The Manor was the first residential recording studio in England, a large stone castle in the Oxfordshire countryside that was owned by a young Richard Branson. When Mike Oldfield first set foot in The Manor, it was to record bass on an album from The Arthur Louis Band, but when Branson and his engineers heard Oldfield's demo recordings they decided to take him on. A year or so later in 1971, Branson had his own record label (Virgin Records) and Mike Oldfield's instrumental work Tubular Bells would be his first big signing. Most of the album was written by Oldfield when he was just 16.
It was an accomplished piece of music, famous the world over for its intricate layers and genius composition. Oldfield was something of a prodigy, playing many of the instruments himself and adding layer upon layer to his instrumental masterpiece.
Tubular Bells was the cornerstone of Virgin Records early success, striking a publishing deal on the score of The Exorcist and later becoming one of the most re-created and re-imagined pieces of music in history. All that said, it’s two Australians from the Blue Mountains in Sydney who must – surely – hold the title for the most auspicious Tubular Bells reinterpretation. They are Daniel Holdsworth and Aidan Roberts, the duo who will perform Tubular Bells For Two in Melbourne this Friday evening.
"I grew up listening to it with my dad, he was a big fan of the record," says Roberts, chatting in the coffee shop outside the Melbourne Recital Centre. The pair are in Melbourne for the day on a promo run before the upcoming show. "Danny and I have been friends since we were teenagers and a few years ago I pulled it on one night and said 'Remember this Danny?' We listened to it again one night over a few glasses of wine and we slowly became entranced by it," he says.
A single jam session at home in the Blue Mountains turned into an obsession for the pair, who became compelled to finish what they had started. The most convincing aspect of the show is Roberts and Holdsworth's ability to multitask, while remaining calm and restrained. Often, Holdsworth will loop a guitar and play another instrument over the top, while Roberts plays the lead piano part. "There are lots of little details that we have to add," says Holdsworth. "The trick of the show is that while, yes, we are stressed and, yes, there is a lot going on, we still have to relax into the performance. We listened back to some of the old rehearsals and they sounded really stressed," he laughs. But with time, Holdsworth and Roberts have become more comfortable with the material, saying that with every live performance another side of Oldfield’s genius is revealed.
"It wasn’t until quite a long time after we started playing the piece that we realised that he reuses the same compositional themes in different ways again and again," says Holdsworth before Roberts takes over.
"It's like learning another language – at the beginning you are constantly translating in your head, and trying to figure out what all the words are to put a sentence together. But after a while it just comes out, and your intention disappears."
Aidan Roberts and Daniel Holdsworth are performing their show, Tubular Bells for Two, this Friday evening (February 15) at the Melbourne Recital Centre.