Album review: Mike Oldfield (2) – Hergest ridge (1974)

While I consider his release after this one my favorite Mike Oldfield album it’s very hard for me to say that “Hergest ridge” is second or third best. Can I have two favorite albums on the same place? I think I can. So yes when I listen to HR I consider it the best. As soon as I begin to take this journey Mike Oldfield invites me on I know there’s no other place I’d rather be. After the turmoil of public attention and success “Tubular bells” brought, Mike Oldfield felt the need to take a break and retreat to his house in Hergest Ridge in the English countryside right at the border with Wales and work there on his next record.

As unfair as it would be to call “”Hergest ridge” the second best Oldfield album, it’s just as unfair to the eerie and dreamy opening section to always have that voice inside me telling me just wait for what comes at the 08:30 minute mark; the opening is broad and relaxing with the guitar and the trumpet playing like the sunset before a day you know you will still spend there, on vacation. And yet what comes at that 08:30 minute mark could very well be on its own the most out of this Earth piece of music Oldfield wrote. That section from 08:30 is my sweetest and most precious lullaby. Somehow that sound, the instruments used and the dreamy flow of the music fit perfectly with my image of a fairytale; this is the music I listen to when I am happiest and most relaxed or when I want to travel back in time to my happiest memories. I cannot listen to “Hergest ridge” if I am agitated, or in a rush. It would spoil the music for me. What  Mike Oldfield composed evokes places I would want to spend immeasurable time in; gorgeous and endless plains in the middle of the summer with occasional gusts of wind and drops of rain. Imagine your most treasured spot to escape from reality and how it would sound and you will understand how I feel when I listen to this album and, particularly, this second half of “Part one”. Once again as I mentioned in my thoughts on “Tubular Bells” there is a short choral section, almost ancestral in sound that wakes up countless butterflies inside me. Those chants are like trees growing on the side of a mountain to protect those living there. Choral parts similar to this made quite an impression on me while watching, as a child, Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” and whenever something gets in and reach that place I am hypnotized.

The special think about “Hergest ridge” is that I know exactly when I placed this bookmark in time. In a way this is how listening to older music works for me and how I use it for time travel, not always with this much success. The impact of the music was so clear that the way I felt back then remained perfectly preserved like those insects found frozen in ice millions of years later. What future researches will find inside this small patch of ice will be the essence of nostalgia: it was a December afternoon, frozen but sunny and I had just gotten home from the last day of school for the year. I was sitting at my desk at home and I was trying to put some thoughts on paper about the end of that term. It was my first term of college, I had met a lot of new people and I went through a lot of emotions. I felt a bit empty because two weeks of vacation were going to follow but in the same time I had the strange feeling that somewhere down the line, in the future, I was going to miss even this emptiness I felt now. It’s then when that magical section from “Part one” started and filled that void; it became the very definition of nostalgia for me. That’s when I connected with this album and when the music of Mike Oldfield allowed me to get a different perspective on what I was feeling.

“Hergest ridge” is the most soothing album I have ever heard. Each of us has his own triggers for this and I know this composition might be a little too layered for some to consider it the most relaxing music possible but to me nothing tops it. Even when I relax there are thoughts roaming through my head, pleasant dreams usually and they need this nourishment that Mike Oldfield provided. Even the furious and loud finish of “Part two” fits because it’s the wakeup call that readjusts me to reality.

The first time I listened to this album there was an exchange: the music left something inside me and I left a part of me among those notes. For me, Hergest Ridge is a little piece of myself I left at a certain point in time, a piece I sometimes want to get back but can never unstuck from that moment. It’s a piece that needed to fill a certain void at that moment and left one inside me instead when it left. Every time we are reunited I get the same rush I got the first time I heard these magical sounds. I will someday visit the place that inspired this album.

Track rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 40 / 40

Album excellence: 100%

Highlights:

Part 1

Part 2

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4 Comments

  1. Couldn’t agree more. This album made me become an instrumentalist.
    Never before I had felt such emotional intensity on music, not even with classical music.
    Mike seemed not to be totally happy with it, because he soon made a remix that was delivered on all future editions, including The Boxed set (quadrophonic mix) and the first CD edition, completely leaving the original out. He made dramatic changes on that remix, maby trying to “please” editorial points of view…
    I felt sad with it for I had Hergest Ridge original completely under my skin, and had to stick to my original vinyl LP to hear it through all these years.
    Only in 2010, with the Deluxe CD Edition of Hergest Ridge, Mike decided (and I thank him for that!!) to include a sound improved remaster of the original Hergest Ridge (disc 2).
    Only then I put my old vinyl to rest.
    The emotion Mike delivers on the guitar solo that starts at 5,45 mnts is overwhelming, and the fact the guitar is kept at a low volume, behind the trumpets, makes all the difference.
    It made me, when I first heard it, to write a letter to Mike saying that “I totally understand what you’re saying and dealing with”. And changed the way I related to music.
    Difficult for me to say which Mike’s album I like the most, but Hergest Ridge made become an instrumental musician and to try to express deep feelings through my music.
    That says it all.
    Mike Oldfield changed music as we knew it.

    • Wow thank you for sharing this! For me it’s always between this and Ommadawn for favorite Mike album although the emotion in HR is unparalleled… You know I never gave the remastered versions a chance because of my connection with the original album and sound…

      • I understand that perfectly. The original sound is the one we learned to love.
        But let me stress two things out.
        With the remastered sound, we can ear things that were there and we never noticed before. The details are much clearer. All the instruments come to life and the ‘sound stage’ is much much bigger. Maybe we could ear things we were not supposed to, but a good remaster takes care of that.
        The other thing, if you came across Hergest Ridge later than with the first LP edition, you’re probably stuck with one of the remixes. There are 3 of them, if I’m not wrong.
        The way to tell them apart, well, the easiest way, is with that beautiful distorted guitar solo at 5.45 mnts. If it repeats the previous bars clean guitar solo, you got the remix. If the solo is a totally diferent melody, almost like it’s crying, then you got the original – and it’s really worth it.
        Take care.

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