Ol-On

Oldest Proffession (UK): The Oldest Proffession (Midas MR006, 1972)
Folk
Mary Baybutt (occasional vocals)
They may not have been able to spell, but Oldest Proffession made a solid album, offering traditional folk/rock in the typical Folk Heritage or Midas style, with sparse acoustic and sometimes electric backing, and frequent similarities to labelmates Gallery. Mary Baybutt is restricted almost exclusively to backing vocals, partly because four of the band’s five members were singers, but possibly also because she has a decidedly unusual voice (as demonstrated on her reading of ‘The Shearing’s Not For You’). GRADE: C+.

Mike Oldfield (UK): Tubular Bells (Virgin V2001, 1973)
Progressive
Sally Oldfield (occasional vocals), Mundy Ellis (occasional vocals)
This beautifully crafted set immediately established Mike Oldfield’s talents as a composer and multi-instrumentalist – overdubbing guitars, bass, keyboards, percussion and flageolet, he creates a slowly evolving instrumental tapestry that is commendably understated and gently folky yet always holds the attention. However, the realisation that Oldfield was 19 when he cut this isn’t the biggest surprise: it’s that an album as unusual and distinctive as this went on to become one of the biggest-selling records of all time. GRADE: B.
Mike Oldfield (UK): Hergest Ridge (Virgin V2013, 1974)
Progressive
Sally Oldfield (occasional vocals), Clodagh Simonds (occasional vocals)
The unexpected success of Tubular Bells put Oldfield under much pressure to write and record a follow-up, but this isn’t at all obvious from the music here. Formally Hergest Ridge recalls Tubular Bells, being a near-40 minute near-instrumental split into two movements, and once again Oldfield’s distinctive guitar and bass playing is much to the fore. However, Hergest Ridge is far closer to classical music in its first part and far closer to rock in its second; whilst there’s nothing here as good as the gorgeous melodies that open and close the first part of Tubular Bells, this is the more mature and consistent record and it never feels as though Oldfield is aimlessly filling space (as is the case in some sections of Tubular Bells part two). In short, this is a hugely impressive album that transcends its straitened circumstances with ease. GRADE: B.

Mike Oldfield (UK): Ommadawn (Virgin V2043, with inner, 1975)
Progressive
Sally Oldfield (occasional vocals), Clodagh Simonds (occasional vocals), Bridget St John (occasional vocals)
This was the point where the law of diminishing returns began to set in for Oldfield: Hergest Ridge may have followed the same format as Tubular Bells but was significantly different from it, whereas Ommadawn follows the format of both its predecessors and liberally borrows ideas from them. There’s new stuff here as well – African drumming, a chant in cod-Gaelic (written by Clodagh Simonds) and even an actual song to finish (co-written by her Mellow Candle colleague William Murray) – but not enough for this to equal his earlier work. GRADE: B–.
Mike Oldfield (UK): Incantations (Virgin VDT 101, double, 1978)
Progressive
Maddy Prior (joint lead vocals), Sally Oldfield (occasional vocals), Queen’s College Girls’ Choir (occasional vocals)
The double album represented the natural setting for an artist like Oldfield, and it’s surprising it took him so long to issue one (not that he ever did again, apart from the live set that followed this). The 72 minutes afforded by the format allows him to stretch out in all kinds of directions, from Canterbury-esque guitar work to classical strings to the hypnotic vibraphones of Gong alumni Pierre and Benoît Moerlen to the haunting voices of Queen’s College Girls’ Choir, and even Maddy Prior singing ‘The Song Of Hiawatha’. The results are breathtaking in their scope and scale. GRADE: B.

Mike Oldfield (UK): Exposed (Virgin VD2511, double, quadraphonic, 1979)
Progressive
Maddy Prior (occasional vocals), Debra Bronstein (occasional vocals), Marigo Acheson (occasional vocals), Emma Freud (occasional vocals), Diana Coulson (occasional vocals), Mary Elliott (occasional vocals), Mary Creed (occasional vocals), Cecily Hazell (occasional vocals), Wendy Lampitt (occasional vocals), Clara Harris (occasional vocals), Emma Smith (occasional vocals), Catherine Loewe (occasional vocals)
Oldfield’s first tour in 1979 was an epic affair, involving a host of musicians, string and horn sections, members of the Queen’s College Girls’ Choir, and Maddy Prior. The set consisted of the entire Incantations and Tubular Bells albums (though the former omitted about a third of the material) plus Oldfield’s disco-flavoured single ‘Guilty’. Given the logistics involved, the tour was a financial disaster, but this live LP is impressive throughout, even if the versions here rarely trump the studio originals. GRADE: B.
Mike Oldfield (UK): Exposed (Virgin 0946 38033 9 8, double DVD, 2006, recorded 1979)
Progressive
Maddy Prior (occasional vocals), Debra Bronstein (occasional vocals), Marigo Acheson (occasional vocals), Emma Freud (occasional vocals), Diana Coulson (occasional vocals), Mary Elliott (occasional vocals), Mary Creed (occasional vocals), Cecily Hazell (occasional vocals), Wendy Lampitt (occasional vocals), Clara Harris (occasional vocals), Emma Smith (occasional vocals), Catherine Loewe (occasional vocals)
The video version of the show, not released for a further 27 years, is visually unspectacular: with 50 musicians on stage, everything is pretty static and the whole thing resembles a classical concert rather than a gig. Nonetheless it’s fascinating to see this material being performed and it’s clear how much both the musicians and audience enjoyed the show. GRADE: B.
Mike Oldfield (UK): Platinum (Virgin V2141, with inner, 1979)
Progressive
Wendy Roberts (lead vocals)
Oldfield’s fifth album marked a partial change of direction, with a long suite on the first side and two shorter instrumentals and two songs on the flip. ‘Platinum’ itself reprises lots of familiar themes, but within a much more slick and rocking framework, indicating its genesis in New York; although the heavy drumming is a little intrusive, it’s very well crafted and manages to take in everything from nods towards the Charleston to an excerpt from Philip Glass’s ‘North Star’. Over on the B-side, ‘Woodhenge’ is an eerie and effective piece for tuned percussion,  ‘Into Wonderland’ is an undistinguished ballad based around a sequencer line, ‘Punkadiddle’ supposedly charts Oldfield’s reaction to punk but simply sounds like a new wave-tinged variant on his usual style, and the radical cover of ‘I Got Rhythm’ is much better than one would expect. Overall, Platinum is an odd and uneven LP, with the two songs appearing to belong to a different record entirely, but despite the rather unsympathetic production style the instrumental sections are generally excellent. As a footnote, the first pressing featured a song called ‘Sally’ in place of ‘Into Wonderland’ (actually, it’s the same song, but with a slower tempo and more humorous lyrics), which was removed at Richard Branson’s insistence – I don’t like it that much, but I prefer it to ‘Into Wonderland’. As a second footnote, the album was released in the States as Airborn, with ‘Guilty’ replacing ‘Woodhenge’. Later CD editions include a bonus disc recorded live at Wembley Arena in May 1980, featuring Wendy Roberts and Maggie Reilly on vocals: this is superb, including a far superior version of ‘Platinum’, excerpts from ‘Incantations’ and ‘Tubular Bells’ and much more besides. In fact, if this were a standalone release, I’d probably grade it at A– as it’s far more intense and rocking than the choral, orchestrated performances on Exposed. GRADE: B–.
Mike Oldfield (UK): The Essential Mike Oldfield (Virgin Video VVD011, VHS, 1980)
Progressive
Wendy Roberts (principal vocals, tambourine), Maggie Reilly (occasional vocals)
Although the title suggests a compilation, Oldfield’s first video captures his complete performance at the Knebworth Festival, interspersed with interview segments. With powerful, energetic versions of ‘Guilty’, ‘Tubular Bells’ and ‘Ommadawn’ (the latter beating the more pastoral studio original hands down, particularly during the electrifying ‘drums’ section), this is musically stunning, though visually the staging is rather unspectacular. GRADE: A.
Mike Oldfield (UK): QE2 (Virgin V2181, with inner, 1980)
Progressive
Maggie Reilly (principal vocals)
Unlike its predecessor, QE2 has no actual songs, consisting of mostly short instrumentals and pieces with wordless vocals. Like its predecessor, QE2 has a rather bright and unsympathetic production, with a distinctive eighties sound (not helped by Oldfield’s sudden fascination with the Vocoder). The opening ‘Taurus 1’ is the only piece over ten minutes and simply offers a procession of familiar Oldfield motifs and clichés; the rest of the album, including covers of Abba’s ‘Arrival’ and Jerry Lordan’s ‘Wonderful Land’, isn’t much more impressive, sometimes moving Oldfield close to the easy listening soft prog sound of acts like Blonker. The most recent ‘deluxe edition’ includes a lengthy bonus disc recorded during Oldfield’s European tour: this features most of QE2 (sounding much better live) plus ‘Ommadawn’, ‘Tubular Bells’ and a few shorter pieces. This is far superior to the album proper, and comfortably a Grade B. GRADE: C+.
Mike Oldfield (UK): Live At Montreux 1981 (Eagle Eye Media EE 39088-9, DVD, with booklet, 2006, recorded 1981)
Progressive
Maggie Reilly (lead vocals)
This live set, recorded during Oldfield’s European tour, sees him performing with an even more stripped-down five-piece backing band. The set list comprises much of QE2 plus ‘Platinum’, ‘Tubular Bells’, ‘Ommadawn’ and ‘Punkadiddle’; the recent material is decidedly superior to the studio versions, even if the Vocoder is again much in evidence. As usual with his shows, it’s pretty static visually, though the moment a jacketed waiter hands out drinks during the ‘cocktail jazz’ piano interlude in ‘Platinum’ is rather amusing. GRADE: A–.

Mike Oldfield (UK): Five Miles Out (Virgin V222, 1982)
Progressive/Pop/Rock
Maggie Reilly (principal vocals)
Five Miles Out is an odd album indeed: it’s generally a significant step up from QE2, but parts of it are almost unlistenable. The 25-minute ‘Taurus II’ occupies the whole of side one and offers a more modern, rocking twist on Oldfield’s familiar sound. For the most part, the results are impressive. Over on side two, ‘Family Man’ was Oldfield’s first pop hit (and later a global smash for Hall & Oates), but it’s odd to hear him doing AOR and borderline hard rock in the first place, let alone with crashing eighties drums. The thirteen-minute ‘Taurus II’ has beautiful, pastoral introductory and closing passages, but the main section is atrocious, with Vocoder vocals from Oldfield himself. The Vocoder also puts in an appearance on ‘Mount Teidi’ and ‘Five Miles Out’ itself; both would be decent pieces of music without it. The point is proven by the far superior demo of ‘Five Miles Out’ included on the deluxe reissue, with Maggie Reilly on vocals and with no Vocoder. If Five Miles Out proves anything, it’s that today’s cutting-edge technology frequently becomes tomorrow’s excruciating embarrassment. Once again, a live bonus album was included with recent CD reissues: this is again better than the album proper, being a solid B. GRADE: B–.
Mike Oldfield (UK): Crises (Virgin CDV 2262, CD, 1983)
Progressive/Pop/Rock
Maggie Reilly (joint lead vocals)
Following a similar format to Five Miles OutCrises has one lengthy piece followed by several shorter numbers. The 21-minute ‘Crises’ itself isn’t among Oldfield’s best extended pieces, with a rather superfluous vocal section, but it’s good enough and contains some of his old magic. ‘Moonlight Shadow’, beautifully sung by Maggie Reilly, is his best actual song and was deservedly a huge hit, but I don’t particularly like ‘In High Places’ as I’ve never liked Jon Anderson’s voice. To end the album, ‘Foreign Affair’, also sung by Reilly, is a pleasant pop song with a haunting refrain, ‘Taurus 3’ is a charming little instrumental, and ‘Shadow On The Wall’ is a good bluesy rocker that uses Roger Chapman’s distinctive voice to great effect. This time round, double and five-disc ‘deluxe editions’ were issued, with the latter including a double album of material from the Crises tour (which grades a B). GRADE: B–.

Mike Oldfield (UK): Discovery (Virgin CDV 2308, CD, 1984)
Pop/Rock/Progressive
Maggie Reilly (joint lead vocals)
Discovery represents both a logical step forward and a partial return to Oldfield’s original approach. His most song-based album to date, it features seven short pieces (ranging from the folk/rock of ‘To France’ to the hard rock of the title track) followed by a twelve-minute instrumental. Unlike his last few records, this sees Oldfield playing everything except the drums (which are credited to Simon Phillips, though they mostly sound programmed). The songs aren’t a bad bunch, though they do rehash familiar Oldfield themes (including bits of ‘Five Miles Out’ and ‘Moonlight Shadow’), but the thin sound resulting from overdubbing and the brash eighties production do them no favours; the instrumental fares no better and seems like a half-hearted effort to please old fans. GRADE: C+.
Mike Oldfield (UK): Islands (Virgin CDV 2466, CD, 1987)
Progressive/Pop/Rock
Anita Hegerland (joint lead vocals), Bonnie Tyler (occasional vocals)
Returning to the formula of PlatinumFive Miles Out and Crises, Oldfield devotes the first half to the 22-minute ‘The Wind Chimes’ and the second to six short songs. Whilst borrowing liberally from earlier works, ‘The Wind Chimes’ is pretty good, but the songs are rather a mediocre crop (and this time round, the writing is mediocre, rather than just the arrangements). For the most part, Oldfield uses his then-current girlfriend, former child pop star, Anita Hegerland as vocalist: her gentle voice suits his material well, which is not the case for Bonnie Tyler, whose fine voice is a mismatch with ‘Islands’ itself. GRADE: C+.
Mike Oldfield (UK): The Wind Chimes (Virgin Music Video VVD 353, VHS, 1988)
Progressive/Pop/Rock
Anita Hegerland (joint lead vocals), Maggie Reilly (occasional vocals), Bonnie Tyler (occasional vocals)
Oldfield’s second video features promotional films for almost the entire Islands album, as well as a few slightly older singles (‘Five Miles Out’, ‘Moonlight Shadow’. ‘Shine’, ‘Shadow On The Wall’ and ‘Pictures In The Dark’). Visually this is far more ambitious than the norm, mixing live action and then cutting-edge computer animation to interesting effect. GRADE: B–.
Mike Oldfield (UK): Earth Moving (Virgin CDV 2610, CD, 1989)
Pop/Rock
Maggie Reilly (occasional vocals), Anita Hegerland (occasional vocals), Carol Kenyon (occasional vocals), Nikkie Bentley (occasional vocals)
An entirely song-based Mike Oldfield album didn’t strike me as remotely appealing, unless he could manage ten numbers the quality of ‘Moonlight Shadow’. He managed zero, and this identikit eighties pop and AOR album remains the low point of his discography. GRADE: C.
Mike Oldfield (UK): Amarok (Virgin CDV 2640, CD, 1990)
Progressive
Clodagh Simonds (joint lead vocals), Bridget St John (joint lead vocals)
In stark contrast to the underwhelming Earth Moving, Amarok sees Oldfield’s return to full-blooded progressive rock, comprising a single sixty-minute piece intended as a spiritual successor to Ommadawn. I’m not keen on the brash digital recording, which includes some deafening brassy synthesiser blasts near the beginning, but musically this is his best since the seventies: a constantly changing tapestry of guitars, keyboards, African drums and wordless chanting, and even an appearance by noted impressionist Janet Brown as Margaret Thatcher. GRADE: B.
See also Cado Belle, Fovea Hex, Flairck, Tim Hart & Maddy Prior, Anita Hegerland, Mellow Candle, Sally Oldfield, Terry Oldfield, Pekka Pohjola, Maddy Prior, Maggie Reilly, Sallyangie, Clodagh Simonds, Bridget St John, Steeleye Span, XII Alfonso

Sally Oldfield (Ireland): Water Bearer (Bronze BRON 511, with insert, 1978)
Folk/Progressive
Sally Oldfield (lead vocals, guitar, bass synthesiser, keyboards, percussion, mandolin)
Sally Oldfield’s first solo album acts as a vehicle for her multi-instrumental talents and sometimes recalls her brother’s work texturally. The big difference is that this is entirely song-based, though side one is a suite and side two has a carefully judged organic flow. She’s a capable songwriter and has a lovely voice, making for a beautiful and very delicate LP; in fact, the hit single ‘Mirrors’, with its slight MOR edge, is the only cut I don’t like. GRADE: B–.
Sally Oldfield (Ireland): Easy (Bronze BRON 522, with insert, 1979)
Singer/Songwriter
Sally Oldfield (lead vocals, guitar, piano, percussion)
Quite different from Water BearerEasy offers gentle singer/songwriter fare that’s not a million miles from, say, contemporary Barbara Dickson. She remains a gifted singer and songwriter and the material is beautifully arranged, sometimes hinting towards a straighter sidestep from Renaissance, but it’s a definite step down in terms of ambition and creativity. Nonetheless, this does have some fine moments, particularly the uptempo ‘Hide And Seek’, with its mesmerising tuned percussion. GRADE: C+.

Sally Oldfield (Ireland): Celebration (Bronze BRON 528, with insert, UK, 1980)
Singer/Songwriter/Progressive
Sally Oldfield (lead vocals, keyboards, percussion)
The opening ‘Mandala’ is the best thing Oldfield ever wrote: a truly beautiful, shimmering piece with a catchy melody that demonstrates her voice to great effect. The rest is more conventional singer/songwriter fare, though of a very high standard, but the eight-minute ‘Blue Water’ has some progressive touches, with a sudden shift of mood and tempo in the middle. Once again, this should have considerable appeal for people who like Renaissance’s straighter ballads. GRADE: C+.
Sally Oldfield (Ireland): Playing In The Flame (Bronze BRON 536, with inner, UK, 1981)
Singer/Songwriter
Sally Oldfield (lead vocals, keyboards, glockenspiel, mandolin)
There’s nothing here as memorable as ‘Mandala’ and nothing with any progressive edges, but this is a fine singer/songwriter set by any standard, with the mood ranging from the delicate to the breezy. GRADE: C+.
Sally Oldfield (Ireland): In Concert (Bronze BRON 540, UK, 1982)
Singer/Songwriter
Sally Oldfield (lead vocals, guitar, piano, glockenspiel)
Oldfield’s live album has excellent sound quality and well-judged band backing, with one or two comparatively rocking moments. However, with nothing in the way of improvisation or between-songs dialogue, it doesn’t add much to the impression left by her studio releases. Once again, the excellent ‘Mandala’ is by far the highlight. GRADE: C+.

Sally Oldfield (Ireland): Strange Day In Berlin (Bronze BRON 549, with inner, UK, 1983)
Singer/Songwriter/Pop
Sally Oldfield (lead vocals, keyboards)
Oldfield goes eighties: the material may be in her familiar style, but the symphonic pop and borderline electro-pop arrangements are typical of their time, making for a patchy and dated album. It’s fairly insubstantial too, with just seven lengthy and languorous (but never complex or adventurous) songs. GRADE: C.
Sally Oldfield (Ireland): Femme (Columbia 451034 2, CD, West Germany, 1987)
Pop
With Femme, Oldfield changed her modus operandi, linking up with prolific German hitmakers and producers Gunther Mende and Wolfgang Detmann (aka ‘Candy de Rouge’), who co-wrote the bulk of the songs with her. Whilst there’s less of a mismatch between the material and the production style than on Strange Day In Berlin, the songs here are typical of those crafted by professional hitmakers: the lyrics are a catalogue of clichés and the music swells and soars in all the right places, with naggingly catchy choruses that are the antithesis of memorable. GRADE: C.
Sally Oldfield (Ireland): Instincts (Columbia 463007 2, CD, West Germany, 1988)
Pop
Sally Oldfield (principal vocals)
Recorded with the same producers and the same approach as its predecessor, Instincts represents a slight step up – the songs (three of which Oldfield wrote alone) are notably better. But this is still a predictable period piece and utterly anonymous, not to mention something of a waste of her talent. GRADE: C.
Sally Natasha Oldfield (Ireland): Natasha (CBS 467409 2, CD, West Germany, 1990)
Singer/Songwriter/Pop
Sally Oldfield (lead vocals, keyboards, programming)
Abandoning Mende and Detmann and returning to composing alone, Oldfield manages her best album in several years. That’s not to say that Natasha is brilliant: whilst the material is mildly interesting, with a slightly mystical edge and a few very minor progressive stylings, this suffers from the tweeness and MOR flavour that mars most of her albums. The thin, mostly electronic, arrangements have also dated rather badly, but this is still a definite step up from its predecessors. GRADE: C+.

Natasha Oldfield (Ireland): The Flame (Columbia 471373 2, CD, Germany, 1992)
Pop
Sally Oldfield (principal vocals, keyboards)
Why Sally Oldfield chose to use her middle name for this album, I have no idea; it’s not as though it represented a radical change of direction. The first half is downright poor, including an inferior remake of ‘Mandala’ and a dreadful cover of Van Morrison’s ‘Into The Mystic’, but the disc peaks in the middle with ‘Autumn Prelude’, ‘Love Song’ and ‘Flaming Star’, which offer a few fresh ideas and some slight progressive edges. GRADE: C+.

Sally Oldfield (Ireland): Three Rings (BMG 74321 19594 2, CD, Germany, 1994)
Singer/Songwriter/Pop/Rock
Sally Oldfield (lead vocals)
This features some of Oldfield’s best material in years (even if she does co-write most of it) and the arrangements are very well-judged, and for once angled more towards light rock than electronic pop. In fact, this is her best album since Water Bearer and a surprising return to form. GRADE: C+.
Sally Oldfield (Ireland): Secret Songs (MSM Music 74321410982, CD, Germany, 1996)
Pop/Dance
Sally Oldfield (lead vocals)
Slightly different yet again, Secret Songs up the ambient, dance and world music elements on a selection of pleasant and catchy but fairly insubstantial songs. ‘Flaming Star’, which would later become the title track of its own album, puts in its second appearance on an Oldfield LP. GRADE: C+.
Sally Oldfield (Ireland): Flaming Star (New World Music NWCD506, CD, UK, 2001)
Progressive/Dance/New Age
Sally Oldfield (lead vocals, keyboards)
Mixing old and new material, Flaming Star is essentially a chilled ambient dance music album, with lots of world music references: the results are solid and occasionally quite hypnotic. Oldfield followed this up with a couple of download-only compilations, Cantadora and Arrows Of Desire, that appear to include a few unreleased or reworked versions of old songs. GRADE: C+.

See also Mike Oldfield, Pekka Pohjola, Sallyangie

Terry Oldfield (UK): In Search Of The Trojan War (BBC REB 553, 1985)
Progressive/Classical
Alison Barlow (joint lead vocals)
The debut album by the third Oldfield sibling features music composed for a number of BBC television series. It occasionally hints towards brother Mike’s Incantations but is generally larger-scale and closer to classical music, complete with orchestration and both choral and soprano vocals. The actual music is pretty impressive too, and if Oldfield had been allowed to create a continuous suite rather than short, discrete pieces of music to accompany key scenes, this would have been a classic. GRADE: B–.
Terry Oldfield With Sally Oldfield (UK/Ireland): Star Of Heaven (New World Cassettes NWC 184, cassette, UK, 1989)
Progressive/New Age/Classical
Sally Oldfield (lead vocals)
Consisting of three long pieces drawing heavily on classical themes, Star Of Heaven sets Sally Oldfield’s beautiful voice against brother Terry’s lush keyboards and flute. With no percussion whatsoever and a consistently sepulchral mood, it’s an exceptionally beautiful, fragile and delicate record. GRADE: B–.
See also Mike Oldfield, Sally Oldfield, Pekka Pohjola, Sallyangie

Ole Blue (USA): The Baby Maker (Ode 70 SP-77002, 1971)
Folk/Rock/Psychedelic
Andrea Kouratou
This was the soundtrack to a film starring Barbara Hershey, who is pictured on the front cover; as a result, its 32 minutes of music includes several tracks around a minute long, a few instrumentals and no fewer than four different versions of ‘People Come, People Go’, which was presumably the main theme. Musically, it’s surprisingly satisfying, mixing nice pastoral folk/rock with a few forays into harder acid-rock. Since all the music was composed by Fred Karlin and a host of guest musicians are credited, it’s debatable whether Ole Blue was a real band or a selection of musicians assembled for the sessions, but two of the four group members (Bill Powell and Andrea Kouratou) had previously been in Beethoven Soul. GRADE: C+.
See also Beethoven Soul

Olive (Japan): Olive (Studio 3 STL-1015, 1976)
Progressive
Keiko Ohtsuka (lead vocals)
This is one of the rarest albums in the world, having sold for several thousand pounds. Musically it’s pretty good hard prog, with semi-operatic female vocals and arrangements centred around dual lead guitars, often recalling Carmen Maki & Oz with some hard rock and proto-new wave edges. As a footnote, this is an extremely long album, running for more than 55 minutes. GRADE: B–.
Om Shanti (USA): We Are Home (Solace NR 8828, 1977)
Folk/Rock/Progressive
Shanti Ess Raë (joint lead vocals, glockenspiel, autoharp)
This obscure album by a hippie couple assisted by their commune friends is an odd beast, being simultaneously rather brilliant and quite annoying. On the plus side, it has some wonderfully crystalline atmospheres, strong songwriting and a lovely organic flow with good use of both hand and tuned percussion. On the downside, the atmosphere is often too earnest and I find the singing style rather formal. Nonetheless, the disc is frequently outstanding and there’s enough good material here to make it well worth obtaining. GRADE: B–.

Omicron Ceti III (USA): The Colors Of Love (Contact, 1977)
Folk
Martha Bonds (joint lead vocals, guitar), Kathy Burns (joint lead vocals, guitar), Carolyn Venino (joint lead vocals, guitar)
The 'Star Trek'-derived name and lyrics suggest this should be space-rock, but in fact it’s old-fashioned harmony folk with simple acoustic guitar backing. All the songs are credited as originals, but they draw heavily from traditional sources (with ‘The Test’ borrowing its melody wholesale from ‘The Great Silkie’). With a very English, gentle sound, it’s a charming album and a mildly interesting curio. They went on to cut two further cassettes, Only Stars Can Last (1979) and Omicron Ceti III And Friends (1980), which I have never encountered. GRADE: C+.

Omnia Opera (UK): Beyond The Tenth (No label, cassette, 1986)
Psychedelic/Progressive
Nathalie Jones (occasional vocals), Lisa Moriaty (occasional vocals)
This is as good an album of raw, low-budget space-rock as anyone could wish for, taking many of its cues from Hawkwind but also demonstrating influences from Gong, early Pink Floyd and others. If it has a failing, the tape is perhaps just a little too long, but it’s certainly packed with some fine music. GRADE: B–.
Omnia Opera (UK): Celebrate For Change (No label, cassette, 1987)
Psychedelic/Progressive
Nathalie Jones (occasional vocals), Lisa Moriaty (occasional vocals)
The rather messy, punky opener ‘The Liquid Underground’ is somewhat underwhelming, but the second cut ‘The Awakening’ is an absolutely superb, atmospheric piece of space-rock – possibly the best thing the band ever did. Subsequent tracks also alternate between the punky and the spacy, making for a much more inconsistent album than their debut. However, when this is good it’s absolutely world class. GRADE: B–.

Omnia Opera (UK): Live (No label, cassette, 1989)
Psychedelic/Progressive/Metal
Nathalie Jones, Lisa Moriaty
On this rather rough (but well recorded) live album, their sound often comes as close to metal and punk as to psych and prog. Although it’s a good document of a certain mood and era in countercultural music, this is a definite step down from its predecessors. GRADE: C+.
Omnia Opera (UK): Omnia Opera (Delerium DELEC CD 011, CD, 1993)
Psychedelic/Progressive/Metal
Nathalie Jones (occasional vocals), Lisa Moriaty (occasional vocals)
Omnia Opera’s first vinyl and CD release (with the latter featuring two extra tracks totalling 18 minutes) evenly mixes new compositions with reworkings of older cuts. Like the live album, it emphasises their punk and metal roots, being far less tripped-out and much more plodding than either Beyond The Tenth or Celebrate For Change. In fairness, the album steadily improves as it progresses, although the more Omnia Opera one hears, the more obvious it becomes that nobody in the band can really sing. GRADE: C+.
Omnia Opera (UK): Red Shift (Delerium DELEC CD 044, CD, 1997)
Psychedelic/Progressive
Nathalie Jones (occasional vocals), Lisa Moriaty (occasional vocals)
Unlike its predecessor, this features entirely new material, and it’s a much more varied album, taking in everything from folkish ballads to elements of dance music. But whilst there’s some fine space-rock on offer, there aren’t any truly great songs, and the band’s habit of stretching its material out ad infinitum (witness the ridiculously long opener ‘Annihilation’) quickly becomes wearing. GRADE: C+.
Omnia Opera (UK): Nothing Is Ordinary (Umbilical UMBILICAL01CD, double CD, with gatefold minisleeve, inners and booklet, 2011)
Psychedelic/Progressive
Libby Vale (occasional vocals, effects)
After their disappointing Delerium CDs, this is a remarkable return to form (and perhaps a remarkable return full stop, after fourteen years of silence). This beautifully packaged set offers two hours of prime space-rock, with the emphasis firmly on the psychedelic rather than the punky: as usual, their biggest influence is Hawkwind, but they recall numerous other bands, even including Catapilla (on a remake of ‘The Liquid Underground’, with saxophone from the Cardiacs’ Sarah Smith). Typically for Omnia Opera, it’s a synthesis of seventies elements rather than anything mouldbreaking, but it’s superbly done, and as a final bonus Libby Vale can really sing (whilst the male vocals are nowhere near as annoying as normal). GRADE: B–.
See also Omniasphere

Omniasphere (UK): Surfing The Zuvuya (No label, cassette, 1990)
Psychedelic/Progressive
Nathalie Jones (occasional vocals), Lisa Moriaty (occasional vocals)
This offshoot project by four members of Omnia Opera marries the band’s usual heavy space-rock style with synthesised and programmed backing, almost like an amalgam of Hawkwind and Astralasia. It’s an interesting set, though only the closing cut ‘Malgi Riff’ is really exceptional (and I wonder why it was made, since the marriage of styles is not obvious and sometimes works quite oddly). GRADE: C+.
See also Omnia Opera

One Day (UK/USA): One Day (New World DT31, UK, 1977)
Pop/Rock
Aunt Charlotte Band, Sonia King
The result of a songwriting competition organised by an expatriate American based in Northamptonshire, this extremely rare private pressing consists mainly of sophisticated progressive pop, recalling Abbey Road-era Beatles, ELO, 10cc and Supertramp. Two of the ten cuts were recorded by entirely different line-ups: one is credited to Aunt Charlotte Band, and follows the McCartney-esque mood of the rest of the set, whilst Sonia King’s ‘Blue Skies’ is perhaps the standout – a beautiful piece of acid-folk with acoustic guitars and Mellotron. She later went on to release several cassette and CD-only albums in a similar Christian folk vein. GRADE: C+.
See also Sonia King

One Time Syncopated Codpiece (UK): Once More With Feeling (John Hassell Recordings HAS LP 1195, with insert, 1971)
Jugband
Cynthia Grannon
This bizarrely-named outfit existed from 1969 to 1971, and issued this very rare private LP, which is half live (‘Live Side’) and half studio (‘Dead Side’) to mark its dissolution. Rather than being the toytown popsike act their name might suggest, they mostly offered lo-fi, rather stoned folk-blues in a style similar to Panama Limited Jug Band. However, there is some nice hippie-folk here as well, including the opening ‘The Seasons’, ‘Portland Town’ and best of all the weird, Incredible String Band-like ‘Fire’, which is actually a reworking of the Rolling Stones song ‘Play With Fire’. GRADE: C+.

Yoko Ono & John Lennon (Japan/UK): Unfinished Music No 1: Two Virgins (Apple (S)APCOR, UK, 1968)
Avant-Garde
Paralleling contemporaneous explorations in the krautrock underground, Lennon and Ono assembled two fascinating soundscapes full of taped and electronic effects, snatches of distorted music, improvised vocals and screams. It still sounds fresh and interesting nearly fifty years on, and was enormously influential. GRADE: C+.
John Lennon & Yoko Ono (UK/Japan): Unfinished Music No 2: Life With The Lions (Zapple ZAPPLE 01, with inner, UK, 1969)
Avant-Garde
Yoko Ono (lead vocals)
Two Virgins was a fascinating album, but also a short one – generally a good thing with challenging avant-garde works. By contrast, Life With The Lions runs for some fifty minutes – and therein lies its downfall. The opening ‘Cambridge 1969’, which sets Ono’s freeform wailing against Lennon’s distorted feedback guitar, would have been brilliant at half the length, but twenty-six-and-a-half minutes is manifestly excessive for such a formless and unstructured piece. ‘Baby’s Heartbeat’ actually doesn’t outstay its welcome at five minutes, since the treatments almost make it sound like a collection of synthesised effects, but the less said about the notorious twelve-minute ‘Radio Play’ the better. GRADE: C–.
John Lennon & Yoko Ono (UK): Wedding Album (Apple SAPCOR 11, boxed set with wedding certificate glued to the lid, laminated gatefold sleeve, plastic bag, two posters, booklet, postcard, photo strip and photograph, UK, 1969)
Avant-Garde
Yoko Ono (joint lead vocals, effects)
The law of diminishing returns had really set in for Lennon and Ono’s avant-garde albums by this point. ‘John And Yoko’ is twenty-three minutes of the couple whispering, shouting and wailing each other’s name over an embryo’s heartbeat, whilst the even longer ‘Amsterdam’ mainly consists of an interview of remarkable banality. Little wonder the album is only remembered today for its amazingly elaborate packaging. GRADE: E.
Plastic Ono Band (UK/Japan/West Germany): Live Peace In Toronto 1969 (Apple CORE 2001, with calendar, UK, 1969)
Rock/Avant-Garde
Yoko Ono (joint lead vocals)
This has always had a poor reputation, probably because most people were expecting superbly crafted pop in the manner of the later Beatles LPs. However, side one (largely consisting of rock and roll and early sixties covers) is visceral and exciting, and side two is intriguing and inventive if you like Yoko Ono’s early freeform style (which I do). GRADE: C+.
Yoko Ono & Plastic Ono Band (UK/Japan/West Germany): Yoko Ono And Plastic Ono Band (Apple SAPCOR 17, with inner, UK, 1970)
Rock/Avant-Garde
Yoko Ono (lead vocals)
The album sets its stall out early, with the remarkably punchy ‘Why’ pairing Ono’s banshee wail with shards of Lennon’s staccato guitar, plus a scratchy, funky rhythm that sounds like the product of some early eighties indie band. But thereafter it’s variations upon a theme, setting Ono’s improvisations and glossolalia against slide guitars (‘Why Not’), free jazz (‘AOS’) and acoustic guitar (the seemingly interminable 17-minute CD bonus track ‘The South Wind’). However, whilst the album doesn't demonstrate the broadest vision, it's simply remarkable, sounding years ahead of its time and predating countless post-punk and new wave experimenters. GRADE: B.

Yoko Ono & Plastic Ono Band (UK/Japan/West Germany/USA): Fly (Apple SAPTU 102, double, with inners, poster and postcard, UK, 1971)

Rock/Avant-Garde
Yoko Ono (lead vocals, claves)
The space afforded by a double album allows Ono to stretch out and demonstrate all her facets, from the haunting balladry of ‘Mrs Lennon’ to the wild vocal improvisations of ‘Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow)’ to the echoing percussion effects of ‘Airmale’ and ‘Don’t Count The Waves’ to 17 minutes of repetitive, funky riffing on ‘Mindtrain’. In fact, the only real misstep is the title track: 23 minutes of largely unaccompanied vocal improvisation that is quite astoundingly tedious. That cut aside, this is a surprisingly cohesive set that still stands as a landmark of avant-garde underground rock. GRADE: B–.
John Lennon, Yoko Ono & Plastic Ono Band With Elephant’s Memory, Invisible Strings & Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention (UK/Japan/USA): Some Time In New York City/Live Jam (Apple PCS 716, double, with inners, UK, 1972)
Rock
Yoko Ono (joint lead vocals, drums)
Though the writing credits are spread evenly across the two albums, the first disc is dominated by Lennon’s sensibilities and the second by Ono’s. Consequently, the first album offers straight and rather uninteresting rock, surprisingly sloppy in its execution given Phil Spector’s involvement, and accompanied by crude sloganeering lyrics that frequently border on the idiotic in their naïve grasp of contemporary politics. It’s the second album that contains the real meat. Opening with a powerful reading of Lennon’s ‘Cold Turkey’, it proceeds with a superb extended rendition of Ono’s cathartic ‘Don’t Worry Kyoko’ before excellent versions of ‘Well (Baby Please Don’t Go)’ and Frank Zappa’s ‘King Kong’ (rather bizarrely retitled ‘Jamrag’ and credited as a Lennon/Ono composition). In contrast, it’s hard to believe that it took the combined talents of Lennon, Ono and Zappa to pen the lazy, space-filling jam ‘Scumbag’. GRADE: C+.
Yoko Ono (Japan): Approximately Infinite Universe (Apple SAPDO 1001, double, with inners, UK, 1973)
Rock
Yoko Ono (lead vocals, piano)
Ono’s first (double) album of conventional rock songs is a huge departure from anything she’d recorded before. It’s rather good, too, with bluesy, funky backing from the Plastic Ono Band and Elephant’s Memory, and a few well-performed ballads thrown into the mix. The opening ‘Yang Yang’ is clearly the standout cut, but Ono maintains a high level of intensity throughout, as song titles like ‘I Felt Like Smashing My Face In A Clear Glass Window’ and ‘What A Bastard The World Is’ attest. GRADE: C+.
Yoko Ono With Plastic Ono Band (Japan/USA): Feeling The Space (Apple SAPCOR 26, UK, 1973)
Rock
Yoko Ono (lead vocals)
Similar in style to Approximately Infinite Universe but much slower, this finds Ono concentrating on laid-back balladry, though rock tracks like ‘Woman Power’ are highly effective. It’s all very well done, and just about impossible to believe that this is the same woman that gave us ‘Don’t Worry Kyoko’ et al. GRADE: C+.

Yoko Ono (Japan): A Story (Rykodisc RCD 10420, CD, with insert and obi, USA, 1997, recorded 1974)
Pop/Rock
Yoko Ono (lead vocals)
Recorded in 1974 but unreleased until 1992 (when it appeared as the sixth disc on Ono’s boxed set, getting a standalone release with a slightly different track listing five years later), Ono’s ‘lost’ album contains in the vein of Feeling The Space. If there’s any significant difference, A Story is lighter and more pop-oriented, making for a pleasant if inessential LP. GRADE: C+.
John Lennon & Yoko Ono (UK/Japan): Double Fantasy (Geffen K 99131, with inner, UK, 1980)
Pop/Rock
Yoko Ono (joint lead vocals)
Ono’s (and indeed Lennon’s) first album in years sees the duo contributing seven songs apiece. Lennon’s include two classics in ‘Watching The Wheels’ and ‘Woman’, whilst Ono’s are more experimental than her last couple of albums, blending in influences from funk, reggae and new wave. The segue of Lennon’s ‘I’m Losing You’ and her ‘I’m Moving On’ is also brilliantly done, but the 14 numbers contain a moderate amount of filler. In view of Lennon’s imminent death, the lyrics – concerning marital bliss and his joy and seeing his son Sean grow – are simply heartbreaking, however. GRADE: C+.
Yoko Ono (Japan): Season Of Glass (Geffen P-11045J, with inner, 1981)
Singer/Songwriter/Rock
Yoko Ono (lead vocals)
The most striking feature of Season Of Glass is its eerie cover, featuring John Lennon’s bloodstained glasses. Belying the impression given by the radical non-album single ‘Walking On Thin Ice’, the first few songs offer fairly straightforward singer/songwriter music, but things thankfully get considerably weirder in the moddle of the LP, hinting towards the single’s mutant new wave-ish avant-funk. GRADE: C+.

Yoko Ono (Japan): It’s Alright (I See Rainbows) (Polydor 28MM 0241, with insert, 1982)
Pop
Yoko Ono (lead vocals)
This is Yoko Ono’s synth-pop album, and like many albums in the genre it has dated appallingly. Even if she’d written a conspicuously great set of songs, they would have struggled to overcome the arrangements here, and the material is nothing special. GRADE: C–.
John Lennon & Yoko Ono (UK/Japan): Milk And Honey (Polydor POLH 5, UK, 1984, recorded 1980)
Pop/Rock/Reggae
Yoko Ono (joint lead vocals, piano)
This companion piece to Double Fantasy was recorded at the same time but only released four years after Lennon’s death. Despite the presence of only one classic song (‘Nobody Told Me’), it’s actually the better album of the two, with consistently strong material from both Lennon and Ono. Oddly, both of them favour reggae rhythms on several songs; this was not a genre that generally seemed to interest either of them. GRADE: C+.
Yoko Ono (Japan): Starpeace (Polydor P33P 20034, CD, 1985)
Pop
Yoko Ono (lead vocals)
After the execrable It’s Alright, I didn’t have high hopes for this, and indeed it isn’t among Ono’s finest moments. However, it is a bit of a step up, marrying It’s Alright’s high-tech pop with some world music touches (including more reggae rhythms) and hard rock guitars to create a likeable, if lightweight and dated, LP. GRADE: C.
Yoko Ono & IMA (Japan/USA): Rising (Capitol 7243 8 35817 2 6, CD, USA, 1995)
Garage/Rock
Yoko Ono (lead vocals)
Ono’s first album in ten years is also easily her best for more than twenty. Abandoning the superficial synth-pop of her last couple of releases (and indeed the light Lennon-influenced ballads and rockers of the several before that), she returns to the spirit of Plastic Ono Band and Fly. That said, this is rather more conventional, with several actual songs, and it reflects a more modern rock sensibility, with particular influences from Sonic Youth. Setting its stall out early with the abrasive, almost metallic, opener ‘Warzone’, the album offers a broad range of moods and textures and constantly surprises with its changes of direction. GRADE: B–.

Yoko Ono & IMA (Japan/USA): Rising Mixes (Capitol 7243 8 37268 0 6, CD, USA, 1996)
Garage/Rock/Dance/Folk
Yoko Ono (lead vocals)
In theory, I hate this kind of album: the disc offers remixes of five songs from Rising (undertaken by luminaries such as Thurston Moore and Tricky) followed by a new 30-minute improvisation ‘Franklin Summer’. In practice, I rather like the album: the remixes are interesting and ‘Franklin Summer’ is a pleasant folky piece. That said, this never equals the original LP, so perhaps it was superfluous after all. GRADE: C+.
Yoko Ono (Japan): Blueprint For A Sunrise (Capitol 7243 5 36065 2 6, CD, USA, 2001)
Rock/Avant-Garde
Yoko Ono (lead vocals)
Mixing new studio recordings, live numbers and reworkings of older songs, Blueprint For A Sunrise is a surprisingly coherent album. That’s not to say it isn’t varied: there’s everything here from melodic mainstream rock to some highly experimental cuts, with almost everything working well. GRADE: B–.
Ono (Japan): Yes, I’m A Witch (Astralwerks ASW 79287 094637928721, CD, 2007)
Rock/Psychedelic/Avant-Garde
This is another remix album, with material stretching all the way back to ‘Cambridge 1969’. Actually, that undersells the set, as most of the collaborators create entirely new musical backing for Ono’s vocals (with the Flaming Lips transforming ‘Cambridge 1969’ into a wonderfully trippy piece combining the spirit of sixties Pink Floyd with modern psychedelic and indie stylings). Almost all the collaborators avoid the temptation to do trance and trip-hop versions, with the backing ranging from simple piano to full rock and jazzy settings. The results are surprisingly effective and this actually threatens to give remix albums a good name. GRADE: B–.

Ono (Japan): Open Your Box (Astralwerks ASW 88710 094638871026, CD, 2007)
Dance
This is the collection of dance remixes that Yes, I’m A Witch wasn’t (as the list of collaborators makes clear: Basement Jaxx, the Pet Shop Boys, one Bimbo Jones and Felix Da Housecat, whoever that may be). It’s actually much better than one might expect, so if you’ve ever wanted to hear a Yoko Ono dance album (and I certainly haven’t) this is the set for you. GRADE: C+.
Yoko Ono & Plastic Ono Band (Japan/USA): Between My Head And The Sky (Chimera Music, with gatefold minisleeve and booklet, 2009)
Rock/Avant-Garde
Yoko Ono (lead vocals)
Ono’s first album of new material since Rising, thirteen years previously, is both a logical follow-up and a worthy addition to her discography. A very varied set, Between My Head And The Sky takes in everything from weird jazzy rock to borderline reggae to gentle, rather psychedelic ballads, all shot through with great energy and invention. It also confirms how close her sensibilities are to Gilli Smyth’s; something that hadn’t struck me so clearly before. GRADE: B–.
Yoko Ono, Kim Gordon & Thurston Moore (Japan/USA): YokoKimThurston (Chimera Music, CD, with gatefold minisleeve, USA, 2012)
Avant-Garde
This is Ono’s most avant-garde album for years, harking back to her early seventies work (and sometimes even further, to the Unfinished Music albums). That’s not a compliment: setting her glossolalia against random guitar strums and scrapes from her Sonic Youth collaborators, this is a perfectly listenable album but also one that goes precisely nowhere. GRADE: C+.
Yoko Ono & Plastic Ono Band (Japan/USA): Take Me To The Land Of Hell (Chimera Music XQJQ-1011, double Blu-spec CD2, with gatefold minisleeve, booklet, poster booklet and obi, Japan, 2013)
Rock
Yoko Ono (lead vocals)
This is a bit more conventional than most of Ono’s recent work, though there are still plenty of experimental touches, not to mention an impressive cast of guests (including Lenny Kravitz and Adam Horowitz). For some reason, the Japanese pressing (as a Blu-spec CD2) includes a second disc that features only one song: a short vocal improvisation. GRADE: C+.

Yoko Ono (Japan): Warzone (Sony Music SICX 30062, Blu-Spec CD2, with gatefold minisleeve, booklets and obi, 2018)
Singer/Songwriter/Avant-Garde
Yoko Ono (lead vocals)
It’s hard to think of any other octogenarian making music as challenging as Yoko Ono’s, but Warzone isn’t always challenging in a good way. Consisting of re-recordings of older songs, the album offers minimalistic keyboard-based arrangements that expose her slightly querulous singing and heavy Oriental accent a little too clearly. It’s by no means bad or unpleasant, but the occasional moments of rock energy really lift the set, making it obvious that Ono is at her best fronting a full band. GRADE: C+.

Onyx (USA): Also Featuring Wildwood (No label, with insert, 1981?)
Rock/Metal
Lisa Biagioni (joint lead vocals, guitar), Bernice De Leo (joint lead vocals), Sharon Edison (joint lead vocals), Nancy Livingston (guitar), Beth De Rosa (bass, flute, backing vocals), Sharon Thrall (flute)
This school project album offers a mix of hard rock and AOR sounds, consisting entirely of well-interpreted cover versions. Some of the lighter numbers (notably ‘It Keeps You Runnin’’ and ‘What A Fool Believes’) are unremarkable, and the band is much more solid on the harder or more intricate cuts (‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’, ‘Love Alive’). However, the two standouts are side one’s closers ‘Heartbreaker’ (a brilliant reinterpretaton of the Led Zeppelin classic) and ‘Godzilla’, where the band is at its heaviest and firing on all cylinders. The odd title stems from the fact that a second outfit, Wildwood, performs one number and contributes harmony vocals elsewhere. GRADE: C+.
Onyx (USA): Eyes To The Future (No label CSS 299, with inner, 1983)
Rock
Joanne Lombardo (joint lead vocals), Debbie Boehnert (joint lead vocals)
Recorded with an almost entirely different line-up (suggesting that the band was attached to the school rather than to any particular members), their second and final album mostly features original compositions. At the same time, covers of Heart, Journey, Foreigner and the Rossington Collins Band give a fair indication as to their influences. Like their debut, this is well played and sung AOR and hard rock with minor progressive edges; not a record with a great deal of personality, but a pretty good one nonetheless. GRADE: C+.