Sunday Music – Portsmouth and Theme From Tubular Bells

Posted on Sun 04/10/2016 by


Today’s music video is Portsmouth and the song is performed here by the English songwriter Mike Oldfield.

Link to Video at You Tube

This video was posted to You Tube by MikeOldfieldVEVO

I’ve often said how hearing a song from the past revives old memories. It happens so often to me these days, and it happened again during the week. I heard an old piece of music and straight away it brought back memories, not of when I first heard the song, but what happened three years later. That piece of music I heard is not the song I have featured today, but this featured song, Portsmouth, is the song that led to my revelation about that earlier piece of music.

The piece of music I heard earlier this week was Tubular Bells, and the artist was Mike Oldfield. Most of you know the piece. It’s a continual playing of one piece of music, only during it, new instruments are added, all introduced by a narrator, ending with the sound of the Tubular bells. That Instrumental was originally released in 1973, and some of the music was picked up for inclusion in the movie The Exorcist, which was a huge movie in 1973. The music selected for the film was a short version, and received regular airplay on radio at the time, and became highly popular and a hit, (only in the U.S.) in much the same manner as the movie did. Mike Oldfield himself was not all that enamoured by the way his music was used for the film, and he later released a slightly longer version of The Theme From Tubular Bells as a Single, a different version from the movie, and also different from the piece with the narration of the instruments.

Now, while the music was popular on the radio at the time, I was not all that keen on it at all. It was okay I guess, but it didn’t grab me enough to tempt me to go out and purchase the album.

Three years later, I did hear the featured song for today, Portsmouth, and, as was often the case in those days, it was on late night radio, as the song was not much of a hit here in Australia, so it didn’t get much in the way of regular airplay.

This song did attract my attention, as it was so catchy, and I remember the song from my youth as a traditional folk song from the sailing ship days in England, and is sometimes loosely referred to as a sailor’s reel, and this song actually dates from 1701.

I have often mentioned that I used to frequent a small record shop in Newcastle, (the one in Australia) and the man who owned the tiny store knew my tastes in music and would often direct me to different music I would not normally be aware of, and I had learned to trust his judgement.

MikeOldfieldBoxedI asked him about this song I had heard, Mike Oldfield’s Portsmouth, and oddly, he hadn’t heard of the song, even though he knew the artist. He directed me to an album by Mike Oldfield that he did have. It was unique really, because the album was in a box, and there wasn’t one album, but four of them in a boxed set. He opened it up and took out a large booklet, flipped through it, and located this song, Portsmouth.

I was intrigued, but hey, this album was priced at $25.00, and while today that may seem cheap, this is back in the 70’s when an LP sold for $5.00, so this was the equivalent of five albums. I balked at the cost, and he didn’t pursue the matter, but, now intrigued, the next week I did purchase the album.

As this Boxed set was released in 1976, it was done in Quadraphonic Sound, not 4 track stereo, but the full Quad sound, which was starting to come into vogue, but because of the cost, (not of the albums themselves, but the correct Quadraphonic equipment to play them) it was short lived. My record guy explained to me that even though it was the full Quad sound, it could be played on normal stereo outfits, and I had good stereo equipment at that time. There was even a label on the front saying it could be played on normal stereo equipment. I might suggest that because of the price, not many of them were sold here in Australia, and my record guy confirmed that when he mentioned to me a year or so later that the one I purchased was the only one he sold.

This boxed set, aptly titled Mike Oldfield Boxed contained Quad remasters of his first 3 albums, Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn. The fourth album was a collection of his other songs, including Portsmouth, as each of those first three albums was a concept album in its own right at original release.

The revelation occurred when I put the first of those four albums on to play. It was Tubular Bells, but not the short version, which was all I ever heard, but in fact was Part One on side one of the album, and Part Two on side two, almost 50 minutes of music. It was amazing, so much better than the short version, and while I was not all that keen on the short version, this long version was just superb. While the music was playing, I read the booklet. It was album sized, so 12 inches square and 12 pages in length, with two pages of information on each of the albums and a number of images. The text was a revelation as well, as it provided insight into Mike Oldfield himself.

I have included just one image from the booklet below. This image has had overlaid across the image the names of the Instruments themselves, as this was not on the original image. (For a larger version of this image just click on it, and it will open on a new page with that larger image.)


What you see there is perhaps tens of thousands of dollars worth of musical instruments, all of them instrumental in the making of Mike’s music, and he looks almost small, sitting there in the midst of his instruments, and on all his recordings, other than for the occasional guest player, Mike Oldfield himself played all the instruments.

Using the text taken directly from the booklet itself, and concerning Tubular Bells, that story in itself is quite interesting.

He actually started doing it in 1970, when he was still only 17, a full three years before it was actually finally recorded and then released. He was encouraged to keep at it. He borrowed a tape recorder, and ended up with a small demo tape of what he had done. In late 1971, as part of a band, he was invited to a recording studio, well almost a recording studio anyway, as it was still under construction. This studio was being built inside a large English manor by a record shop owner and distributor, Richard Branson, who was just starting out his dream of owning his own record label and studio.

While Mike Oldfield was there, and with the recording session not really going to plan, he gave that demo tape he had made to the music engineer there, who liked what he heard. The studio at the time was still under construction, and while the engineer thought the music was good, he felt sure Oldfield would not want to put it in the hands of people who were just starting out and not really all that ready to record music, at least from a guy who was himself just starting out. What they did do however, was to give Oldfield a list of people to see at other recording studios and record companies.

Oldfield tried everyone on the list with no success. A year later, the engineer got back to him and asked him how he was going, and Oldfield told him he was getting nowhere at all. They invited him back to the now finished Manor House studio. That demo tape which Mike had was improved upon during the intervening time, and that provided the basics for what was to become Side One of the hoped for album. It took a week to get the Master for that done at the studio. Because Branson was still only just beginning, there were not many takers for studio time, and between sessions from those others, Oldfield had virtual run of the place, and over the next two weeks, they worked out Side Two for the album. It then took a further three weeks in the mixing, and then they had the final Master tape. That was then pressed, and the album was released in 1973, the very first album release from Richard Branson’s new record label, Virgin Records.

The album achieved immediate critical acclaim, sold off the wall, and rose to the top of the album charts in the UK.

Two futures were now assured, as the millions flowed in, both for Mike Oldfield the artist, and Richard Branson of Virgin records.

According to the booklet, the album went to Number One virtually everywhere it was released. It sold almost 3 million copies in the UK alone, and 8 Million copies overall. It stayed at the top of the album charts for a long time, and was eventually replaced at Number One by Oldfield’s second album Hergest Ridge, which went straight to Number One on the day of its release.

Three years later, in 1976, he was invited back to re-record this immensely popular album in Quadraphonic, and at the same time, they did his next two albums, Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn, and then added the extra album of single songs, titled Collaborations, and one of those songs is the featured song above, Portsmouth, the one which started this whole process for me. All four albums were released in this Boxed set which is the one I have.

That video clip for Portsmouth is the original clip for the song, and shows Mike playing all the instruments on this song. As to the dancers there, I’m pretty sure one of them is Sally Oldfield, Mike’s sister, who is also an acclaimed recording artist in her own right.

For those of you who have heard Tubular Bells, you would remember it as that piece with each instrument introduced by the narrator, who was Mike’s friend Vivian Stanshall. That piece of music is the second part on Side One of this Opus. Radio was never going to play the whole 50 minute piece, and not all that happy with what was picked up on, either that piece or the Exorcist Theme, Mike Oldfield then selected part of the whole that he did want to release as a Single, and oddly, this is probably the best of the three pieces of music from that overall whole which is Tubular Bells.

That piece of music is what I have featured in this second video, and was released in 1974. It was titled Mike Oldfield’s Single (Theme From Tubular Bells). It was only ever released in the UK, and a couple of other Countries, but it was not released in the U.S. as the piece used in the movie was what was used there, a full year prior to the release of this Single, and the album. This clip features Lindsay Cooper on the Oboe, but all the other instruments are played by Mike Oldfield. It has a unique sound where he makes the guitars sound like bagpipes, a very effective and pleasing sound.

Link to Video at You Tube

This video was posted to You Tube by Kanal von blinky879

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