[Review] Mike Oldfield: Ommadawn (1975)

Another painfully crafted tapestry of themes that evokes the English countryside.

Kronomyth 3.0: Ommagod.

With Mike Oldfield and Tangerine Dream albums regularly reaching near the top of the UK charts, you had to wonder if the English were drinking their tea over there or smoking it. Ommadawn is another of Mike’s multitracked mazes through the English countryside, complete with Uilleann pipes, pan pipes, bagpipes and bazouki. At times, this album recalls Jethro Tull’s A Passion Play in the way the pieces fit together, a connection that becomes clearer when the closing On Horseback arrives, which immediately reminded me of Tull’s “Fire at Midnight.”

The marvel of Oldfield’s musical mazes is the meticulous arrangement of overlapping parts. In fact, so much overdubbing was done the first time ‘round that the original tapes were rendered useless and Oldfield had to start over. (In 2010, he remixed the whole thing again, suggesting his perfectionist tendencies hadn’t waned over the years.) Despite the sometimes dizzying array of instruments, Ommadawn rarely feels overhwhelming. There’s a warm, natural and playful spirit at work in this music that both resembles prog and gently refuses it at the same time.

Divided into two parts, Ommadawn is best experienced in a single sitting, making it a natural fit for compact disc technology. In the dark or with eyes closed and headphones clamped securely around ears, Oldfield’s musical world takes shape in shimmering sounds, spritely dances and glimpses of druidic priests and pixies. The same, of course, could be said of his first two albums, not that there was any need to change horses. Oldfield had discovered a unique and workable template for his one-man pastoral symphonies, and listeners were more than happy to come along for the ride.

Now, if you’re asking yourself whether Ommadawn is better than Tubular Bells or Hergest Ridge, you’re asking yourself the wrong question. The operative question is whether you enjoyed those first two records. If so, you’ll enjoy Ommadawn just as much. Considering that his next work, Incantations, went a bit off the deep end, this marks the end of a classic trilogy.

Original elpee version

A1. Ommadawn Part I (19:14)
B1. Ommadawn Part II (17:17)

Composed by Mike Oldfield. Words to the horse song on side two by Mike Oldfield and William Murray.

Deluxe 2CD+DVD edition
A1. Ommadawn (Part One) (2010 mix)
A2. Ommadawn (Part Two) / On Horseback (2010 mix)
A3. In Dulce Jubilo
A4. First Excursion
A5. Argiers
A6. Portsmouth
B1. Ommadawn (Part One) (original 1975 mix)
B2. Ommadawn (Part Two) / On Horseback (original 1975 mix)
B3. Ommadawn (lost version)
C1. Ommadawn (Part One) (2010 5.1 surround mix)
C2. Ommadawn (Part Two) / On Horseback (2010 5.1 surround mix)
C3. In Dulce Jubilo (promotional video)
C4. Portsmouth (promotional video)

The Players

Mike Oldfield (harp, electric guitars, acoustic bass, electric bass, acoustic guitar, 12-string guitar, classical guitar, mandolin, bodhran, bazouki, banjo, spinet, grand piano, electric organs, synthesizers, glockenspiel, assorted percussion) with Julian Bahula (African drums), Don Blakeson (trumpet), Herbie (Northumbrian bagpipes), The Hereford City Band, Pierre Moerlin (tympani), Paddy Moloney (Uilleann pipes), Ernest Mothle (African drums), William Murray (percussion), Sally Oldfield (vocals), Terry Oldfield (pan pipes), Leslie Penning (recorders, band conductor), The Penrhos Kids (vocals), Lucky Ranku (African drums), Bridget St John (vocals), Clodagh Simonds (vocals), David Strange (cello), Eddie Tatane (African drums). Produced and engineered by Mike Oldfield.

The Pictures

Cover photographs by David Bailey.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, quadrophonic elpee and 8-track on October 25, 1974 in the UK and Israel (Virgin, V/QV 2043), the US (Virgin, PZ/PZO 33913), Australia (Virgin, L-35709), Germany (Virgin, 89 552 XOT) and Japan (Virgin, YX-7083-VR) with innersleeve. Reached #4 on the UK charts.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1978 in Japan (Virgin, VIP-6907).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1979 in the US (Virgin Intl, VI 2043).
  3. Re-issued on elpee in the UK (Virgin, V 2043) and Portugal (Virgin, vv-33022v) [red/green labels].
  4. Re-issued on compact disc in the UK (Virgin, CDV 2043).
  5. Re-issued on compact disc in 1996 in the Netherlands (Disky, VI 873762).
  6. Re-packaged with The Orchestral Tubular Bells + Earth Moving on 3CD on January 11, 1999 in the UK (Disky).
  7. Re-released on remastered compact disc on July 11, 2000 in the US (Caroline, CAROL 1855-2).
  8. Re-released on remastered high-definition compact disc in 2000 in the E.U. (Virgin, MIKECD4).
  9. Re-released as Deluxe Edition on expanded, remixed & remastered 2CD+DVD in 2010 in the E.U. (Mercury/Universal, 532 676-4) with bonus material.
  10. Re-issued expanded, remixed super-high material compact disc on April 27, 2016 in Japan (Mercury/Universal, UICY-25553) with four bonus tracks (A3-A6 above).
  11. Re-issued on Deluxe Edition 2SHMCD+DVD on December 23, 2020 in Japan (Mercury/Universal, UICY-79366) with bonus material.

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