It all started rather modestly for the Virgin record label. Few, except perhaps Sir Richard Branson himself, could have foreseen just how huge the Virgin group would become. Even less would have been able to predict airlines, trains, holidays, and numerous other ventures all carrying the same name.
When Branson set up his Virgin Record shop and mail order business he set in motion a chain of events that would change many peoples lives. Tom Newman had been a member of the Ealing based R & B band The Tomcats alongside future Jade Warrior leader Jon Field. The band eventually morphed into a psychedelic outfit called July. Their self titled debut released in 1968 is a much sought after record (now available via Cherry Red).
When Tom Newman met Richard Branson it was clear that one possessed business genius and the other had the necessary musical knowledge. Newman went about setting up the Manor Studios in the picturesque village of Shipton-On-Cherwell in Oxfordshire.
By September 1972, with Tom as resident engineer and everything else in place, the newly created Virgin Record label was created. The rest is legend. Mike Oldfield brought along his instrumental concept for Tubular Bells. It became Virgin's first album release. Tom Newmen engineered it and the result was one of the best selling albums of all time. Richard Branson’s Virgin was no longer anything of the sort.
In 1975 with the studio at his disposal Tom recorded his first solo album Fine Old Tom, which featured Oldfield and Jon Field. A second quickly followed which despite its title, Live At The Argonaut, was in fact a studio recording. Unfortunately, a dispute between Branson and Newman saw the album shelved. It was destined not to see light of day for nearly thirty years.
Following the split with Virgin, Tom set up his own studio on a canal boat in North London’s Little Venice. It was known as The Barge Studio. It was here in 1977 that he began work on an ambitious solo project called Faerie Symphony. Tom drew his inspiration not only from his time with Mike Oldfield but also from Sweden’s Bo Hansson Lord Of The Rings album.
Like Oldfield, Tom overdubbed most of the instrumentation himself. He called upon Jon Field to provide the flute whilst Pete Gibson added touches of brass. Again fate would deal Tom a poor hand and the album’s release in 1977 on the Decca label could not have been at a worse time.
It is fair to say that the album was perhaps released two years too late and largely failed to capitalize on the successes of both Oldfield and Hansson. The punk revolution was occupying the time, thoughts, and column inches in the music press. As a result Tom’s work was sadly overlooked or deemed out of step.
The Faerie Symphony was an ambitious concept and was both rich with imagination and blessed with exceptional musical ability. It just happened to be the wrong time.
It has now been re-released with informative background cover notes from Esoteric Recordings founder Mark Powell. Played today you can hear how the techniques used on Tubular Bells radiate from the work. However the comparison alone fails to do the album justice and instead we need to recognise its individual character, and style.
The opening section “The Woods Of”, gently opens the idea before “Fordin Seachran”, “Bean Si” (pronounced as Banshee), and “Little Voices Of The Tarans” begin to add a glow of atmosphere that continues throughout.
The album creates a storyboard of visual images none more so than on “The Fluter”. Built around Jon Field’s magical playing this is where the album really begins to let the imagination begin to run away with itself. A haunting forest chant develops a spell-like into the rather hypnotic visual image of “The Seelie Court”.
The recurring theme of “The Fluter” reels you in as the album unfolds its magic. “The Spell Breaks” does exactly that in the gentlest of ways amid rich Celtic flavours and strings. “The Fairy Song” showcases Jon Field’s flute playing whilst “Dance Of Daoine Sidhe” opens out in truly majestic style to produce something quite magical.
The ethereal quality continues throughout “Culchvlainn”, and “Aillen Mac Midna”. “The Unseelie Court” gives us the sinister dark side of what went earlier. This extraordinary album ends with a reprise of “The Woods Of”. Sadly the running time of 32 minutes means that it is all over too soon.
In 1992 Tom Newman returned to work with Mike Oldfield on Tubular Bells II. He has also continued to produce solo projects including 1986’s Bayou Moon, Tall Scary Things in 1999, and The Hound Of Ulster, which revisits the legend of The Tain (remember the brilliant Horslips album of 1973?), the same year. He has over fifty production credits to his name with total sales of over 25 million units.
Like many albums it was all about timing. In the case of Faerie Symphony the record missed its slot by some way. Maybe now though the time is finally right to re-evaluate this extraordinary work. Certainly it can take its place among the albums and musicians that inspired it.
If the timing had been right then Tom Newman could have, and possibly would have, achieved the recognition he deserved. Well worth venturing into the forest for.Powered by Sidelines