Personalities | Mike Oldfield | Innovative Instrumentalist | Guitar Heroes

For 35 years Mike Oldfield (b. 1953) has created work that melds progressive rock, folk, world music, classical music, electronic music, new age and dance. He is best known for his hit 1973 album Tubular Bells, which provided a theme for the movie The Exorcist, broke new ground as an instrumental concept album, and launched Virgin Records.

Oldfield began his career playing acoustic guitar in folk clubs. In 1967 he and his sister Sally formed the folk duo the Sallyangie and were signed to Transatlantic Records. An album, Children Of The Sun, was issued in 1968. In 1970 he joined ex-Soft Machine vocalist Kevin Ayers’ backing group the Whole World, playing bass guitar. He had composed the music for Tubular Bells, but Oldfield’s early version was called unmarketable by several labels. However, in 1972 Richard Branson signed him to his new Virgin Records, and Oldfield began recording the album. Tubular Bells became Oldfield’s most famous work. Oldfield played more than 20 different instruments in the multi-layered recording. The album quickly reached the Top 10 on the UK album chart. In 1975, Oldfield received a Grammy award for Best Instrumental Composition for Tubular Bells – Theme From The Exorcist.

The early Eighties saw Oldfield make a transition to ‘mainstream’ popular music and songwriting, with a string of collaborations featuring various lead vocalists alongside his characteristic, searing guitar solos. The best known of these songs is ‘Moonlight Shadow’, his 1983 hit with Maggie Reilly. The most successful Oldfield composition on the US pop charts during this period was Hall & Oates’s remake of Oldfield’s ‘Family Man’ for their 1982 album H2O.

Oldfield later turned to film and video, writing the score for Roland Joffé’s acclaimed film The Killing Fields. He has explored a variety of themes and musical ideas, from Celtic-themed albums to instrumental and pop song pairings and from new-age explorations to re-imaginings of Tubular Bells. In 1999 he released Guitars, which used guitars as the source for all the sounds on the album, including percussion. His autobiography Changeling was published in 2007 by Virgin Books. In 2009, an international bell ringing was organized to promote the reissue of Tubular Bells.

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