The music of British band Iona is a mixture of symphonic rock, ambient and folk rock with religious lyrics often combined into a magic fairy-tale. Journey Into The Morn is their fourth album after Iona (1992), The Book Of Kells (1994) and Beyond The Shores (1995). Originally, this album was released in 1995, but unfortunately not available for the past five years. This was Iona?s best selling album to date with more than 80.000 copies worldwide.
At that time, the band consisted of Dave Bainbridge (guitars and keyboards, see interview below), Joanne Hog (vocals and acoustic guitar), Terl Bryant (drums and percussion), Tim Harries (bass and vocals), Mike Haughton (tin whistle, saxophone, violin and vocals) and master pipe player Troy Donockley (uillean pipes, thin whistles and vocals). The band asked famous musicians like Moya Brennan (Clannad) and Robert Fripp (King Crimson) to help them recording this marvellous epic. The music on Journey Of The Morn has been inspired by the book The Eye Of The Eagle by British author David Adam, based on the Irish singing Be Thou My Vision from the eighth century!
While listening to the thirteen chapters of this epic, I was overwhelmed with feelings of optimism and joy in dark autumn and winter days. I cannot mention any favourite track in particular on this album. Each song is a crucial part of the whole epic that exceeds 78 minutes. Some songs are energetic, others spiritual with ambient soundscapes. Not only the music is excellent, but also the lyrics are of a high level indeed. The words are sincere and obviously inspired by the Bible.
I have to make a special remark for Joanne Hogg who sings straight from the heart with power, love and devotion. For me Iona is the perfect medicine after my daily rushing hours.
****+ Cor Smeets (edited by Peter Willemsen)
Where to buy?
Interview with Dave Bainbridge of Iona
"We hope to be able to release a new studio album next year"
(Text by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen. Pictures are from Henri, Arthur or taken from the web)
Recently two albums were released on which Iona’s founding member Dave Bainbridge plays an important role. One of the albums is a re-release of Iona’s Journey Into the Morn (see review), originally recorded in 1995. The other is Cathedral Of Dreams (see review), which Dave produced for guitar maestro Nick Fletcher. We found this a nice opportunity to interview Dave to have a closer look at both albums.
Can you tell me why Iona released Journey Into The Morn again?“Yes. Our former record company Alliance ceased trading several years ago. We were able to get the rights back for the complete Iona back catalogue. We bought the remaining stock of our albums and we have gradually been re-releasing the albums on our own Open Sky Records-label in conjunction with Voiceprint and with new packaging. Journey Into The Morn is the last Iona-album to be re-released. It had been unavailable for several years and we were keen to make it available again, as it is still Iona’s best selling album to date. It contains many of the bands favourite songs. The initial idea we had was to re-release Journey into the Morn with some re-mixes and additional video footage from the time it was originally released, but in the end we felt it would have been too time consuming and expensive to do this.”
This album for the first time featured Donockley as a band member. It was a big surprise to hear that he had left Iona. Can you tell me why he left? And who will be his successor?“After fourteen years with the band, my good friend Troy has recently decided not to carry on the journey with us. Troy has been very busy as Barbara Dixon’s co-writer, producer and musical director, and is touring extensively with The Bad Shepherds and Nightwish. He was unavailable for our most recent gig
“At the moment Martin Nolan is joining us live (now he is even a permanent member of Iona [HS]). He is a wonderful pipes and whistle player from Dublin who also shares our Christian faith. Martin comes from the traditional Irish music scene that Davy Spillane is also part of. He’s also worked with musicians from many other musical genres and cultures, so he is very open-minded to different musical influences. Moya Brennan’s husband Martin recommended him to us. I think it is too early to say whether he will become a permanent member of the band. We need to take a step at a time and we also need to get to know each other better, which I’m looking forward doing on the forthcoming gigs.”
The album also features Moya Brennan and Robert Fripp. Can you tell us why they performed on the album? Is there a possibility that they’ll play on future Iona-recordings?“We met Moya in 1994 when a mutual friend of ours invited her to an Iona-gig in Dublin. Afterwards we kept in touch. When it came to recording Journey Into The Morn, I was keen to have some of the words sung in Gaelic - it’s such a beautiful language for singing. Moya was the only person I knew who was a native Gaelic speaker and she agreed to coach Joanne in singing a Gaelic adaptation of the old Irish hymn tune Be Thou My Vision that her grandfather Hugh Brennan had done many years before. She also agreed to sing and play Celtic harp on the album, which we were thrilled about. Joanne and I had a lovely few days with her and her husband Tim in Dublin. Since then we’ve kept in occasional touch. Moya also sang on The Eye of The Eagle the album I did with David Fitzgerald in 1998 and Joanne’s recent solo album Rafael’s Journey. I last met up with them just over a year ago when Moya was playing in The Netherlands on a tour with her band and Frank van Essen and I had a day-off from rehearsing. She’s sounding as good as ever and has a great band.”
“We got in touch with Robert Fripp through Nick Beggs. Nick was in Iona from 1990 to 1994. At the time Nick was playing with us, he was also doing some songwriting with Robert’s wife Toyah Willcox at their house. Nick gave Robert the first two Iona albums that he really liked and apparently listened to when he was in the bath! He told Nick that he would love to guest on our next recording project, which turned out to be Beyond These Shores (1993). We had a fantastic day with him recording loads of material. In fact there was a lot left over that we didn’t use - stereo recordings of Robert improvising these great sonic landscapes using his guitar synth and various delay loops and effects - a totally unique sound.
When it came to working on Journey Into The Morn a couple of years later, there were a few tracks that I knew would sound great with some of the unused material from the Beyond These Shores- session. We asked Robert if we could use it and he kindly agreed. It was great to see up close how Robert works and he has been a big influence on my approach of creating guitar and keyboard textures. In fact, one of my all time favourite guitar solos is his solo on The Night Watch, from King Crimson's Starless And Bible Black-album.”
“At this stage I don’t know whether we’ll have any guests on the next Iona-album until we’ve written all the material. It would be great to work with them again sometime.”
How do you look back at the time you recorded Journey Into The Morn and would you have done it differently nowadays?“A lot of things really fell into place for us with that recording: the connection with Moya and Robert was one thing. We also had twice the budget than for our previous two albums and four times that of the first album! So we were able to spend more time in the studio experimenting. At that time, my friend, engineer, producer and guitarist Neil Costello set up a studio in a wonderful old barn on a farm in rural Derbyshire. It was a lovely, airy location with lots of space and it had a great sound for drums - very inspiring! We were able to record everything there in very relaxed circumstances. We took time out in the middle of the recording to do some gigs - including Glastonbury Festival. A bigger budget also meant that we could afford to get the legendary producer and engineer Calum Malcolm (of Blue Nile fame) to mix the album, which we did at Fish’s studio in Scotland. I have very happy memories recording the album and no, I wouldn’t have done it differently at all. Of course, it is now possible to do so much more with advances in technology, but we were all very pleased at how the album turned out. The only thing I hated was the cover! I’m glad we had the opportunity to commission Tim Martindale to do some great new artwork for the re-release.”
Can we expect more re-releases of the Iona back catalogue?“At some point, if I ever get time, I’d like to re-mix our album Open Sky, which I would do quite differently now having much more experience at mixing since then. Maybe, if we ever do another box set!”
“One interesting development is our partnership in the USA with Jhana Music (www.jhanamusic.com), a new company owned by a friend of ours called John Kellogg. It’s a new venture that I think readers of your web magazine will really be interested in. John Kellogg is gathering some fine artists and releasing their music in every format imaginable. Me, Troy and Iona all have albums on there. John is working on 5.1 mixes of our albums and currently has the track Over the Waters from my Veil of Gossamer- album available as a 5.1 mix. John has mixed at least two other tracks from the album in 5.1 so far. They sound great!”
You also collaborated with Nick Fletcher on an album entitled Cathedral Of Dreams. Can you introduce Nick to our readers?“I’ve known Nick for many years. He was a friend of a drummer whom I was with at music college. After college, we got a band together called Plan B with me on keyboards and Nick on guitars. It was a progressive band, with influences including Yes, Hatfield And The North and Bruford.
“After that, I only saw Nick occasionally, but I was pleased to know that he had started concentrating on developing his solo acoustic guitar playing, which I always thought was his real strength. In 2007, Nick and I collaborated on an album commissioned by the Kingsway-label called Breaking Of The Dawn. This is an album of new arrangements of two contemporary hymn writers and has an orchestral, Celtic feel to it - partial instrumental and partial vocal with a great singer from Glasgow called Yvonne Lyon. We’d enjoyed working together a lot, so Nick asked if I’d like to collaborate with him on Cathedral of Dreams the first album of his own guitar compositions. He’d also suggested us writing something together, which eventually turned into the 24-minute long Iberian Fantasy concerto.”
Did you record the entire album at the cathedral or did you re-record some music later on?“All of Nick’s guitar playing was recorded in a beautiful old rural church in a village very near to where I live in Lincolnshire. Part of the church dates back to Saxon times and it has a perfect acoustic for recording nylon strung acoustic
“The concerto which we collaborated on which is called Iberian Fantasy came about through improvisations that Nick and I did in the church, me on a keyboard in the vestry listening through headphones. There was about four or five hours worth of material recorded. We then spent a lot of time finding all the best bits and melodic ideas that could be extended and then we orchestrated the whole thing - mainly using sample libraries, though we did use some real instruments too - recorded in my studio, the budget was not big enough to use a complete orchestra. The effect though is amazingly realistic and this is largely down to having recorded the guitar in a great sounding acoustic space, rather than in a dead studio room - somehow it makes the sampled sounds come alive.”
Was it difficult to record the sound of an acoustic guitar?“No. It just took a bit of thought to decide on the best way to do it. I’d recorded Nick several times previously in the booth in my studio and although it sounded perfect, I knew that for Cathedral Of Dreams I wanted to find a place where the sound of the guitar could really breathe and bloom. The vicar of the church in our village kindly gave us the keys for the seven old, rural churches he looks after and said we could go round all of them and choose which one had the best sound for us to record in. Once we’d found the right place I chose to record the guitar using three stereo pair of microphones placed at various distances from the guitar, through very high quality pre-amps. That meant that I could choose later how much of the ambient sound of the church I would use, or how much of the close up microphones. It was a bit of an experiment, but it worked really well and the guitar sounds amazing. It also helped that Nick is an amazing player, he has a fantastic instrument and he is used to playing in churches.”
Do you think that lovers of progressive rock might enjoy classical music performed on an acoustic guitar?“Absolutely! I can only speak for myself of course, but the thing that first attracted me to ‘progressive rock’ was the many influences, including classical music, rock, folk and so on. I loved to hear Steve Howe and Steve Hackett playing those acoustic pieces in between the longer band tracks. In fact, I played Steve Howe’s Mood for a Day at my music college audition! Nick’s music is very accessible, but at the same time has enough complexity and variety to keep the listener interested. Iberian Fantasy has many orchestral colours that should appeal to fans of the more orchestral end of the progressive scene.”
Did you never have the idea of releasing an acoustic guitar album yourself?“I have thought about that, but I’m not a prolific writer of acoustic guitar music. I’ve written a few pieces for steel-strung acoustic guitar, but yet not enough for a whole album! It might happen one day. I think I’d be more likely to do a solo piano album. Piano has always been my first instrument and I feel more comfortable writing and improvising on the piano.”
Can we expect more albums from Nick produced by you in the near future with you as an additional musician or composer?“I hope so! Nick already has written enough new solo pieces for another album and we already have one ‘orchestral‘ sounding collaboration piece half finished. This was originally going to be another movement for Iberian Fantasy, but we thought it would make a better piece in its own right. First, we need to sell a few more copies of this album, though! Nick is doing some solo concerts in the UK in the autumn (see www.myspace.com/nickfletcherguitarist for latest info), but we have also talked about playing live together again and I’m sure we will do this at some point. I’d probably stick more to keyboards as his acoustic guitar playing leaves mine in the shade! Nick has just recovered from a nasty bout of swine flu, but we intend to get together soon to play together and discuss various ideas. Hardly anyone has heard of Nick, so one of the things we have to do is to let more people know about him, so he can establish a wider concert circuit. We have been thrilled that Classic FM, UK’s most popular classical music radio station, has been playing tracks from the album. We’ve just sent them a video of Nick playing, so we’re hoping they’ll also play that on their internet TV channel.”
What are the future plans you have with Iona and with your other band Open Sky?“Well, there are some interesting developments on the Iona front. A year and a half ago I would have said that I couldn’t see a future for the band. Joanne didn’t want to tour mainly due to family commitments with her two young children and it was financially unsustainable to record another CD without doing
“As regards Open Sky, we did a few gigs last summer in England to see how it would go and it was a lot of fun. We did start recording some stuff in the studio, basically just jamming. However, at the moment, I don’t have the money to complete the recording and the current focus is once again on Iona. The band consisted of Andy Green on keyboards and vocals, Gabriel Alonso on drums, timpani and percussion, Andrea Alonso on vocals and flute, Steve Lawson on bass and looping and myself on guitars, keyboards and bouzouki. They are all great musicians. It was a big set up! Gabriel had three timpani, several large tam tams and gongs as well as masses of percussion and a kit! And there were two keyboard set-ups! At the moment, things are on hold, but I hope that I will be able to return to the recording at some point and then take it from there. It was certainly nice to be able to play some material from my Veil of Gossamer album live with Open Sky.”
“You might also be interested in an album that’s just been released on the Lindisfarne Scriptorium label called Life Journey. It’s the second collaboration album I’ve done with my Iona co-founder and good friend David Fitzgerald. Based on a book of the same name, the album is instrumental and ranges from ambient and acoustic to some quite orchestral sounding sections. We’re really pleased with the way it has turned out. The company who funded the recording is struggling to find the money to promote it, so I hope it manages to be heard! There are some extracts available on both mine and David’s My Space sites and the album is also available from the secure store on the Iona website: www.myspace.com/davebainbridgeuk"
Thank you Dave, for answering my questions!"It was a pleasure, Henri!"
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