MIke Oldfield’s TUBULAR BELLS – LIVE IN CONCERT
The 50th Anniversary Experience
Original composer: Mike Oldfield
Directed and choreographed by Yaron Lifschitz
Musical direction and arrangements by Robin A Smith
Featuring Circa Contemporary Circus
Royal Festival Hall – until 15 August, then touring internationally
Released in 1973 when Mike Oldfield was a mere 20 years old, Tubular Bells was both a technically pioneering project (using multi-track recording to capture the composer playing all the instruments himself, then layering the different sessions together to create the now-epoch-making whole) and a global phenomenon, standing at the crossroads between rock and classical instrumental music. Simultaneously earthy and other worldly, it still exerts a haunting, fascinating pull, with it’s juxtaposition of delicate Celtic influences, thunderous rocking exhilaration, magical bells (tubular, of course) and an unparalleled sense of aural wonder that shades into melancholy and/or sinister at key moments. Not for nothing did one of the sections become the instantly recognisable theme tune to the seminal horror movie ‘The Exorcist’.
This fiftieth anniversary concert is described as an “Experience” and so it proves. Defiantly defying categorisation, it is an exhilarating, hugely satisfying combination of circus, recital, dance theatre, celebration and event. Fans won’t want to miss it but anybody else lucky to be there is likely to be converted.
Perhaps in an attempt to make it into more of a full evening’s entertainment, and to justify the ticket price, the first half of Fiery Angel and Senbla’s co-presentation is a more straightforward concert rendering of a trio of Oldfield’s other works, performed with great panache and sensitivity by Robin A Smith’s magnificent nine piece band. The last number before the interval is a kicking arrangement of the dreamy, memorable 1983 single ‘Moonlight Shadow’, Lisa Featherston’s dramatic, striking rendition a fascinating contrast to Maggie Reilly’s more ethereal original vocal.
The second half is the real event here though, and what an event it is: Smith’s musicians flawlessly perform the entire Tubular Bells album while Australian-European band of gymnasts-acrobats-dancers-superhumans, Circa Contemporary Circus, under the direction and choreography of Yaron Lifschitz, add a soaring, visionary physical dimension. The result is one of the most exciting hours of entertainment you’re likely to experience.
The tricks and feats of the extraordinary ten person ensemble are authentically breathtaking, often astonishingly, starkly lovely to behold, and meld seamlessly with the driving, enthralling music, complementing but never overshadowing it. The mention of interpretive dance can strike hysteria in many theatregoers, often with good reason, but never once does the work here threaten to become risible. It’s impossible not to marvel at the apparent contempt for the law of gravity or the sheer, exuberant athleticism of these human wonders, and the great, gorgeous walls of sound coming at you feel truly enhanced by the tumbling, hand-to-hand work, silks, flying (well almost). Like the performers themselves and like Tubular Bells itself, it’s muscular, beautiful and effortlessly commands the attention.
It’s a hell of a thrillride and a fitting way to commemorate the half century of a cultural phenomenon. Do not miss.