KW: Dave, I want to thank you for taking the time for this interview. I know you're in the middle of the next Iona album, so I really appreciate your taking time to share your thoughts with us.
DB: That's ok!
KW: I was first introduced to your music through Iona's 'Journey into the Morn.' From there I worked both backward and forward, owning all but 'Woven Cord.' 'Veil of Gossamer' quickly became the possessor of my CD player for a time and often finds its way back there.
DB: That's great! You should get 'Woven Cord' though - there are some great moments on there! I was very pleased with the reaction to 'Veil'. It seems to be an album that grows on people. I wanted it to be seen as a single piece of work - flowing from track to track, so that the listener could become engrossed in it. This obviously demands that you are able to spend a lot of time with it - something I know people don't seem to be as willing these days to do with music. That was one of the great things about growing up as I did in the 1970's. My friends and I would spend long hours in darkened rooms just listening to the latest album releases - you could really get to know a piece of music that way!
KW: I have to tell you, 'Heaven's Bright Sun' is one of the best, if not THE best, live albums I've ever heard. Having never been a big fan of live albums, generally preferring studio work, this one was a great surprise to. I have recommended this to a number of people as a perfect sampler of the band's range. (Please feel free to share about the process of its recording, if you like.)
DB: Yes, it was a good representation of how the band sounded live at the time. We recorded it over three shows on consecutive nights. I think the band can only be fully experienced when you've heard a live performance. Sadly, due to family constraints we don't play live too often now, but I always love the spontaneity of the live performance - there's nothing like it. When you think about it, it's only been in the last century or so that recording music has been possible - for the several thousand years before that it was always a live experience - something to share with other people. I think it's easy to lose sight of that these days and to treat music as another home accessory, like wallpaper.
KW: Now that you are in the process of preparing to release a live DVD, I'm curious, will the DVD span the entire Iona catalog? In other words, did you perform any of the music from the first few albums or is it predominantly the band's later works? Will it include any solo works, or strictly band material? I must say that being in the center of the US, and sadly unlikely to have the opportunity to experience Iona live, I am very much looking forward to the DVD.
DB: So are we - it's been a long time in coming for various logistical reasons! The DVD (which we're imaginatively calling 'Live in London'!) is to be released early in the new year is a good document of how the current band line up sounds. It was just recorded on one night, but there's some great playing on there, especially on tracks like 'Encircling', 'Flight of the Wild Goose', 'Edge of the World' and a new song called 'Strength', which will be on the new Iona album (but in a much more developed format). The material spans all the Iona albums and has 4 new tracks on there too. There is no material from the solo albums, though in the acoustic set we play a few traditional folk tunes that are also on the new Troy and Dave CD 'When Worlds Collide' (different versions of course!). In fact here is the full track listing:
SET 1 (Acoustic set): 1. Chi-Rho, 2. Greenfields of Canada (traditonal), 3. Edge of the World, 4. Jigs Hansome Young Maiden/ Trip to Athlone (traditonal), 5. Today.
SET 2 (full on set): 1. Woven Cord, 2. Wave After Wave, 3. Inside My Heart, 4. Wind off the Lake (new track), 5. A Dhia Ghleigil (new track), 6. Factory of Magnificent Souls (new track), 7. Encircling, 8. Strength (new track), 9. Treasure, 10. Castlerigg / Reels, 11. Irish Day, 12. Bi-Se I Mo Shuil Part 2, 13. Flight of the Wild Goose, 14. Murlough Bay.
The concert was mixed in 5.1 surround sound by John Kellogg, who is one of the pioneers of surround sound. He's produced 5.1 versions of several classic albums, such as Machine Head by Deep Purple and Brain Salad Surgery by ELP and recently the Black Crowes new album. Listening in surround it really feels as though you're at the concert, sometimes in the audience, sometimes up on stage! The DVD is also going to be released as a double cd, though this will miss off the acoustic set we did on the night.
KW: As a visual artist, myself, I'm often asked to name what inspires me. I find it hard to say, as the sources are so varied. Ultimately, of course, true inspiration comes from the Creator Himself, but He often uses a variety of catalysts that stimulate ideas. Are there any particular sources of inspiration that you draw from with any degree of regularity? Or are your inspirations of a more random nature?
DB: Inspiration as you say can and does come from a variety of sources. I often find it from reading something, or from experiencing a particularly beautiful landscape, sunset or night sky. I have quite a library of books by people like David Adam and Ray Simpson, both people I know and who write beautifully about 'Cetic Christianity', that is the period from around the 4th to the 8th century, when the British Isles was deeply impacted by the living, earthy faith of people such as Columba, Aidan and Cuthbert. It was a time when the church deeply connected to people, had a huge respect for the natural world, and had a humility in its structures and dealings with people. It was also a time of miracles, when the veil between the temporal and eternal seemed particularly thin. There are some very inspiring stories from this period and I believe there is much we as a society can learn that applies to how we live today. If there was more respect for nature, for example, perhaps people would think more about how our lives have an impact on the environment, and perhaps more would be done to combat global warming. I'm quite interested in cosmology too - the more you learn about the universe, the more incredible a place it seems to be and the more humble the human species seems in comparison.
KW: Do you set out with a vision to write a song about thus and such, working from a particular goal of what you wish to communicate, writing perhaps the poetry that are to be the lyrics and then set it to music? Or do you tend to start with a melody, or a musical atmosphere, adding words later?
DB: All of those ways actually! There isn't one method that I always use as a starting point. However, when I'm working on an album, it is crucial for me to have an idea of what I'm trying to communicate. I'm always putting down musical ideas onto tape or disk, but I find it much easier to assemble them into a coherant whole when I know what I'm trying to say with a particular piece. So I'll often write down a title or description of a piece which I can then work to, so I know what kind of atmosphere I want at the beginning, in the middle and at the end. Sort of like a storyboard, to use a film analogy. Sometimes I might come across a poem that I love (as in the case of 'Until the Tide Turns' on my 'Veil of Gossamer' album), and discover that it fits a musical idea I've put down years before, but never used. The feel of the words will usually dictate the feel of the music in this case.
KW: One of the things that I find remarkable, as I listen to the Iona catalog is the consistency or continuity of sound, despite a number of personnel changes, including the departure of one of Iona's founding members, David Fitzgerald. Do you and David stay in touch?
DB: Yes we do, usually via email. David came up here to my studio in May to do some filming for an Iona DVD we're putting together which will be a history of the band. We did some improvising together and played one or two of the Iona tunes from when he was in the band, which was great. All that was filmed and some of it will be on the DVD. David is a great musician and has a fantastic tone, especially on the flute. We're currently looking into re-releasing his first two solo albums (which are now deleted) on the Open Sky label as a compilation - but it all depends on whether this will be financially viable for us. I think right since the beginning of the band I have had an idea of the kind of sounds and atmospheres I wanted Iona's music to incorporate. Within that there is lots of scope, but I've been quite clear about creating an Iona sound and which elements that should include. Although there have been personnel changes over the 16 1/2 years the band's been in existence, there have been some key consistent factors; Jo's voice and songwriting, my keyboard and guitar playing, writing and producing, Troy's pipe and whistle playing (and playing on various other instruments) and, since 1995, his writing contribution. Actually, Frank (drums. percussion and violin) has played either as guest or member on 7 of the band's 10 albums (if you include the new soon to be released studio album and live album / DVD), so that's also quite consistent!
KW: I suppose that question applies to the various alumni, really. Is there something of a fraternal order of Iona? I mean, not to get too sappy, but is there something of a family feel to having been a part of the group?
DB: Well, we've know each other for a long time and basically we get on together pretty well, though like any family we have our different views on things. We always have a great time when we're all together though, but as we live so far apart from each other (apart from Troy and I), that's not often enough. I'm looking forward to next year though, when we'll be doing a few more gigs. It's always great when we spend time together for concerts. We are able to say what we feel within the band, for example about a song's lyrical or musical direction, without becoming too precious about it all. At first when someone else says they don't like something you've written it can be a bit deflating, but you can choose to either get upset about it, or to say 'Well maybe they have a point - let's see if we can make it even better!' I know that we're all aiming for the same thing, ie for any album we're working on to be as good as it possibly can be, and each band member's views are important and shouldn't be discarded. I know on stage too that we're all working together and if anything goes wrong, we'll cover for each other. For example, once my main sound module went haywire, so I had to turn it off and reload all my sound samples - which took about 4 or 5 minutes. So Troy and Frank just played some jigs completely off the cuff - and the audience thought it was great! On another occasion there was a problem with Troy's pickup connection on his pipes. He happened to say over his microphone to the audience that it would be 'all right' soon. This gave me the idea of playing the opening chords of the old Free song 'All Right Now'. To my surprise, Terl the drummer joined in, then Troy (who knows the words to hundreds of songs) started singing it. We ending up playing the whole song (Jo even did backing vocals!) whilst a technician was busy fixing Troy's pipes. Once we'd finished, Troy was able to announce that it was indeed 'All Right Now' as his pipes had been fixed! It was brilliant and couldn't have been scripted any better! In fact I have that on a cassette recorded from the desk that night - perhaps a future Iona official bootleg!
KW: Besides your work together, you did ?Eye of the Eagle,? inspired by David Adam?s book by that name. Are there any plans for future collaborations?
DB: Well I've just done two albums collaborating with Troy (From Silence cd & just released DVD and When Worlds Collide). David Fitzgerald and I have talked about doing something else together and I'd like to do that at some point. If we go ahead with re-releasing a compilation of his first two albums we plan to get together and try and come up with one or two new tracks that could be included to make it a bit more special. Actually we'll be shortly releasing 'The Eye of the Eagle' DVD, which was a film of the world premier plus interviews etc. It's certainly much easier to consider collaborating with other musicians these days, due to the technology around and I've been in email discussions with a few musicians in the US that I know about a possible future collaboration which could be very exciting - but I won't say anymore yet - incase it comes to nothing.
KW: Joanne Hoggs is truly the voice of Iona. Please extend our well wishes to Joanne as she continues to recover from her surgery. It is a great relief to know that the operation did not damage her voice (for hers and the band?s sake)! It is difficult to imagine the songs of Iona being sung by any other. However, were any other vocalists considered before Joanne stepped into her role? Was there ever discussion of using a male lead or was the audio vision you and David had always for the vocals to be done by a female vocalist?
DB: The first ever Iona gig was just the two of us - David and I. It was funny though, when we'd set up our equipment we realized that we'd instinctively left a space in the middle of the stage, which would normally be occupied by whatever singer we'd usually be working with in our other role as supporting musicians for various people. After that first gig we both realized that for our musical vision to be complete we needed a singer. It was always a female voice we had in mind and preferably someone who could also play keyboards. We did audition one other lady - someone who David knew - but she just wasn't right. We'd both been working with Joanne on UK singer songwriter Adrian Snell's 'Alpha and Omega' project a couple of years before and thought it was worth contacting her to see if she caught the vision - which she indeed did. The first gig we did as a three piece (we used sequenced drums and bass on the first few gigs) was on the fringe at a festival called Greenbelt. We'd cobbled together a half hour set and it went down a storm. Jo - who also plays keyboards and guitar - was great as a front person and we immediately knew we had something special. When Jo was on maternity leave the rest of the band did discuss getting someone else in to sing, just to keep things going and rather than have to cancel gigs, but I couldn't really imagine anyone else substituting for Jo, so we just waited until she was ready to play concerts and record again.
KW: Have the guitar pieces you released on Songs for Luca been released anywhere else? What about Frank van Essen's couple of tracks?
DB: The solo acoustic piece 'In the Wake of Columcille' was originally recorded for the cover CD of a US publication called 'Fingerstyle Guitar' and hasn't been on anything else. Frank's tracks that are on there have not been on any other releases either, though he has talked about doing a solo project - but Frank is really busy producing and arranging for various projects so he hasn't got round to it yet.
KW: In compiling the music for Songs for Luca, how did you go about it? Did you have personal contact with the individual artists, or did you work through their labels?
DB: It was all through personal contacts.
KW: Your wife, Debbie, is a pianist.
DB: Yes, in fact Debbie has a music degree and her first instrument was the oboe, but 11 years of a debilitating illness, which has largely cleared up now, left her without enough breath to play it very much, so she tends to play the piano mostly.
KW: Besides what she recorded for Songs for Luca, does she have any additional plans to record, either together or apart?
DB: We've recorded a lot of her songs just very simply at home. She often writes songs for specific people who are going through difficulties. It would be nice to do a whole album of them sometime, but finding the time is always the problem - and somone that could look after the children! Debbie has a very good ear for a nice melody and has written some lovely pieces - both songs and instrumentals. She wrote the melody we based the Brendan pieces on on the Iona 'Beyond these Shores' album.
KW: With music as your livelihood, do you play much at home?
DB: Yes quite a lot. Well my studio is only about 2 metres from our house! We don't have a television so I often play music with Luca and sometimes Evie. Luca loves playing percussion instruments, and when he lets me I'll play along on the piano. We do little 'shows' as well, which Evie (who's 5 but seems more like 25!) usually organizes. The latest is 'Cinderella' (we recently took Luca and Evie to see the ballet). So I have to provide the accompanying music for them and sound like Prokofiev, while they do all the character parts. That in itself is amazing - seeing Luca playing interactively in such a concentrated way - something he never used to do. That's one area in which the Son-Rise program is really helping him. Another is taking him out to something like a ballet and for him to sit and watch it without screaming or wanting to get up and run around like he used to do (though he still screams a bit at home!).
KW: Songs for Luca features a wide variety of musical personalities, including Rick Wakeman, Karnataka, The Flower Kings and Gentle Giant. How did this collection come together? Did people volunteer or were they mostly solicited? And if so, have you had much association with any of these artists or was it mostly a matter of professional courtesy?
DB: On the first Songs for Luca album they were all people we'd had some contact with before, except Julie Tippets, who'd heard about the project through someone we knew and as a result very kindly offered to contribute. I first met Rick in 1997, when he came to our house to discuss the possibility of Iona signing to the label he had then. Unfortunately we were contracted elsewhere at the time, but it was nice to find out that Iona were one of his favourite bands. We were very pleased when he agreed to contribute a track to the album. I met Ian and Rachel from Karnataka at an Iona gig they came to and we stayed in email contact after that. Later of course Rachel sang on 'Veil of Gossamer'. I've known Kerry Minnear from Gentle Giant since 1991 or 92. in fact around that time he came to stay with us for a night and he, David Fitzgerald and I spend a day jamming together with a view to doing something together. That didn't work out at the time but we stay in touch - Luca, Evie and I recently called in to see him when Debbie was on a Son-Rise course not far from his home. I've suggested he should do a solo album, but he seems happy mainly teaching music these days. Roine Stolte is the person I know least. I'd just met him once - at a Flower Kings gig for the Classic Rock Society over here. I just said a brief hello after the gig and gave him an Iona cd (Open Sky -which he said later he really likes). So when I though to contact him regarding a track for the Luca album, I wasn't expecting a response, but in fact I think he responded quicker than anyone else. Not only that, he said he'd remix a Flower Kings track and add a new guitar solo and new keyboards especially for the album! That was really heartwarming. Since then we've had some email correspondance and I sent him 'Veil of Gossamer' which he really likes.
KW: And now, you are putting together Songs for Luca 2; is that correct? Will it be another 2-disk set and will most of the same artists be participating?
DB: Yes it will be a 2-disk album and a lot of the same artists will be contributing, but also some different ones. Rob Ayling from our distributors Voiceprint had the idea of us sending out a letter to all the Voiceprint artists which they'd send out along with their royalty statements (something musicians are always interested in!). We've had a great response back from this mailout and at the moment the provisional artist list is looking like this (though we expect to add a few more soon): Moya Brennan, Joanne Hogg (on a reworking of the Iona track 'Journey into the Morn' featuring: Joanne, Roine Stolte, Rick Wakeman, Heather Findlay, Dave Bainbridge, Frank van Essen), Dave Beegle, Debbie Bainbridge, Donockley / Bainbridge, Soulful Terrain (Featuring: Keyboards: Dave Bainbridge, Cello: Claire Fitch, Violin: Frank Van Essen), Invisible Opera Company of Tibet, Oliver Wakeman & Steve Howe, Richard John Thompson, Nick Fletcher, Kenso, Aradhna, Keith Baker, Nick Fletcher & Dave Bainbridge, Mostly Autumn, Martyn Joseph, Brian Hopper & Robert Fenner, Julianne Regan (from All About Eve), Deborah Martin, Chasing the Monsoon, Mae McKenna. What's great this time is that there will be a lot more tracks that will be unique to the album, and also several collaborative tracks, so it's going to be a very interesting album.
KW: I know that you worked with Rachel of Karnataka on Veil of Gossamer. Are there any other collaborative efforts in the works? Kerry Minnear of Gentle Giant, for instance, is there any likelihood that you and he would work together on any future projects?
DB: Well I've suggested that to him and it would be great as he's such a unique musician and composer, but as I said earlier, he's pretty busy with teaching these days. He and his wife Leslie are still involved in various Gentle Giant archive releases too, such as the excellent Giant on the Box DVD of various TV performances. So we'll see...
KW: The music of Iona, the themes of your songs reflect your (and the band's) faith and Christian heritage, with strong reference to Celtic Christianity. Would you mind sharing your feelings about how God is working in your life at this time (through music and otherwise)?
DB: Four of the band (Troy being the exception) are Christians, and I think it's been unfortunate that sometimes we're referred to as a 'Christian' band as I'm sure this label immediately brings false pre-conceptions to people's minds and may even alienate those who don't adhere to the Christian faith. I think what has been great about Iona is that our music has been able to break down so many barriers. There is something within the music that often deeply touches people regardless of their beliefs, which is how it should be. There is nothing at all 'preachy' about Iona's music, we just write passionately about the things that affect us deeply with a sense of wonder and honesty. The new album, which is to be titled 'The Circling Hour', is really about the preciousness of this life that we all share. When you look at the incredible things in the universe, how amazing it is that human life sprang up at all, how fragile the balance of life is, then perhaps you can approach it with a renewed sense of humility. That is one of the aspects that the Celtic Christians understood deeply. Without that humility the human race won't last much longer. For me music is so much more than entertainment or art. I believe that great music can open us up to experience a part of our lives that is often suppressed by the materialism, hedonism and cynicism of our age. It can open up the spiritual side of our existence, and bring about a shared experience that perhaps touches upon the reason that we're actually here. Stylistic differences play no part in this. For example, whenever I hear a really great black gospel choir, for some reason it touches me in such a deep way that I always well up inside and feel the tears coming! I know it is because of this connection - almost like a door being opened - to another realm - another plain of existence, which is just as real and tangible as the physical things we see around us, but of which we are so often unaware. One of David Adam's poems that was key to the 'Eye of the Eagle' project sums this up well:
"Open my eyes that I may see,
The Presence that is all about me,
Open my ears that I may hear,
The voice that is quiet yet ever near,
Open my heart that I may feel.
The love of God close and real,
Open each sense, make me aware,
Of the power and peace
(David Adam - The Eye of the Eagle)
Unless we begin to see life as more that just the physical world which is to be exploited and used up to keep us in increasing prosperity, we will not be able to reverse the tremendous damage that's being done to the environment - and as a result to the poorest people in society.
KW: Given the changing seasons of life for the band members and the logistics of touring, what are your thoughts about the future of Iona?
DB: Well, Joanne now has 2 young children, so as far as touring, we have to work around her family commitments. So we'll continue to do some live work, but not a great deal. Jo doesn't want to be away for more than 3 or 4 nights at a time at the moment, which is understandable. I also need to be at home as much as I can so that we can continue Luca's Son-Rise program, certainly over the next year or two. However, the new album has really given us all a renewed enthusiasm for the band and what we still feel we can achieve. I'm really excited about the material and think it will be one of the best Iona albums to date. In fact we all feel that. So we will certainly continue with the band for as long as we possibly can, with a few gigs here and there. One of the good things about this recent period of creativity is that we already have more than enough material for the new album, so already have tracks on the go that can be used on another studio album - so hopefully there won't be such a long gap between albums next time round! In fact we're regarding 2006 as something of a re-launch for the band, what with the new album, live DVD, releases on 5.1 surround on DVD and dual disk, and a history of IONA DVD to be released later next year. We have a big concert in Holland on 28th April, which will be a sort of launch for the new album and live DVD. That's something we're really looking forward to. For all the latest info on the band (and our secure store), visit our website.
KW: Dave, thank you so much for taking time to answer our questions. I wish we could have sat down and had tea or coffee together to have just let the conversation flow, but am thankful for the opportunity to 'talk' with you through the internet. I wish you and the band much continued creativity and longevity in your collaborations. Now, if we can just figure out how to get you to come and play in the heartland of the US, where I'm located!