Interview Dave Bainbridge

"I've always loved combining elements from different musical genres"

(March 2022, text by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen)

Most people who love progressive and symphonic rock music will know Dave Bainbridge as the guitarist of Iona, but in recent years he became also known as a member of Lifesigns, Strawbs and The Celestial Fire Band. Dave Bainbridge was born in Darlington, Engeland. He toured all over the world with Iona between 1989 and 2015. Iona released a number of critically acclaimed albums in that period. So far Dave recorded three solo albums: Veil Of Gossamer (2004), Celestial Fire (2014) and his piano album The Remembering (2016). In 2021 he released his fourth solo album called To The Far Away that scored highly in the community of progressive rock fans. The music has a lot in common with the music of Iona. The album also reached to position 7 in the annual top 15 of Background Magazine compiled by the readers of our website. A good opportunity to have an interview with Dave about his new album and more.

Dave Bainbridge
When did you start thinking about a follow-up to the Celestial Fire album?
“Well, I'm regularly recording ideas for new music, but life can be very busy. Since Celestial Fire was released I've also released my solo piano album The Remembering (2016), Celestial Fire Live In The UK (2017), an album with Sally Minnear called Live In The Studio (2018) and the boxset of Iona consisting of seventeen CDs. I've also recorded three albums with Strawbs, two with Lifesigns, two with Downes Braide Association, two with Nick Fletcher, and six or so with Celtish. I produced and mixed two albums with Dave Brons, two with Cronofonia and I guested on numerous other albums. Moreover, I toured with Strawbs, Lifesigns, The Celestial Fire Band and Sally Minnear - and that's just off the top of my head!”

Why didn't you use the songs for a second album of The Celestial Fire Band?
“It wasn't until 2020 that I finally had the time to once again focus on a follow-up to Celestial Fire. I'd had a few writing and recording sessions with Frank van Essen (ex-Iona) and Sally before the pandemic and originally this was going to be music for a Celestial Fire Band-album, but as the concept for the album came together, the music and subject matter, which was more personal than I'd written for the band, it seemed better suited to a solo project. I also wanted to include sounds that we don't have in The Celestial Fire Band, in particular the Uilleann pipes and low whistles of Troy Donockley, the whistles of Nigel Cameron, the vocals of Iain Hornal and the layered string arrangements. However, there's still some music I worked on with Frank that I didn't use on the album that could eventually be great for a second album by The Celestial Fire Band.”

Nigel Cameron (whistles) Jonas Pap (cello)

How did you get the ideas about the concept and the title of the album?
“My fiancé Sharon and I were due to be married at the end of March 2020 on the prog rock themed Cruise To The Edge. However, as everyone knows, the pandemic put paid to the travel plans of many people. I was just finishing a UK tour with Lifesigns when the USA closed its borders. We ended up being separated for more than eight months, until I could finally get to the USA via London, Frankfurt, Mexico City and fourteen nights in Cancun during the hurricane season! We were eventually married on 27th December 2020. So, the album encompasses the themes of separation, longing and finally joy at being reunited, as well as other ideas that came to me during walks and runs on the country lane on which I lived.”

To what extent does the album have comparisons with Iona's Beyond These Shores album?
“Well, Iona fans might recognise the title as a quote from the lyrics of the song Edge Of The World from the album Beyond These Shores (1993) and there are definitely parallels in the themes of both albums. Beyond These Shores recounts the ancient story of St Brendan's epic voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, whilst To The Far Away tells a more contemporary story of lovers on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, separated for many months by the global pandemic. Both albums end on a note of optimism. Brendan finally returns safely home, whilst our contemporary lovers are finally reunited after an epic trip across the same ocean.”

Was it difficult to find time to record the album since you also work with acts as Downes Braide Association, Lifesigns, Nick Fletcher and Strawbs?
“Apart from the big drop in earnings due to the cessation of touring, the lockdown of 2020 proved to be very busy for me. It allowed me, and several of the artists I play with, the space to really concentrate on new music. The first part of the lockdown in 2020 was spent working on the Iona box set The Book of Iona, which was a huge undertaking, then I worked on all the other projects you mention, whilst also putting down ideas for what would become To The Far Away. So, it wasn't difficult to record the album, it just meant that I had other things to finish before I could give my whole attention to it.”

You recorded the album on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. You could have given the album a title related to that fact? For example: Between Oceans, Both Sides Of The Ocean or A Transatlantic Journey?
“Actually, those are really good titles Henri! I wish I'd thought of them! That's a good point, but I liked To The Far Away because of the aforementioned link to the story of Brendan's voyage and the link to Iona. One of the things I wanted the album to capture was something of the spirit of the sound that Troy Donockley and I had captured in Iona, especially with the unique sound we discovered with Uilleann pipes, low whistle and my electric guitar playing in unison, hence the idea to reference Iona in the title.”

How difficult was it to work this way?
“It wasn't too difficult to work on the album both in the USA and UK. I just had to be very organised! I have a small recording set up with a couple of keyboards in the USA that I can work on. I was able to borrow a couple of nice electric guitars from a friend in Baltimore, which I used on a few tracks. All my acoustic instruments and really good microphones and pre-amps are in the UK, so all the acoustic parts and my backing vocals had to be recorded there. I also finished the mixing in the UK, where I have some great studio monitor speakers. In fact, that is partly why the album took longer than expected because one of them developed a fault and had to be sent away to be fixed, but the parts to repair it took about four or five months to come from Denmark, due to pandemic delays.”

You worked again with Sally Minnear on vocals, but how did you get in touch with Iain Hornal?
“Well, I love Sally's voice and she's so easy to work with. Back in 2018, I spent some time in the studio with Sally working on possible tracks for a duo album, something I definitely want to do at some point. That didn't materialise at the time but a few of those ideas subsequently morphed into songs on To The Far Away. Parts of Ghost Light, Girl And The Magical Sky and To Gain the Ocean came from those sessions with Sally, so of course I wanted her to sing those parts.
Sally Minnear (vocals) Iain Hornal (vocals)

It seemed like a good idea to have both male and female lead vocals to express the story of the album. Sally had mentioned Iain Hornal to me before as being a great singer. She'd known him from when she was at college on a music production course and worked with him then. Subsequently he's had a lot of success as a singer-songwriter, but also working with Three Friends, as lead singer for the current lineup of 10CC, with Jeff Lynn's ELO and even on tour with Anderson, Wakeman & Rabin. He played bass on some gigs with them! I loved his voice as soon as I heard it and I knew that he'd sound great with Sally. He was great to work with, getting a fantastic vocal sound at his house, because all the musicians recorded their parts remotely due to the lockdown.”

Former Iona member Troy Donockley returned on the Uilleann pipes and whistles. Was it easy to get him with all his work for Nightwish?
"Troy and I have been good friends for over thirty years and he's always found the time to work on projects with me, even when he's been very busy, which I really appreciate. All Nightwish touring was of course cancelled in 2020 so he had more time than usual to record the parts for my album. We are very much in sync with the kind of music we like, so he immediately knew what the tracks needed. I particularly like his layered vocals on Sea Gazer, which are uniquely Troy! His pipe playing on the intro of Speed Your Journey is sublime.”
Troy Donockley
(whistles & uilleann pipes)
Frank van Essen

I guess that it's almost impossible for you to record an album without Frank van Essen on drums (Iona, Celestial Fire). Did you ever consider using another drummer?
“Well, I used another drummer on Celestial Fire. That was Colin Leijenaar, again a Dutchman! I just thought Frank was the right choice for this album, not only his powerful drumming, but his incredible violin and viola playing. Frank is also a great sound engineer and producer, so he always gets a fantastic sound on his drums and violins from his studio. He also helped with technical advice and sounds on some tracks on the final mixes, which was invaluable. It's rather strange that you asked me this as I was talking to someone else the other day about a possible future collaboration with another drummer, which would be really great if it happens! I can't say any more at this stage.”

For the lyrics on the album, you asked Lynn Caldwell. Can you introduce her to the readers of our website?
“Lynn is the wife of Martin Nolan, who joined Iona on pipes and whistles after Troy left. She's Canadian but lives with Martin and their family in Dublin. She has a blog for her poetry and I was really struck by her beautiful, descriptive language, when I read some of her work. Around the time I was thinking of whom to collaborate with on the lyrics for the album. She'd never worked on song lyrics before, but immediately understood what I was after on each track. I had the concept for the lyrics and sometimes I'd already written a few lines myself, but Lynn took these and transformed them into something much more poetic than I could do on my own. She was great to work with. She and Martin also helped out with the Irish Gaelic lyrics which are used on two tracks on the album.”

Lynn Caldwell (lyrics) Martin Nolan (whistles)

How natural is it for you that the music draws upon Gaelic, prog rock, rock and classical influences? It's a strong musical combination that works very well.
“Yes, it is very natural for me to combine these elements. I grew up having classical piano lessons from the age of eight, then studied classical music intensively for a couple of years at college. At the same time, I was also listening to a lot of rock, progressive and folk music, so all these musical styles became embedded in my psyche! I've always loved combining elements from different musical genres and I think that's what attracted me to bands like Gentle Giant, Yes and Genesis in my formative years. They were exploring the same kind of things. When I was a teenager I also loved a band called Horslips from Ireland. They were the first rock band I heard that used Uilleann pipes. Some of my favourite composers are 20th century British composers such as Vaughan Williams, EJ Moeran and Gerald Finzi. I loved the way they used harmony and have tried to incorporate some of their harmonic language into my music. You can hear that a little on the opening of Clear Skies or on Infinitude - Region Of The Stars. I think influences like that and also the British choral tradition that differentiates the sound of British progressive music from that over the Atlantic. All school children from my generation had to sing hymns every morning in assembly at school. They were usually set to music by some of the best-known British composers from the end of the 19th century or beginning of the 20th, so they were good tunes, often with very interesting harmonies. And that sound has definitely seeped into much British progressive music. I had that kind of sound in mind when writing the track Something Astonishing, which closes the album.”

Which song on the album is your favourite and is it a good example for people who want to discover your music?
“I don't really have a favourite, I like them all for different reasons. The best one for people to listen to in order to discover my music might be Ghost Light, which has many of the elements that characterise my music.”

In the booklet you thank people such as Erik Norlander and Dave Kerzner. How did you get in touch with those keyboard players?
“I first met Dave Kerzner actually in the Netherlands at Prog Dreams Festival in March 2018, when he was playing there and I was there with Celestial Fire. He is one of the main people at IK Multimedia, who make great music software, such as software synths and sound libraries and Amplitube, which is a brilliant software guitar amplifier, speaker and effects collection. More recently they've also been making hardware keyboards, speakers and guitar pedals. I've been using IK products for over fifteen years on all my recordings thanks to my good friend Jason Williams, who works on the artist relations side of things at IK, so we had a lot in common. Dave subsequently asked me and Sally to tour with his band in the UK, which we did in July 2018, playing a support set then playing with the band on a few songs.
Erik Norlander also works for IK as a sound programmer- most recently on their vintage synth collection Syntronik 2. My wife Sharon already knew Erik from her working behind the scenes at various US prog festivals, but I finally met him at ProgStock Festival in October 2019. Since then, he's helped me out with Syntronik 2 and a few other sound collections, which I used on the album and also on the Strawbs Settlement album amongst others. They're a really brilliant company and have made my life as a musician and producer much easier! Most of the Mellotron sounds I used with Strawbs come from their Sampletron collection, and many of the guitar sounds on the new album were not real amps, but the Amplitude 5 software - it sounds so good!”

Your wife Sharon appears on the cover of the album, but why can't we see her face?
“A while back Sharon showed me a picture of her gazing out across the Atlantic Ocean. It was taken before we'd met, when she was on vacation at a beautiful place in Maryland, USA called Assateague Island. I loved the photo and when I got to writing the album it inspired an idea for the lyrics for the track Sea Gazer. I'd imagined
that for a brief moment, she'd felt that someone on the other side of this vast sea that she'd yet to meet, was also looking out to sea and longing for her. Then the moment passes and life continues on. When Sharon and I were reunited after our long separation due to the pandemic, we spent a weekend at a friend's holiday apartment in Ocean City, Maryland and we visited Assateague Island together, probably standing close to where that photo was taken on one evening. On another evening we found a little cove near Ocean City and the evening sky was a spectacular blend of blues and yellows, and looked amazingly reflected in the water with four boat mooring posts in the foreground. I took some photos of this scene and originally we were thinking that one of them would be the album cover. However, I felt that something was missing. Then I had the idea of layering the photo of Sharon with this new one and I loved the effect.”

Did she like it to be on the cover?
“When I showed it to Sharon, she was quite bemused that I had her on the cover, but she liked it. I think it really fits the theme of the album. Incidentally the sound of the waves you hear at the beginning of Sea Gazer and at the end of the album is a recording I did on an iPad in 2018, at a place in Wales called Pwllheli. The water there runs into the Atlantic Ocean, so it seemed very fitting to use on this recording.”

How important was Sharon for you during the writing and recording of the album?
“Apart from much of the subject matter, which was inspired as I say by our forced pandemic separation, I would regularly play Sharon the tracks I was working on for her feedback. She's an incredibly musical person and is passionate about music. After years working as a choreographer on dance and fitness programmes, she really feels music on a rhythmic and emotional level. Her encouragement and feedback on the music during the writing and recording process was invaluable.”

You took most of the pictures in the booklet yourself. Even the 2CD version has an accompanying A4 size hardback photobook of evocative landscape photos. Six postcards of your photos have been signed and have a numbered certificate. Why did you do all of this and are people interested in buying it?
“I've always loved photography and I would always carry a camera with me on tour and take photos on days off. It's another creative outlet for me and for me a photo is similar to a piece of music that it's all about the composition. You can have a great scene but if the shot is not composed properly, you lose the impact and effect. Also coming from a background of drawing and painting, which I used to do a lot, I like to approach my photos with that kind of artistic mindset. When I got an iPhone 6s it renewed my interest as now I had something small enough to slip into my pocket when I went on runs and walks, which happened almost every day during the pandemic. I wanted to do the hardback photobook for two reasons. One is that I really wanted to see a book of my photos published, as much for my own satisfaction as anybody elses. It's nice to have something that is tactile rather than just a series of digital files. And secondly, the photos in the book are very much part of the creative process that resulted in the album. It's become increasingly hard over the past twenty years or so, to sell music in physical form. Rob Ayling, from my distribution label Gonzo Multimedia, and I share the same philosophy: we both want to bring back the value to music and how it's packaged. We're both from the era where buying a vinyl album was a major event and we'd pour over the artwork as much as the music. So, we wanted the packaging of both To The Far Away and the Book Of Iona box set I also worked on during the pandemic, to have very high artistic standards and be artworks that people would treasure and come back to. I think this approach has been very successful. Rob originally pressed six hundred copies of Book Of Iona - by the way it was always meant to be a limited edition release - but these were all sold even before it was released and we ended up selling all twelve hundred of the two pressings Gonzo did! Similarly, the photobook version of To The Far Away was meant to be just a hundred limited edition copies, but these sold out pretty quickly and a second print run is now selling well. We've sold far more CD-versions of the album than downloads, which is interesting.”

Julie Cameron-Hall (violin) Jon Poole (bass)

Did you travel the world to shoot all those pictures or how did you get them?
“Ha, ha, no! Most of them were taken within about two miles of my rented cottage in Lincolnshire, UK, during 2020. They document what I saw on my daily walks and runs on the country lane where the cottage is. At the same time as I was coming up with ideas for the album. Some of the photos directly inspired tracks on the album, such as Rain And Sun and Girl And The Magical Sky. They also documented the changing seasons during the long lockdown, as I was holed up in my cottage, working on the music. A few of the photos towards the end of the book were taken on walks in Maryland, USA after Sharon and I were reunited there in November 2020.”

What can we find on the 2CD version of the album?
“The bonus disk contains over one hour of additional music, basically split into two parts: alternate mixes of tracks on the album, some newly recorded or previously unreleased tracks, and then original demos of tracks on the album, so people can hear how they progressed from demo to finished version. I also included detailed sleeve notes on each track in the 2CD version artwork.”

Are you satisfied with the results and how are the reactions so far?
“I'm very happy how the album turned out to be and the reactions to the music have been almost universally extremely positive. Despite being under the radar for many people as it came out towards the end of 2021, it's still managed to get into a number of 'best of' 2021 polls, which I'm thrilled about. The most rewarding thing is getting the many personal messages from people who've been really touched or moved by the album.”

Are we going to see you on tour promoting the album with other musicians like you did with the Celestial Fire album?
“Eventually I hope to, once things are less uncertain with the pandemic. Probably not until next year, though. I will have a few gigs with Sally Minnear this year and we may include a track or two from the album, but it really needs a full band. I'm in the process of getting a visa for the USA which I hope will make gigs possible over there next year. Concerts in the countries of the EU have unfortunately become a lot more complicated and expensive to put on thanks to Brexit, so I'm not sure how feasible that will be to do, sadly.”

What's next Dave? A new solo album? An album with Celestial Fire or maybe with Iona again?
“I'm about to launch a Patreon page in early March, which, if it goes well, will enable me to devote more time to writing and releasing more new music, which is my main goal. Patreon is a great platform for people to directly support artists they love. You can find out more about it at I'll be letting people know as soon as my Patreon page goes live. I've just finished recording another album with Downes Braide Association to be called Celestial Songs, so that will be out later this year. I'll be on tour with Lifesigns in April in the UK, then I will be playing with them and also with Gabriel Agudo (ex-Bad Dreams) and Fernando Perdomo's Out To Sea Band on the Cruise To The Edge in May. Sally and I have a few duo gigs coming up, then there will be more Lifesigns gigs in August, hopefully including Poppodium Boerderij in Zoetermeer. I'll be mixing Return To Arda soon, the third album by Dave Brons. I'm working on a soundtrack for an independent film and I want to get into more writing for the next solo album as soon as possible. So, lots going on!”

Thank you Dave for taking the time to answer all my questions.
“It's a pleasure Henri!”

More info about Dave Bainbridge on the Internet:
       review album 'Celestial Fire' (2014)
       review album 'To The Far Away' (2021)
       Interview Dave Bainbridge 2009
       Interview Dave Bainbridge 2020

       web shop

       Website Iona
       facebook Iona
       myspace Iona
       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

All Rights Reserved Background Magazine 2022