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Gig review: Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells for Two, Assembly George Square (Venue 3), Edinburgh

Daniel Holdsworth, Aidan Roberts and some of their array of instruments

Daniel Holdsworth, Aidan Roberts and some of their array of instruments

  • by JIM GILCHRIST
 

Sick of watching Olympians? Head for George Square to see two barefoot Australians undergo the musical equivalent of the triathlon – with bells on.

Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells for Two

Assembly George Square (Venue 3)

Star rating: * * * * *

Sick of watching Olympians? Head for George Square to see two barefoot Australians undergo the musical equivalent of the triathlon – with bells on.

Daniel Holdsworth and Aidan Roberts (the bearded one) crouch, grab, leap and on at least one occasion crawl (under a keyboard, scrabbling for an inaccessible piece of equipment) as they perform Mike Oldfield’s multilayered studio extravaganza from 1973.

Oldfield played the 20 or so instruments on his prog-rock classic himself, bar occasional support with string bass, drums and the odd vocal chorus. Roberts and Holdsworth cheat; there are two of them, after all, hemmed in on stage by multiple keyboards, guitars, drums and of course that totemic rack of titular bells (and let’s not forget the glockenspiel).

From the moment they first sound out that unmistakable, minimalist keyboard riff (prompting a fond smile from an audience largely comprising those of a certain age who would have possessed the original vinyl), the pair are never still, frequently dealing with two instruments at a time.

Since Oldfield’s overdubbing marathon, the advent of 
real-time “sampling” may have made live performances more feasible, but theirs is still a gruelling feat of acrobatic musicality, with a few hairy moments. Their impressive instrumental abilities, I suspect, are further energised by that useful mystery ingredient, sheer panic, as they grab yet another guitar, hotly pursued by some riff they sampled earlier which seems hell-bent on overtaking them.

This live version is generally more in your face than the delicate and distant feel of the original, particularly when Roberts grunts out the guttural vocables, credited in Oldfield’s album to “Piltdown Man”, to introduce a pummelling drumfest, while manic kazoos are perhaps a not-quite adequate substitute for the racy guitars of this particular original sequence.

Elsewhere, though, the guitar skills are impressive, and while nothing could replace the fruity tones of the late-lamented Viv Stanshall in introducing the instruments during the famous first-half climax, Roberts does the honours, and rallies a theatrical flourish as he leaps across the stage to whack those bells on time, prompting a collective sigh of relief.

Mike Oldfield may have produced a multimillion-seller, but watch these guys and you conclude that he had it easy.

• Until 27 August. Today 9pm.

 

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