Michael Gordon "Mike" Oldfield (born 15 May 1953) is an English multi-instrumentalist musician and composer, working a style that blends progressive rock with such genres as folk, ethnic or world music, classical music, electronic music, New Age, and more recently, dance. His music is often elaborate and complex in nature. He is best known for his 1973 hit album Tubular Bells, which launched Virgin Records, and for his 1983 hit single "Moonlight Shadow". He is also well known for his hit rendition of the Christmas piece "In Dulci Jubilo".
Oldfield's parents are Raymond Oldfield, a general practitioner, and Maureen Liston, a nurse. His sister Sally and brother Terry are also successful musicians and have appeared on several of Mike's albums. Mike Oldfield was born in the Battle Hospital in Reading, Berkshire, and he attended St. Joseph's Convent School, Highlands Junior School, St. Edward's preparatory school, and Presentation College in Reading. When he was 13 he moved with his parents to Harold Wood, Essex, and attended Hornchurch grammar school, where he took just one GCE examination, in English, as he had already begun his career in music.
Oldfield's career began fairly early, playing acoustic guitar in local folk clubs. At this time, he already had two 15-minute instrumental pieces in which he would "go through all sorts of moods", precursors to his landmark 1970s compositions. In his early teens, Oldfield was involved in a beat group playing The Shadows-style music (he has often cited Hank Marvin as a major influence, and would later cover The Shadows' song "Wonderful Land"). In 1967 Oldfield and his sister formed the folk duo The Sallyangie and were signed to Transatlantic Records after exposure in the local folk scene. An album, Children of the Sun, was issued in 1968. After The Sallyangie disbanded, he formed another duo, called Barefoot, with his brother, which took him back to rock music.
In 1970 he joined The Whole World – the backing group to vocalist Kevin Ayers, formerly of Soft Machine – playing bass guitar and occasionally lead guitar. The band also included keyboardist and composer David Bedford, who quickly befriended Oldfield, and encouraged him in his composition of an early version of Tubular Bells. Bedford would later arrange and conduct an orchestral version of that album. Oldfield is featured on two Ayers albums, Whatevershebringswesing and Shooting at the Moon.
Having recorded a number of demo pieces of music, which would later turn into Tubular Bells, Oldfield attempted to persuade record labels to take the project on, without success. In September 1971 Oldfield went to The Manor Studio, owned by a young Richard Branson and run by engineers Tom Newman and Simon Heyworth, to record as bass guitarist in the Arthur Louis Band. Branson already had a number of business ventures and was about to start his own record label, Virgin Records. After Newman and Heyworth heard Oldfield's demo they took it to Branson and Simon Draper. They eventually gave Oldfield one week to record at The Manor, during which Oldfield completed "Part One" of Tubular Bells. "Part Two" was then completed over a number of months.
Virgin years (1973–1991)
Tubular Bells became Oldfield's most famous work. The instrumental composition was recorded in 1972 and launched on 25 May 1973 as the inaugural album of Richard Branson's label Virgin Records. The album was groundbreaking, as Oldfield played more than twenty different instruments in the multi-layered recording made in Branson's Manor Studio, and its style moved through many diverse musical genres. Its 2,630,000 UK sales put it at No. 34 on the list of the best-selling albums in the country. In the US, it received attention with the opening theme appearing on the soundtrack of The Exorcist film. The title track subsequently became a top 10 hit single in the US as well and is today considered to be a forerunner of the New Age movement. In 1974, Oldfield played guitar on the critically acclaimed album Rock Bottom by Robert Wyatt. In the autumn of 1974, the 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. In 1979, Oldfield's music was used as the musical score for The Space Movie, a Virgin movie that celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission.
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, and 1978's Incantations which introduced more diverse choral performances from Sally Oldfield, Maddy Prior, and the Queen's College Girls Choir. In 1975 Oldfield recorded a version of the Christmas piece "In Dulci Jubilo" which charted at No. 4 in the UK. Oldfield's 1976 rendition of "Portsmouth" remains his highest charting single on the UK Singles Chart, reaching No. 3.
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.
Around the time of Incantations, Oldfield underwent a controversial self-assertiveness therapy course known as Exegesis. Possibly as a result, the formerly reclusive musician staged a major Tour of Europe to promote the album, chronicled in his live album Exposed, much of which was recorded at the National Exhibition Centre near Birmingham.
In 1975, Oldfield received a Grammy award for best instrumental composition in "Tubular Bells – Theme from The Exorcist". In 1979, he recorded a version of the signature tune of the British children's television programme Blue Peter, which was used by the show for 10 years. In 1981 Oldfield was asked to compose a piece for the Royal Wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer, titled "Royal Wedding Anthem".
The early 1980s saw Oldfield make a transition to mainstream pop music, beginning with the inclusion of shorter instrumental tracks and contemporary cover versions on Platinum and QE2 (the latter named after the ocean liner). Soon afterwards he turned to songwriting, with a string of collaborations featuring various lead vocalists alongside his characteristic searing guitar solos. The best known of these is "Moonlight Shadow", his 1983 hit with Maggie Reilly. The most successful Oldfield composition on the US pop charts during this period was actually a cover version — Hall & Oates's cover of Oldfield's "Family Man" for their 1982 album H2O. Released as the album's third single, it hit the Top 10 during the spring of 1983 and was a hugely popular MTV music video.
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 Southside Jimmy (in other versions), 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".
Earth Moving was released in July 1989, and was a moderate success. The album was the first to exclusively feature rock/pop songs, several of which were released as singles: "Innocent" and "Holy" in Europe, and "Hostage" in the USA for album rock stations. This was, however, a time of much friction with his record label. Virgin Records reportedly insisted that any future instrumental album should be billed as Tubular Bells 2. Oldfield's rebellious response was Amarok, an hour-long work featuring rapidly changing themes (supposedly devised to make cutting a single from the album impossible), unpredictable bursts of noise, and a hidden Morse code insult, stating "Fuck off RB", directed at Richard Branson. It was not a commercial success. His parting shot from the Virgin label was Heaven's Open, which continued the veiled attacks on Branson but was notable for being the first time Oldfield had contributed all the lead vocals himself. It was the only album he released under the name 'Michael Oldfield'.
Warner years (1992–2003)
The very first thing Oldfield did when arriving at his new label, Warner Bros., was to write and release Tubular Bells II, the sequel to his first record on Virgin, as his final insult to his former label. It was premiered at a live concert at Edinburgh Castle. He then 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 named after him, 5656 Oldfield.
In 1995 Oldfield further continued to embrace new musical styles by producing a Celtic-themed album, Voyager. In 1992 Oldfield met Luar na Lubre, a Galician Celtic-folk band (from A Coruña, Spain). 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 he produced the third Tubular Bells album (also premiered at a concert, this time in Horse Guards Parade, London), drawing from the dance music scene at his then new home on the island of Ibiza. This album was still inspired by themes from Tubular Bells, but differed in lacking a clear two-part layout.
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 2003 he released Tubular Bells 2003, a re-recording of the original Tubular Bells, on CD, and DVD-Audio. This was done to "fix" many "imperfections" in the original due to the recording technologies of the early 1970s and limitations in time that he could spend in the recording studio. It celebrated the 30th anniversary of Tubular Bells, Oldfield's 50th birthday and his marriage to Fanny in the same year. At around the same time Virgin released an SACD version containing both the original stereo album and the 1975 quadraphonic mix by Phil Newell. In the 2003 version, the original voice of the 'Master of Ceremonies' (Viv Stanshall) was replaced by the voice of John Cleese, Stanshall having died in the interim.
Mercury years (since 2004)
On 12 April 2004 Oldfield launched his next virtual reality project, Maestro, which contains music from the Tubular Bells 2003 album and also some new chillout melodies. The games have since been made available free of charge on Tubular.net. A double album, Light + Shade, was released on Mercury Records in 2005, with whom Mike had recently signed a three-album deal. The two discs contain music of contrasting moods, one relaxed (Light) and the other more edgy and moody (Shade). Oldfield headlined the pan-European Night of the Proms tour, consisting of 21 concerts in 2006 and 2007.
His autobiography Changeling was published in May 2007 by Virgin Books. 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 then they were transferred to Mercury Records. Mercury issued a press release on 15 April 2009, noting that Oldfield's Virgin albums would be re-released, starting 8 June 2009. These releases include special features from the archives. As of 2013 a further seven albums have been reissued and compilation albums have been released such as Two Sides.
In March 2010 Music Week reported that publishing company Stage Three Music (now a part of BMG) had acquired a 50% stake in the songs of Oldfield's entire recorded output in a seven-figure deal.
In 2008 Oldfield contributed an exclusive song ("Song for Survival") to a charity album called Songs for Survival, in support of the Survival International. Oldfield's daughter, Molly, played a large part in the project. In 2010 lyricist Don Black said in an interview with Music Week that he had been working with Oldfield. In 2012 Oldfield was featured on Terry Oldfield's Journey into Space album and on a track called "Islanders" by German producer Torsten Stenzel's York project. In 2013 Oldfield and York released a remix album titled Tubular Beats.
At the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony Oldfield performed 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 Isles of Wonder album which contains music from the Danny Boyle-directed show.
In October 2013 the BBC broadcast Tubular Bells: The Mike Oldfield Story, an hour-long appreciation of Oldfield's life and musical career, filmed on location at his home recording studio in Nassau.
Oldfield is in the later stages of creating a new rock-themed album of songs, titled Man on the Rocks, which is to be released in January 2014 by Virgin EMI. The album is being 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.
Oldfield and his siblings were raised Roman Catholic, the faith of their Irish mother. In the late 1970s, Oldfield briefly married Diana D'Aubigny (the sister of the Exegesis group leader), but this lasted just a few weeks.
Mike Oldfield has seven children. In the early 1980s, he had three children with Sally Cooper (Molly, Dougal and Luke). In the late 1980s, he had two children (Greta and Noah) with Norwegian singer Anita Hegerland. In the 2000s, he married Fanny Vandekerckhove (born 1977), whom he met during his time in Ibiza; they have two sons together (Jake and Eugene). Oldfield and Fanny separated in 2013.
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 also says that some of his inspiration for composing comes from riding them. Throughout his life Oldfield has also had a passion for aircraft and building model aircraft. Since 1980 he has also 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 parody 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 (fan of the popular science fiction television series Star Trek). He also noted in an interview in 2008 that he had two boats.
In November 2006, musician Noel Gallagher won a Spanish court case against Oldfield. Gallagher had bought an Ibiza villa for £2.5 million from Oldfield in 1999, but quickly discovered that part of the cliff-top property was falling into the sea. According to The Sun, the resulting court case awarded Gallagher a six-figure sum in compensation.
In 2007 Oldfield caused a minor stir in the British press by criticising 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 Gloucestershire home to Palma de Mallorca, Spain. He has lived outside the UK in the past, including living in Los Angeles and Ibiza in the 1990s, and Switzerland in the mid-1980s, for tax reasons. He also currently has a home in Monaco. In 2009 he decided to move to the Bahamas, and put his home in Mallorca up for sale.
Oldfield is a multi-instrumentalist; however he considers himself to be predominantly a guitarist.
Over the years Oldfield has used a various selection of guitars, some of the most noted being:
- A 1963 (also quoted as 1961 and 1962) salmon pink (fiesta red) Fender Stratocaster serial no.L08044 – used by Oldfield from 1984 (Discovery album) until 2006 (Night of the Proms, rehearsals in Antwerp) – Sold for £30,000 at Chandler Guitars.
- A 1989 amber PRS Artist Custom 24 – used by Oldfield from the late 1980s to the present day.
- A 1966 blonde Fender Telecaster serial no. 180728 – the only electric guitar used on Tubular Bells, which had previously been owned by Marc Bolan. Oldfield has since sold the guitar and donated the money to the SANE charity. This guitar had been put up for auction a number of times by Bonhams in 2007, 2008 and 2009 with estimates of £25,000 – 35,000, £10,000 – 15,000 and £8,000 – 12,000 respectively.
- Various Gibson Les Paul and SGs – used by Oldfield extensively in the 1970s and 80s.
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 both fingers and fingernails and several ways of creating vibrato: a "very fast side-to-side vibrato" or "violinist's vibrato". Oldfield has also stated that his playing style originates from his musical roots playing folk music and the bass guitar.
Oldfield has self-recorded and produced many of his albums, and played the majority of the instruments that feature on them, largely at his home studios. In the 1990s and 2000s he has been mainly using DAWs such as Apple Logic, Avid Pro Tools and Steinberg Nuendo as recording suites. For composing classical 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.
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 includes Sequential Circuits Prophets (notably on Platinum and The Killing Fields), Roland JV-1080/JV-2080 units (in the 1990s), a Korg M1 (as seen in the "Innocent" video), a Clavia Nord Lead, and Steinway pianos among an almost endless list of others. In recent years Oldfield has also made use of software synthesis, such as Native Instruments products, notably on his Light + Shade album.
Oldfield has had more than 30 charting albums and 25 charting singles on the British charts, and many more around the world.
- Jon Anderson
- Phil Beer
- Roger Chapman
- Lol Coxhill
- Rick Fenn
- Paddy Moloney
- Simon Phillips
- Moraghan, Sean. A Man and his Music (Biography). BookSurge Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4196-4926-4.
- Evans, Peter (1994). Music from the Darkness – Mike Oldfield, 1953–1993. Retrieved 28 November 2013.
- Branson, Richard (1998). Losing My Virginity. Virgin Books. ISBN 978-0-7535-0648-6.
- Oldfield, Mike (2007). Changeling. Virgin Books. ISBN 978-1-85227-381-1.
- Dewey, Chris (2013). Mike Oldfield - A Life Dedicated To Music. Brimstone Press. ISBN 978-1-906385-35-4.
- Official sites
- MikeOldfieldOfficial.com – The official Mike Oldfield website
- Mike Oldfield official Universal store
- MikeOldfield.org – The official Mike Oldfield information service
- Fan-based sites
- Tubular.net – The largest and most well-established Mike Oldfield website, for news and information.
- Other sites
- Mike Oldfield at the Internet Movie Database
- Mike Oldfield at AllMusic
- Mike Oldfield on Myspace
- Mike Oldfield on Facebook
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Image from Discogs