostage" in the US.
For his next instrumental album, Virgin insisted that Oldfield use the title Tubular Bells 2. Oldfield's rebellious response was Amarok, an hour-long work featuring rapidly changing themes, unpredictable bursts of noise and a hidden Morse code insult, stating "Fuck off RB", allegedly directed at Branson. Oldfield did everything in his power to make it impossible to make extracts and Virgin returned the favour by barely promoting the album. 
in February 1991, Oldfield released his final album for Virgin, Heaven's Open, under the name "Michael Oldfield". It marks the first time he handles all lead vocals. In 2013, Oldfield invited Branson to the opening of St. Andrew's International School of The Bahamas, where two of Oldfield's children were pupils. This was the occasion of the debut of Tubular Bells for Schools, a piano solo adaptation of Oldfield's work.
By early 1992, Oldfield had secured Clive Banks as his new manager and had several record label owners listen to his demo of Tubular Bells II at his house. Oldfield signed with Rob Dickins of WEA Warner and recorded the album with Trevor Horn as producer. Released in August 1992, the album went to No. 1 in the UK. Its live premiere followed on 4 September at Edinburgh Castle which was released on home video as Tubular Bells II Live. Oldfield supported the album with his Tubular Bells II 20th Anniversary Tour in 1992 and 1993, his first concert tour since 1984. By April 1993, the album had sold over three million copies worldwide.
Oldfield continued to embrace new musical styles, with The Songs of Distant Earth (based on Arthur C. Clarke's novel of the same name) exhibiting a softer new-age sound. In 1994, he also had an asteroid, 5656 Oldfield, named after him.
In 1995, Oldfield continued to embrace new musical styles by producing the Celtic-themed album Voyager. In 1992, Oldfield met Luar na Lubre, a Galician Celtic-folk band (from A Coruña, Spain), with the singer Rosa Cedrón. The band's popularity grew after Oldfield covered their song "O son do ar" ("The sound of the air") on his Voyager album.
In 1998, Oldfield produced the third Tubular Bells album (also premiered at a concert, this time in Horse Guards Parade, London), drawing on the dance music scene at his then new home on the island of Ibiza. This album was inspired by themes from Tubular Bells, but differed in lacking a clear two-part structure.
During 1999, Oldfield released two albums. The first, Guitars, used guitars as the source for all the sounds on the album, including percussion. The second, The Millennium Bell, consisted of pastiches of a number of styles of music that represented various historical periods over the past millennium. The work was performed live in Berlin for the city's millennium celebrations in 1999-2000.
He added to his repertoire the MusicVR project, combining his music with a virtual reality-based computer game. His first work on this project is Tr3s Lunas launched in 2002, a virtual game where the player can interact with a world full of new music. This project appeared as a double CD, one with the music, and the other with the game.
In 2002 and 2003, Oldfield re-recorded Tubular Bells using modern equipment to coincide the 30th anniversary of the original. He had wanted to do it years before but his contract with Virgin kept him from doing so. This new version features John Cleese as the Master of Ceremonies as Viv Stanshall, who spoke on the original, died in the interim. Tubular Bells 2003 was released in May 2003.
On 12 April 2004 Oldfield launched his next virtual reality project, Maestro, which contains music from the Tubular Bells 2003 album and some new chillout melodies. The games have since been made available free of charge on Tubular.net.
In 2005, Oldfield signed a deal with Mercury Records UK, who secured the rights to his catalogue when the rights had reverted back to himself. Mercury acquired the rights to Oldfield's back catalogue, in July 2007. Oldfield released his first album on the Mercury label, Light + Shade, in September 2005. It is a double album of music of contrasting mood: relaxed (Light) and upbeat and moody (Shade). In 2006 and 2007, Oldfield headlined the Night of the Proms tour, consisting of 21 concerts across Europe. Also in 2007, Oldfield released his autobiography, Changeling.
In March 2008 Oldfield released his first classical album, Music of the Spheres; Karl Jenkins assisted with the orchestration. In the first week of release the album topped the UK Classical chart and reached number 9 on the main UK Album Chart. A single "Spheres", featuring a demo version of pieces from the album, was released digitally. The album was nominated for a Classical Brit Award, the NS&I Best Album of 2009.
In 2008, when Oldfield's original 35-year deal with Virgin Records ended, the rights to Tubular Bells and his other Virgin releases were returned to him, and were then transferred to Mercury Records. Mercury announced that his Virgin albums will be reissued with bonus content from 2009. In 2009, Mercury released the compilation album The Mike Oldfield Collection 1974-1983, that went to No. 11 in the UK chart.
In 2008, Oldfield contributed a new track, "Song for Survival", to the carity album Songs for Survival in support of Survival International. Oldfield's daughter Molly played a large part in the project. In 2010, lyricist Don Black said that he had been working with Oldfield. In 2012, Oldfield was featured on Journey into Space, an album by his brother Terry, and on the track "Islanders" by German producer Torsten Stenzel's York project. In 2013, Oldfield and York released a remix album entitled Tubular Beats.
Oldfield performed live at the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in London. His set included renditions of Tubular Bells, "Far Above the Clouds" and "In Dulci Jubilo" during a segment about the National Health Service. This track appears on the officially released soundtrack album Isles of Wonder. Later in 2012, the compilation album Two Sides: The Very Best of Mike Oldfield, was released which reached No. 6 in the UK.
Oldfield's latest rock-themed album of songs, titled Man on the Rocks, was released on 3 March 2014 by Virgin EMI. The album was produced by Steve Lipson. The album marks a return of Oldfield to a Virgin branded label, through the merger of Mercury Records UK and Virgin Records after Universal Music's purchase of EMI. The track "Nuclear" was used for the E3 trailer of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
In 2015, Oldfield told Steve Wright on his BBC radio show that a sequel album to Tubular Bells was in early development, which he aimed to record on analogue equipment. Later in 2015, Oldfield revealed that he had started on a sequel to Ommadawn. The album, named Return to Ommadawn, was finished in 2016 and released in January 2017. It went to No. 4 in the UK. Oldfield again hinted at a fourth Tubular Bells album when he posted photos of his new equipment, including a new Telecaster guitar.
Although Oldfield considers himself primarily a guitarist, he is also one of popular music's most skilled and diverse multi-instrumentalists. His 1970s recordings were characterised by a very broad variety of instrumentation predominantly played by himself, plus assorted guitar sound treatments to suggest other instrumental timbres (such as the bagpipe, mandolin, "Glorfindel" and varispeed guitars on the original Tubular Bells). During the 1980s Oldfield became expert in the use of digital synthesizers and sequencers (notably the Fairlight CMI) which began to dominate the sound of his recordings: from the late 1990s onwards, he became a keen user of software synthesizers. He has, however, regularly returned to projects emphasising detailed, manually played and part-acoustic instrumentation (such as 1990's Amarok, 1996's Voyager and 1999's Guitars).
Oldfield has played over forty distinct and different instruments on record, including:
While generally preferring the sound of guest vocalists, Oldfield has frequently sung both lead and backup parts for his songs and compositions. He has also contributed experimental vocal effects such as fake choirs and the notorious "Piltdown Man" impression on Tubular Bells.
Although recognised as a highly skilled guitarist, Oldfield is self-deprecating about his other instrumental skills, describing them as having been developed out of necessity to perform and record the music he composes. He has been particularly dismissive of his violin-playing and singing abilities.
Over the years, Oldfield has used a range of guitars. Among the more notable of these are:
Oldfield used a modified Roland GP8 effects processor in conjunction with his PRS Artist to get many of his heavily overdriven guitar sounds from the Earth Moving album onwards. Oldfield has also been using guitar synthesizers since the mid-1980s, using a 1980s Roland GR-300/G-808 type system, then a 1990s Roland GK2 equipped red PRS Custom 24 (sold in 2006) with a Roland VG8, and most recently a Line 6 Variax.
Oldfield has an unusual playing style, using fingers and long right-hand fingernails and different ways of creating vibrato: a "very fast side-to-side vibrato" and "violinist's vibrato". Oldfield has stated that his playing style originates from his musical roots playing folk music and the bass guitar.
Over the years, Oldfield has owned and used a vast number of synthesizers and other keyboard instruments. In the 1980s, he composed the score for the film The Killing Fields on a Fairlight CMI. Some examples of keyboard and synthesised instruments which Oldfield has made use of include Sequential Circuits Prophet-5s (notably on Platinum and The Killing Fields), Roland JV-1080/JV-2080 units (1990s), a Korg M1 (as seen in the "Innocent" video), a Clavia Nord Lead and Steinway pianos. In recent years, he has also made use of software synthesis products, such as Native Instruments.
Oldfield has occasionally sung himself on his records and live performances, sometimes using a vocoder as a resource. It is not unusual for him to collaborate with diverse singers and to hold auditions before deciding the most appropriate for a particular song or album. Featured lead vocalists who have collaborated with him include:
Oldfield has self-recorded and produced many of his albums, and played the majority of the featured instruments, largely at his home studios. In the 1990s and 2000s he mainly used DAWs such as Apple Logic, Avid Pro Tools and Steinberg Nuendo as recording suites. For composing orchestral music Oldfield has been quoted as using the software notation program Sibelius running on Apple Macintoshes. He also used the FL Studio DAW on his 2005 double album Light + Shade. Among the mixing consoles Oldfield has owned are an AMS Neve Capricorn 33238, a Harrison Series X, and a Euphonix System 5-MC.
Oldfield and his siblings were raised as Roman Catholics, their mother's faith. In his early life, Oldfield used drugs including LSD, whose effects on his mental health he discussed in his autobiography. In the early 1990s, he underwent a course on mental health problems and subsequently set up a foundation called Tonic, which sponsored people to have counselling and therapy. The trustee was the Professor of Psychiatry at Guy's Hospital, London.
Oldfield has been married three times and has seven children. In 1978, he married Diana Fuller, a relative of the Exegesis group leader, which lasted for three months. From 1979 to 1986, Oldfield was married to Sally Cooper. They had three children: Molly, Dougal (died in 2015 aged 33), and Luke. He lived in a civil partnership with Norwegian singer Anita Hegerland, which lasted from 1986 to 1991. They have two children: Greta and Noah. Between 2002 and 2013, Oldfield was married to Fanny Vandekerckhove. The two met when Oldfield was living in Ibiza; they have two sons, Jake and Eugene.
Oldfield is a motorcycle fan and has five bikes. These include a BMW R1200GS, a Suzuki GSX-R750, a Suzuki GSX-R1000, and a Yamaha R1. He says that some of his inspiration for composing comes from riding them. Throughout his life Oldfield has also had a passion for building and flying model aircraft. Since 1980, he has been a licensed pilot and has flown fixed wing aircraft (the first of which was a Beechcraft Sierra) and helicopters (including the Agusta Bell 47G, which featured on the sleeve of his cover version of the ABBA song "Arrival" as a pastiche of their album artwork). He is also interested in cars and has owned a Ferrari and a Bentley which was a gift from Richard Branson as an incentive for him to give his first live performance of Tubular Bells. He has endorsed the Mercedes-Benz S-Class in the Mercedes UK magazine. Oldfield also considers himself to be a Trekkie. He noted in an interview in 2008 that he had two boats.
In 2007, Oldfield criticised Britain for being too controlling and protective, specifically concentrating on the smoking ban which England and Wales had introduced that year. Oldfield then moved from his South Gloucestershire home to Palma de Mallorca, Spain and then to Monaco. He has lived outside the UK in the past, including in Los Angeles and Ibiza in the 1990s and, for tax reasons, Switzerland in the mid-1980s. In 2009, he moved to the Bahamas and put his home in Mallorca up for sale. Oldfield stated in an interview with The Times in 2017 that he is a supporter of US President Donald Trump, and that he would have been delighted to have played at the president's inauguration ceremony. In the same interview, he also stated he was in favour of Brexit.
|Year||Nominee / work||Award||Result|
|1975||"Tubular Bells" (Theme from The Exorcist)||Best Instrumental Composition||Won|
|1998||Voyager||Best New Age Album||Nominated|
|Year||Nominee / work||Award||Result|
|1984||"Moonlight Shadow"||Most Performed Work||Nominated|
|Year||Nominee / work||Award||Result|
|1975||Himself||Best Miscellaneous Instrumentalist||Won|
I've just written with Mike Oldfield and he sent me Tubular Bells and I thought, "What goes with that?"
My mother being Irish, she was a Roman Catholic. They put me on the first stages of educating me to be a Catholic