Mike Oldfield (born May 15, 1953) is an English composer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist with a career in music dating back to the late 1960s. Musically, his output is comprised of lengthy (often side-length or album-length) instrumental works with the occasional vocal track. Stylistically, his music has evolved from the classical/Celt-tinged angle of his early recordings to the broadened, modernized framework of his later chart successes.
He first emerged at age 15 as half of the folk duo The Sallyangie with his older sister Sally Oldfield. In 1973, he signed with then-fledgling Virgin Records and released the two-sided instrumental suite Tubular Bells, which would go on to become one of the highest selling albums ever in the UK. Three albums followed in a similar vein over the next half-decade, culminating with 1978’s four-sided Incantations.
Starting with 1979’s Platinum, he began splitting his albums between side-long instrumentals and vocal sides, a trend continued across most of his ’80s-era longplayers. Ex-Cado Belle front-woman Maggie Reilly was his primary vocalist during this period, most notably on the UK hits “Family Man,” “Five Miles Out,” and “Moonlight Shadow.”
Mike Oldfield was born on May 15, 1953, in Reading, Berkshire, to an English father (Dr. Raymond Oldfield) and an Irish mother (nurse Maureen née Liston). He was the youngest of three surviving children; a fourth succumbed to SIDS when Mike was seven. He took up guitar as a tween and swiftly self-learned songs by his folk idols Bert Jansch and John Renbourn.
When Mike was 15, his older sister Sally (b. 1947) suggested they form a duo. After demoing tracks under the scrutiny of Mick Jagger, they named their act Sallyangie, a portmanteau of Sally’s name and the title to Mike’s favorite Jansch song, “Angie.”
Sallyangie gigged on both sides of the English Channel and scored a deal with Transatlantic Records, which issued their singular album Children of the Sun in 1969. It features 10 proper songs, all penned by the pair, including “A Lover for All Seasons,” “Lady Mary,” “Midsummer Night’s Happening,” and “Chameleon.” The album also features two short interludes and the prelude/postlude “Strangers.” The 43-minute set was produced by label-head Nathan Joseph.
After Sallyangie folded, Mike auditioned for the bass slot in Family, recently vacated by Ric Grech (now in Blind Faith). He then formed the short-lived folk combo Barefoot with his flautist brother Terry (b. 1949).
In 1970, Oldfield successfully auditioned for The Whole World, the backing band of ex-Soft Machine singer/guitarist Kevin Ayers. Mike played bass on Ayers’ second and third solo albums, Shooting at the Moon (1970) and Whatevershebringswesing (1971). Both albums were recorded at Abbey Road Studios, where Oldfield took time to learn as many instruments as possible, including harpsichord and Mellotron. On the eponymous 1971 third album by the Edgar Broughton Band, Oldfield plays mandolin on the track “Thinking of You.” Also that year, he did a 10-week stint as the pit-band guitarist for the Shaftesbury Theatre staging of Hair.
In the summer of 1971, Oldfield conceived a long-form piece with the working title “Opus One.” He shopped it around to various labels to no avail. Ultimately, his demo was heard by ex-July singer Tom Newman, the engineer at Manor Studios, owned by the young businessman Richard Branson. After Newman passed Branson the tapes, Branson gave Oldfield a free week of studio time, which Oldfield used to complete the first half of what became Tubular Bells.
- Tubular Bells (1973)
- Hergest Ridge (1974)
- Ommadawn (1975)
- Incantations (1978)
- Platinum (1979)
- QE2 (1980)
- Five Miles Out (1982)
- Crises (1983)
- Discovery (1984)
- The Killing Fields (1984)
- Islands (1987)
- Earth Moving (1989)
- Amarok (1990)
- Heaven’s Open (1991)
- Tubular Bells II (1992)
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