Around 50 years ago, Mike Oldfield, a 19 year-old British musician with a penchant for exploring the possibilities of instrumental multi-dubbing, released an album which caused a sensation among the young and hip, and became a ‘must-have’ in record collections around the world. The album was called Tubular Bells.
Years later two young Australian multi-instrumentalists, Daniel Holdsworth and Aidan Roberts decided to challenge themselves to create a show, in which they would recreate Oldfield’s 1973 album, live on-stage, utilising over twenty instruments.
The resulting show, Tubular Bells for Two, won a Sydney Fringe Festival award, which encouraged the pair to perform it at major festivals around Australia before taking it to the 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Its success there led to regular tours across the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
In July 2017, Aidan Roberts decided to step down from touring and his place was taken by Tom Bamford; and Tubular Bells for Two continued on its merry award-winning way.
After giving over 500 performances in 25 countries, Holdsworth and Bamford were having thoughts of retiring the show. That was until they realised that 2023 was the 50th Anniversary of the release of the original Tubular Bells album.
So why not do one more victory lap around Australia, before jettisoning the truck-load of instruments? That tour, entitled One Last Time, has left a trail of sold-out theatres in its wake.
Canberra’s turn for Tubular Bells for Two – One Last Time came last night with the first of two S.R.O. performances at the Street Theatre. They proved to be ‘Glad we were there’ occasions for the hordes of baby-boomer-infused enthusiasts who flocked to them.
To the familiar sounds of the repetitive bell-like riff which heralds the beginning of Part 1 of the original recording of Tubular Bells, Holdsworth and Bamford took the stage, both bare-footed.
To welcoming applause the pair carefully wended their way through the collection of keyboards, guitars, miscellaneous musical instruments and electrical cords, to take up places among the jumble.
Carefully, they took over from the piped sound, matching it precisely and adding embellishments and variations until a crescendo and a spotlight focussed attention on those bells, which until that moment had been glinting mysteriously in the darkness.
The reason why the bare feet became obvious as the musicians flicked between instruments, arms and legs flailing, frantically adjusting knobs, matching looped musical phrases, playing keyboards with one hand and plucking at guitar with the other, keeping ahead as well as responding to the demands of the composition, like carefully choreographed dancers.
As much a theatrical spectacle as a performance of an electronic aural masterpiece with which many in the audience were familiar with every passage, and which the composer had probably never conceived would be performed live, for the audience, observing the virtuosity and ingenuity with which the musicians achieved extraordinary aural effects proved a captivating experience.
After 35 minutes, the musicians took their only pause. Not for an interval, but to recalibrate and re-set their equipment, during which each took the opportunity for a brief, informal chat with the audience while the other made necessary adjustments, before continuing with the final section, simply entitled Part 2.
An extraordinary highlight of Part 2 occurred when Holdsworth, seated behind a full kit of drums, reproduced the famous affects achieved by Oldfield on the original recording, which involved driving the sound level to head-banging level while screaming primeval guttural shouts and growls into the microphone.
It could have been uncomfortable, but the excellent sound system at the Street Theatre combined with evocative lighting, insured that it achieved exactly the affect aimed for.
As the moment of cacophony subsided into angelic sounds of shimmering cymbals the audience couldn’t contain itself no longer and rose to its feet to shout its approval and reward the musicians with a boisterous, prolonged standing ovation.
One Last Time? Surely not!
Tubular Bells for Two
Street Theatre, 15 Childers Street, Canberra City West
Performance: Friday 29 September
Dates: 29 & 30 September 2023
Bookings: www.thestreet.org.au (sold out)
For more information, visit: www.tubularbellsfortwo.com for details.
Image: Daniel Holdsworth and Tom Bamford in Tubular Bells for Two – photo by Joanne Kee
Review: Bill Stephens OAM