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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Mike Oldfield


Review by Steve Alspach

I suppose the main question anyone would want to ask regarding this CD is whether or not Mike Oldfield could pull off a live version of some of his larger works such as Incantations or Tubular Bells. With Maddy Prior, Pierre Moerlen, and a cast of thousands (ok, maybe 100 or so), Oldfield tackled these epics during a European tour in 1979. Parts of this album were released in the U.S as a two-record set called "Airborn."

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 1 at

Track by Track Review
The original 2-record set is rearranged and edited down to a 47-minute piece of music. Both parts get equal editing time here. The "Hiawatha" sequence is here, but without the mesmerizing synthesizer drone that was in the studio version and this segment fades out as well. The short guitar solo in the break, though, sounds like someone missed their cue and was caught flat-footed when the time came to solo.

Part 3 gets a good editing as well, but it sounds good to hear this segment done with an orchestra to add more dynamics and power to the piece. Part 4 features the crystal-sounding tuned percussion. By the coda, however, the audience hasn't lost their interest, adding handclaps in the proper places.

But for those of you who like to mentally boil down a double-album to a single album (aka "The White Album Exercise"), this makes for good listening.

Tubular Bells
The first part is a true-to-form rendition of the studio version with the opening section extended a bit as well as the end section. There are no "introduce the instruments" vocals in the end section, though. Some may find that a bit of a nuisance - where are those darn vocals?

The second part is edited quite a bit. Much of the Piltdown Man section is done with orchestra, Oldfield apparently not keen on blowing out his voice like he did in the studio version (he had laryngitis for two weeks as a result). The next section shows him getting in a solo on his trademark double-speed guitar. And yes, the piece concludes with the Sailor's Hornpipe.
Oldfield was flirting with disco back in the 70s as well, as this piece shows. Though the melody is quite Oldfield-like, and it appears that he borrowed a bit from his earlier work, the disco rhythms are a bit of surprise.
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