Interview Dave Bainbridge
"With this album I was aiming to recapture some of the emotions that first motivated me to devote my life to music"
(January 2015, text by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen)
Towards the end of 2014 many devotees of progressive rock music got a big surprise when they heard Celestial Fire, the new album by Dave Bainbridge, the virtuoso guitar player with Iona. This new album, Dave's second one after Veil Of Gossamer (2004) contains no weak tracks or even weak passages, whatsoever. The content is strongly related to the best music in the prog genre. Well, that's at least what I felt about it. Being a great fan of Iona I was certainly interested how this album came about. So I wanted Mr Bainbridge to tell me everything about the album that became my number one of 2014!
Ten years ago you recorded Veil Of Gossamer. Were you satisfied with the way it came out?
Dave Bainbridge: “Yes, I was very pleased with how Veil Of Gossamer came out and even now, ten years later, I think it's a good album. When I was really getting into music at the beginning of my teens and starting to write my first
When did you decide that the next album would become different?
“After the album came out I became busy again with other projects over the next several years; various collaborations with Troy Donockley, David Fitzgerald and Nick Fletcher and also with Iona of course. My wife Debbie and I were also running a quite intensive home based programme with our autistic son Luca, so I didn't really have time to think ahead about what my next solo album would look like.”
When did you start to work on Celestial Fire? Could you say that these songs aren't suitable for an Iona album?
“I'm always coming up with ideas for compositions and I have loads of demo recordings, bits of manuscript paper and sometimes just written descriptions of possible pieces. Whenever I'm working on a new project I'll often go through these to see if any will work for the current project. I think some of the oldest ideas I used for Celestial Fire date back to 2006, when I
Does the album have a certain theme or concept?
“There isn't one overarching concept to the album, but basically the songs are about love, freedom and light. One of the things I've noticed in some modern prog metal music is that the lyrics can be quite dark, depressing and introspective or angry and aggressive. There's certainly a lot in the world to be angry and depressed about, and it's right not to ignore these things, but one of the things that really attracts me to music is its ability to transport the listener out of everyday circumstances, to be transcendent. It's like you're opening up a connection that has been dormant or broken to a sense of otherness. For me as a Christian I see this as a reconnection with our spiritual nature, the perception that we're part of something so much bigger than ourselves and that there's so much more to us and to the world than just the physical bodies that we're housed in and what we see with our eyes. So if I were to describe the album's theme in a few words I would say hope and wonder.”
Would you please say something about the individual songs?
“Certainly; Heavenfield, the first track of the album, is a place in Northumberland (or Northumbria), one of the counties I love the most in England which I visit every year with my family. It was the scene of a decisive battle in AD 635, which, against fierce invaders and incredible odds, established Oswald as king of Northumbria. One of Oswald's
The lyrics for the title track are in part based on the beautiful passage in C.S. Lewis' book 'The Magician's Nephew' (1955), where Aslan sings creation into being. I thought that was an amazing idea. Then I thought about how the sun is responsible for sustaining life on earth and that our lives are intrinsically linked with this huge ball of fire in the heavens. Then I thought about the characteristics attributed to God in The Bible − who, in the Old Testament appears as a pillar of fire − and how infinitely powerful He must be, yet also so passionate about His creation. There are a lot of ways in which things can be described with reference to fire: burning passion, all consuming, intense, purifying, etcetera, so I used some of these ideas in the lyrics. Musically I want it to start with a blast of energy and I used the short descending theme throughout the piece in different forms. Later on it returns as a slow theme over ½ time drum phrasing.
I think the lyrics of See What I See are fairly self-explanatory. On a human level it could be taken as the conversation between a pessimist and an optimist. But actually I was trying to contrast how the same circumstances could perhaps be viewed so differently from a heavenly perspective than from an earthly one. Sometimes when we're in a difficult
The First Autumn and Innocence Found are linked by the same story, which I heard from a lady called Margaret Barker who is a respected methodist theologian, when I was the composer-musician in residence for a St Paul's Cathedral retreat a few years ago. A story widely told in the oriental church was that when Adam and Eve rejected wisdom and so lost Paradise, angels gave Adam three treasures to remember Eden; gold, frankincense and myrrh. So when the wise men brought these gifts to Jesus, it was symbolic of the restoration of all that had been lost. So in essence these two songs are songs of hope and restoration. I then had the thought of what it might be like if Adam and Eve had experienced the first autumn after leaving paradise. I imagined the confusion and alarm at seeing the leaves dying around them, the air becoming colder. And yet in this season of change there was already the promise of the hope and restoration that was to come. In 2010 I was in Northumberland on holiday when I recorded the original demos of both of these songs. I had my Fernandes guitar and laptop with me! At the time I didn't know whether they would be instrumental pieces or turn into vocal songs.
For Such A Time As This was one of the first pieces to really take shape for the album and the arrangement was more or less completed towards the end of 2012. I was really pleased with the guitar solo on this track. Quite often I come up with chord sequences or time signatures for guitar solo sections that are quite complicated, but on this track I wanted a straightforward sequence that I could just blast over without having to think about what comes next! I think I should do this more often! Another big musical milestone for me was when I discovered bands like Hatfield And The North, Egg and National Health, when I was a student in Leeds. There was something in this progressive music that sounded very English and really appealed to me, both in the harmonies and in the way female voices were used. A National Health track I loved was Tenemos Roads and I think you can probably hear a slight influence from that in this track where Sally is doubling the organ tune. Dave Stewart was another big influence on me as far as his great, distorted Hammond sound and the unusual harmonies he would use.
The lyrics in Innocence Found are more directly related to the story I mentioned above in the notes for The First Autumn. Musically this is more in Mike Oldfield territory and I play a number of different instruments on this including bouzouki, mandolin and all the percussive elements. Julia Malyasova does the main vocal and
Love Remains started out with the opening piano idea, based on the arpeggio figure. I couldn't see how this would work in the context of Iona, but I enjoyed playing it. After a lot of work I came up with various variations on the arpeggio idea using different harmonies and I began to think of it as a recurring theme that could form the basis of a longer piece which would also include vocal sections. The whole thing began to solidify when the idea came to me to base the lyrics on the beautiful passage in 1 Corinthians 13 in The Bible about love. For example, I used the line 'if I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal' fairly literally in the passage with Joanna's otherworldly vocals; you can hear gongs and cymbals in the background! This is one of my favourite pieces on the album. I just love Collin Leijenaar and Randy's playing on this track, which is so good it always makes me smile! Damian's vocals are also great.
The six note phrase that is the basis of the big instrumental theme in In The Moment was written during some sessions in 2008 for a possible album I was planning with a new band called Open Sky, with Gabriel and Andrea Alonso, Andy Green and later Steve Lawson. At the time Iona was having a year off at Joanna's request. We spent several days recording ideas at The Chairworks Studio in Castleford, West Yorkshire, but the record label we had talks with pulled out of funding it, so nothing was ever finished. However, we recorded some great ideas and this fragment of melody was one of them. It was originally recorded by Andrea as a layered vocal piece and also as a flute piece, also played by Andrea. One of the things I wanted to include on the album was at least one steaming rock organ solo in memory of the great Jon Lord of Deep Purple who's playing I loved! I came up with a riff that turned out to be in 15/16 time which was great to build and solo over. It really takes off on this track with Collin and Randy's superb playing and Sally's soaring vocal doubling the guitar melody; another of my favourite moments on the album! The lyrics for this piece were inspired by some amazing events that took place in the USA in 1997-98 which were directly inspired by the track Reels from the Iona album Heaven's Bright Sun (1997). Briefly, the young people of a small Christian youth group during a prayer meeting suddenly felt the presence of angels in their midst as they were dancing to 'reels'. They felt the wind of their wings dancing around them, even though it was a small room with no air conditioning in it. This continued for several weeks and across churches in several neighbouring states, triggering what you might call a sort of revival as hundreds of people just enjoyed God's presence and the angelic visitations!
I had the idea of using the opening melody from Heavenfield in several places throughout the album. This short snatch of the melody over Frank van Essen's beautiful, shimmering strings is actually just the last part of what was a longer piece of improvised guitar over a string accompaniment. I cut Heavenfield Reprise down because the album was already very long and I also needed to record some additional live celli to complete the piece. I'll definitely release the longer version at some point.
|Frank van Essen|
I originally wrote On The Edge Of Glory as a possible piece for Iona's Another Realm (2011) and Martin Nolan (Uilleann pipes, whistle) and I recorded it in February 2009, in Northern Ireland at Joanne's place. It wasn't used on the Iona album, but I liked the melody and thought it would make a great ending piece for Celestial Fire. The Ireland recording had the basic melody on pipes and whistle and just a keyboard pad. All the other parts were added during the main Celestial Fire sessions, to create the grand more orchestral repeat of the melody. The title came later as well and is inspired by David Adam's book The Edge Of Glory: 'to walk the edge of glory and see for oneself the ever abiding presence that never leaves us or forsakes us.'”
You've worked on Celestial Fire with an amazing number of guest musicians. Why did you ask fantastic singers like Damian Wilson, Sally Minnear, Yvonne Lyon and Julia Malyasova? These singers undoubtedly lifted the album to an even higher level.
“I always love working with people I've not worked with before to see what the chemistry will bring. I like taking these chances; it keeps the music fresh. Sometimes it works better than other times, but it's always worth the risk. One of the ways I wanted to differentiate this album from an Iona album was in the choice of vocalists. So although Joanne is on the album, she plays more of a textural role. In particular I wanted to use male vocals on some tracks. Finding the right male vocalist for the album was probably the hardest choice for me of all the musicians. After years of working with some great female singers, such as Joanne, I know what kind of female voices I like and what fits with my musical vision. However, the choice of a male vocalist can really alter the whole feel and direction of the music and I knew I didn't want someone who was a straight rock vocalist. One of my favourite ever 'progressive' albums is True Stories (1978) by David Sancious & Tone and I just loved Alex Ligertwood's singing on that, which was powerful, but had a soulful edge to it. I did actually have someone in mind who could sing exactly like that but he wasn't available. Then Randy suggested Jon Anderson, whom he knows, but I thought, even if he agreed to do it, it would be highly unlikely I'd ever be able to get him to play the material live. Then my friend Pete Gee from Pendragon sent me his latest solo album Paris (2013) on which Damian Wilson guests. I'd been aware of Damian for years but never actually heard him sing and I was mightily impressed. What attracted me to his voice was that although he could really rock out, there was this other side to his voice that could sound very tender. I could hear that he was really able to communicate emotion which I liked.
I've known Kerry Minnear, keyboard player from Gentle Giant, and his wife Leslie since about 1991 and often stayed with them when I've been playing in their area. Kerry really likes Iona and has been to see us several times. So I first met his daughter Sally when she was still at school and heard through Kerry and Leslie how she'd sung with the Lord Of The Dance production a few years later. I really liked her pure, natural and English sounding voice. I thought it would be great to work with her at some point, and the opportunity came with Celestial Fire. She has a brilliant ear, is great in the studio and she was able to sing the quite tricky harmonies I'd written with ease. We did a gig together a
Yvonne Lyon is a fantastic Scottish singer-songwriter with a beautiful, rich voice. I first met her in 2007 when she was singing on an album I was co-producing. Soon after that Yvonne and her husband David supported on a number of Iona UK dates. They're lovely people and also helped with the lyrics for the album.
It was the covert art artist Ed Unitsky who mentioned Julia Malyasova to me. He thought her voice would work well with my music and he was right. Julia is a Russian, living in Denmark and she has quite a unique, emotive voice which I really like. We were planning on doing a Christmas video for a single mix I've done of the track Innocence Found but she'd entered for the Russian version of The Voice and actually made it to the final, so we didn't have time to shoot it due to her commitments, but hopefully for next Christmas!”
You also recruited a dream rhythm section consisting of drummer Collin Leijenaar and bassist Randy George. Was it difficult to get them on board?
“I've always loved drummers like Billy Cobham, Simon Phillips, Gary Husband and more recently Gavin Harrison, who have this incredible technical ability, but also have an explosive power. I heard this same excitement in Collin's playing and knew he was the man for the album. He not only has the technical ability and power, but also a real love for the whole progressive genre. It helped also that Collin was already familiar with Iona's music and really liked Veil Of Gossamer. In fact Collin had actually contacted me a few years earlier asking if I'd like to play keyboards with him in Neal Morse's band for his 2011 European tour which Collin was organizing! I was gutted to have to turn this down due to some Iona dates that clashed, but I kept in contact with Collin afterwards and was very impressed with his playing on the Neal Morse band videos I saw subsequently. I have to say that his playing on the album is just amazing, but it's not only been his playing. It's been so great to have someone involved who's been so enthusiastic about the music. Collin even added a couple of Mellotron choir parts which fit perfectly!
I'd know Randy for a long time, even before he'd started playing with Neal Morse. I met up with Rick Wakeman around 1997 and he mentioned Randy's band Ajalon to me, whom he really liked and had just guested with. Then Randy contacted me in 2001 about contributing a track to a compilation CD he was putting together and we stayed in contact after that. He sent me an Ajalon album and I really liked his bass playing on it and I remember us discussing then the possibility of working together at some point. So I had Randy in mind to play bass on Celestial Fire from the beginning as I knew his style and sound would be perfect for the album and as with Collin, he is steeped in the whole progressive music genre. Like Collin, Randy gave hundred percent on the album and has been equally enthusiastic and supportive about the music. Both Collin and Randy are really keen to play the material live with me as well, which is something we're going to see if we can organize.”
The contributions of Collin and Randy made me think of the way Yes used the bass and drums. More than once your guitar and keyboard parts reminded me of the music made by Yes in the seventies as well. Were you influenced by them?
“Yes definitely! I was listening to Yes in my early teens that really opened my eyes to what was possible sonically with keyboards. I loved the textures that Wakeman created on albums like Fragile (1971), Close To The Edge (1972), Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973) and Going For The One (1977) and what Patrick Moraz did on Relayer (1974). I listened to these albums constantly for several years. The other thing that struck me with Yes was that their longer songs really stretched the standard pop song format into something more orchestral and majestic. I was also beginning to discover some of the great classic composers at the same time, such as Mahler, Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky, which gave me a real longing to write more involved, evolving compositions. I liked the way that Chris Squire and Bill Bruford (then Alan White) went beyond the standard roles of their instruments. Suddenly Squire's bass would be climbing up the neck playing these lovely counter melodies and the drums wouldn't just be grooving along, but would also be providing almost orchestral-like or ethnic sounding percussive textures. As for Steve Howe's guitars, there was suddenly this freedom from the more blues influenced guitarists of the sixties. Steve's breadth of acoustic and electric guitar textures gave Yes' music of that time something really unique. In fact I played Mood For A Day as my guitar audition piece when I was trying to get a place at Leeds College of Music, when I was seventeen! Quite funny really as the course I was auditioning for was mainly jazz based!”
It's obvious that I heard the sound of Iona on several tracks as well. Did you intend to stay away from the sound of the band you're playing in or not?
“I briefly wondered about not having any Uilleann pipes on the album to further differentiate the music from Iona's, but I love the sound so much, it's very much an aspect of my musical personality that I decided to have them on there. If Iona was a band I just happened to be playing in, it would be easier to do something completely different. But Iona is the band I co-founded and I've written or co-written much of Iona's music, as well as producing all the Iona studio albums, so it is very much part of me.”
“It was great to work with Troy and David again. Although Troy is constantly busy and often on tour, I only live an hour's drive away from him and see him occasionally. We also e-mail each other quite regularly. I did a gig with him just last year especially for the wedding of Bryan Josh and Olivia Spearmen from Mostly Autumn which was great fun. I occasionally work with David in other circumstances so I see him every so often as well. I'm really glad they were both able to play on the album and they've both been really supportive with incredibly encouraging feedback as I sent them rough mixes.”
As far as I know you never before used so much fusion and jazz-rock elements as on Celestial Fire. I loved the way you incorporated influences from Allan Holds worth, Mahavishnu Orchestra and David Sancious & Tone. Have you always dreamed to sound like them?
“It's always been a dream to sound like myself and to create something new! But of course these are the great artists I grew up listening to and learning from, so it would be an honour indeed to be compared to any of them! When I was 22 I got to be in The Gary Boyle Band, which was a really big deal for me. Gary was very well-known in the UK in the seventies as the guitarist in the jazz-fusion band Isotope. He was often compared to John McLaughlin with his incredibly fast, fluid picking technique. He came and did a few concerts at Leeds College of Music when I was there and not long after leaving college he asked me to join his band playing keyboards. I already had some of the Isotope albums as well as Gary's subsequent solo albums, which I really liked. Gary's music was steeped in jazz-fusion, so I had plenty of opportunities to develop my solo synth chops − à la Jan Hammer ! − and electric piano playing over the next two years I played with him. This is a whole other side to my playing that's not shown in Iona's music, but which I always loved doing. I sort of gradually lost interest in jazz-fusion because I felt that quite often the actual musical compositions were secondary to the ability of the soloists, and I was more interested in developing my craft as a composer at the time. However, I still love listening to some of the greats in this genre.”
On the album you did all of the guitar and keyboard parts yourself. Did you ever think of the idea to ask other guitar and keyboard players to contribute?
“That's correct. No! I wanted my voice on these instruments to come through. I remember a review of Iona's Beyond These Shores (1993) album. The great Robert Fripp guested on the album, playing some amazing, multi-layered looping textures, or Frippertronics as he calls it, which sounded great. He didn't play any of the actual guitar solos, but in the review, the reviewer really praised the guitar solo on the track Burning Like Fire, assuming it was him, when it was actually me! Conversely another reviewer of a track on the Iona album Open Sky (2000) praised me for my great slide guitar solo on the title track, when in fact it was Troy! So I thought it would avoid any confusion if I did everything myself this time!”
“All the bands you mention were big influences on me in my early years and whilst I didn't want to copy anything that they'd done, yes there are respectful nods to them in places, which are intentional.”
For me Celestial Fire is a masterpiece containing elements of prog, Celtic music, jazz-rock and fusion. I gave it the highest possible rating of five stars. Could you ever imagine while recording the album that most reviewers are full of praise for the album?
“I have to say I'm absolutely thrilled with all the reviews that the album has had so far. It's been quite humbling in fact, especially the very positive feedback from many of my musician friends. When I'm working on an album, all I'm concerned about is making the best possible album that I can with the material I have at that particular time. I had no idea what people would think of it when I started recording it, but I got more excited about unveiling it to them the further I got through the recording, especially when Collin and Randy began to replace my programmed guide parts!”
What do you think about the album yourself?
“I'm very proud of the album and thankful to God for the gift of music and for being able to share that with people. I'm still listening a lot to it which is saying something - usually I don't listen a lot to things I've done. Different passages bring shivers down the spine during some of the beautiful vocals, or a big smile during some of the ridiculously tight rhythm section playing as I wonder at how it somehow all came together!”
Is there any chance that the music of Celestial Fire will be performed live with a band and if so, do you consider touring in Europe?
“I would absolutely love to play Celestial Fire live with a full band and it's certainly something we'll be looking into more seriously in 2015, especially now that the album is getting some good exposure. The main obstacle will be persuading promoters to book the band as the current economic situation has led them to be very cautious about booking anything other than established acts. But I know we'll be able to play in the Netherlands at Cultuurcentrum Boerderij in Zoetermeer as Arie Verstegen, the man who's in charge there, loves the album, so hopefully we'll be able to get some other gigs as well. I'll also need to work out how to play the material without having ten musicians on stage! If we do it live we'd also play some material from Veil Of Gossamer and I'd also like to include some of the rarely or never played live Iona pieces.”
Would you please tell our readers which plans you have for yourself and for Iona in 2015?
“Iona will not be doing much live work as Joanne wants to spend more time at home with her family and on other things. There will be a five-date Iona tour in Germany in May, possibly a festival in September and maybe a short tour in Switzerland in October or November and that will probably be it. I have a couple of projects I'm working on for other people: mixing the new album by guitarist Dave Brons and playing on and maybe mixing an album by Pablo Ortega, the Mexican guitarist-bassist with the Dutch band Flairck. I'm hoping to do more solo concerts, including some with Sally Minnear guesting. I'll be continuing to promote Celestial Fire and trying to get interest in band tours on both sides of the Atlantic. We'd especially love to play at some of the progressive rock festivals. Along with guitarists Paul Beilatowicz (Carl Palmer Band) and Dave Brons, we're working on arranging some gigs as GB3. This will be a sort of G3 type guitar night but with a few twists. Joining us will be Simon Fitzpatrick on bass (Carl Palmer Band, Jennifer Batten) and Collin Leijenaar on drums. There are two gigs already booked in The Netherlands in May, details to be announced soon (see GB3guitar.com for the latest info). Furthermore I've got most of the material recorded for a solo piano album, which I hope will be released sometime later in 2015 and I've already got some ideas in the pipeline for a follow-up to Celestial Fire. When my mam died last year I inherited her accordion and I was playing that the other day and really enjoying it. I'm going to see if I can learn to play it well enough to be able to use it somewhere on the next album!”
Many thanks Dave for answering all my questions so thoroughly!
“You're welcome, Henri, it was my pleasure!”
review album 'Celestial Fire'
Interview Dave Bainbridge 2009
review Iona album 'Journey Into The Morn'
review Iona album 'Another Realm'
review Iona album 'Edge Of The World (Live In Europe)'
review concert Iona, Zwolle 2009
review concert Iona, Zoetermeer 2011
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