The Tubular Bells composer on carnival in the Bahamas, nostalgic pleasures on Netflix and the influence of Mick Jagger’s record collection
Mike Oldfield made his name as a musician and composer with the multi-instrumental 1973 album Tubular Bells, which enjoyed a 279-week stint in the UK album charts and, as the label’s first release, played a significant role in launching Virgin Records. Known for blending progressive rock, folk and classical music, Oldfield also had hits with his version of the Christmas carol In dulci jubilo in 1975 and Moonlight Shadow in 1983. He received a Grammy award after Tubular Bells was used in the film The Exorcist (1973) and later picked up a Bafta nomination for his score to the 1984 film The Killing Fields. Born in Reading, Oldfield now lives in the Bahamas and, over the course of his 40-year career, has collaborated with artists including Bonnie Tyler, Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers. His latest album, Man on the Rocks, is released on 3 March.
Ths is a bohemian carnival they have every Christmas and New Year [in the Bahamas]. In the middle of the night, on Boxing Day, the whole island goes to Nassau dressed in these incredible costumes with a brass band playing – they make a hell of a noise! It doesn’t start until about one o’clock in the morning and it finishes around mid-morning the next day. It’s like the Bahamas’ version of the Rio carnival. I look at it from a musical point of view; the drums are fantastic, straight out of the heart of Africa.
Book: Branson: Behind the Mask by Tom Bower
I’m looking forward to reading this. It’s not that I’m looking for something nasty about Richard… I’m always fascinated by him. Richard and I have had our ups and downs, but he remains a good friend – he was over here a few weeks ago at my local school, where they were performing a version of Tubular Bells. I’m fascinated by how he makes things work, how he gets incredible projects off the ground and how he can possibly have managed to start the first commercial space venture. Tom Bower is renowned for taking a negative view, but I’ve had my share of bad reviews too.
I’ve been trawling through all my favourite childhood movies on Netflix, watching the films I used to go and see with my dad at the local cinema in Reading when I was about 10. We saw the first James Bond film, Dr No, starring Sean Connery, Ben-Hur with Charlton Heston, The Guns of Navarone and very early Peter Sellers films – 60s movies, I suppose. I’ve also watched some of the latest films on Netflix, [including] Blue Jasmine – I was so enthralled by that movie. Life is really like that; Woody Allen doesn’t paint a rosy picture. People do go out of their minds like that.
You can’t fish in this protected area and all the reefs are left to develop in their natural way. It’s an astonishing place… there are hardly any people at all. The sea life is protected because the seas are overfished and even creatures like sharks are becoming endangered. It’s a bit of a hike to get there – it takes two hours by boat and you have to wait for the right weather because [the Bahamas] is a hurricane area. The last thing you want is to be out in a boat during one of those.
Music: Early blues
The only music I’ve been interested in during the last two years is early blues music – back to the 1930s, and [artists such as] Muddy Waters, as well as many who weren’t famous at all. My sister Sally was a friend of Marianne Faithfull – they were at St Joseph’s convent school together – and I remember once I went to see her. She was living with Mick Jagger in his apartment in Chelsea at the time, and all he had were these blues records. I picked up on that for my latest album… I tried to start playing in that vein to get the feeling of the beginnings of rock’n’roll – where it all started, all those years ago.
I get a lot of visitors here, which isn’t surprising because I say, “Why don’t you come and visit, spend a couple of weeks here?” – and they’re not going to say no, especially in the winter! I’ve got this app called FlightAware and I like to “watch” them taking off when they’re coming across the Atlantic, past Bermuda. The app shows a little plane scooting across the screen, very slowly. When they go home, I always watch the plane coming into London Heathrow and, without fail, it never lands straight away. It starts going round and round in the holding pattern and I try and guess, looking at the FlightAware app, how many times they’re going to go round before they actually come in to land.