Totally Tubular: Tubular Bells for Two on Tour - blog post image

Totally Tubular: Tubular Bells for Two on Tour




Top photo courtesy of Dame Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre 

As recently confirmed in an exclusive HAZE interview, the musical cult phenomenon of Tubular Bells For Two (TBFT) will be returning to The Joan on June 29. As witnessed at the Edinburgh Fringe and Sydney Fringe Festivals, this unique reinterpretation of Mike Oldfield’s groundbreaking 1973 debut will be performed live with only four limbs to spare, as opposed to the original personnel’s 16! Promoting TBFT’s debut Edinburgh Fringe show on the Virgin website, the ensemble is even endorsed by company CEO Richard Branson himself. A fitting achievement, seeing Branson's record label was founded on the Oldfield release. Current touring members are Danny Holdsworth and newcomer Tom Banford, who’s filling in for creative director Aidan Roberts. As Danny told HAZE, “The show’s just crazy. It’s almost an impossible task for us to perform it; like a circus act.” In 2009, the project was founded in Bathurst for a debut performance at Katoomba’s Clarendon hotel after nine months of rehearsals. Intending the show to be a one-off, Danny and Aidan didn’t think the show would see a second performance. Time between respective bands, Bells Will Ring, and The Maple Trail was managed accordingly. Though thanks to buying a loop pedal and an interactive lounge room album session, the viable stage appeal of their concept was realised. Danny reflects. “A section at the end of Side 1 has this bass-line that keeps repeating over and over again while this guy announces all the instruments; ‘grand piano’ [theme gets played on the piano], ‘reed and pipe organ’ ect. It just keeps going through until the tubular bells. We’d set up in Aidan’s lounge room, we got the loop pedal and the bass-line going, and we called out the instruments. Then, he and I just ran around, playing them, thinking, ‘wouldn’t it be fun to do this on stage one night.’”

Now, nine years later, TBFT are embarking on another national tour, including a triumphant return to Melbourne’s Arts Centre, the first cross-state venue to book the group. Two factors attribute to the ensemble’s widespread success: the original album’s significance and the intense performance element. As Mike Oldfield’s debut is regarded as a pioneering work in what would arguably become ‘progressive rock’, appeal is broad for listeners of different genres, such as folk, metal and prog fans. In the year of its release, hype for the album was given a significant boost by incorporating Oldfield’s first passage into the soundtrack of The Exorcist. Though a stereotype of being a dark and scary work is an unfair one, Danny says. “So many different styles come through. It’s theatrical in many ways, in the way we perform it, but also in the way the music’s written and that journey you go on to experience it as a whole.”

A vast variety of instruments are crucial to conveying the atmosphere and tone of the original work. At last count, Danny remembers having about 22 onstage, ranging from common to unconventional, like kazoos. “There’s a guitar line we can’t physically play, so we just put somekazoos through a distortion pedal. We had to do a lot of problem solving, like strumming chords and then hitting chords on the piano when one of us is playing the drums.” Originally, Oldfield himself played 16 instruments, including ‘guitars sounding like bagpipes’ and ‘taped motor drive amplifier organ chord’. For a performance incorporating large and obscure instruments, the hardest to play has ironically been the tin whistle. Naturally, innovation has been encouraged by limiting creative boundaries. This grit and determination of TBFT led The Scotsman to describe them as ‘the musical equivalent of the triathlon’; signifying the impressiveness of their showmanship. On one side of two contrasting performance elements, there is the exhilaration of having to stay focused through 50 solid minutes of intense multi-tasking and musical intricacy. At the same time, steady levels of pace and calm have to be maintained, for enhancing the depth of the music. In playing tranquil sections from the original recording, the duo are stressed but must have the composure to perform with delicacy. Therefore it’s a relief that the duo found such a confident replacement member in Tom Banford. “It was a big step-up for him, to rise to the occasion. The show’s been going for nearly ten years, and he’s brought a new energy and life to it.”

After internationally championing their Blue Mountains heritage with curious fans, a welcome return to home turf is due for Tubular Bells For Two. Summing up with words from Danny, “You say the Blue Mountains, and as people don’t usually know where that is, it sounds like some mysterious magical place; ‘ooh that’s fascinating, the Blue Mountains’ - Well it is.                          A magical place.”



Hear more of Danny in Darks Common Underground, who are releasing new music soon and are also interested in playing the Katoomba Social Club.

From the cover story by Corin Shearston @thehazemag




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