I have loved Mike Oldfield’s music for almost as long as I can remember – one of my earliest musical memories was my father playing Tubular Bells in the early 1980s. That music transported my young imagination to somewhere else entirely. However, I didn’t properly delve into Oldfield's musical world until the release of Tubular Bells II in late 1992.
I spent the following decade gradually discovering his back catalogue, which would ultimately inspire my own instrumental music. Discovering his 1994 album The Songs of Distant Earth was a particular turning point for me, clearly linking this fantastical music with my love of science fiction and reading Arthur C. Clarke.
However, it wasn't until the summer of 2007 that I discovered a whole new meaning and significance to Oldfield's work, whilst I was lazing in the Andalusian mountains, reading his autobiography Changeling and listening to his music. Not only did I gain a new understanding of Mike’s work through reading about his personal journey, but playing my favourite Oldfield albums in such a wonderful environment (which I've previously blogged about) made me appreciate just how in-tune with nature and emotions his music is.
I've always associated Mike Oldfield's music with the natural world; forestry, clouds and the evolving landscape of changing seasons. Ommadawn was one such album that always reminds me of a journey through changing landscapes, and that often mystical quality you only find whilst roaming through the countryside at certain times of year.
So last year, when Oldfield announced Return to Ommadawn – and a return to his 1970s way of working – I knew this new album wouldn't disappoint… and it hasn't.
Return to Ommadawn is more than just a return to the musical landscape of his original 1975 album, but a return to a certain mind frame and 20-minute long tracks, which were among the things that made Oldfield's early albums so different.
But on my first listen, I returned to more than just Ommadawn – this new composition has plenty in common with Hergest Ridge, Amarok, QE2, Voyager and of course, Tubular Bells (right down to the Helvetica font in orange on the cover!). In fact, if you were to add a few vinyl crackles and scratches, Return to Ommadawn could easily sound as if it were an unreleased album from that iconic early part of Oldfield's career.
Return to Ommadawn is one of those albums that requires a few attentive listens to appreciate. There's so much to explore that it takes a little time before the different sections really start to emerge. Over the course of the last week, I soon found myself waking up with different parts going round my head – an early but clear indication that this would be an album I’ll be ranking alongside my favourites.
I have often had seasonal associations with certain albums, and from that point of view, Return to Ommadawn perfectly matches the chilly wintry month in which it was released – but I look forward to listening to how it sounds as we reach the Spring and colours and foliage begin to return.
By coincidence at the same point in time, I have found myself returning to the rural town where I grew up. Walking around this old familiar place with Return to Ommadawn playing on my iPod gelled perfectly – walking down paths I hadn’t taken in over 20 years, wading through the church yard, or past the library where I first rented The Songs of Distant Earth on cassette (remember those?!), it all seemed to come together perfectly. This is a reminder of the personal and individual relationships we all have with music – and this is what a great album can be all about.
In returning to a style of music that he hasn’t visited in some time, Oldfield has proven his decade-spanning relevance, influence and individuality. For many people, these long two-track albums are quintessential Oldfield, and Return to Ommadawn certainly delivers all of this and more.