Brother of Terry Oldfield and Sally Oldfield.
Oldfield's career began fairly early, playing acoustic guitar in local folk clubs. At this time, he already had two fifteen-minute instrumental pieces in which he would "go through all sorts of moods", a precursor to his landmark 1970s compositions. In his early teens, Oldfield was involved in a 'beat group' playing Shadows-style music (he has often cited Hank Marvin as a major influence, and would later cover The Shadows' song "Wonderful Land"). In 1967 he and his sister Sally formed the folk duo The Sallyangie and were signed to Transatlantic Records after exposure in the local folk scene. An album, Children of the Sun, was issued in 1968. After Sallyangie disbanded, he formed another duo with his brother Terry, called Barefoot, which took him back to rock music.
In 1970 he joined The Whole World - backing group to vocalist Kevin Ayers, formerly of the Soft Machine - playing bass guitar and occasionally lead guitar. The band also included keyboardist and composer David Bedford, who quickly befriended Oldfield, and encouraged him in his composition of an early version of Tubular Bells. Bedford would later arrange and conduct an orchestral version of that album. Oldfield is featured on two Ayers albums, Whatevershebringswesing and Shooting at the Moon.
Having recorded a demo version of Tubular Bells, Oldfield attempted to persuade record labels to take the project on. In 1972 he met the young Richard Branson who was setting up his own record label, Virgin Records, and after playing the demo to engineers Tom Newman and Simon Heyworth, he began recording the 1973 version of the album.
Tubular Bells became Oldfield's most famous work. The instrumental composition was recorded in 1972 and launched on 25 May 1973 as the inaugural album of Richard Branson's Virgin Records label. The album was groundbreaking, as Oldfield played more than twenty different instruments in the multi-layered recording made in Branson's Manor studios, and its style moved through many diverse musical genres. Its 2,630,000 UK sales put it at No.34 on the list of the best selling albums in the UK. In the US, it received attention with the opening theme appearing in the soundtrack to The Exorcist. The title track subsequently became a Top 10 hit single in the US as well and is today considered to be a forerunner of the New Age movement. In 1974, Oldfield played guitar on the critically acclaimed album Rock Bottom by Robert Wyatt. In the autumn of 1974, the follow-up LP, Hergest Ridge, was No.1 in the UK for three weeks before being dethroned by Tubular Bells. Although Hergest Ridge was released over a year after Tubular Bells, it reached No.1 first. Tubular Bells spent 11 weeks (10 of them consecutive) at No.2 before its one week at the top. In 1979, Oldfield's music was used as the musical score for The Space Movie, a Virgin movie that celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission.
Like Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge is a two-movement instrumental piece, this time evoking scenes from Oldfield's Herefordshire country retreat. It was followed in 1975 by the pioneering world music piece Ommadawn, and 1978's Incantations which introduced more diverse choral performances from Sally Oldfield, Maddy Prior, and the Queen's College Girls Choir. In 1975 Oldfield recorded a version of the Christmas piece "In Dulci Jubilo" which charted at number four in the UK. Oldfield's 1976 rendition of "Portsmouth" remains his highest charting single on the UK Singles Chart, reaching number three.
In 1975, Oldfield received a Grammy award for Best Instrumental Composition in "Tubular Bells – Theme from The Exorcist". In 1979, he recorded a version of the signature tune of the popular British Children's Television programme, Blue Peter, which was used by the show for 10 years
The early 1980s saw Oldfield make a transition to mainstream pop music, beginning with the inclusion of shorter instrumental tracks and contemporary cover versions on Platinum and QE2 (the latter named after the ocean liner). Soon afterwards he turned to songwriting, with a string of collaborations featuring various lead vocalists alongside his characteristic searing guitar solos. The best known of these is "Moonlight Shadow", his 1983 hit with Maggie Reilly. The most successful Oldfield composition on the US pop charts during this period was actually a cover version — Hall & Oates's remake of Oldfield's "Family Man" for their 1982 album H2O. Released as the album's third single, it hit the Top 10 during the spring of 1983 and was a hugely popular MTV music video.
Oldfield later turned to film and video, writing the score for Roland Joffè's acclaimed film The Killing Fields and producing substantial video footage for his album Islands. Islands continued what Oldfield had been doing on the past couple of albums, with an instrumental piece on one side and rock/pop singles on the other. Of these, "Islands", sung by Bonnie Tyler and "Magic Touch", with vocals by Max Bacon (in the U.S. version) and Glasgow vocalist Southside Jimmy (in other versions), were the major hits. In the U.S., the Virgin America airline promoted the song "Magic Touch" to a large extent, making it a success, reaching the top 10 on the Billboard album rock charts. During the 1980s, Oldfield's then-wife, Norwegian singer Anita Hegerland, contributed vocals to many songs including "Pictures in the Dark".
Earth Moving was released in July 1989, and was a moderate success. The album was the first to exclusively feature rock/pop songs, several of which were released: "Innocent" and "Holy" in Europe, and "Hostage" in the USA for album rock stations. This was, however, a time of much friction with his record label. Virgin Records reportedly insisted that any future instrumental album should be billed as Tubular Bells 2. Oldfield's rebellious response was Amarok, an hour-long work featuring rapidly changing themes (supposedly devised to make cutting a single from the album impossible), unpredictable bursts of noise, and a very cleverly hidden Morse code insult directed at Richard Branson. Although regarded by many fans as his greatest work, it was not a commercial success. His parting shot from the Virgin label was Heaven's Open, which continued the veiled attacks on Branson but was notable for being the first time Oldfield had contributed all the lead vocals himself. It was the only album he released under the name 'Michael Oldfield'.
The very first thing Oldfield did when arriving at his new label, Warner Bros., was to write and release Tubular Bells II, the sequel to his first record on Virgin, as his final insult to his former label. It was premiered at a live concert at Edinburgh Castle. He then continued to embrace new musical styles, with The Songs of Distant Earth (based on Arthur C. Clarke's novel of the same name) exhibiting a softer "New Age" sound. In 1994 he also had an asteroid named after him, 5656 Oldfield.
In 1995 Oldfield further continued to embrace new musical styles by producing a Celtic-themed album, Voyager. In 1992 Oldfield met Luar Na Lubre, a Galician Celtic-folk band (from A Coruña, Spain). The band's popularity grew after Oldfield covered their song "O son do ar" ("The sound of the air") on his Voyager album.
In 1998 he produced the third Tubular Bells album (also premiered at a concert, this time in Horse Guards Parade, London), drawing from the dance music scene at his then new home on the island of Ibiza. This album was still inspired by themes from Tubular Bells.
During 1999 Oldfield released two albums. The first, Guitars, used guitars as the source for all the sounds on the album, including percussion. The second, The Millennium Bell, consisted of pastiches of a number of styles of music that represented various historical periods over the past millennium. The work was performed live in Berlin for the city's millennium celebrations in 1999–2000.
He added to his repertoire the MusicVR project, combining his music with a virtual reality-based computer game. His first work on this project is Tr3s Lunas launched in 2002, a virtual game where the player can interact with a world full of new music. This project appeared as a double CD, one with the music, and the other with the game.
In 2003 he released Tubular Bells 2003, a re-recording of the original Tubular Bells, on CD, and DVD-Audio. This was done to "fix" many "imperfections" in the original due to the recording technologies of the early 1970s and limitations in time that he could spend in the recording studio. It celebrated the 30th anniversary of Tubular Bells, Oldfield's 50th birthday and his marriage to Fanny in the same year. At around the same time Virgin released an SACD version containing both the original stereo album and the 1975 quadraphonic mix by Phil Newell. In the 2003 version, the original voice of the 'Master of Ceremonies' (Vivian Stanshall) was replaced by the voice of John Cleese.
His autobiography Changeling was published in May 2007 by Virgin Books. In March 2008 Oldfield released his first classical album, Music of the Spheres; Karl Jenkins assisted with the orchestration. In the first week of release the album topped the UK Classical chart and reached number 9 on the main UK Album Chart. A single, "Spheres", featuring a demo version of pieces from the album was released digitally. The album was nominated for a Classical Brit Award, the NS&I Best Album of 2009.
In 2008 when Oldfield's original 35-year deal with Virgin Records ended, the rights to Tubular Bells and his other Virgin releases were returned to him, and then they were transferred to Mercury Records. Mercury issued a press release on 15 April 2009, noting that Oldfield's Virgin albums would be re-released, starting 8 June 2009. These releases include special features from the archives. On 6 June 2009, an International Bell Ringing day took place, to promote the reissue of his first album, Tubular Bells. The next two albums were reissued in June 2010 along with the launch of a new official web site.
Mike Oldfield Discography
- 10 Remix
- 25 Vocals
- 111 Instruments & Performance
- 677 Writing & Arrangement
- 13 Featuring & Presenting
- 10 Conducting & Leading
- 174 Production
- 58 Technical
- 6 Visual
- 2 Acting, Literary & Spoken
- 4 Management