Those who have seen the multi-national England-based band Iona live on stage, know that you can always expect a real musical treat. I've already seen them perform so many times that I've lost count! The last time I witnessed them in the Netherlands was at the iO Pages Festival (2011, see review) at Cultuurpodium Boerderij in Zoetermeer. At the time, they were near completion of their latest studio album Another Realm (2011, see review), and t his concert was a try-out for the new songs. Therefore six songs from the new album were performed.
Unfortunately I couldn't witness any of the concerts that they gave during the tour that followed after the release of that wonderful double album. To my surprise they recorded several concerts of the Another Realm Tour at various venues in the UK and The Netherlands in 2012. These recordings were made to possibly release a live album, something that I was certainly looking forward to, since I wasn't able to listen how they performed during this tour! Well, a few weeks ago I could welcome the double live album Edge Of The World (Live In Europe)!
The new album is the band's first full-length live recording in six years and the successor of the excellent CD Live In London (2008). Of course the new album contains a large amount of songs from their latest studio album including the six tracks that I already could enjoy in 2011: Another Realm, White Horse , Let The Waters Flow, The Ancient Wells, An Atmosphere Of Miracles (part 3) and Ruach. Beside these six tracks from Another Realm the song And The Angels Dance has been included as well. I guess it's no surprise that Iona recorded strong live versions of these songs. Especially White Horse − a song that can be regarded to be Encircling, part 2 − sounds excellent containing a stunning guitar solo by Dave Bainbridge.
Ruach, a Hebrew word meaning breath, spirit, wind or air, is another fabulous track dealing with the Holocaust during WWII. The way the Dutch drummer Frank van Essen plays a melancholic part on the violin together with Bainbridge's keyboards is just breathtaking. Every time I listen to it, it sounds like a beautiful classical piece. The next song Divine Presence is also a fine mellow piece on which Van Essen's violin excels again supported by the crystal clear voice of Joanne Hogg, which can be heard throughout the album. As usual many tracks from the studio albums sound differently live on stage due to the fact that Iona like to improvise a lot during live performances. Especially the up-tempo pieces like Jigs, Castlerigg/ Reels and Flight Of The Wild Goose, the band's first written composition ever, demonstrate that they want to reinvent themselves again and again. They do so by including additional parts or by playing parts on other instruments than the ones on the original versions.
Another element during gigs is that they start a song slightly different like for instance the vocal intro on Irish Day, the percussion intro on Today or the excellent electric guitar intro in Edge Of The World followed by some strong relaxed piano playing. Another example is the fine bass intro on Jigs by Phil Barker who paves the way for the excellent playing of Martin Nolan on the Uilleann pipes. He shines throughout the album on the low and tin whistles as well. The live recordings of Iona always differ from the original studio recording which makes live albums always a special experience, since you never know what you can expect. These musicians have many surprises in store which are always treats to the ears! I'll never get disappointed by any of their live albums or gigs because the level of entertainment is always high. This not only applies to the music, but also to the way they introduce a track which is sometimes hilarious.
Edge Of The World (Live In Europe) is without doubt a beautiful document that shows that I missed an excellent live band in great shape during the 2012 Another Realm Tour. This record is highly recommended to all of their fans and to lovers of prog rock who like their prog with Celtic influences!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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