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(released 28th May 1990)
1: Amarok (60:02)
Mike Oldfield: Bowed guitar, Acoustic guitar, Electric guitar, 12 strings guitar, Classical guitar, Bass guitar, Acoustic bass guitar, Sitar guitar, Glorfindel guitar, Highly strung guitar, Flamenco guitar, Bazouki, Mandolin, Ukulele, Steinway piano, Banjo, Farfisa organ, Lowrey organ, Shoes, Hoover, Glockenspiel, Marimba, Bodhrán, Northumbrian bagpipes, Clay drums, Triangle, Tambourine, Wonga box, Bell tree, Sticks, Finger cymbals, Toy dog, Melodica, Chairs, Psaltery, Spinet, Jew's harp, Penny whistles, Bass whistles, Punch ball and club, Spoons, Referee's whistle, Fingernails, Pan pipes, Glass of water, Guitar tuner, Violin, Door, Face slap, Toothbrush and teeth, Vox organ, Fake radio, Contents of Aeromodeller's toolbox, Glass, Hammer and bucket, Fake firework, Rototom, Cabasa, Bongos, Orchestral bass drum, Timpani, not much synth at all really, Kalimba, Long Thin Metallic Hanging Tubes.
Amarok was recorded between September 1989 and March 1990. The cover photograph was taken in October 1989, and the 'Amarok' lettering was designed by Tom Newman.
Early on, Mike decided this album would be a sequel to Ommadawn (an idea he had been considering since 1976). Most of the musicians who played on Ommadawn were invited back to contribute to this album. William Murray, co-writer of The Horse Song on Ommadawn, wrote a short story for the booklet and took the cover photo, which itself was a modernisation of the Ommadawn cover.
Computers and sequencers played a large part in his previous album Earth Moving, but after a BBC Radio programme for which he re-recorded several songs from that album and a short version of Tubular Bells entirely on hand-played instruments, Mike decided to record Amarok this way. Although Amarok was his first digital recording, Mike wanted to keep the album as natural as possible (hence the lack of samples and "not much synth at all really" in the instrument listing). The musicians were also told to avoid alcohol, cigarettes and other drugs during the sessions.
Virgin attempted to convince Mike that Amarok would be a big seller if he renamed it Tubular Bells 2. Although Mike had already decided to create Tubular Bells II (and had said so in interviews at the time), he was unwilling to record such an album until his Virgin contract was over. He even went so far as to rename the Tubular Bells as "long thin metallic hanging tubes" in the credits. Because of their unwillingness to let him terminate his contract, he took several steps to make Amarok's manufacture and promotion as painful for them as possible.
The sudden loud passages were inserted specifically to annoy Simon Draper, a Virgin executive who often played music at high volumes in his car (this is why a health warning appears on the back cover saying "not to be listened to by cloth eared nincompoops"). There is also a morse code message saying "Fuck Off, RB" (RB being Richard Branson, Virgin's founder and Mike's former manager). Tom and Mike didn't know Morse code, so a phone call was made to the British Navy.
Mike also ensured difficulties when pressing the vinyl version. The album is longer than vinyl would normally allow, and has a wide dynamic range (normally, an album would be made less dynamic to fit the available space on a record). As there are no gaps in the music, the album had to be cut in half to fit on the record, so this, too, entailed further work at the manufacturing stage.
The album's promotion was very unusual, and in many ways was poorly handled (review copies didn't reach the music press until the month after the album's release). There was a £1000 prize for finding a secret message (the morse code) hidden in the album, but Roy Rashbrook, who found the message, did not know there was a prize, and so never claimed it. However, nine years later, he sang on The Millennium Bell as a member of the London Handel Choir (see Recording The Choir).
Mike created a 15-second radio advert featuring some of the least radio-friendly sections of the album, with a voice over saying "Mike Oldfield's gone mad!". The television advert did not include any music from Amarok at all, with an extract from Tubular Bells used in its place, and a voice over told us that it was "from the man who brought you Tubular Bells".
The album's release was planned for the 14th May 1990, but it didn't appear in the UK until around the 28th May (although it had been available in Europe on the 21st). The delay was likely to have been caused by some last-minute editing work to edit the album to exactly 60 minutes.
Versions of Amarok
The original CD (28th May 1990)
The vinyl LP (28th May 1990)
HDCD Remaster (31st July 2000)
William Murray's story does not appear in the booklet of this version.
Credit: David Porter of The Mike Oldfield Information Service, Gareth Randall, Marcus Junglas, Richard Carter.
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