How Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells was reborn as a duet

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WHEN Mike Oldfield performed his prog rock epic Tubular Bells at the Playhouse in 1982, he was joined on stage by an entire orchestra – so it may strike some as a tad fanciful to think two people could tackle it successfully.

And yet it can be done, as Sydney multi-instrumentalists Aidan Roberts and Daniel Holdsworth demonstrated at last year’s Fringe – winning themselves a Herald Angel Award and garnering a string of five-star reviews.

Now, having taken Tubular Bells ‘For Two’ around the world, the dynamic duo return for a visit to the King’s Theatre tonight, when they once more recreate the beauty and playful lunacy of the groundbreaking, 18 million-selling 1973 album – again with just two pairs of hands and feet.

So successful has the show been for these old school pals, they have now quit their jobs. And to think it all came about by accident after a night of larking around.

“Danny and I have known each other for years and we would spend lots of time hanging around each other’s flats playing guitar. One night we had Tubular Bells on and we just started messing around... trying to play bits of it on two guitars.

“We’d had a few glasses of wine and got this crazy idea to see if we could play the entire first side of the album. We spent all night trying to work it out.

“It became a bit of an obsession after that night. We kept on working on it and eventually we figured out the whole thing on just a couple of guitars.”

Performing the album live was never the intention, but day by day, as Roberts’ living room slowly filled up with dozens of instruments, they had the “crazy idea” to do just that.

“Once we had learned it, we thought it would be a laugh to go out and play it at a small venue in town – just for the fun of it.

“Then we got carried away with the whole thing and became a bit obsessed with all the different layers and the intricacies of the album.

“We started to add more instruments – then began swapping instruments. And we tried to replicate the original sounds as closely as possible with just the two of us.

“It became a mission for us – and it still is.

“The show is always evolving, and there will be one or two surprises for those who saw it at the Fringe and are coming to see it again.”

The pair had their first taste of success with the show when they performed at the Sydney Festival – but it was here in Edinburgh where things really took off for them.

“Edinburgh’s a special place for us,” says Roberts. “Last year’s Fringe was such a huge success for us and it was key to opening up all sorts of doors. It’s going to be great to be back – we made so many friends in the city last summer.

“We’re really looking forward to coming back for the show at the King’s and then we’re back again in the summer for another run at the Fringe.”

Described by one reviewer during its Fringe run as ‘the musical equivalent of the triathlon’, Tubular Bells ‘For Two’ is a test of skill and endurance for the pair, who play 22 instruments between them.

“We’re completely drenched in sweat by the end of the show,” says Roberts. “You don’t realise it, but you’re very quickly using up more energy than you’ve got. I lose so much weight during every show.”

Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells ‘For Two’, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, tonight, 7.30pm, £21, 0131-529 6000