Stegzy's Music Project

A commentary on Stegzy's album collection

Hergest Ridge – Mike Oldfield [#582]

Hergestridgecover.jpgOldfield’s second album takes inspiration from a delightfully picturesque area of Herefordshire where Oldfield was living while attempting to escape the media attention gained from the success of his first album.

Until about 2000, I had only been brave enough to listen to the extract of Hergest Ridge that featured on the Complete Mike Oldfield box set having been advised by an elder sibling that “It isn’t much cop”. Still, as with all things in life, your siblings sagely advice can be similar to the type of sage that sits at the back of one’s parent’s kitchen cupboard in that Sharwoods bottle that dates from the 1970s, out of date and a matter of preferential taste.

To be fair, they were kind of right because even after a delayed listening, Hergest Ridge just doesn’t reach the dizzy heights of Tubular Bells or later works such as Islands or AmarokIt’s a very reflective or poignant work, perhaps one that is for good listening to when reading broadsheet newspapers while ensconced in one’s garret. Sure, it is Oldfield’s “difficult second album” but it shows off the young Oldfield’s developing talent and has some beautiful recurring melodies that also crop up in later works.

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Heaven’s Open – Mike Oldfield [#577]

Mike_oldfield_heavens_open_album_coverLong term followers of this blog may remember my joy at Amarok, when that came out I was overjoyed, but when Heaven’s Open came out the following year, I was ecstatic. Here was Oldfield singing pop songs, angry ones at that, and doing a whole side of his multi-instrument magic. Awesome.

Of course, this was in the days before the internet. When music news and gossip was gleaned from NME and Melody Maker, both publications that I avoided because I didn’t want to be seen to be a desparate hipster, and, of course, because I wanted to happily stay in my musical comfort zone with Yes, Mike Oldfield and the Tubes. So I was unable to learn until much later that this was Oldfield’s last album on the Virgin label and a great big “Fuck You” to Richard Branson, although if you listen carefully to the lyrics of the songs, it’s fairly obvious.

With five singles tracks, including the non-hit title track, Heaven’s Open and a massive 20 minute opus much akin to Amarok, the album is totally out of character compared to later and earlier works. Even Oldfield’s temporary rebranding of himself (to Michael rather than Mike) gives the whole album and uneasy feel. However you can hear the development of stylistic motifs from both Islands and Amarok and the birth of riffs and styles that would cross over to Tubular Bells II.

 

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Gather in the Mushrooms – Various Artists [#511]

Gather in the mushroomsGather in the Mushrooms  is a compilation album featuring tracks by acid folk bands from 1968-1974.

As a prog fan, it is only natural that I have a penchant for music often classed as acid folk, which, one could argue, is a shared root for the mighty tree of progressive rock in the forest of alternative adult music.

This album was kindly “donated” to me by a dear ex-work colleague with whom we share similar tastes in music and interests in media and popular culture. When I saw the artist listing I was further excited to see artists such as Sallyangie (Sally Oldfield, Mike Oldfield‘s sister, with whom he began his career), Pentangle, Magnet and Spirogyra, all of whom have connection within this music project.

Hauntology at its best, Gather in the Mushrooms provides a soundtrack for a period when Canterbury was just begining to burgeon and fills the minds eye with images of green home county villages populated with beautiful long haired tie-dye be-dressed lady hippies like in some Avengers/Hammer Horror/sci-fi TV/Film that was never made. Beautiful tracks like Sandy Denny’s pre-Fairport Milk and Honey, Trader Horne’s post-Fairport Morning Way and the largely forgotten Forest’s Graveyard not only provide a powerful aural illustration for the genre but create a fitting tribute to a time that existed for a few but was appreciated by many.

This has largely become my third most favourite compilation of the past decade.

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Five Miles Out – Mike Oldfield [#478]

Mike_oldfield_five_miles_out_album_coverOldfield’s seventh studio album.

I often forget about this album. It’s not because it’s forgettable but in my ears it’s perhaps not as remarkable as other albums by Oldfield. Stylistically we can hear traces of Tubular Bells and Hergest Ridge underscored by Oldfield’s distinctive guitar wanking, use of vocoder and weaving of sections to honour English Morris Dancing. Indeed, aurally juvenile, Five Miles Out continues to mark Oldfield’s stylistic development as well as his continuing discomfort with Virgin Records. Themes from this would later appear in Heaven’s Open and Amarock.

 

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Exposed – Mike Oldfield [#443]

Exposed Mike OldfieldHi there! Steelrattus again, on day 5 of his 10 day guest stint on Stegzy’s Music Project.

Today’s album, Mike Oldfield’s Exposed (1979). This is the second of the two that I vaguely know in this 10 day stint. This one is a bit more vague that the previous, Trevor Jones’ Excalibur OST, as I don’t actually own Exposed. Coincidentally I have covered another Mike Oldfield album, Discovery, while guest posting on SMP, and double coincidentally I didn’t own that album either. Call yourself a Mike Oldfield fan?!

Whereas Discovery is a proper studio album, Exposed is one of only two live albums that Oldfield released, with the first being an orchestral version of Tubular Bells. This live album again features Tubular Bells, unsurprisingly with it being his most popular album, and also Incantations. Just to further highlight how much of a rubbish Mike Oldfield fan I am, I don’t seem to own nor do I remember listening to Incantations (1978), which is his fourth studio album. Having listened to the live version perhaps that’s understandable, as I didn’t find it very good. To round off the album there’s a short track called Guilty, which was just a single release, during Oldfield’s disco phase apparently (!). The album was recorded during a European tour in 1979, although apparently the musicians supporting Oldfield on the tour did not know they were being recorded. A DVD was released much later on, in 2005.

I’ve sort of already covered my view of the album. Tubular Bells is fab. I found Incantations rather weak and minimal. Guilty definitely has that Oldfield feel to it, and yes it is oddly disco. Generally speaking I don’t tend to enjoy live albums, as typically they’re somewhat worse versions of a mix of studio tracks. Exposed is pretty much this, but I would listen to it, if stuck on a desert island with nothing else. As always, YMMV.

Here’s Guilty, put on your disco pants!

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Earth Moving – Mike Oldfield [#409]

At this stage in his career, you can detect the “I don’t want to be here” atmosphere in his music. It’s like he’s not even trying.

This is Oldfield’s twelfth studio album but, unlike earlier Oldfield albums, doesn’t have a “feature length” instrumental track. Instead it is just a collection of songs featuring a variety of vocalists but mostly his then girlfriend Anita Hegerland.

Considering it fell between Amarock and Islands , two of my most favourite Oldfield albums, I was surprised that I didn’t own it before the advent of the Great Internet Free-for-all of the noughties. Of course, it highlighted the likes of HMV and Virgin Megastore were only stocking commercially viable albums in their stores thus controlling what people listen to and limiting access to less popular music thus preventing new fans from making their own minds up.

Still, it’s not his best album. Glad I didn’t buy it….Sounds like the soundtrack to a really bad, late eighties early nineties straight to video American crime film complete with neon lights and raunchy sexiness.

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Discovery – Mike Oldfield [#374]

DIRTY+DANCINGDiscovery – Mike Oldfield

Steelrattus here again, with the third of my guest posts in this seven day run.

Mike Oldfield. I first got into Mike Oldfield at university, courtesy of the previously mentioned UniversityRichard™. It was Oldfield’s original sound which hooked me, along with the other bands that Richard introduced me to. I must have heard the titular track from Tubular Bells prior to this time, but finally I heard the entire album, and many more such as Hergest Ridge, Ommadawn, Five Miles Out, Crises, and the wonderfully nutty Amarok. While at university in the early to mid 90s Tubular Bells 2 and The Songs of Distant Earth were released. And that was pretty much where my relationship with Mike Oldfield ended. I have listened to some of what he has produced subsequently, but none of it has hooked me like the earlier albums.

Discovery is another of these odd albums which somehow I’ve managed to miss in the chronology, as it was released after Crises in 1984. I’m guessing though that the reason I’ve not heard it is because it’s not very good. Curiously the biographical section of Mr. Oldfield’s Wikipedia entry, presumably curated by one or more dedicated fans, doesn’t mention it at all. Does this also suggest that generally it’s not viewed very favourably? There is a short dedicated page for the album though which tells us it was recorded as a follow up to the very successful single Moonlight Shadow, from the Crises album. To that end, and unusually for Mr. Oldfield, most of the album is comprised of short songs that were presumably intended for the pop market, and a lot of the songs feel like variations on the Moonlight Shadow theme. The only exception is The Lake, the final track, which is a distinct instrumental that is three times the length of the other tracks on the album, and for me at least the stand out track. Oldfield has said this final track was inspired by Lake Geneva, as he recorded the album in Switzerland (he was living there for tax reasons), and could see the lake from his recording studio.

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Crises – Mike Oldfield [#322]

Mike_oldfield_crises_album_coverCrises is Oldfield’s eighth studio album. Released in 1983, it arrived in my CD collection in the 90s and was probably about the 5th CD I ever bought.

Three things struck me about Crises.

  1. It features a song with Jon Anderson (Yes)
  2. The title track Crises features a great deal of Oldfield tropes; his distinguishable guitar sound, lyrical references to Virgin and musical themes that would reappear in later albums.
  3. It has the hit single Moonlight Shadow

For me, this album was the start of my theory that the music I like is all interconnected somehow. Something I’m still yet to prove.

 

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Complete Mike Oldfield – Mike Oldfield [#298]

Mike_Oldfield_completeMore compilations. I’d like to say that you can tell the popularity of an artist by the number of compilation and “best ofs” they have. Sadly a great deal of musicians use “Best ofs”, Live concerts (as we will see soon with Bryan Ferry and others) and compilations (Box, Collection, Complete and otherwise) to fill the gaps in their “busy” schedules between drug taking, lying about in hotels with three or more women  and playing golf, usually to keep the fans interested or aware that they’re still out there….recording…being inspired….living the rock star life. You’d never see Geoff Love releasing a best of.

Today on Stegzy’s Music Project it’s Mike Oldfield and his 1985 compilation showcasing the wide range of musical talent he has. Featuring his memorable pop songs (Moonlight Shadow, Shadow on the Wall, etc), excerpts from his studio works (Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge, etc) and his film and television work (Blue Peter, Killing Fields).

This album was the first album I ever had on CD and I must have listened to it a thousand times over the years considering its age. I bought it from Boots in Liverpool in 1986 using gift vouchers received at Christmas to play on my shiny new CD player (also a Christmas gift bought from Boots). On the same visit I bought the Best of Donna Summer and probably a couple of computer games for my Commodore 64 from Bits and Bytes in Central Station. Bits and Bytes no longer trade, the Donna Summer CD cracked, flaked and went the way of the old dust bin along with the CD player and the stereo it was attached to. Boots no longer sell CDs or Hi-Fis but Mike Oldfield’s Complete Mike Oldfield triple CD compilation still exists and it sits. In a box. In the attic.

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Classic Rock: Symphonic Rock – Various Artists [#276]

Classic Rock: Symphonic RockClassic Rock: Symphonic Rock – Various Artists

This is another compilation where the core idea works but the choices of tracks don’t.

Curiously, it appears that 70% of the artists featured on the album have previously featured on this project, so if you’ve missed those entries you’ll find that the links take you to those articles.

Anyway, Classic Rock: Symphonic Rock has a relatively good mix of tunes really but not ones I’d have chosen to highlight how rock can be symphonic. It’s a little too…. “twee”…for my liking. There are far better bands that could have featured on this compilation. There’s no Queensryche. No Meatloaf. The Yes option is pretty much mundane and the inclusion of Clannad, of all bands, confuses me no end. Clannad are not what I’d call rock for a start.

Tracklist

1-01 Vangelis Pulsar
1-02 Sky Toccata
1-03 Hawkwind Urban Guerilla
1-04 Focus P’s March
1-05 Electra Scheidungstag
1-06 Gentle Giant The Advent Of Panurge
1-07 Triumvirat A Day In The Life
1-08 Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe Brother Of Mine
1-09 Roger Waters The Bravery Of Being Out Of Range
1-10 Procol Harum A Salty Dog
1-11 Mike Batt Losing Your Way In The Rain
1-12 Clannad Sirius
1-13 Jon Lord Aria
1-14 Barclay James Harvest Child Of The Universe
1-15 Jon & Vangelis So Long Ago, So Clear
2-01 Mike Oldfield Sentinel
2-02 Moody Blues* The Story In Your Eyes
2-03 Rick Wakeman Catherine Howard
2-04 Electric Light Orchestra Standin’ In The Rain
2-05 Alan Parsons Project, The Damned If I Do
2-06 Herd From The Underworld
2-07 Jethro Tull Aqualung
2-08 Gong Ard Na Greine
2-09 Vanilla Fudge You Keep Me Hanging On
2-10 Ekseption 5th Of Beethoven
2-11 Aphrodite’s Child It’s Five O’Clock
2-12 Strawbs Autumn
2-13 Camel Tell Me
2-14 Genesis The Silent Sun
2-15 Yes Heart Of The Sunrise

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Boxed – Mike Oldfield (#215)

Boxed - Mike OldfieldBoxed – Mike Oldfield

Boxed is a compilation of Oldfield’s early works in their entirety. Featured in this “Box set” compilation are:

Tubular Bells
Hergest Ridge
Ommadawn

And a number of single projects such as Portsmouth and In Dulci Jubilo.

As all the original albums will feature in this project eventually, I’ll not dwell too long or go into too much detail on this album for fear of repeating myself.

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The Best Prog Rock Album in the World…Ever – Various Artists (#176)

The Best Prog Rock Album in the World...Ever - Various Artists (#176)The Best Prog Rock Album in the World…Ever – Various Artists 

This is one of the last CDs I bought. A wicked compilation showcasing a massive range of prog bands covering Canterbury scene, Zappa and even the first sprouts of New Romanticism.

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Album #66 – Amarok – Mike Oldfield

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 13.56.10Amarok – Mike Oldfield

Oldfield presents a miasma of sound harking back to the wild days of Ommadawn in this release from 1990.

I remember asking Steph Ormsby to nip to HMV for me to get this on cassette because I was stuck in school and I simply had to have it.  Bless her, she did and I’m eternally grateful to her for doing so.

Without Amarok, the next 2 years would have been difficult expression wise. I could hear how Oldfield had vented frustrations against Branson and Virgin while at the same time marvelling at his musical prowess and wishing I was just as talented.

Of course, I’m not.

Presented as a single sixty minute track, something that was lost by listening to it on cassette, Amarok is a true experiment in your own understanding of musical form. I especially like how the ending just keeps building up and up. Theoretically, you could listen to it on loop for a whole day.  I do, however,  recommend that you listen to it when feeling a bit…eclectic.

These guys did a good job of performing it too:

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