TUBULAR BELLS: THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION · UK TOUR 2023
Brighton Dome 05/02/2023
Tubular Bells: 50th Anniversary played live in Brighton at The Dome. An enthralling night of music, The Bells have it!
Click on smaller images to enlarge.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, the multi-million-selling and multi-award-winning album will be performed live in concert across the UK. Tonight in Brighton was the second show of the celebratory UK tour.
Now, I have owned many copies of this album across the various formats. The album, Tubular Bells has become part of the fabric of popular culture. Pretty much everyone has, or has had a copy? Tubular Bells is world-renowned as one of the most celebrated examples of music in film for its sound tracking in the horror classic The Exorcist. Mike Oldfield’s performance of the album’s main theme at the iconic London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony was a rare performance of the project.
Tubular Bells. The 50th Anniversary Celebration featured in Brighton an expansive live group ( I counted eight!), conducted and arranged by Oldfield’s long-term collaborator Robin Smith. Robin sat behind his keyboards was joined on stage with a plethora of instruments. Add the musicians and it was packed in pretty tight up there!
The show was split into two halves. We were to be treated to Tubular Bells performed in full, along with further Oldfield compositions. Tubular Bells, created in 1971 and released in 1973, was the debut studio album by English multi-instrumentalist, composer, and songwriter Mike Oldfield. The album went on to become the highest selling instrumental album of all time.
A bold and progressive fusion, Tubular Bells is a journey through classical, jazz, folk, progressive rock, and electronica and went on to win a Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition in 1974.
Robin Smith, the conductor of the show, was completely mesmerised by Tubular Bells the moment he heard it. He was educated at the Royal Grammar School High Wycombe and then studied Composition at the Royal College of Music. Smith has collaborated with Mike Oldfield for over 30 years, with performances of Tubular Bells including at Edinburgh Castle, and also the 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.
As I mentioned the performance was set over two sessions. The first session delivered a brilliantly constructed listing made up of some of Mike Oldfields “Greatest Hits”.
The set started up with a new arrangement of the opening Theme from Tubular Bells 2. The lights dimmed and smoke swirled across the stage. I am not a fan of excessive use of smoke machines but tonight it was spot on. It provided a wonderful support for the atmospheric lighting, bouncing the colours around the stage and into the auditorium.
Next a couple of tracks from later releases with Ommadawn and segued into Return to Ommadawn. Masterfully done. As the set started Peter was on his own at the keyboards but as the set progressed he was joined with a full band. We were then whisked off To France, Paris from the album Discovery originally with vocals by Maggie Reilly, followed with Summit Day from the Guitars album and used in the recent movie Shazam! The guitar work tonight was a joy to witness, a masterclass.
A personal favourite and a highlight from the first set for me was the wonderful Moonlight Shadow, again Maggie Reilly on original vocals. The vocals for the two songs performed tonight were spot on. Two wonderful vocal performances and with the sound of the full band it was magic. Then off into the rockier Family Man, The Gem and closing with some Tubular Bells. Set one ended as the band left the stage for a twenty minute break.
Unusually the almost sold out audience leapt to their feet and gave the band a standing ovation, we were only half way through!
The bells do the business…
So, set two was upon us. I had seen Mike Oldfield perform Tubular Bells 2 in Edinburgh. What a night that was, great sounds and a gentle gale force wind blowing across the castle esplanade. Therefore, tonight the assembled musicians had a pretty tough act to follow!
Tubular Bells doesn’t really have a track listing as such, so that’s easy for me! We had side one and side two! Looking at how the set had been broken down we had the opening from Tubular Bells, a calmer bit then a heavier bit, mandolin, rocky bit and closing with Tubular Bells part 2. There were other sections in between!
I can vaguely remember listening to Tubular Bells back in the day as they say. I had been on a yearly journey around the sun a few times by ‘73. Memories of laying on an extremely comfortable bean bag, headphones on, and vinyl on, and another occasion sitting with a circle of “cool” students sharing, amongst other things, a drink or two.
The sound was excellent. Every instrument and vocal was clearly heard, from the mighty timp drums to the gentle tapping on a xylophone and strumming of chimes. Each of the guitars were perfectly balanced as were the percussionists. These musicians were clearly experienced and masters of their instruments. The bass player was stunning as those known and at times tricky riffs and patterns were pretty much constant throughout, and for the vocals earlier in the set.
The set was perfectly played with Robins arrangements and his hand on the wheel as he steered this orchestra of musicians through the performance. He didn’t sit still for a second as he changed keyboards, standing up conducting and smiling into the crowd.
The album ebbs and flows. And the drama was perfectly replicated tonight. I don’t know if Oldfield is considered cool these days, but in my books he is. This performance tonight cemented that view. The Exorcist music was dramatic as the stage was plunged into darkness apart from two blistering white lights.
It was two sides of continuous instrumental music, which was not something that was common in the mainstream album charts. Most of my friends and I did not have the ready cash back then to make buying an album a regular thing. I had one friend who owned a copy of Tubular Bells and it was shared around, as we shared all our albums then. There was no downloads or streaming back then!
The album ebbs and flows. And the drama was perfectly replicated tonight. I don’t know if Oldfield is considered cool these days, but in my books he is. This performance tonight cemented that view.
And… Tubular Bells
The whole evening was wrapped up with an energetic arrangement of the Hornpipe! I didn’t expect that. It had the crowd up, with feet tapping, clapping hands and happy smiling faces, thanks to the wave of nostalgia that had just been perfectly delivered and washed over us.
The orchestra got together for a well-deserved bow for the Brighton crowd who were now on their feet for the second time tonight. It was THAT good! The mystery percussionist who played the bells was pretty much hidden from view all night sadly, even at the finale he was behind everyone, but he came forward eventually. Come forward, you deserve it. Well played!
I went to congratulate the sound and lighting desk team. They worked hard to deliver the sounds and lighting that made the whole evening completely perfect.
We all filed out into the cold frosty air and everyone was clearly buzzing about what they had just seen and enjoyed. It was great to see the Dome nearly full again, and also the wide range of ages making up the audience. This is a concert for anyone, for those who grabbed the album when it came out on Vinyl in 1973 to the Spotify audiences of today. Music is at its best when it’s live! A most enjoyable experience.
No matter what has happened over the decades it is still an important part of my listening.
Will I survive to see the next anniversary? Tubular Bells 2 anyone? Mind you, squeezing 20 kilted bagpipe players onto the stage might prove tricky. If it happens, I’ll be there!
I would go and see this show again in a heartbeat and this performance comes with the highest recommendation I can give. Tubular Bells deserves to last forever and with strong performances like this, with or without Mike Oldfield up front, it will. Stunning.
Titch for sorting me out etc. Great to meet you.
Robin and his wonderful Tubular Bells orchestra,
The wonderful team at The Brighton Dome.
Words and photos by Ian Bourn.
We work hard with the artists, the venues and the crowd to bring you the best photos and reviews across the area. Keep Music LIVE! Follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.
Please note all original images / video are copyright, please do not copy. If any of the featured artists/promoters/venues want copies of the images – or more if available – please just get in touch.
All original pictures / video – copyright to IANB/MEDIA WORKS/ SCENE SUSSEX – Ian “The Lens” Bourn 2023.
Got an event coming up? Need some gig photography, promo shots, previews or reviews? – please get in touch! See you down the front – come and say “hi!”