Mike Oldfield was born in Reading on 15th May 1953. He started out playing acoustic guitar in local folk clubs. He was influenced by The Shadows and Hank Marvin, which led to him and his sister, Sally, forming a folk duo called ‘The Sallyangie’. They were signed to Transatlantic records in 1967 thanks to their performances from local folk musical venues. They released only one album called ‘Children of the Sun’, which was issued in 1968, before the band split up. However Mike then formed another duo with his brother called ‘Barefoot’ who played rock music. They also disbanded within a year. In 1969 Mike joined ‘Kevin Ayers and the Whole World’ as their guitarist, who also featured David Bedford who Mike would go on to work in years to come. They released albums such as ‘Shooting at the Moon’ and ‘Confessions of Dr. Dream and other stories.’
Mike moved on again when the band disbanded in 1971. He recorded a demo of ‘Tubular Bells’ and spent many hours in Abbey Road Studios. He sent the demo to numerous record companies but they all rejected it saying it was “uncommerical”. That was until Richard Branson, who was running a chain of record stores at the time, listened to it and was very impressed but didn’t have the resources to help fund it. Richard then decided to launch the record label and contacted Mike who he thought would’ve already sold ‘Tubular Bells’ to another company. Tom Newman suggested to build a record studio and borrowed £25,000 and bought The Manor near Oxford. A squash court was converted into a studio but couldn’t get permission to use it at night as a neighbour kept ringing the police and they took turns to press an alarm button to the alert the studio. This worked to their advantage as by the time the police arrived, everyone was in the kitchen drinking coffee. After a while the police laid off them as they got fed up chasing them up.
Mike moved into the Manor for a year and learnt how to be an engineer and producer, whilst still working on ‘Tubular Bells’. He and Richard then went to Cannes music festival together with a jam session they recorded called ‘Manor Live’ featuring Elkie Brooks. Many record companies showed interest in ‘Manor Live’ although this didn’t last long. There was only one company who showed interest in ‘Tubular Bells’ and that company was American Mercury Records, who said they’re interested but wanted Mike to put vocals to the song. So Richard decided the only way forward was to release ‘Tubular Bells’ themselves. Virgin Records first released ‘Tubular Bells’ in June 1973, the album was performed in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall with numerous famous musicians. It sold over 16 million copies worldwide, which makes it Virgins most successful album to date.
In 2012 Mike Oldfield with a host of other musicians, performed at the London Olympic opening ceremony with songs ‘Tubular Bells’, ‘Far above the Clouds’ and ‘In Dulci Jubilo’. He also announced in January 2013 he’s working on a new album.
Accounts from www.mikeoldfield.org :
Andy Lawson used to pass the Oldfield’s house on the way to school and got to know Terry Oldfield during the holidays. When it emerged that Terry’s younger brother was learning guitar, Andy suggested he may want to meet up with his friend Chris Braclik, who was also teaching himself to play. Mick, as he was known to Chris and Andy, would spend most of his spare time either at home or at their place, playing a wide variety of music. Although not particularly proficient at that stage, Chris still became a good friend, and they practised together regularly. Mike had a wide taste in music and was exploring that world and developing his skills as a musician and his technical capability soon improved through mimicking the songs of the leading folk guitarists of the time, such as David Graham, Bert Jansch, Leonard Cohen and John Renbourn. Chris swapped his six-string Harmony Sovereign with Mike’s twelve-string Eko for a few weeks when he was twelve, after which his abilities suddenly went through the roof, so that he could almost play anything. During the following two years, Mike became extremely accomplished, although Andy says he lacked a sense of melody at the time and recalls sister Sally frequently complaining that he was playing too many notes.
Neighbour Andy Holland was returning from work as an engineering apprentice one day when Mike coasted up to his gate on his Gilera 175cc racing motorbike, asking for help as it had broken down. After fixing it, Andy was invited in for a coffee and their friendship went from there. Andy also played the guitar and joined Mike and Chris Braclik to perform in the folk clubs in Reading, mostly playing traditional songs. The trio would play at The Blues Club in The Elephant pub run by Mike Cooper in the Butter Market and The Shades Coffee Bar, run by Sydney Luckington, which transformed into Reading’s trendy music venue in the evening. The venue closed after a drugs bust in the sixties, but Syd then opened The White Horse, where the group became the resident act. Some of the songs they put together were written by Mike, including Mick’s Song and Mell’s Song, which went on to become the theme tune for Chris and Andy’s duo, Mellody Tickell, some of which have been recorded privately in excellent quality, but never released. Sally Oldfield later also gave the duo her then unused Song of the Healer, which also became part of their repertoire.
Mike moved on to form a band with his brother Terry in 1969, playing at colleges and clubs throughout the UK: ‘we were still living at home then and formed a band called Barefoot’ (interview with Terry Oldfield, Dark Star Magazine, issue 22). Mike wrote long, complicated instrumentals with lyrics which he would sing. Until now, it was believed that nothing was recorded, but Chris Braclik booked Barefoot to play at Wallingford Grammar School and does in fact have a recording. Terry recorded a re-arranged version of a Barefoot track called Flight of the Eagle on his Journey into Space album in 2012. The band rehearsed at Tadworth Village Hall and did lots of gigs around the country for about six months, ‘zooming around in our Transit van. We were quite a heavy band, playing pretty heavy stuff. We all had long hair, and the drummer was called Hairy Dave, who before he joined us had been the drummer for Long John Baldry… I remember we used to stay up all night to go to concerts at places like the Roundhouse where people like Sandy Denny would turn up and do a gig. I once saw Pink Floyd, The Who, Rod Stewart and Elton John play at the same gig. It was unbelievable. It was a very innocent time of feeling our way into the world of music and being open to things’.
BACKGROUND ON MIKE OLDFIELD IN READING
Mike Oldfield was born in Battle hospital in Reading on 15th May, 1953 and spent his first years at a house in Monks Way before the family moved to Western Elms Avenue in 1956. His first experience of school as a five year old at St Joseph’s Convent was bewildering, but only lasted six months before he moved to Highlands Junior.
A childhood friend, Peter Cardani, remembers how he used to walk about a mile with Mike after school to catch the trolleybus home into Reading, where there was a playing field near the bus stop. A few friends used to mess about having mock fights there. Reluctantly, the boys conformed to strict rules from the headmistress of Highlands Junior School, Mrs Peach, to stay smartly dressed and even wear caps outside of school.
John Wicks attended St. Edward’s Preparatory school with Mike when they were nine, and they became good friends. John lived about five minutes away on Connaught Road: ‘I have fond memories of him from that time, and was in total awe of his obvious talent, even at such a young age. Although he probably doesn’t know it, I learned how to play guitar by watching him play. In fact I learned a whole lot of things from him!’ John went on to play in The Records, signed to Virgin, which had considerable chart success in the USA, where he now resides.
As well as his musical ability, Peter Cardani recalls Mike was brilliant at fast bowling in cricket. He was not alone in being terrified when Mike would start his long fast run up to the crease and release the ball from his long arm at phenomenal speed. His long arms were also put to great use in boxing matches, which were organised after school by Mr Pike, one of the younger, more popular teachers. Mike’s arm reach was so great that on one occasion he took a huge swipe and succeeded in breaking one of Peter’s front teeth, as there was no such thing as a mouth-guard or other protection in those days!
Mr Peach, the headmaster of St Edwards, dished out regular ‘rabbit’ punches to the neck and Chinese burns on the wrists for getting things wrong in Latin, but he must have had a soft spot for Mike as he always selected him at Christmas to stand at the front of the assembly hall and sing the part of the Page to his King in the annual rendition of the Christmas Carol Good King Wenceslas. Mike did get into trouble trying instant fake suntan lotion though. He arrived at school one morning having turned a nasty shade of yellow, maybe intended to try and impress the girls after school or to cover up his incredibly nicotine-stained fingers. Every week during school assembly, announcements were made as to which boys were being punished with the writing of ‘lines’ or the cane. ‘When the dreaded time came you would follow the headmaster up an old steep staircase into the attic of the school-house where you would be told to touch your toes. The headmaster would then slowly lift up the tail of your school blazer ensuring maximum impact from the cane after first taking considerable time with his aim, causing you to tremble in your shoes. After your caning you were obliged to shake hands with him and say, “Thank you, Sir!”’
It was Mike who introduced Peter to Players No 6 cigarettes, which they would smoke behind the school garden bonfire. The cigarettes were bought from a vending machine close to the railway cutting where they played. One day, the French teacher caught them buying cigarettes whilst passing by on the bus. She reprimanded them, but kept it to herself and the boys got away with their misdemeanour.
Mike’s father Raymond flew model aeroplanes in Prospect Park, where the boys played, close to their home. On one occasion Raymond was struggling to get the plane’s engine started and was furiously flicking the propeller when it finally fired, but he failed to get his hand out of the way fast enough and it struck him across the back of his fingers and drew blood. When he eventually managed to get the plane into flight, it flew off into the distance and was lost from sight. This was long before radio-controlled models and you just had to hope that some kind soul would find and return it to the address on the plane.
Possibly short of cigarette money, or maybe saving up to buy a motorbike, on one occasion Mike was offering certain items for sale at his home. Peter bought a chemistry set and a fishing rod. After reading in the autobiography about his brother’s interest in fishing, Peter thinks there’s a good chance he bought stolen property, which he still has today and has used it to catch many a brown trout over the years!
Patrick Ginnelly remembers Mike well from their time together at Presentation College in Reading during 1966, even though he did not stay long: ‘His nickname was “Ape” because he was so much bigger than the rest of us, and he spent most of his free time at school with an older boy called Richard Rydel. He was also the class monitor and played for the football team’. Peter Cardani was particularly impressed by his chat up lines with girls. One weekend a few lads went back to his parents’ house with a couple of girls, one of whom they all fancied. Mike was the one who was the most forward and asked if he could “climb up her ladder”. He had spotted the snag in her tights and was making the most of it!
Mike moved with his family to Essex in 1967, but Chris Braclik stayed in contact and borrowed his father’s Morris 1000 pickup in August 1967 to drive himself, Andy Lawson, Mike, and another friend known as ‘The Rev’ to the Edinburgh Festival, where they played gigs at the Fringe Club and busked to poetry at the Travis Theatre. Andy Lawson has clear memories of freezing in the open back of the pickup whilst travelling all the way from Wallingford to Edinburgh, where they set up camp late at night in an open field. The next morning, they woke to hear voices around the tent, and emerged to find the Police outside, as they had pitched up on a golf course. With Mike still asleep in his sleeping bag, they quietly dismantled the tent and hid around the corner, to watch him wake in the open air, looking most bemused. After pitching their tent in the Catholic Chaplaincy in George Street for a few days, they ended up squatting in a house in Bristo Street for the rest of the trip. Returning home, they placed a tarpaulin over the back of the van for protection, and are grateful to this day that they didn’t die of carbon monoxide poisoning. Many more gigs followed with the group at The Dolphin pub in Wallingford, close to where Chris lived with his parents.