Mike is best remembered, of course, for the elephantine tribute to the studio mixing desk, Tubular Bells, which found great difficulty in getting itself released in 1973, such was its experimental nature. However, it came to roost on Richard Branson’s then fledgling Virgin label (optimistically catalogued V2001), and gained a sympathetic ear from our John, who described it in the Listener as “the first break-through into history that any musician has made…without borrowing anything from established classics or decending to the discords, squeals and burps of the determinedly avant-garde, Mike Oldfield has produced music which combines logic with surprise, sunshine with rain.” It had taken Oldfield two years and 2,300 overdubs to come up with this, and the rest is massive record sales and a scad of rehashes and forages into similar territory.
However, he was capable of producing dazzling miniatures that were of sufficiently concise length to be released as singles: Portsmouth, Guilty, On Horseback and his Yuletide effort for 1975, a version of the macaronic carol In Dulci Jubilo. I sang lead on the original with a church choir about ten years ago, and remember being thoroughly let down by the hymn book’s translation of the Latin words, which included the embarrassing phrase ‘best of boys’. Luckily, Mike treats us to a recorder-led instrumental version which captures the joy of the inspiration, and doesn’t outstay its welcome. It made number 4 in the British charts, and JP added it to his favourite singles of the year programme on 19 December 1975 (which, if anybody out there has a copy of and would be prepared to share, would guarantee you entry into the Kingdom of Heaven…or at least a big thank you from me).
Mike Oldfield, In Dulci Jubilo