Tubular Bells for Two and The Audacious Final Performances

By Anthony Plevey

For Daniel Holdsworth, 2023 has been an emotional year. His world renowned, multi-award winning Tubular Bells for Two show enters its final year of touring, giving audiences one last chance to see the audacious performance whilst celebrating the 50th anniversary of the original release of Mike Oldfield’s 1973 opus.

“It all started around 2007,” Holdsworth recalls. “It came about by accident when we were experimenting with what we thought was this fantastic, amazing toy.”

And the toy in question?

“My original collaborator, Aidan Roberts, had just bought an innovative, new loop pedal,” Holdsworth tells. “After one or two bottles of red, and listening to Tubular Bells, we decided to try to recreate the famous procession of instruments section; ‘grand piano, reed and pipe organ… etc’.

“So we got the looper, looped the bass, and just kept adding the instruments on the loop pedal. It was just a bit of fun. We never planned a show at all.”

A bit of fun soon morphed into a lot of work.

“Then at some point we sat down and listened, figured out the parts as best we could, and wrote out the whole album like an orchestral score. Next, we pieced together how two people could perform it— you know, ‘who’s got a spare hand?’—whilst keeping it as authentic to the original 1973 release as possible.”

Photo by Warren Kirby

After some local performances, Universal Records invited the duo to perform at the launch of the Australian edition of the Tubular Bells 40th Anniversary Box Set. Comprised of Aiden Roberts (who was replaced by Tom Bamford in 2017) and Holdsworth at the time, the duo were invited to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012.

At the same time, Mike Oldfield reprised Tubular Bells at the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony, raising the profile of the classic work again. The timing turned out to be fortuitous indeed.

“From there things went ballistic,” reflects Holdsworth. “We’ve now done nearly 600 performances across more than 25 countries.”

It is a unique approach to an old classic, but Holdsworth and Bamford (and Roberts before him) adhere to the adage: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

“We have kept the original design of the show,” Holdsworth says, emphasising his commitment to both the music and the performance. “We made a very conscious decision not to have computers on stage ever.

“We don’t want the audience to think we’re cheating!”

“When we first started, some people thought we were just taking the piss!” Holdsworth passionately decries. “People need to know we take the performance very seriously. It’s live, and needs to be as authentic as possible.”

You may think recreating Oldfield’s epic 49-minute multi-MULTI instrumental piece live would be extremely difficult. And you would be right!

“We could do all sorts of things with current technology,” Holdsworth muses. “But no. By limiting ourselves to the tools that helped us put the show together, we’ve set ourselves a task so difficult that it’s nearly impossible to do perfectly. That’s what makes it so entertaining and so tense.”

Whether you’re an old school Oldfieldian or hearing the Bells ring for the first time, you will find yourself in good company.

“There are two different audiences.” explains Holdsworth. “The Mike Oldfield fan base is huge. Those who love this record, including younger people who understand it as a piece of music, come to hear it live.

“However, the show also has a reputation: two guys with 20-something instruments on stage absolutely stressing out as they try to pull this off in a really tense situation which is kind of hilarious. The music serves as a soundtrack to the task.

“And it still brings a risk, because if you make a mistake you’re going to hear that mistake over and over for the next five minutes!” Holdsworth laughs. “Disasters have happened, resulting in memorable performances as we’ve problem-solved on-the-fly.

“Sure, it sometimes isn’t the most musical of performances, but it certainly is entertaining.”

Not bad for an outfit that started with scant knowledge.

“We weren’t obsessive Mike Oldfield fans at the start; we just casually knew the record,” Holdsworth confesses. “But I’ve come to appreciate Tubular Bells for the breakthrough album it was, in both composition and production. It pushed the limits of what was possible in the recording studio at the time.

“The grand vision of Tubular Bells is mixed with musical naïveté, not in a negative sense, makes it something special,” Holdsworth continues.

“I think there’s greatness in the naïveté of it because of how young Oldfield was at the time.

“There’s something exciting about music that’s written when an artist is on the threshold of a deeper understanding. The studio became an instrument in itself.”

All this said, what of the man himself? What does he make of it all?

“Mike Oldfield thinks we are mad,” Holdsworth reveals. “He’s teased us about following-up with Amarok or other of his works. But I think that he particularly loves that we are performing it because he doesn’t perform any more.”

And so too, it seems, for the duo, with the upcoming Canberra show being one of the last chances to witness the spectacle.

“Because it’s been such a massive part of my life, it doesn’t feel like a tribute act or a cover show,” Holdsworth reflects.

“We never intentionally went out to take Tubular Bells to the world. It happened organically, and the key to its success is the unique style of the performance.

“What I hold so dearly about this show,” he concludes, “is that it is great music. It’s Mike’s music, but it is our show.”

Tubular Bells For Two, fittingly, plays just the two shows at The Street Theatre on 29-30 September, 8pm. Tickets are $45 – $49 + bf available via the venue.

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