Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells
Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells
Mike Oldfield's original demos for what was to become Tubular Bells were recorded in his flat in Tottenham, London, using a Bang & Olufsen Beocord 1/4" tape machine, which he had borrowed from Kevin Ayers, leader of 'The Whole World', the band that Mike had just left. Although only a stereo tape recorder, Mike managed to record many parts on the same tape by blocking off the erase head with cardboard and sticky tape. Instruments included his guitars, an electric organ and his mother's hoover, which Mike used in an attempt to get a bagpipe drone sound. Mike then took his demo tape to various record companies, in an attempt to gain a record deal. He didn't have much success at first, with everyone telling him that it wasn't marketable. However, he played the tape to Tom Newman while he was working at Virgin's new studio facility, The Manor, Shipton on Cherwell, Oxfordshire, England. Newman was instantly hooked, and eventually persuaded Richard Branson, Virgin boss, to let Mike have some studio time to record the album. He eventually agreed, and most of part one was recorded within the space of about a week. The rest was recorded whenever the studio wasn't being used - often late at night. Branson tried to sell Tubular Bells to other record companies. When it was clear that nobody would take it, the decision was made for Virgin to release it themselves. It was the first record released on the label, hence the catalogue number V2001 (with the 1 being the important bit).
It was usual around the time of Tubular Bells' release for rock records to be pressed on records made from recycled vinyl (partly the melted down sweepings from the floor of the record plant). The use of this recycled vinyl resulted in lower quality records - Mike (and presumably Tom Newman and Simon Heyworth as well) was not at all happy with the test pressings made on recycled vinyl, mainly because the sound of the Tubular bells themselves didn't sound right. Branson eventually persuaded the cutting plant to press Tubular Bells on the unrecycled vinyl usually reserved for classical records.
The album was recorded onto a an Ampex 2" 16 track recorder, with rumours that the number of overdubs ran into the thousands (although this has virtually been completely discounted).
At about 7:41 in part one, some whispering can be heard after the double bass part ends. It doesn't seem possible to tell who this is, or what they're saying, but it's sort of interesting...whether it was left there deliberately or not is another matter.
Trevor Key, the sleeve designer, went on to do sleeve design and photography for acts like Jethro Tull, Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel.
His sleeve design for Tubular Bells was probably a composite - several photos stuck together. Nowadays this is done with computers...In 1973, the tools would have been a scalpel and a tin of cow gum (a certain type of rubbery glue which smelt rather bad). The back and cover photographs are both the same place - Tom Newman thinks that it was either Hastings or Eastbourne, both places on the south coast of England. The back cover shows burning bones on a shoreline (Why? Who knows...) - Tom Newman said it was either Eastbourne or Hastings, while Mike says Brighton. That front cover though...The image has become famous, especially amongst Mike Oldfield fans - the shape of that bent 'tubular bell' has almost come to represent Mike himself (which is perhaps why he chose to use it as a logo for his company, Oldfield Music Ltd).
The idea for the shape came, apparently, from when Mike hit the tubular bells for the end section of part 1. To get a heavier sound, he used large metal coal hammers instead of the wooden mallets that tubular bells are supposed to be hit with. The bells bent...this got Mike thinking. After considering ideas of tubular bells smashed or broken somehow, Mike arrived at the idea of the bell being bent. Trevor Key, an expert on photographing metallic objects, was called in, who took the idea from there...
They had previously come up with the idea of calling it 'breakfast in bed' and using one of Trevor's pictures of a boiled egg, with blood instead of yolk coming out. That picture was later used, in an altered form, for Heaven's Open. Mike thought of the title after listening to Vivian Stanshall introducing the instruments at the end of side 1 (at least, that's what he said at one time - Mike can often say different things to different people). He heard him go through all the instruments until..."Plus...TUBULAR BELLS"...at which point Mike thought "Ah, now I know what to call my album!" and the rest is history... That may not be true at all of course - the fact that Viv makes such a big thing about the tubular bells when they play seems to suggest that he knew that they were the 'title instrument' and therefore important...
Trevor constructed the 'bell' from 1 1/2" diameter metal tubing (presumably chromed) . It was probably then photographed in his studio - if it was photographed outdoors it would have had reflections of the sky in it, judging by the angle it has been taken from. If you take the cover of the LP and look closely, you can see where it has been cut out along the edges (it has been extremely well done - Trevor Key was skilled at this sort of work). The 'tubular bell' was cut out and stuck onto one of the photographs of the beach.
1. Part One 25:00
2. Part Two 23:50