1973 was relatively light in recorded output from David Bedford, but it brought with it an important performance that marks one of his most fruitful and enduring collaborations. Mike Oldfield’s groundbreaking album Tubular Bells was released in May of that year. The fledgling Virgin Records label could not hope to launch with a better debut release. Bedford was not involved with this album, but he remembers planting musical ideas in the young musician’s head a few years earlier when they were travelling together as members of Kevin Ayers’ band: “He was interested in English classical music so I suggested listening to people like Delius, Elgar and Vaughan Williams, of which you hear quite a bit of in Mike’s second album Hergest Ridge. I also suggested he listen to people like Terry Riley and Philip Glass, which you can hear coming through in the beginning of Tubular Bells.” Mike Oldfield was 17 years of age at the time.
Virgin label head Richard Branson coaxed the introvert and reluctant Oldfield to stage a live performance of Tubular Bells on June 25, 1973 at Queen Elizabeth Hall. Branson had to part with a vehicle in exchange for the show: “On the way, he panicked and suddenly said he couldn’t go on. I had an old tumbledown Bentley and pulled over and said: ‘If I gave you the keys to this Bentley, would you change your mind?’” A wise Oldfield quickly had a change of heart, the show went on, and the reason I am telling you all this is because David Bedford played the piano and acted as choir master.
More on David Bedford’s work with Mike Oldfield soon, but first a few collaborations with another fantastic artist. The beginning of 1974 found David Bedford working on a number of projects with Roy Harper. Signed to Harvest, the same label as Kevin Ayers, Harper shared the bill many times with The Whole World and appreciated Bedford’s contributions as an arranger. For his next album Valentine, he asked Bedford to write an arrangement for the song Twelve Hours of Sunset. Bedford wrote an atmospheric orchestration to match Roy Harper’s dreamy song about air travel between the continents. In an interview to Mojo magazine Bedford said this about the song: “What I really liked about it was this feeling of timelessness and the concept behind the lyric. You obviously weren’t going to have strings rushing around doing semi quavers. So they’re very quiet, rich pads with a few slight discords in them, which the ear doesn’t really notice. The French horns just add a touch of color every so often. I wanted to keep it really simple.”
Valentine was an album of love songs, and what better way to premiere the album than a live gig on valentine day with rock n’ roll royalty? The date is February 14th 1974, the place is The Rainbow theater and we are at a special night with Roy Harper and a one-time backing band he calls “The Intergalactic Elephant Band”. Members of the band include Jimmy Page, Ronnie Lane, Max Middleton, Keith Moon and John Bonham (on Guitar!). They play a few numbers, including ‘Same Old Rock’ and ‘Male Chauvinist Pig Blues’.
More to the point and the subject of this article, Roy Harper performed his song Another Day, originally from his 1970 album Flat Baroque and Berserk, backed by an orchestra conducted by David Bedford. The wonderful song gets a huge lift in this version with a dramatic orchestration by Bedford. A recording of this performance appeared on Roy Harper’s album Flashes From The Archives Of Oblivion later that year:
In December of 1973 the horror film The Exorcist was released, featuring the hypnotic opening motif from Tubular Bells as its theme music, thus sending the album up the charts along with a single featuring a short version of the theme. The unexpected success triggered label founder Richard Branson to make two decisions in 1974, both boosting David Bedford’s career. The first was to keep releasing long instrumental albums, and in addition to Mike Oldfield, who at the time was working on his next album Hergest Ridge, he signed David Bedford to the label. The composer’s passion for astronomy found another outlet, with a composition he originally named “The Heat–Death of the Universe”. The music he wrote was recorded in August 1974 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley, and featured guest appearances by Henry Cow percussionist Chris Cutler, and… you guessed: Mike Oldfield, with a lovely electric guitar solo over the orchestra, and a co-production credit.
While the album has an appeal to progressive rock fans due to David Bedford’s association with the genre and Mike Oldfield’s appearance, it is really a modern, avant-garde classical composition that can be best described as Holst exploring atonality.
Horrified by the idea of releasing an album named ‘The Heat–Death of the Universe’, Branson put the foot down, not wishing to see the word ‘death’ on an album title, and the final title was changed to Star’s End. Here is a segment, with Mike Oldfield on solo guitar:
Branson’s second decision in 1974 was to perform and record an orchestral version of Tubular Bells. Mike Oldfield recalls the circumstances that led Branson to his decision: “He wanted me to go on tour to promote the album and I just wasn’t up to it. I had done this one concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall but he wanted me to tour the world. His answer to that was to make an orchestral version so that the album could tour, played by different orchestras.”
Looking for someone to adapt the album for a performance by an orchestra, Branson looked no farther than David Bedford. This task was right up the talented musician’s alley, and Bedford created a wonderful orchestrated interpretation of the music that was originally all played by Oldfield on multiple instruments. While the structure and melodies remain the same, the orchestral dynamics and instrumentation give the composition a cinematic grandeur, and it is a very valid alternative to the original.
The album was recorded in September 1974 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Bedford as conductor. Mike Oldfield, although not a fan of the project and not involved with the adaptation of his music, overdubbed guitar parts.
A review by Max Bell in the New Musical Express pointed out that “By using the RPO to reproduce each different sound, Bedford manages to convey the natural possibilities in a fluid evolution rather than a conglomeration of effects; as a finished work it makes more complete sense.”
In 1975 the orchestral version was performed at The Royal Albert Hall with Bedford conducting and Steve Hillage on guitar. Here is part 1:
A month before the studio recording of Orchestral Tubular Bells, Mike Oldfield released his second album Hergest Ridge. It was yet another masterpiece, this one more elegiac and reflecting the pastoral surroundings of the area he recently relocated to. During the recording sessions of Orchestral Tubular Bells, Bedford also orchestrated and recorded the music from Hergest Ridge with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, but that recording was never released on an album. However we are lucky for its inclusion in the same live performance from 1975. Here it is:
One more collaboration in 1974 with Mike Oldfield, this one full of humor and whimsical lyrics, a musical facet Bedford loved but did not frequently exposed to the world at large. In October of that year the two musicians recorded the song Don Alfonso, which Bedford recorded a few years back with Lol Coxhill. Kevin Ayers joins on wine bottles, no less, and the cherry on top is the singing, by none other than David Bedford, who also adds harmony vocals, piano and accordion. The whole thing was filmed as a funny vignette film. Michael Palin of Monty Python fame was approached by Richard Branson to play the clumsy Alfonso but unfortunately declined. Benny Hill, whose gags inspired the slapstick style of the video, was also approached, with the same result. Instead we got comedian Larry Martyn, who delivers a worthwhile comic relief:
1975 proved to be another great year for David Bedford, kicking off with a new collaboration, this one with one of my favorite bands of that period, the melodic progressive band Camel. In vogue of that period’s love affair with full length instrumental albums, the band conceived a musical adaptation of Paul Gallico’s novella The Snow Goose. The story of friendship set in World War II with the Dunkirk evacuation as its backdrop was perfect for the wonderful music the band played on that album. David Bedford was hired to write orchestral arrangements for a number of tracks, including a wind quartet on the track Friendship. The band performed a sequence of tunes from the album live at BBC Studios on May 9, 1975, accompanied by a wind quartet for this tune:
Andy Latimer, guitarist, flutist and vocalist for the band, said of Bedford’s work on the album: “His arrangements for the London Symphony Orchestra on The Snow Goose are typically inventive and sympathetic, including a striking wind quartet on Friendship. But mostly the orchestrations are subtly woven into the music. Pete [Bardens, keyboard player with Camel] and I were very happy with David Bedford’s arrangements and I think they worked really well. I wasn’t knowledgeable about such things and it was a bit of an ego boost hearing your music played by an orchestra.”
The album was released in April of 1975, and six months later the complete music was performed by the band and the London Symphony Orchestra, with David Bedford as conductor. He remembers this event fondly: “Camel did a symphonic version of ‘The Snow Goose’ which was very good I thought, and we did it at the Royal Albert Hall with the London Philharmonic and that was pretty hair-raising because the balance was so loud. It was difficult but it came off alright. I thought Camel were great.”
Here is a track from that fantastic night showcasing the orchestra with the band on the dramatic track La Princesse Perdue, performed towards the end of the album.
In 1975 Bedford continued his collaboration with Roy Harper, who released another milestone album in June of that year with HQ. Harper had a stellar backing band at that time with Chris Spedding on guitar, Dave Cochran on bass guitar and Bill Bruford on drums. For the epic track The Game he also invited David Gilmour, John Paul Jones and Steve Broughton. But the crown achievement of that album is the closer track When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease, Roy Harper’s elegy about the game of Cricket. Harper said this about how he wrote the tune: “The song was written in ten minutes – literally. It’s perhaps one of the songs I’m best known for – which is strange, isn’t it? I remember going through it madly writing, thinking – ‘Oh yes, this is the next line – this is the nest line.’ And it was like – ‘This is just notes. I’m taking some really good notes here.’ Then I started playing with it and I came back to it the next day and found that it was written and there was no need to do anything else to it other than practice and learn it. It was one of the quickest songs I ever wrote. Strangely, ‘Another Day’ was also written as quickly.”
Prominently featured on this track is the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, a brass band who achieved fame after appearing in the film Brassed Off. Harper on why he decided to use a brass band on the song: “My childhood memories of the heroic stature of the footballers and cricketers of the day invoke the sounds that went along with them. Paramount among these was the traditional Northern English brass band, which was a functional social component through all four seasons, being seen and heard in many different contexts. My use of that style of music on ‘Old Cricketer’ is a tribute to those distant memories.”
The brass section was written and arranged by David Bedford, who Harper mentioned in the credits: “David Bedford’s first brass arrangement will take a long time to surpass.”
John Peel asked that this song will be played on air after his death.
David Bedford’s next two albums saw him taking a much more profound performer role with a multitude of keyboards and other instruments. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, released in 1975, was his attempt to evoke the mood and atmosphere of certain crucial episodes in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s well-known long poem. Interspersed with readings from the poem by Robert Powell, the compositions feature David Bedford on grand piano, organs, recorder, chimes, flute, violin and gong.
The second side of the album includes a lovely song Bedford arranged based on the traditional sea-shanty ‘The Rio Grande’. It features the Queens College Girls Choir, where Bedford taught at the time, and the distinctive guitar playing of Mike Oldfield.
We come to the last year covered in this article and two more examples of excellent collaborations with Mike Oldfield. The first is a section from David Bedford’s next solo album, another musical interpretation of text, this time tackling The Odyssey, the Greek epic poem by Homer. Andy Summers, just months shy away from joining The Police, is playing on one of the tracks. In October of 1975 Summers played the guitar parts to a performance of Tubular Bells at Newcastle City Hall. The opening act was Last Exit, a band featuring one Gordon Sumner, aka Sting. A history in the making?
The album also brings again Mike Oldfield and the Queens College Girls Choir, this time collaborating on the wonderful atmospheric track Sirens. On this album Bedford is relying heavily on keyboard instruments and synthesizers instead of a real orchestra. His keyboard gear on the album consists of an Arp 2600, Stringman string synthesizer, Fender Rhodes electric piano, Steinway grand piano, clavinet and Hammond organ.
The album was premiered on stage in January of 1977, an event named ‘The greatest keyboard event ever’ for featuring multiple keyboards players. And not just any keyboard players, for the unique event brought together stellar keyboardists Peter Bardens (Camel), Jon Lord (Deep Purple), Dave Stewart (Egg, National Health), Mike Ratledge (Soft Machine), Brian Gascoine (later orchestrator on Scott Walker and David Sylvian albums), Pete Lemer (later with Barbara Thompson’s bands Jubiaba and Paraphernalia). Add to that Neil Ardley, Mike Oldfield, Mireille Bauer of Gong on vibraphone and you have a night to remember.
One last piece of music to close this article, and fittingly I chose another collaboration with Mike Oldfield. With all of David Bedford’s vast recorded output and musical activities over the years, he is still best known for his association with Mike Oldfield. Through this association many listeners less familiar with the modern classical repertoire know of Bedford.
First Excursion was recorded in August of 1976, a duet between the two musicians. While previously the two were guests on each other’s musical projects, this one is unique for being the first piece of music the two actually wrote together. Two months later it appeared on Mike Oldfield 4-LP box set ‘Boxed’ along with extracts from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Odyssey featuring Oldfield.
David Bedford continued to move between the worlds of classical tradition and popular music for the rest of his career. He contributed his orchestrations and arranging skills to the likes of The Jesus and Mary Chain, A-ha, Billy Bragg, Elvis Costello, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Madness, and many others. He also worked as arranger and conductor on film soundtracks, including The Killing Fields, The Mission and Orlando. Summarizing this aspect of his career he said: “I think I was the first crossover musician to come over from the classical side. I remember a fellow classical composer suggesting I should buy an inferior grade of manuscript paper now I was working in rock music. Nowadays everybody’s crossing over all the time.”
Part 1 of this article:
If you enjoyed reading this article, you may also like this about an album David Bedford was involved in: