Tubular Bells 50th Anniversary Celebration

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Cleopatra, 2022


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Mike Oldfield knows all too well the pitfalls of trying to recapture lightning in a bottle when it comes to his 1973 masterpiece Tubular Bells. He’s recorded two follow-up albums that tried to follow in the same vein as the original, never coming close to reaching that level of perfection.

Coming up on the 50th anniversary of the album’s release, the task of trying to replicate the mastery of the original piece falls upon the shoulders of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, in conjunction with the Top Session Musicians Band and London Contemporary Voices Choir. The resulting two-disc set, Tubular Bells 50th Anniversary Celebration, not only tackles the original piece in its entirety, but touches on other selections from Oldfield’s earlier work—and, surprisingly, the result is close to what the original piece was… with one glaring exception.

Apparently recorded with no input from Oldfield himself (at least that I could find in the liner notes or the press release), one would be hard-pressed to figure this out, for the simple reason that the musicians keep extremely close to the original piece. Yes, there are some sonic differences due to the advancement of instrumentation (especially noted in the first movement of “Tubular Bells, Part One”), but for the most part, the performances feel fairly organic in comparison. Coming from someone who has grown up with the original album and listens to it several times a year, this is meant to be high praise.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

There are some stylistic differences heard in the rendition of the selection from “Hergest Ridge, Part One,” but I’ll freely admit that the source album is not one I listen to nearly as often, so any real differences between the original and this rendition are, to my ears, minor. And new life is breathed into “Ommadawn, Part One”—reminding me that its source album is yet another one that needs to be given a few more spins on my turntable.

The glaring exception referred to earlier? Two words: Brian Blessed. The actor was brought in to take over the roles of “Master Of Ceremonies” (in place of the late Vivian Stanshall) and “Piltdown Man” (originally performed by an allegedly inebriated Oldfield). And I’m sorry, but Blessed just does not fit well into either role. His over-the-top announcement of the instruments at the end of “Tubular Bells, Part One” almost feels like he’s purposely trying to draw the listener’s attention to himself, whereas Stanshall’s delivery was far more laid-back. As for “Piltdown Man,” nobody could ever top the gargled rumblings that Oldfield delivered, complete with howls; Blessed just growls like he got his manhood caught in his zipper.

Still, those instances do not negate what turn out to be stellar performances by all the musicians involved, creating the closest recreation of some of Oldfield’s most memorable work. Even the closing piece, “Moonlight Shadow” (culled from Oldfield’s Crises album) serves as the perfect way to bring the project to a close. From the rich instrumentation to the smooth-as-silk vocals from Ella Shaw, it is nearly seven minutes of sheer perfection.

Tubular Bells 50th Anniversary Celebration might not knock the original Tubular Bells out of regular rotation in my CD player, but it’s certainly earned its space on the regular rotation as well. While any revisit of the original piece will have a cautious eye cast upon it, this is one that is mostly well executed, and is well worth the time to check out.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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