Incantations (album)

Incantations is the fourth studio album by English musician, songwriter, and producer Mike Oldfield, released on 1 December 1978 by Virgin Records. Following the release of his previous album Ommadawn (1975), Oldfield moved into a new home in Bisley, Gloucestershire, where he set up a new recording studio. He started on a follow-up in 1977 which took form as a double album with one, side-long track on each side of the LP record. Oldfield wished to use real incantations in the music, but ended up using folklore as a loose running theme, such as Dianna the Huntress. Though primarily instrumental, lyrical sections are adapted from works by poets Henry Longfellow and Ben Jonson. Oldfield completed the self-awareness seminar Exegesis while recording Incantations.

Incantations (Mike Oldfield album - cover art).jpg
Studio album by
Released1 December 1978 (1978-12-01)
RecordedDecember 1977–September 1978
StudioThrougham Slad Manor, Bisley, England
GenreProgressive rock
ProducerMike Oldfield
Mike Oldfield chronology

Incantations peaked at No. 14 on the UK Albums Chart, becoming Oldfield's first album not to reach the UK top-five. It was supported by Oldfield's first concert tour as a solo artist, the Tour of Europe 1979, which featured all four parts of Incantations performed on stage with a band, orchestra, and choir. The album was reissued in 2000 and 2011; the latter release features a new digital remaster and additional content, including Oldfield's 1979 disco-influenced non-album single "Guilty" and footage from his 1979 live album, Exposed.

Background and writingEdit

By the end of 1975 Oldfield had released his third album, Ommadawn (1975), which, like his previous two albums, Tubular Bells (1973) and Hergest Ridge (1974), had reached the top-five of the UK Albums Chart and helped to solidify Oldfield's popularity as a musician. The three albums were similar in structure, formed of a single composition split into two parts of the LP record. The release of Ommadawn marked the end of Oldfield's time at his home in Kington, Herefordshire, from which he moved to Througham Slad Manor near Bisley, Gloucestershire and set up a recording studio there.[1]

When work on Incantations began, Oldfield recalled that his initial goal was a record that contained "real incantations to exert a benign magical influence on anybody who heard it".[2] He intended to base the music around real spells and chants, and asked the A&R department of his label, Virgin Records, to invite the head Druid to his home and discuss it further. The visit was unsuccessful; Oldfield's request for magic spells was turned down and he got the impression that the person was more interested in converting him to the movement. Keith Critchlow then introduced Oldfield to various "strange people" to gain inspiration, including poet Kathleen Raine, whose poems failed to conjure strong enough music, and a "shaman, gypsy-type woman" who remained silent all through her meeting with Oldfield.[3] Then, a Virgin employee researched into British folklore and suggested Gog and Magog, from which Oldfield was able to find incantations that worked, specifically about Dianna the Huntress, which he then used as a running theme through the album.[4][2]

Oldfield had been listening to a greater amount of religious music than before, which he credited to keep him "calm and sane" as he described himself as "very disturbed" during this time.[5] He also examined the styles of music of his previous albums; rock with a classical music format on his debut Tubular Bells, Celtic music on Hergest Ridge, and "more African" styles on Ommadawn.[5] For Incantations, Oldfield wanted to present "some magical things", which influenced his decision use a string section and flute.[5] The album marked Oldfield's first attempt with a string section and wrote the orchestral arrangements parts himself. He hired the group of around eighteen musicians to play in his studio. After some early cuts were produced, Oldfield started work on a more complicated sequence which featured various time signatures and every key on a music scale, which reminded him of the nursery rhyme "Frère Jacques". It developed into the double vibraphone section on "Incantations (Part Four)".[6] This section was one that Oldfield described as "the closest I've ever come to self-expression" and deemed it, along with the electric guitar solo that follows it and a flute solo elsewhere, as the most important part of the album.[7]

In its final form, Incantations took shape as a double album and separated into four distinct parts, each one taking up one side of an LP record. Oldfield had felt guilty that he had not released new material in three years, which influenced him to make a double.[7] Oldfield named composer and electronic musician Terry Riley as a big influence on Incantations, particularly his use of ostinato.[8] At 72 minutes in total length, Incantations remained Oldfield's longest album until his 2005 double album, Light + Shade.


Througham Slad Manor, where the album was recorded

Incantations was recorded at Througham Slad between December 1977 and September 1978, during which Oldfield faced professional and personal difficulties. After some 20 minutes of music was recorded, staff at Virgin Records asked Oldfield to hear what had been done. Oldfield recalled that one day, "a delegation arrived at my house", including label founder Richard Branson.[9] Upon hearing the music, and telling the staff that Incantations was to be a double album with what Oldfield called a "mathematical and classical-sounding" piece, Oldfield wrote: "They quietly sat around the place listening; at the end, Richard was his usual cheerful self but everyone else filed out in silence".[9] Oldfield theorised that the incident helped to convince Virgin management to switch from being a predominantly progressive rock label and to begin supporting punk bands, who were becoming popular. In addition to the lack of support from his label, Oldfield became a target in the music press as being outdated and no longer in fashion. These events drained Oldfield's inspiration and enthusiasm for Incantations and recording slowed.[10] He started to drink heavily, becoming more aggressive and withdrawn which ended his relationship with Critchlow's daughter Louise. He looked back on this time as when life was "really at rock bottom".[11]

In June 1978, after a road trip to Italy and Greece with his brother and time at home with his father had failed to help his situation, Oldfield was recommended to attend an Exegesis seminar by the wife of his studio engineer. After the three-day assertiveness course Oldfield said he felt "nothing but absolute relief and euphoria".[12]

Along with some other pieces of Oldfield's work, a different version of "Part Four" was used for the soundtrack of Tony Palmer's The Space Movie


Oldfield based the musical ideas he had for Incantations on the circle of fifths, which demonstrates the relationship among the twelve pitches of the chromatic scale, their corresponding key signatures, and the associated major and minor keys.[13]

When the CD version was released, early pressings unnecessarily have "Part Three" shortened from 16:59 to 13:49 by cutting the beginning. When 80-minute CDs became the norm and quality control was increased, the full cut of "Part Three" was restored. All modern pressings have the full version of the track.


Parts one, two, and four of the composition feature lyrics; part three is instrumental.[14] The lyrics to part one repeat the name of three Roman goddesses: Diana, Luna, and Lucina. The second half of part two features chapters 22 and 12 (in that order) of the 1855 epic poem The Song of Hiawatha by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The lyrics in part four are from "Ode to Cynthia" from the satirical stage play Cynthia's Revels by Ben Jonson.


Cala Pregonda

The album's cover was designed by photographer and artist Trevor Key, who had also designed the sleeves for Tubular Bells and Hergest Ridge. The front photograph was taken at Cala Pregonda beach on the Spanish island of Menorca. It is unclear whether Oldfield was actually on the beach at the time it was taken, though it is possible from looking at other photographs from the shoot. It is assumed that Key cut and pasted the image of Oldfield onto a slightly different background for artistic reasons. Early pressings of the LP included a poster showing a subtly different photograph from the one used on the cover. The 2011 reissue of the album was given new artwork, showing a new photograph of the same rock formation depicted in the background of the original, but no image of Oldfield.

Release and receptionEdit

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic     [15]

Incantations was released in the UK on 1 December 1978. It received a strong initial commercial response, reaching platinum certification by the British Phonographic Industry two weeks prior after receiving over 300,000 preorders.[16] It peaked at No. 14 on the UK Albums Chart. The album was promoted with the release of "Guilty", a non-album track that was released in April 1979 with the four-minute "Excerpt from Incantations" on the B-side. The single reached No. 22 on the UK Singles Chart.


Incantations was first issued on CD in 1985 by Virgin Records. This release features a cut version of "Incantations (Part Three)" for a running time of 13:49.[17] A CD reissue from 1988 included the complete track.[18] A remaster completed by Simon Heyworth was released on HDCD in 2000 with updated inner sleeve artwork and a short essay by Dave Laing.[19]

In July 2011, Incantations was reissued by Mercury Records in standard and Deluxe CDs and limited edition vinyl signed by Oldfield. It also contains new cover artwork and a 16-page booklet with an essay. The standard edition contains a remastered stereo mix of the album with "Guilty" as a bonus track. The Deluxe package contains material from the standard edition, an extra CD of singles and previously unreleased tracks from the album's sessions, and a DVD with a 5.1 surround sound mix of some of the latter tracks, promotional videos, and live footage of Incantations from 1979 originally released on the Exposed video.[20] The 2011 reissue does not contain the album in 5.1 surround sound, as the original multi-track tapes had either badly deteriorated or been lost.[21] The 2011 reissue went to No. 70 in the UK.

Track listingEdit

All music by Mike Oldfield. Lyrics on "Incantations (Part Two)" by Longfellow and "Incantations (Part Four)" by Ben Jonson.

Original LPEdit

Side one
1."Incantations (Part One)"19:08
Side two
1."Incantations (Part Two)"19:36
Side three
1."Incantations (Part Three)"16:58
Side four
1."Incantations (Part Four)"17:01

2011 Deluxe EditionEdit

CD 1
1."Incantations (Part One) (2011 Stereo Mix)"19:08
2."Incantations (Part Two) (2011 Stereo Mix)"19:36
3."Incantations (Part Three) (2011 Stereo Mix)"16:58
4."Incantations (Part Four) (2011 Stereo Mix)"17:01
CD 2
1."Diana (2011 Stereo Mix)"6:35
2."Northumbrian (2011 Stereo Mix)"2:56
3."Piano Improvisation (2011 Stereo Mix)"5:38
4."Hiawatha (2011 Stereo Mix)"9:01
5."Canon for Two Vibraphones (2011 Stereo Mix)"2:48
6."William Tell Overture"3:55
7."Cuckoo Song"3:22
8."Pipe Tune"3:27
9."Wrekorder Wrondo"2:35
10."Guilty (2011 Stereo Mix)"6:40
11."Diana – Desiderata (2011 Stereo Mix)"7:05
1."Diana" (5.1 surround sound mix) 
2."Northumbrian" (5.1 surround sound mix) 
3."Piano Improvisation" (5.1 surround sound mix) 
4."Hiawatha" (5.1 surround sound mix) 
5."Canon for Two Vibraphones" (5.1 surround sound mix) 
6."Guilty" (5.1 surround sound mix) 
7."William Tell Overture" (Promotional Video, 1977) 
8."Guilty" (Promotional Video, 1978) 
9."Incantations (Parts 1 & 2)" (Live at Wembley Conference Centre, 1979) 
10."Incantations (Parts 3 & 4)" (Live at Wembley Conference Centre, 1979) 


  • "Diana", "Hiawatha" and "Canon for Two Vibraphones" are remixed versions of excerpts from the original album.
  • "Northumbrian" and "Piano Improvisation" are out-takes from the album sessions (unused on the final album).
  • "Guilty" is based on the original 12-inch mix of the song, but is presented here in a noticeably drier, stripped-off version, which omits all of the reverb of the original mix.
  • "Diana – Desiderata" is a remix of the "Diana" excerpt including and with, as the title suggests, quotations from Max Ehrmann's poem Desiderata.
  • The glitch at 12:38 and the later one at 12:40 on "Part Four" on the CD are also featured on the vinyl, because of the same faulty remaster being used for both the CD and the vinyl release.




  • Mike Oldfield – production
  • Paul Lindsay – engineer[5]
  • Trevor Key – cover artwork


Chart (1978) Peak position
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[22] 27
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[23] 41
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[24] 19
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[25] 14
Spanish Albums (PROMUSICAE)[26] 42
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[27] 32
UK Albums (OCC)[28] 14


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[29] Platinum 300,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ Dallas, Karl (25 October 1975). "Beyond the Ridge: Portrait of a Genius". Melody Maker. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  2. ^ a b Kennedy, Andrew (2 August 2011). ""If people go one way I instinctively go the other" - DiS meets Mike Oldfield". Drowned in Sound. Retrieved 3 March 2019.
  3. ^ a b Oldfield 2008, p. 193.
  4. ^ Oldfield 2008, p. 193, 194.
  5. ^ a b c d Oldfield 2008, p. 192.
  6. ^ Oldfield 2008, p. 192, 193.
  7. ^ a b Dallas, Karl (25 November 1978). "Mike Oldfield: This is the Year of the Expanding Man...". Melody Maker. Retrieved 29 July 2020 – via Rock's Backpages.
  8. ^ Oakes, Tim (June 1980). "Mike Oldfield". International Musician and Recording World. Retrieved 17 February 2020 – via Rock's Backpages.
  9. ^ a b Oldfield 2008, p. 197.
  10. ^ Oldfield 2008, p. 197, 199.
  11. ^ Oldfield 2008, p. 199.
  12. ^ Oldfield 2008, p. 200.
  13. ^ Oakes, Tim (June 1980). "Mike Oldfield". International Musician and Recording World. Retrieved 19 June 2020 – via
  14. ^ "Mike Oldfield - - Incantations Lyrics".
  15. ^ McDonald, Steven. Incantations review at AllMusic
  16. ^ "BRIT Certified - Certified Awards Search - Mike Oldfield - Incantations". British Phonographic Inustry. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  17. ^ Incantations [1985 Reissue] (Media notes). Mike Oldfield. Virgin Records. CDVDT 101 – via Discogs.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  18. ^ Incantations [1988 Reissue] (Media notes). Mike Oldfield. Virgin Records. 0777 7 86730 2 6 – via Discogs.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  19. ^ Incantations [2000 Reissue] (Media notes). Mike Oldfield. Virgin Records. MIKECD5 – via Discogs.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  20. ^ Incantations [2011 Reissue] (Media notes). Mike Oldfield. Mercury Records. 533 463-7 – via Discogs.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  21. ^ "Embracing Change: An Interview With Mike Oldfield". The Quiet Us. 2 August 2011. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  22. ^ " – Mike Oldfield – Incantations" (in Dutch). Hung Medien. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  23. ^ "Longplay-Chartverfolgung at Musicline" (in German). Phononet GmbH. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  24. ^ " – Mike Oldfield – Incantations". Hung Medien. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  25. ^ " – Mike Oldfield – Incantations". Hung Medien. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  26. ^ " – Mike Oldfield – Incantations". Hung Medien. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  27. ^ " – Mike Oldfield – Incantations". Hung Medien. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  28. ^ January 1979/7502/ "Official Albums Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  29. ^ "British album certifications – Mike Oldfield – Incantations". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 2 May 2019.Select albums in the Format field. Select Platinum in the Certification field. Type Incantations in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.