50 years of Tubular Bells

Mike Oldfield (left) and Richard Branson in The Manor recording studio in the 1970s
Virgin Group
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 25 May 2023

Wow, today marks 50 years since we released our very first album on Virgin Records - Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield. This was the record that transformed Mike’s and my life and kickstarted the Virgin brand. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that on the same exact day 50 years on, a spaceship built by Virgin people would be taking off headed for space. What a ride.

50 years of Tubular Bells

After setting up our first Virgin record shop in London, we had scraped together some money to buy a rundown country house and converted it into a recording studio called The Manor. One day, an engineer from The Manor rang Simon Draper and I to say he'd heard this incredible instrumental demo tape by a teenager called Mike Oldfield. We knew when we heard it that he was an absolute genius.

Richard Branson and Mike Oldfield

I also knew that the world needed to hear it too – but we went to all the major labels and Mike received rejection after rejection. So, Screw It Let’s Do It, we decided to launch our own record label to put out this album. It was a huge risk because it was so different to anything else that had come before it and there was no other music like it at the time. 

Tubular Bells record
Image from Virgin Records

Mike worked on perfecting Tubular Bells whenever there was a spare moment of studio time at The Manor, aided wonderfully by the brilliant producer Tom Newman. Tom has been involved, along with Paul Harris and Simon Hayworth, on an exciting new version of Tubular Bells – more on that soon…

Tubular Bells went on to be one of the biggest selling records of the 1970s and featured on the soundtrack to The Exorcist. Virgin became the world's biggest independent label, signing the Sex Pistols and the Rolling Stones. Virgin Record’s success helped launch other businesses such as Virgin Atlantic, and the brand grew into many other industries across the world from there. 

A black and white image of the Virgin Records store front

Music will always be the beating heart of Virgin. Virgin Records has now morphed into a new music company, Virgin Music Label and Artists Services, a company to champion and support new talent. And it’s great to see our radio stations thriving – from Chris Evans, Graham Norton and co in the UK, to the fabulous teams in Lebanon, Canada, Dubai and beyond. 

Richard Branson in a Virgin Radio Dubai studio
Image from Virgin Radio

If you’d like to hear the original song on a record player, if you sign up to Virgin Red you’ll be in with the chance to win both a copy of the record and a Crosley Turntable. 

Tubular Bells will always be a special part of our story.