How does one perfect perfection? How can we surpass the unsurpassable? The answer is: We cannot. However, we can have a bloody good shot at it, which is exactly what Mike Oldfield did with his third release, Ommadawn
, the third and final chapter in his two movement trilogy of albums.
Just as Tubular Bells
was generally a rock piece, and Hergest Ridge
inspired by folk, Ommadawn
was Oldfield’s foray into the fledgling musical style now referred to as “World Music". For those not “in the know", “World Music" is the catchall phrase for all types of “non-western folk" and “ethnic music". As you can see, it is a “big" genre.
A year after the phenomenal success of Hergest Ridge
, Oldfield was searching out the roots of the folk music which had inspired his previous effort. Delving deep into the Celtic music of Wales, Southern England and Ireland, he wrote pieces solely for traditional instruments like the bodhrán, as well as the Uilleann and Pan Pipes.
Indeed, the word Ommadawn is believed to be a distortion of an Irish Gaelic word “amadán" meaning fool.
However, this album is not composed of just Celtic influences. Oldfield also recruited Jabula, an exiled quartet of African Tribal Drummers to assist him in creating a stirring rhythm section. This unique blend works a treat on the album, and caused many imitations to appear the world over.
Once again, it is impossible to accurately describe the intrinsic emotions attached to the music in this album. It is both beautiful and haunting, with a feeling of ancient times gone by that neither of its predecessors possessed. However, it is also less accessible in parts, where the warmth that was maintained in both Tubular Bells
and Hergest Ridge
goes missing. However, these parts are few and far between, with the most obvious being the first few minutes of Part 2
But that certainly is the only downside to this album. Not even the presence of an extended bagpipe (gasp!) solo could mar this musical artwork. Indeed, thanks to Oldfield’s tender compositions, and the able playing of “Herbie", it only enhances the song.
But Mike still has some aces up his sleeve, for at the 13:56 mark in Part 2
, a most astounding thing happens. Gone is the whimsical folk dance tune, and it is replaced by something that Mike and his friend William Murray must have conceived of whilst in an altered state of consciousness. Building up slowly into a relaxing, somewhat psychadelic track, we are treated to a vocal effort with the following lyrics:
I like beer, and I like cheese
I like the smell of a westerly breeze
But what I like more than all of these
Is to be on horseback.
Hey and away we go
Through the grass, across the snow
Big brown beastie, big brown face
I'd rather be with you than flying through space.
I like thunder, and I like rain
And open fires, and roaring flames.
But if the thunder's in my brain,
I'd like to be on horseback.
Some like the city, some the noise
Some make chaos, and others, toys.
But if I was to have the choice,
I'd rather be on horseback.
Some find it strange to be here,
On this small planet, and who knows where.
But when it's strange and full of fear,
It's nice to be on horseback.
Some are short, and others tall,
Some hit their heads against the wall.
But it doesn't really matter at all,
When you happen to be on horseback.
So if you you feel a little glum,
To Hergest Ridge you should come.
In summer, winter, rain or sun,
It's good to be on horseback.
Hey Mike, Syd Barrett called, he wants his acid trip lyrics back. But honestly, this is one of my favourite songs, and it’s well worth listening to all of Part Two
just as a prelude to this marvellous, but wholly unexpected bonus courtesy of Maestro Oldfield.
Incidentally, be prepared to feel even more musically insignificant, for Oldfield expands his repertoire on this album to include the acoustic bass, acoustic guitar, banjo, bouzouki, bodhrán, classical guitar, electric bass, electric guitars, electric organs, glockenspiel, harp, mandolin, percussion, piano, spinet, steel guitar, synthesizers, and the twelve-string guitar.
Again, Oldfield did not, in my opinion, perfect the perfection that is Tubular Bells
, but he did match the stunning beauty of Hergest Ridge
when he created Ommadawn
. From the choral backdrop of Part One
to the poignant guitar of Part Two
, and all parts in between, we are reminded of the majesty of music, from any corner of the world. It is frustrating not to be able to accurately describe this music to you all, but gratifying to know that by introducing this album to my peers, I can hopefully inspire some of you to plunge into Mike Oldfield, and emerge a rabid fan. And really, that’s what it’s all about, right?