Two guys, 27 instruments

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Re-creating an ethereal 1970s classic is no mean feat – especially when there are two of you frantically playing 27 instruments. 

Australian multi-instrumentalists Aidan Roberts and Daniel Holdsworth spent four months arranging the entire score of Mike Oldfield’s sprawling Tubular Bells – considered a progressive masterpiece – so they can play it as a duo. 

Dashing between pianos, organs, guitars, bass, mandolin, tuned percussion, drums, glockenspiel, loop pedals, synthesizers and, of course, tubular bells, their theatrical show has become an off-beat hit. 

Sydney-based Roberts says: “You can never predict these things. 

“You work so hard in whatever you’re doing as a musician and just hope there’s an audience for it in whatever capacity, no matter how big or small. 

“It just so happens this nerdy little project we came up with on the fly has worked. It’s based on an extraordinarily popular piece of music so there’s automatically an intrigued audience.” 

Roberts and Holdsworth came up with the idea while sitting around playing instruments in Roberts’ lounge listening to Tubular Bells. 

“Danny started fiddling around and working out how to play little sections on the guitar. We thought it would be a fun idea to try to learn the whole thing from start to finish just with two guitars. 

“We spent a few weeks doing that and before long got a bit more ambitious, using instruments we had lying around. That progressed into a full scale; our intention was to perform it as close to how it sounds on the record as possible with only two of us. We got hold of loop pedals, had 15 instruments lying around the house, and thought we could achieve it.” 

The duo first performed the piece at a theatre restaurant in the Blue Mountains. 

“The only thing we didn’t have was a set of tubular bells. So we ended up having a friend make us a set, a very backyard set out of fence piping, built a steel frame for it – it was quite a bizarre contraption that we toured with.”
They’ve now toured Australia and played the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, progressing to larger venues, better equipment and always refining arrangements. 

“It’s definitely physically demanding. The music by its nature is quite meditative, so our job is to keep it smooth, beautiful and dynamic – and keep the integrity of the music – whilst having to run backwards and forwards across the stage picking up instruments. 

“We’re usually pretty drenched in sweat by the end.” 

After the Queenstown gig, part of the Southern Lakes Festival of Colour, they embark on a 90-date tour of the UK and Europe. 

“After a month straight it does get exhausting, mentally exhausting. But every time we play it we discover new little things, come up with new ideas, so there’s always something to talk about with a beer after the show. 

“There’s an ongoing journey to it. This will test our endurance but I think if anything the music just gets closer to you the more you do it. I love that.” 

The show is at Queenstown Memorial Centre tonight, starting 8pm. Tickets are $38.