The last time Tubular Bells was performed live was I think in 1998 (The 2012 Olympics played just the intro). In fact, at a recent classical performance of Tubular Bells live they stated it was ‘too hard’ to perform the original multi-instrumental pieces in their entirety.
Tough maybe, but not impossible. Step forward Mr. Phil Toms, in his words, “UCC manager, String Arranger, Composer, Hoverboarder, Doctor Puppeteer, BBC Essex Film Critic.” He also spent two years dissecting every part of Tubular Bells and noting it musically to present a near perfect rendition of Tubular Bells parts one and two.
After he’d done that he put together a band of talented musicians and singers and took them on the road for a short tour to present Tubular Bells Live!
Luckily for us, he lives just up the road and took the show to the Apex at Bury St. Edmunds – a wonderful modern venue that rocked to Soul II Soul last summer.
Phil and his band of merry musicians treated us to over two hours of classic Mike Oldfield with excerpts from Ommadawn, Hergest Ridge, Return to Ommadawn, Guitars and classic singles Moonlight Shadow, To France, Five Miles Out, Guilty, Man in the Rain, Man on the Rocks… plus!! Tubular Bells parts One & Two (and bits of Tubular Bells II and III)
The first half opened with the wonderfully ethereal Hergest Ridge building from a single pipe to the full ensemble as the price reaches it’s crescendo. We then settled into a set that interspersing Mike’s single hits like including Moonlight Shadow, Man on the Rocks and my favourite – ‘Five Miles Out’, with longer pieces including ‘the Songs of Distant Earth’ and Ommadawn.
Our seats were aloft looking down onto the stage, which turned out to be a wonderful vantage point to see all the performers on the crowded stage. The music sounded brilliant in the arena and every track was to me note perfect. I resisted filming or taking photos as I wanted to just enjoy the music (plus it didn’t feel right in the context) so I only have a few shots from the end of the show.
The second half of the show was dedicated to Tubular Bells parts one and two. From start to finish these were faithful, fantastic renditions of the entire pieces. From the opening piano (that goes on for a loooong time when you see Emma Nash playing it live) to the epic MC introducing the instruments before closing with just the Spanish Guitar solo from James Sterling. In the words of Phil Toms, “you don’t get to hear that very often.” No you don’t and it was brilliant.
Part 2 was equally great. About half way through the piece, we saw lead singer Matyas Basco slip out stage right (it’s amazing what you see up high!) which we thought was interesting. A few minutes later this ‘caveman’ appeared on stage, replete in leopard skin outfit and wig to perform the ‘Piltdown Man’ part – you know the bit that goes, “Sokogo Ahh,Tah Nooah…” No-one can say the singer was not versatile!
Legend has it that Virgin boss Richard Branson insisted there were lyrics in part 2. Mike did not agree but when forced to include some got very drunk and recorded those immortal ‘words’.
Wowsers. That was epic. Not something I had ever expected to hear live, in my lifetime.
But we weren’t done. A quick trip through Moonshine from Tubular Bells II to the finale and some encores. Nautical themes, ‘Blue Peter’ and ‘Portsmouth’ , a little fun with ‘Punkaddidle’ closing the evening with the upbeat ‘disco’ song ‘Guilty’.
I don’t have enough superlatives to cover a memorable, and hopefully not unique concert experience. This short tour felt like a proof of concept which it certainly passed with flying colours. There is talk of a wider tour across England and into Europe. I for one hope this comes off as I would love to see this all again – many times over!
You can find more information about the tour on their official page https://www.tubularbellslive.com/ or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TubularBellsLive/ . Phl Toms also has his own website covering his wider musical exploits at https://www.philtomsmusic.com/
Tubular Bells Live – Set List
- Hergest Ridge (Excerpt)
- Moonlight Shadow
- Five Miles Out
- Ommadawn (Excerpt)
- To France
- Man in the Rain
- The Songs of Distant Earth (Excerpt)
- Weightless/Top of the Morning
- Man on the Rocks
- Return to Ommadawn
- Tubular Bells Part 1 & Part 2
- Moonshine / Moonshine / Finale
- Blue Peter / Portsmouth
- Guilty (Short version)
Phil Toms (Keys and overall genius)
- Keys: Emma Nash, Mark Roberts (plus trumpet), Mark Pulman,
- Lead singers: Matyas Basco & Matilda Bourne
- Flute and Sax: Hannah Wainwright
- Guitars: Jay Stapley, Steve Smith and James Stirling
- Bass: Mike McGibney
- Drums: Rich Nolan
- Percussion: Adam Morris