Performance review: Tubular Bells for Two, Arts Centre Melbourne

The seminal album as played by two blokes with over 20 instruments.

The subtitle of this show is a misnomer. Yes, the tubular bells are there, in pride of place in the centre of the stage, all shimmery and shiny, but they are surrounded by at least 20 other odd instruments, so the subtitle is a more accurate indication of what’s in store: ‘One album. Two men. Too many instruments.’

This final tour around Australia marks the 50th anniversary of the multi award-winning album Tubular Bells, created by British musician Mike Oldfield (who was only 17 at the time) and produced on Richard Branson’s then newly created Virgin Records. It went on to sell over 40 million copies and the opening theme was used in the soundtrack of the film The Exorcist.

In this show, Daniel Holdsworth and Tom Bamford (who took over from Aidan Roberts in 2017) recreate the album live, only taking a short break before playing “Side B” in this hour-long production. If you closed your eyes you’d swear there were at least five people on stage, but half the fun is watching these nimble-fingered, multi-skilled musos juggle so many instruments, which include various types of strings, keys and woodwind: keyboards; electric, Spanish and acoustic guitars; mandolin; percussion; drums; glockenspiel; loop pedals; synthesisers; mixers and, of course, the golden tubular bells. Holdsworth and Bamford play standing up, they play sitting down, they rush around the assembled instruments trying not to trip over the many cords that wind like snakes on the stage floor.

After touring with over 500 shows across 20 different countries, there surely must be muscle memory involved, but the nature of Tubular Bells for Two means that no two performances would be exactly the same; all it would take is random improvisation for the album to sound slightly different. As to the music, it varies from folksy melodies to full-on rock ‘n’ roll riffs (with accompanying red pulsing lights).

Read: Theatre review, Death of a Salesman, Her Majesty’s Theatre

Tubular Bells for Two is pure exhilarating entertainment. Its short Melbourne run is unfortunately over but try and catch it as it makes its way around the country. It’ll be your last chance.

Tubular Bells for Two
Music: Mike Oldfield
Arrangement: Daniel Holdsworth and Aidan Roberts
Performers: Daniel Holdsworth and Tom Bamford

Tubular Bells for Two was performed at Arts Centre Melbourne from 8-9 September. It will be touring across Australia.

Thuy On is the Reviews and Literary Editor of ArtsHub and an arts journalist, critic and poet who’s written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Age/SMH and Australian Book Review. She was the books editor of The Big issue for 8 years. Her debut, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was released by University of Western Australia Publishing (UWAP). Her second collection, Decadence, was published in July 2022, also by UWAP. Her third book, Essence, will be published in 2025. Twitter: @thuy_on Instagram: poemsbythuy