Michael Gordon Oldfield (born 15 May 1953 in Reading, Berkshire) is an English multi-instrumentalist musician and composer, working a style that blends progressive rock, folk, ethnic or world music, classical music, electronic music, New Age and more recently dance. His music is often elaborate and complex in nature. He is best known for his hit 1973 album Tubular Bells which broke new ground as an instrumental concept album and launched Virgin Records.
Oldfield's parents are Maureen and Raymond Oldfield. His sister Sally and brother Terry are successful musicians in their own right and have appeared on several of his albums. Mike and his siblings were raised Roman Catholic, the faith of their Irish mother. Mike Oldfield has six children, two of them having the Norwegian singer Anita Hegerland as their mother.
Oldfield's career began fairly early in his life, playing acoustic guitar in local folk clubs. At this time, he already had two fifteen minute instrumental pieces in which he would "go through all sorts of moods", a precursor to his landmark 1970s compositions. In his early teens, Oldfield was involved in a 'beat group' playing Shadows style music (he has often cited Hank Marvin as a major influence, and would later cover the Shadows' song "Wonderful Land"). In 1967 he and his sister Sally formed the folk duo The Sallyangie and were signed to Transatlantic Records after exposure in the local folk scene. An album, Children of the Sun was issued in 1968. After Sallyangie disbanded, he formed another duo with his brother Terry, called Barefoot, which took him back to rock music.
In 1970 he joined ex-Soft Machine vocalist Kevin Ayers' backing group The Whole World playing bass guitar. The band also included keyboardist and composer David Bedford, who quickly befriended Oldfield and encouraged him in his composition of an early version of Tubular Bells. Bedford would later arrange and conduct an orchestral version of that album. With Ayers, Oldfield recorded two albums, Whatevershebringswesing and Shooting At The Moon. Both albums featured early versions of what would become his trademark sound.
Having recorded a demo version of Tubular Bells, Oldfield attempted to convince someone in the music industry to take the project on, but was told the project was unmarketable. However, in 1972 he met a young Richard Branson who was setting up his own record label, Virgin Records, and after playing the demo to engineers Tom Newman and Simon Heyworth, he began recording the 1973 version of the album.
Tubular Bells became Oldfield's most famous work. The instrumental composition was recorded in 1972 and launched on 25 May 1973 as the inaugural album of Richard Branson's Virgin Records label. The album was groundbreaking, as Oldfield played more than twenty different instruments in the multi-layered recording made in Branson's Manor studios, and its style progressed continuously, covering many diverse musical genres. The album quickly reached the Top 10 of the UK album chart and has spent 279 weeks on the chart to date, a figure bettered by only ten other albums in chart history. Its 2,575,000 UK sales put it at No.28 on the all-time list of the best selling albums in the UK. In the U.S., it received attention chiefly by appearing in the soundtrack to The Exorcist. In the autumn of 1974, the follow-up LP, Hergest Ridge, was No.1 in the UK for three weeks before being dethroned by Tubular Bells. Although Hergest Ridge was released over a year after Tubular Bells, it reached No.1 first. Tubular Bells spent 11 consecutive weeks at No.2 before its solitary week at the top. In 1979, Tubular Bells was used as the main musical score for The Space Movie, a Virgin movie that celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. The Exorcist track is the score used for the landing sequence of the Apollo flights.
Like Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge took the form of a two-movement instrumental piece, this time evoking scenes from Oldfield's Herefordshire country retreat. This was followed in 1975 with the pioneering world music piece Ommadawn, and 1978's Incantations which introduced more diverse choral performances from Sally Oldfield, Maddy Prior and the Queen's College Girls Choir.
Around the time of Incantations, Oldfield underwent a controversial self-assertiveness therapy course known as Exegesis. No doubt as a result of this, the formerly reclusive musician staged a major European tour to promote the album, chronicled in his live album Exposed, much of which was recorded at the National Exhibition Centre near Birmingham, the first-ever concert at that venue.
In 1975, Oldfield received a Grammy award for Best Instrumental Composition in "Tubular Bells - Theme From The Exorcist".
The early 1980s saw Oldfield make a transition to "mainstream" popular music, beginning with the inclusion of shorter instrumental tracks and contemporary cover versions on Platinum and QE2 (the latter named after the cruise ship). Soon afterwards he turned his attention to songwriting, with a string of collaborations featuring various lead vocalists alongside his trademark searing guitar solos. The best known of these is "Moonlight Shadow", his 1983 hit with Maggie Reilly. This song has been covered by various other artists, including Aselin Debison (Canadian folk singer) and DJ Mystic (electronic/techno) In 2002 it was a huge hit in central Europe for the German dance act Groove Coverage.
The most successful Oldfield composition on the US pop charts during this period was actually a cover version — Hall & Oates's remake of "Family Man" for the duo's 1982 album H20.
Oldfield later turned to film and video, writing the score for Roland Joffé's acclaimed film The Killing Fields and producing substantial video footage for his album Islands. Islands continued what Mike had been doing on the past couple of albums, with an instrumental piece on one side and rock/pop singles on the other. Of these, 'Islands', sung by Bonnie Tyler and 'Magic Touch', with vocals by Max Bacon (US version) and Jim Price (UK/rest of the World) were the major hits. In the USA, Virgin America really worked 'Magic Touch', servicing album rock, new age and top 40 programmers. The single was a major success, reaching the top 10 on the Billboard album rock charts. Earth Moving was released in July 1989, and was a moderate success. The album was the first to feature rock/pop songs on both sides. Several were released as singles: 'Innocent' and 'Holy', which were released in Europe, and 'Hostage', which was released in the USA to album rock stations. This was, however, a time of much friction with his record label. Virgin Records reportedly insisted that any future instrumental album should be billed as Tubular Bells 2. Oldfield's rebellious response was Amarok, an hour-long work featuring rapidly changing themes (supposedly devised to make cutting a single from the album impossible), unpredictable bursts of noise, and a very cleverly-hidden Morse code insult directed at Richard Branson. Although regarded by many fans as his greatest work, it was not a commercial success. His parting shot from the Virgin label was Heaven's Open, which continued the veiled attacks on Branson but was notable for being the first time Oldfield had contributed all the lead vocals himself. Some say this was due to his desire to quit Virgin as soon as possible (he had previously stated that his voice did not belong on his recordings).
On the Warner Bros. Records label Oldfield continued to embrace new musical styles, with Tubular Bells II (a re-interpretation of Tubular Bells., which was premiered at a live concert at Edinburgh Castle, The Songs of Distant Earth (the latter based on Arthur C. Clarke's novel of the same name) exhibiting a softer "New Age" sound, and Tubular Bells III (also premiered at a concert, this time in Horse Guards Parade, London), drawing from the dance music scene at his new home on the island of Ibiza.
During 1999 Oldfield released two albums. The first, Guitars, which used guitars as the source for all the sounds on the album, including percussion. The second, The Millennium Bell, consisted of pastiches of a number of styles of music that represented various historical stages over the past millennium. The work was performed live in Berlin for the city's millennium celebrations in 1999-2000.
Most recently, he added to his repertoire the Music VR project, combining his music with a virtual reality-based computer game. His first work on this project is Tr3s Lunas launched in 2002, a virtual game where the player can interact with a world full of new music. This project appeared as a double CD, one with the music, and the other with the game.
In 2003 he released Tubular Bells 2003, a re-recording of the original Tubular Bells, on CD, and DVD-Audio. This was done to "fix" many "imperfections" in the original that existed due to the recording technologies of the early 1970s and limitations in time that he could spend in the recording studio. This celebrated the 30th anniversary of Tubular Bells, and Oldfield's 50th birthday. The DVD-Audio version has the same content as the CD version in surround, and some demos of the original Tubular Bells. At around the same time Virgin released an SACD version containing both the original stereo album and the 1975 quadraphonic mix by Phil Newell. In the 2003 version, the original voice of the 'Master of Ceremonies' (Viv Stanshall) was replaced by the voice of John Cleese.
On 12 April, 2004 Oldfield launched his next virtual reality project called Maestro which contains music from the Tubular Bells 2003 album and also some new chillout melodies. The demo versions of the games can be found on the official Mike Oldfield homepage.
A double album, Light & Shade was released on Mercury Records, with whom Mike had recently signed a three album deal. The two discs contain music of contrasting moods, one relaxed ("Light") and the other more edgy and moody ("Shade"). The album was released on 26 September 2005.
In an interview on BBC Radio 2's Steve Wright show, broadcast 23 February 2006, Oldfield elaborated on his next project saying he was working on a long instrumental — probably in three parts and without any drum loops. He also mentioned the possibility of a tour. In an interview for the March 2007 issue of Resolution Magazine Oldfield added that it would be a classical album "going to be based around the festival of Hallowe’en, rather than the Hollywood horror film", in which he'd only play "classical guitar and grand piano".
Although unrelated to this new project, he headlined the German Nokia Night of the Proms tour, consisting of 18 concerts in December 2006.
In November 2006, fellow musician Noel Gallagher won a Spanish court case against Oldfield. Gallagher had bought an Ibiza villa for £2.5 million from Oldfield in 1999, but quickly discovered that part of the cliff-top property was falling into the sea. He was also annoyed by the huge “eyesore” of a yacht moored in his view - but it turned out it was his with the house. Gallagher and girlfriend Sara MacDonald spent summer 2006 at the villa, and the resulting court case paid Gallagher a six-figure sum in compensation.
His biography, entitled "Changeling", will be published in May 2007, published by Virgin Books.