We were lucky enough to score a Q and A with Daniel Holdsworth from the “Tubular Bells for Two” show that is set to light up Fort Scratchly this Saturday night (Jan 31). Amongst other things we asked him about live looping, bare feet and just how many instruments the duo use on stage to recreate one of the world’s favourite albums.
You guys are mates, where did you meet and how did you become friends?
Aidan and I met when were in in high school. We didn’t go to the same school, but grew up in the same area in the Blue Mountains and shared many mutual friends. When were were in our late teenage years we started playing gigs with each others bands, and eventually started playing in bands together.
What was it about Tubular Bells that stuck in your memory from childhood?
For Aidan, Tubular Bells was one of the albums his parents played in the car on long road trips, so it brings up a sense of journeying and family memories for him.
For me, i discovered the album when I was a teenager. In the mid-90s everyone was throwing out their vinyl and buying up albums on CDs, so as a teenager with limited cash, I’d go down to the local Vinnies and buy up large amounts of vinyl for 50 cents a record. I have always been attracted to music from the 60s and 70s. And Tubular Bells is one of the unique records thatstands above the masses from that time.
How many instruments do you use during the show in total?
On stage we have 2 pianos, an organ, 2 synthesizers, 3 electric guitars, 1 classical guitar, 1 acoustic guitar, a bass guitar, mandolin, glockenspiel, tin whistle, 2 drum kits, 2 kazoos, 1 sample pad, we both sing, 2 loop pedals, numerous guitar effects, a huge amount of cables for and incredibly complex patching setup, and, of course, there’s tubular bells.
What sort of looping equipment do you use? Is it pedal or computer based?
All our looping is pedal based. We didn’t want to use computers on stage. Everything we play is performed live, and we felt if the audience sees a computer, they would doubt the performance.
Anyone who live loops can tell you at least one horror story. Have you ever had a loop go wrong?
There have been many performances where loops go wrong. But that is all part of live performance. Its always a risk, walking onto a stage. It doesn’t matter what type of technology you are using, whether its simply a guitar, or a whole set of instruments, there is always a chance that something will go wrong. From an audience perspective, I think that element of risk is one of the key aspects of this show. There is an enormous amount of tension in the room, because there is so much that can go wrong. We have such quick changes between instruments, balances several at a time, whilst live looping. Sometimes things fall over, get unplugged, anything can happen. The key for us as performers, is to just get to the end regardless of the situation. Often when things do go wrong, it is actually a better show, because it forces us to battle with a problem, improvise to get the show back on track in order to triumph at the end.
When did you first play a set of Tubular Bell and where did you buy it from?
For our first performance, we couldn’t afford to hire a set of tubular bells. But we had a muso friend, who built fences by day. He offered to build us a set out of old pieces of fence piping. It was a rather abstract looking instrument, and we played it with a garden hammer. I woudn’t say it was the best sounding thing in the world, but it certainly did the job. These days we can afford to hire proper orchestral tubular bells. And, trust me, it sounds much nicer!
After touring the show for so long, are you guys still mates? Have you ever gotten on each others nerves?
Of course we are. The first lesson in being a touring musician is learning how to get along with your bandmates. And this show is no different. We have loved getting to travel the world together, and have become closer because of it.
You perform in bare feet. Why?
Haha, we get asked that question a lot. Overseas everyones like, ‘you crazy, wacky Aussies!’. The fact of the matter is, it is purely for practical reasons. We need to operate pedals whilst our eyes are looking elsewhere, so you need to be able to feel what your feet are doing. Plus at times, we need to be able to turn knobs with our toes. Every limb and digit is required to perform this show.
Why do you think the original recording of Tubular Bells moved people the way it did?
I see Tubular Bells like a great film. It takes you on an emotional journey, through many different moods and styles. It has a beginning and middle and an end, with a fantastic climax. And furthermore, as a piece of music, it treats the listener with intellectual respect, in that it is not manufactured to fit into a predetermined box defined by a marketing machine. It is a true musical expression with enough different aspects to it to appeal to people of many different musical tastes, across all ages.
Have you ever performed the show in an outdoor setting before?
Several times. We performed at Womadelaide a couple of years ago, and we’ve also played outdoors at a few different festival in the UK.
WHAT: Tubular Bells for Two
WHEN: Saturday Jan 31
WHERE: Fort Scratchy
MORE INFO: Civic Theatre
If it's on in Newcastle, it's on Newcastle Live