Wiping the sweat from his forehead, Aidan Roberts announced ‘And… tubular bells!' A sudden burst of light brought the bells into view, like a heavenly apparition. This show is a momentous feat of musicality and showmanship, filled with glorious moments.
Returning for their second Edinburgh Fringe, Australian musicians Aidan Roberts and Daniel Holdsworth once again take on the operatic, cosmic prog-rock masterpiece that is Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, arranging it and using loops to create the entire 50 odd minutes between the two of them. It was hard to count exactly how many instruments they played, but I’d hazard a guess at around eight each – often with two or three played simultaneously. The result is awe-inspiring, chaotic and occasionally funny. Their exuberance and infectious enthusiasm had the audience rooting for them throughout, even as they laughed over a broken keyboard and a misplaced mandolin. As they leapt around the stage from instrument to instrument, knocking over stands whilst desperately glugging water or standing up to play the guitar one-handed so they can bang a cymbal, they created a seamless performance.
The staging is incredibly effective, despite being very simple. For the most part the two are sat down at their separate stations, guitars in lap whilst they play two keyboards at once and fiddle with their effects boards. As we reached the first major climax towards the end of Part One, Roberts introduced a whole array of instruments. He rushed around the stage to add each to the mix – the switch from mandolin to Spanish guitar and acoustic guitar seemed a particularly impossible feat. They constantly swapped sides, adding to the immense build-up towards the tubular bells.
Their quiet, introspective moments are just as affecting. The pair's musicianship is astounding. Holdsworth displays amazing falsetto and guitar wizardry, and there are some superb flourishes on the ‘grand piano’ from Roberts.
They are clearly wonderfully talented, but for me (and perhaps for them too), the most gratifying part of the whole show is in the Piltdown Man section of Part Two. Watching two skilled instrumentalists throw themselves into this climactic section of wordless gobble-de-gook, complete with kazoo duet, grunts and screaming, is a joy to behold.