Ipswich: Two men, 26 instruments, loads of fun - Tubular Bells For Two at the Corn Exchange

Tubular Bells For Two, Aidan Roberts and Daniel Holdsworth. Photo: Joanne Kee

Tubular Bells For Two, Aidan Roberts and Daniel Holdsworth. Photo: Joanne Kee - Credit: Archant

“You get crews look a bit funny when we arrive, (thinking) ‘all this for two guys’. (We think) just wait and see, you’ll understand in a couple of hours,” laughs Aidan Roberts, one half of Tubular Bells For Two.

“We have more gear than a five-piece band. It’s quite a madhouse, especially in the first half of the show. Things change so quickly, we’ve had to rehearse it very carefully to pull it off all in real-time.”

Old school friends Aidan and Daniel Holdsworth, from the town of Blue Mountains in NSW, Australia, came up with the idea in 2008.

After years of friendship, playing in bands and collecting old vinyl, they were enjoying a bottle of wine around the fireplace, listening to records when Daniel put on Mike Oldfield’s 1973 album - the opening piano motif being famously used in the soundtrack to the film The Exorcist.

“Danny had his guitar and started picking little melodies out. He said ‘have you got the digital copy of this’. I said ‘no’ and he got it from iTunes that night and became quite wrapped up in it. He learnt the first 10 minutes or so on guitar and notated it out for two guitars as a learning exercise.

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“We both started adding to the notation, decided to write out the entire first half and learn it. From there we got the idea maybe we can do the whole thing with a couple of instruments and then we got carried away. I said ‘well, we’ve got lots more instruments perhaps we can do it full-scale... eventually we had a show.”

A year later a small local theatre booked the duo’s “crazy experiment” for a quiet night.

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Thinking a few friends and family would come along the theatre sold-out to see two bare-footed, agitated musos juggling more than 20 instruments, often playing two at once or layering passages through loop pedals.

The show went on to play sold out seasons at the Sydney Festival, Sydney Fringe Festival and the New Zealand International Arts Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2012 winning awards, plaudits and press acclaim.

“At the last count we have 26 instruments (on stage). Everything you hear on the album, we have on stage with the exception of the flute which neither of us can play,” says Aidan.

They leap between umpteen guitars, bass, mandolin, glockenspiel, drums, pianos, tubular bells and loop pedals to recreate the seamless transitions.

Their first set of bells, made out of fence posts by a friend because actual ones were so expensive, has since been retired and now hangs in Daniel’s backyard like a big wind chime.

The duo have gone out of their way to satisfy the album’s fans, paying special attention to the most subtle of details - from the sounds of the guitars and organs to those quiet layers wafting in the distance.

The show has been painstakingly choreographed to include as many layers of sound as possible. At times the performers have each hand and foot on different instruments plus vocals. formance. None of the music is pre-recorded, it’s all created live at each show so even the slightest error can de-rail the whole thing, making for a tense and thrilling night out.

“We knew it was an iconic record, we are treating the music with complete success, we’re very serious about getting it right but also we’re just trying to have a lot of fun with it. The audience get that, even if they don’t know the record,” says Aidan.

“They see two guys with all these instruments (going) ‘how my God are they going to do this’... the fans want you to succeed, they love it. For the hardcore fan it’s a something a little extra special I think and even if it goes a little wrong here and there we get it back on track and that’s part of the fun.”

Tubular Bells For Two comes to Ipswich Corn Exchange on Saturday, July 13.

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