Tubular Bells for Two at the Edinburgh Fringe

If you’re unfamiliar with “Tubular Bells” – it’s a 45 minute spectacular semi-orchestral instrumental piece that pushed the boundaries of what was possible to record i

If you’re unfamiliar with “Tubular Bells” – it’s a 45 minute spectacular semi-orchestral instrumental piece that pushed the boundaries of what was possible to record in the early 70s by a man named Mike Oldfield.

Oldfield was discovered by Tom Newman – a sound engineer who was building Richard Branson’s new recording studio, who convinced the great beardie to let him have some studio time. There’s around 20 instruments, with the vast majority played by Oldfield himself. This makes “For Two” seem somewhat unremarkable – except that they’re played simultaneously. To record the album, one instrument’s part would be played, then the tape would be rewound and the next instrument’s part would be played over the top.

Who would be daft to play the album non-stop?

Now, given the long and complicated method of recording the album, who would be daft enough to try and play the entire album non-stop, in front of 300 people?

Enter Daniel Holdsworth and Aidan Roberts. The Aussie duo artfully recreate Oldfield’s masterpiece on a cramped, hot stage in the University of Edinburgh’s Reid Concert Hall. The stage setting lacks somewhat aesthetically, with the pair surrounded by keyboards and guitars, microphones above their heard, controls for recording and playing back the piece’s many ostinatos beneath their feet.

But who cares? It’s all about the music.

Oh no, it’s not all about the music

In fact, it’s not all about the music. As many other review have stated, the performance is a sight to behold. A particular highlight is watching Holdsworth play two keyboards whilst manipulating a control with his toes.

The actual performance takes almost an hour, around one third longer than the album, due to the requirement to create a live backing track to allow them to free up their hands to play more instruments. That, and the brief pause between the two parts of the piece: “Ladies and gentlemen, please bear with us whilst we turn over the record.”

The technical genius of the original and musicians

Despite the great skill obviously possessed by Holdsworth and Roberts, there have been a few small alterations which, far from taking away from the quality of the performance, improve it by highlighting the technical genius of both the original and the musicians.

The climax of the performance is the rendition of the Sailor’s Hornpipe. A progressively faster piece played on two guitars with both performers standing. You can practically see the sweat dripping down their faces as they play a note perfect sea song. It’s incredibly difficult no to clap along in time to the jaunty wee tune.

Highly recommended

In case you haven’t twigged already, it is highly recommended that you go along for this oracular spectacular if you get the opportunity. Yes, the tickets cost £15, but it’s not to be sniffed at – as indicated by the fact that most performances sell out.

Your best bet to secure a ticket is to buy online from the Edinburgh Fringe website since it’s unlikely many tickets will be available on the day. Programmes are available from the venue for a very reasonable £1, and double up as a make shift fan.

On that note, bring a bottle of water too – it’s very hot in there. But at least be there!

“Tubular Bells for Two” – The Cowbarn (aka Reid Concert Hall), 5.45pm daily until 26 August.

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