tubular bells stage set up at milton keynes

Tubular Bells 50th anniversary tour – Milton Keynes theatre

Apart from Classical Music concerts, I don’t think I’ve ever been to the theatre to watch a ‘gig’ or more performance style concert. But I couldn’t resist buying a ticket for Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells 50th Anniversary stour for the Milton Keynes Theatre show. I’ve started looking for stalls tickets rather than my usual circle. I reckon I’ve now found my favourite seat so will be trying to book that area in future!

Why Tubular Bells?  It’s not really something that someone my age would necessarily know as it was released in 1973 before I was born. As I explained to the older couple in the seats next to me, it was one of the musical pieces we listened and studied as part of our music GCSE lessons.

Then Tubular Bells 2 and 3 were released which I had on CD, so I used to play those a lot too.  I reckon my mum had the original on record. 

The fact that it’s a 50th anniversary show meant that the average age of the audience was definitely at least 15 years (if not more) older than me.  And a very different audience to that of my visit to see Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet the previous week.  But our row of 6 seats were all quite chatty before the show started.

And most importantly, noone near me was eating throughout the show as they were all engrossed in the show. Noone was chatting throughout. It was all very civilised.

Tubular Bells is a largely instrumental creation, with a couple of songs thrown in. The stage is full of instruments, but only 8 musicians (plus 1 guitar tech who was switching over the players’ guitars for them – there were a lot of guitars played by 2 musicians, so he was kept busy).

The show has been created from the original music by Robin Smith who’s worked with Mike Oldfield, the composer) for years. It really is a stunning sound they create. And as haunting music as I remember from listening to it years ago.

tubular bells stage set up at milton keynes

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The lighting was good. Very simple, just different colours or lights, with some dry ice smoke moments (I felt for the 2 percussionists who must end up with very dry throats by the end of the performances). If you’re sitting in the stalls, watch out though, you’ll likely end up with lights directly in your face at some point in the show.

I love watching musicians play. The intricacies of each part of the music, how the sounds gel together.  Not forgetting seeing how much they enjoy playing music together and performing. And of course the logistics of electronic instruments, having to adjust the sound levels by the foot pedals throughout.

The solo female singer Lisa Featherston  sounded quite Kate Bush-esque. She was also the bass player, and you could see how much she was enjoying it.

The younger guitar player was so good on the Spanish guitar. I lost count how many guitars he played over the evening.

While Jay Stapley, the main solo electric guitar player, seemed very unassuming and casual, but made the instrument really sing. He also sang one of the songs, which showed off quite a bluesy voice I wasn’t expecting.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an electric cello so that was interesting to hear.

My favourite is watching the percussionists – especially the one playing the timpani.  He certainly got through the instruments. It made me want to be up there playing the tambourine and triangle!

I really enjoyed the show. At the end we even had an encore of the Hornpipe – think Last Night of the Proms with the clapping but minus the flags and bobbing up and down.

The reviews I’ve read since going seem a little mixed. But if you just let the music wash over you, and you’re not thinking like a critic you’ll enjoy the show as much as I did. The remaining dates for the Tubular Bells 50th Anniversary Tour can be found over at the Mike Oldfield website or tickets can be bought on ATG.

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