Mike Oldfield, Hergest Ridge, And…

My brother and I were committed Anglomaniacs. This was inevitable. Growing up in Palm Beach can be a decidedly unAmerican business; being raised in the “English” church only made matters worse. When he died, the only cash he had on his person was a pound note. (My mother had squirrelled away one too.)

People talk about the 1960’s “British invasion” of rock music; in our case, and especially mine, the conquest was complete. This was important; as Allan Bloom pointed out in The Closing of the American Mind, our literature didn’t do much for our self-identification but our music did. By the time I graduated from prep school, virtually everything I listened to came from the U.K.

When I got to college, I was confronted with contemporary Christian music, in one of two forms. The first was the post-Vatican II folk liturgical music such as we used in our folk masses (I had become a Roman Catholic by then.) The second was the Maranatha style coffee house music.

Contemporary Christian music was in its infancy — and a glorious infancy it was — but I was put off by it. For one thing it was too simplistic and not “heavy” enough. But another serious problem with it was that it was all American. After years of British rock, what came from this side of the Atlantic just didn’t cut it.  Never mind that the messages coming out of all this British stuff was not what I needed to hear and that I knew it; old habits were hard to break.  (This was of course before I discovered the wonder of Adrian Snell, Cloud, Bill Atwood, Sheila Walsh and the like.)

This was a serious challenge; fortunately, there was an answer and a diversion.

The answer was to be found in contemporary Christian music that took the calibre of performance beyond its beginnings. Probably no artist could do this better than Phil Keaggy, who was by Jimi Hendrix’ admission the greatest rock guitarist ever. His What a Day album — a masterpiece even years after its first issue — forced me to take a new look both at Christian music in particular and American music in general.

The diversion was Mike Oldfield. He burst upon the scene with Tubular Bells, whose fame on this side of the Atlantic was fuelled by its use in the move The Exorcist. This work was intriguing; best of all, it had no lyrics (except for Vivian Stanshall’s!) So conflicts in that field were eliminated.

But Oldfield’s album that really blew me away was Hergest Ridge (the original mix; the remix that appeared in the Boxed set and all CD’s is a disaster.) That rendition was an intensely pastoral work. At the time I was living out in central Texas. I was surrounded by and lived in a bucolic rural environment. Although it was birthed in a physical environment that was different from mine, the pastoral appeal was intense.

In the middle of all of this the call of God to take a serious step higher with Him was getting louder all the time. The music may have had some deficiencies but what the Christians around me were saying and living looked like an improvement to me. It took some time to get past all of the obstacles I threw in their way but when the crunch came to make a change I did so; as Chuck Girard would sing, I went from the front seat to the back seat and left “all the driving to the Chief.”

In 1976 the opportunity came to travel outside the U.S., and where else to go but the UK? So I spent a month there. In addition to the usual sites that people go to in Great Britain, I really wanted to find out about Hergest Ridge. It took some digging through the Ordnance Survey maps but I found it.
And so on that day in early August 1976 I ascended Hergest Ridge. Having not spent much time in hilly country up to then, I found it breathtaking; perhaps the photographs in the video to the right will do some justice to that. It was also surprising that it was so treeless; the sheep did a commendable job in keeping it mowed as well.

One of the effects of any media production is to make things larger than life. When I got to the top I realized that, for all the hype, this was in reality just a hill, albeit a beautiful one. It could go no further, but the God who had made it could, and there He crystallized my understanding of where I was going in Him, and that I had a real purpose and place in His plan. The realization of that has taken a long time; this web site is a part of that. Things looked a lot better after the descent then before I went up. I lost track of Oldfield’s music after Exposed (except for Islands), but what I brought back from Hergest Ridge was far more important.

And as for my brother? Well, his life took a different turn from mine. Things went along for him in an ordinary way for a while, but things that weren’t right in his life eventually caught up with him. His health never was the best, with heart trouble and colon cancer; only his rigorous physical exercise compensated for this. He smoked and drank heavily, both of which had serious precedent in our family. His wife eventually left him. He turned to love with a live in girlfriend. When financial ruin arrived and kidney cancer struck, his girlfriend dropped him off — in every sense of the word — at a rehabilitation centre.

Destitute, broken in health, mental state and finances, he had an out of body experience in which he was taken before a hall full of “elders.” The message he heard there was simple: “You must obey God’s way.” He then realized what had been underscored for me atop Hergest Ridge; that salvation in Jesus Christ was the only way out of the morass of this life.

After his time in the rehabilitation centre life started to come together again; he got a job (click here for a story related to that) and he, through a program, put his alcohol program behind him. But it was cut short with the discovery that he had pancreatic cancer. Not even the excellent M.D. Anderson clinic could help him; three months after diagnosis he was dead.

It’s not been easy to lose him, even though it’s been several years since that happened. But I know that he, having made Jesus Christ his Lord and Saviour, has eternal life, a life that will know no end and a life that is always with God. One of these days I look forward to the day when we can be together again in that eternal life, and that will be the best mountain top experience of all.

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