Sunday, 20 January 2019

Mike Oldfield - Hergest Ridge (1974)


Released August 1974


1. Hergest Ridge Part One
2. Hergest Ridge Part Two

This was the much awaited follow-up to the unique, multi-million selling "Tubular Bells" and, for many, it was an underwhelming disappointment. Not for me. In many was I find it the more appealing album. It has a quiet, understated pastoral dignity to it, without the hammy instrument introductions of its redoubtable predecessor.

It follows the same pattern as "Bells' in that is comprised of two separate movements, packed full of all sorts of instruments, often layered over each other as in the case of a lot of the guitars. About seven minutes in to "Part One" is some beautiful Spanish guitar followed by some sublime woodwind (oboe?). It all sounds most relaxing laid-back and bucolic, like "summer" in Vivaldi's "Four Seasons".  There is a quiet grandeur to it, an almost baroque beauty. It is this that warms me to the album over "Tubular Bells". It has many hidden depths. Compared to "Bells" there are nowhere near as many distinct changes of pace, maintaining far more of the same ambience throughout. It takes twelve minutes into "Part One" for a clear change to arrive. Even then, it soon reverts to a constant groove, featuring some excellent lead electric guitar. Then we get some deep voice choral vocals. The voice sections are peaceful and relaxing, though, as is the gentle guitar beneath them. It is all very ambient. Right at the end of this first part, Oldfield can't resist a quick burst of tubular bells, before the movement quietly reaches its conclusion.

"Part Two" is similarly reflective in mood. Some delicious bits of glockenspiel enhance the opening minutes, augmented by more addictive guitar. I love the feel and sounds of this movement. At 2:40 some sumptuous guitar arrives and this is soon given some mysterious-sounding vocals over the top of it. They sound a bit incomprehensible, a bit like those used by David Bowie on "Low". Then a bit of mandolin is introduced before a bit of classical-sounding organ. Although "Part Two" changes a lot more (comparatively) than "Part One", the changes are not clashing, they do not break the mood, the spell. It still retains its slow, stately mood. Half way through features some nice woodwind, followed by some bagpipe-sounding guitars before we arrive at the album's most progressive, organ-driven "heavy" section. Here Greenslade meets Deep Purple organ interplays with some madcap, swirling guitar. It is the one section where the peaceful feeling of 75% of the album is broken for several minutes. For some, it is "about time too". Me, I prefer the sleepiness of "Part One" and the first half of "Part Two". The last couple of minutes see the pace drop and more vocals arrive over a mandolin backing to see the project to its close.

The two extra short tracks included are the jaunty, irresistible Christmas instrumental "In Dulci Jubilo", which was a huge hit and is now a seasonal staple and the attractive, guitar-led "Spanish Tune".

Personally, for some reason, I tend to play this album on hot summer mornings as opposed to during other seasons. Not sure why, must be something about its aura.


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