Hifi Pig’s John Scott recently caught up with Tubular Bells For Two’s Danny Holdsworth in advance of their UK tour.

Hifi Pig: Ok, the name of your band is Tubular Bells For Two. For anyone who hasn’t heard of you before, how many are in the band and what music do you perform?

Danny: Well, as the name suggests, there are two of us, and we perform Mike Oldfield’s classic album, Tubular Bells. It’s essentially a crazy theatrical show where the two of us run around like headless chooks juggling 20 instruments at once.

Hifi Pig: Thanks for clearing that up. It seems like a pretty mad idea, how did it come about?

Danny: Aidan and I are both big record collectors, and a favourite pastime of ours is to get together and listen to our latest finds over a couple of drinks. Back in 2008, Aidan found an original copy of Tubular Bells, which neither of us had heard in quite a while. As we revisited it, we found it fascinating, so we decided to have a bit of jam on it.

There’s a famous section at the end of side one, where a bass riff repeats for about 8 minutes whilst Viv Stanshall from The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band announces a procession of instruments, which then play the main theme. You get, ‘grand piano’, ‘reed and pipe organ’, ‘glockenspiel’, and so on and so on, until you finally get, ‘plus… tubular bells!’.

Now we had most of these instruments lying around, plus, Aidan had just bought a loop pedal, which were fairly new toys back then. So we decided to loop the bass riff, then run around and play all the instruments. And from that tipsy jam, the idea was formed to try and attack the whole album with just the two of us. Just for fun.

When we first performed it we thought that would be the end of it. But soon after we got invited to the Edinburgh Fringe to perform it, where we instantly sold-out and won a string of awards. I think the show really fit the fringe well, because, while we’re serious about the music, the situation we’re in is comical and the task we have to pull off is almost acrobatic. So the show is incredible tense.

Hifi Pig: You were last in the UK a couple of years ago, what’s been happening in the world of Tubular Bells For Two since then?

Danny: We’ve been quite busy since our last UK trip. I have been recording an album with my new band, Darks Common Underground. We’ve just released a single, and the album is due out later this year. Aidan’s band, Belles Will Ring, released some new stuff at the start of the year. He’s also been doing a lot of graphic illustration work. Plus, every 6 months or so, we get asked to play Tubular Bells… again. So we’ve been touring the show down under a bit.

Hifi Pig: The big news, of course, is that Aidan is taking a break for a while and you have a new bandmate. Where did you find Tom?

Danny: Yeah, that certainly is the big news. Look, when we started this project we were in our twenties. We were young ad pretty free. But, obviously, now we’re older and have more commitments, especially when it comes to family, and that can make it difficult to spend months on end on the other side of the world. So for the time being, Aidan is stepping down from touring. But promoters keep inviting us to perform the show, and we regularly get messages on social media. So we thought it would be great to see how it would work with a new performer in the mix. As it turns out, we found the right guy, Tom.

We’ve known Tom for quite a while. We all come from the Blue Mountains, which is just outside of Sydney. So we’ve played in bands together over the years. Tom was actually playing on the album I was working on this year, so we comfortable working together musically. It just made sense for him to take it on.

Aidan is still a creative director of the project. We have both been involved with training Tom, and obviously it is still our arrangement.

Hifi Pig: Was there maybe a microsecond when you thought: “Hmm, Tubular Bells For One – that’s got a ring to it”?

Danny: (Laughs) It’d certainly save money on hotels and airfares.

Hifi Pig: You and Aidan have honed your performance over almost 10 years now to the point where it seems like there is a musical telepathy between you. Has Tom’s arrival made you rethink how you approach your performance?

Danny: Aidan and I had arranged the performance around each of our strengths, and no two musicians are the same. Se we did have to rework some of the sections and figure out new ways to achieve the performance. It’s actually been quite refreshing. The show relies heavily on an underlying tension that it can fall apart at any moment. Over the years Aidan and I have become, I won’t say comfortable, but more at ease with the performance. With Tom coming on board there is a new sense of risk. Its quite exciting.

Also, we developed the show with technology from ten years ago, and things have changed quite a bit since then. So we have been able to rethink a few technical elements, which has given us the opportunity to add some tiny details we have always wanted to have in there.

Hifi Pig: As well as having to learn the musical parts, there is a kind of choreography – for want of a better word – required to get from one instrument to another. Has Tom brought any new dance moves with him?

Danny: Choreography is definitely the right word. You don’t just have to arrange the musical parts, you have to have a well planned out structure of how every limb needs to move in order to combine all the different parts. Play a note with your left hand on a piano, then press a footswitch with your right foot, then hit a drum with your left foot while you change from an electric guitar to an acoustic guitar with your right hand.

Hifi Pig: Every other artist I can think of has some sort of repertoire that they can use to change up a performance or tour. You, pretty uniquely I think, play the same piece of music every time. Has that taught you anything profound about yourself?

Danny: I approach it like playing a role in a play or musical. Every night you have to do the same piece, and every night you have to find something in it that enables you to give a performance that is fresh and engaging. It also helps that this particular performance is such a challenge, I don’t think we have ever played it perfectly, and there’s a drive in wanting to get it right that keeps you going.

Hifi Pig: Muscle memory – a blessing or a curse?

In this, muscle memory is everything. The performance is so complex, you need to trust that your body knows what to do. The second you start thinking about it, everything starts to get unstuck. Its a great exercise in being in the moment.

Hifi Pig: After playing it so often, you probably have a better musical understanding of Tubular Bells than anyone else, apart from maybe Mike Oldfield, obviously. Why do you think it has such an enduring appeal?

Danny: I get asked this a lot. I think there’s two main factors. One is that the piece doesn’t take the listener for granted. In a world where so much music is designed to fit within a market, Tubular Bells forces you to listen, to engage with it. Which leads me to the second point, and that is the structure of the work. It has an arc akin to great film, or classical work, yet the album has many musical styles within it that have a popular sentiment. So while it references familiar sounds, it takes you on an hour-long journey, that has a beginning, a middle, an end. It’s sincere, its funny, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but most of all, it offers you a thorough immersive experience.

Hifi Pig: This will be the first time I will have seen you with a support act. Were they familiar with Tubular Bells at all before they joined the tour?

Danny: (Laughs) Yes, we’re really excited to be sharing the stage with Gypsyfingers this tour. For people in the know, one of their band members is Luke Oldfield, son of Mike. Luke also played Tubular Bells in Mike’s band at the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony. So, obviously, there’s a nice connection there. But, the main thing here is that Gyspsyfingers are a great folk band in their own right. Blood-links aside, their music is has nothing to do with Mike. We’ve just gotten in contact with each other recently and thought it would be a great experience touring together.

John Scott


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