1953-72 To the Manor Born

MUSIC FROM THE DARKNESS

mfd_darknessbook.jpgMike Oldfield, 1953-1993 by Peter Evans.

Originally published in 1994

The original book, hailed as a masterpiece by many fans of Mike Oldfield, is no longer in print, but has become a collector's item in its own right and it is with great joy (and Peter's approval!) that we present the full volume here on the web site.

Use the menu links on the left to navigate between sections, or continue reading for the first chapter:

Alternatively, an entirely new and up to date biography is now available.


1953-72 To the Manor Born

For many, Mike Oldfield's career began with the astonishing success of his debut album Tubular Bells. this success, however, owed much to those who had influenced him in the preceding years.

Michael Gordon Oldfield was born on the 15th May 1953. His father was a practising GP in Reading whilst his mother, who suffered from a mental illness and was frequently in and out of hospital, had been employed as a nurse. In 1966 the family moved to Hornchurch in Essex where Mike attended a local grammar school which, after an argument with the headmaster over the length of his hair, he left in 1968. Before this, at the age of ten, his father had bought him a six string Eko guitar and taught him a few chords.

From that moment onwards Mike would return from school, retire to his bedroom and become totally immersed in this new instrument. By the age of eleven he had purchased a Futura II electric guitar and he and his sister were playing at local folk clubs. then after visiting a studio to see Mick Jagger, they recorded under the name The Sallyangie the LP Children of the Sun (TRA 176) on the transatlantic label. This LP consisted of mainly folk and acoustic songs, which although were all the fashion at the time, did not satisfy Mike musically. He decided to split from his sister to forge his own path forward.

After experiencing a hard year of living with his father, he failed in an attempt to front, with his brother Terry and a member of the popular Long John Baldry, his own electric group called Barefeet. After about 6 months unsuccessfully persuing this project, he auditioned and was invited to join the eccentric Kevin Ayers Whole World Band. Ayers, who had been a member of Soft Machine, had assembled together several musicians of a radically different musical nature. Primarily with Oldfield on bass and guitar, Lol Coxhill on saxophone, innovative avante gard composer David Bedford on organ, Mike Fincher on drums and Ayers on vocals and occasional lead guitar, the Whole World Band was to produce an eccentric blend of music and occasional drunken mayhem. One of the most important parts of this strange collaboration was Mike's meeting with David Bedford and a friendship of which Mike was later to comment: "He's the only musician I know personally and respect."

Over the years to come, this friendship would lead to Mike collaborating, in one way or another, on all Bedford's solo LP's. This would also be true for other prominent members of the Whole World, as Oldfield was also to appear on a couple of tracks on Lol Coxhill's innovative Ear of The Beholder LP, (DSD8008) released in 1971 on the Dandelion label.

An early picture of Mike, along with Kevin Ayers playing the Dordrecht Verblifa Hall, Holland on December 15th 1970. This session was to produce the track Vorblifa/Exit which was to be included on Lol Coxhill's LP Ear of The Beholder in 1971. ©Ron De-Bruyn

Mike's association with Ayers produced two studio LP's which included Mike playing solely on bass. The first was 1970's Shooting at the Moon whilst the second, in 1972, was titled Whatevershebringswesing. On this second LP, Ayers allowed Oldfield more scope to express himself, letting him play lead guitar. Of this Ayers was to comment on the sleeve notes in the thanks section: "Thanks to Mike Oldfield for beautiful bass and guitar."

Despite this praise, on a personal level Kevin and Mike had grown further and further apart, especially as Mike wanted to pursue more of his own ideas. he had grown weary of travelling around from gig to gig, with members of the group constantly drunk, and as a result the music had become abysmal.

The reputation as a guitarist and the split of the Whole World Band in 1971 led mike to much session work. This was most evident onEdgar Broughton band's self titled LP in June 1971 on which Mike played mandolin on a single track Thinking of You, and on David Bedford's first solo project Nurses Songs with Elephants released on the dandelion label in February 1972.

Whilst all this was going on, Oldfield was putting together ideas for a recording that would change his life for ever and take the world by storm.

©Peter Evans