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Rob Reed: "Half of Mike Oldfield’s fans think I’m a saviour!"

With his Sanctuary series, Rob Reed takes inspiration from Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. So much so that for part two he asked Oldfield collaborators Simon Phillips and Tom Newman to join hi

It’s the worst thing about being a fan: your heroes will always disappoint you.

They want to move on, you’re desperate for another dose of the high that first got you hooked. They probably don’t even fully understand what people love most about their music, and are happy to leave that essence behind. You understand it completely, and can’t bear to see it slip from their grasp.

So what’s the solution? Well, one option is to make the music you’d like your heroes to make, all by yourself.

In 2014, Rob Reed took that idea and ran with it. In the shape of Sanctuary, he made an instrumental album inspired, informed and intoxicated by Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, but taking its emotional journey, its sonic textures and its over-arching feel as a template for his own original instrumental album.

It was a highly invigorating musical journey in its own right, one that might have closely echoed the sonic textures of that 1973 opus, but which succeeded in transporting you to a self-contained musical landscape that was essentially a non-identical twin town, with a character and charm all of its own.

Not that approval was universal. Given the apparent audacity of Reed’s project, and the repainting-the-Sistine-Chapel sacrilege that some inevitably saw it as, Reed needed a thick skin to soak up some of the criticism. “Among Mike Oldfield fans, it splits people down the middle,” he tells us during a break from recording in his South Wales studio.
“I can’t help reading the comments online, and it seems one half of them think I’m the saviour of this type of music and the other half think I’m the Devil’s work and I shouldn’t meddle with it!”

In truth, like any sensitive artist, he over-estimates the level of criticism and underestimates the love – a brief survey on our part estimates the love-hate ratio to be more like 80-20 among Oldfieldites. And here at Prog, there’s no doubting which way our critical thumbs are facing.

Either way, Reed enjoyed the experience of making Sanctuary so much that he’s done it again. But having pulled off the experiment and, arguably, made his point with the first record, and given the rumours currently surfacing that Oldfield himself is working on Ommadawn II (and has of course sequelled Tubular Bells more than once), cynics might ask why we need a tribute act reinventing Oldfield’s sound when the man himself may be about to do the same?

“Ah, that word tribute,” Reed groans. “For me, that’s definitely not what it is. It’s not meant to be a rehash, or a pastiche. It’s not a cheap imitation, or a fanboy thing created in someone’s bedroom. These are stand-alone records with all real instruments in a proper recording studio. They’re proper albums that I wanted people to take seriously and judge on their own merits.”

The key for Reed is in the aforementioned distinction ‘this type of music’. While he has never sought to hide the huge Oldfield-shaped shadow in which this music was made, for him it’s a genre of music that he’s channelling, rather than paying specific ‘tribute’ to anything or anyone. In the same way as anyone playing funk music owes a heavy debt to James Brown, and bluesmen can always trace their fretmarks back to Robert Johnson, Reed is working from a long-established musical blueprint. The difference is that it’s a genre that never really bore much in the way of artistic offspring at the time. Oldfield’s startlingly original blend of longform, instrumental, progressive, electric, freeform, classically influenced celtic folk rock – let’s just call it ‘tubular prog’ – swept the living rooms and music centres of the globe over the months and years following its release, but it didn’t seem to filter that noticeably into that much of the music that followed.

“After Oldfield, no one else really made this kind of music any more,” Reed points out. “He moved onto more pop stuff, but no one has really made a record like (Tubular Bells) since then. The closest thing was Jean-Michel Jarre and Vangelis, but they were more synth-based. And one of the reasons nobody did it is because it’s so bloody hard!

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