Virgin Records’ First-Ever Releases: Mike Oldfield, Daevid Allen & Gong, Faust

AT 18, RICHARD BRANSON STARTED a nationwide magazine called Student, from a basement in Connaught Square, London. Realising that literacy was a faltering skill among the over-16s, he switched to the more lucrative field of records, and set up the first cut-price Virgin Records store in Oxford Street.

Despite evading Customs & Excise law in 1971, by pretending to buy records for export, thus avoiding the tax, and then selling them in Britain – a fraud that cost him a £60,000 fine – he now has 15 stores around Britain.

Virgin has also set up a luxurious recording studio in a grand country house in Oxfordshire, called the Manor, where the stars can groove and record en famille, away from the stresses of urban life.

To link up with his retailing and recording interests, Branson has now done the obvious thing and set up his own record label, and the first releases from it are now available.

TUBULAR BELLS – MIKE OLDFIELD

Unquestionably the best of Virgin’s first brood. Mike Oldfield has been in the business for about 10 years, since cutting his first album with his little sister at the age of 14.

On this, his first solo album, he plays about 15 instruments, from glockenspiel, piano and guitars to Lowrey organ and flageolet, whatever that may be. Off and on it took nine months to record, involving 2,300 overdubs and four cuttings.

Each side is a complete piece, the effect being like a collaboration between Terry Riley and Pink Floyd, a theme being laid down and built up, developed, inverted and interwoven into a fugue-like whole. But unlike Riley’s work, Oldfield’s pieces change tempo and key, thus lending them more colour and variety.

Electronic and acoustic instruments are cunningly juxtaposed to combine the best of harmonious naturalism and acid-electrics. A fine result.

RADIO GNOME INVISIBLE – DAEVID ALLEN AND GONG

Is this more earwash for the groovi-muzak consumer, using all the techniques of stereo reproduction to astoundingly untelling effect?

– YES.

Is this a record of unremitting juvenility and tedium, concerned with Pot Head Pixies, Flying Teapots, Zero The Hero, and The Octave Doctors, accompanied by Daevid Allen’s usual coyly pretentious Anglo-French sub-Soft Machine yawnalong ‘jazz’?

– YES.

THE FAUST TAPES – FAUST

Faust are one of those serious, intelligent German bands who almost seem to have applied a computer to Das Problemen der Muzic, to show the effete British and Americans what they ought to listen to.

These tapes were not originally intended for release, and consist of densely complex electronic and avant garde sounds, few concessions being made to the sensual in music.

The back cover is graced with quotations from European rock critics in severely polysyllabic mood, but I can’t imagine myself ever feeling sufficiently dutiful to listen to it more than a few times. Strictly for those with a Puritan streak.

But it does have a very pleasing Op-painting by Bridget Riley on the front cover, and the album retails at 48p. so one loses little by buying it.

© Ed JonesCracker, June 1973

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