I am finding it hard to believe that here I am in 2022 writing about an album which was released in 2013, yet there is not a single review for it on ProgArchives. Recorded at different venues in the UK and Holland, here we have a double CD set capturing one of our finest prog folk bands in their natural environment, live on stage. I first came across them nearly 30 years ago with their second album, ‘Book of Kells’, and by the time they got to this recording there had been some significant line-up changes, but multi-instrumentalist Dave Bainbridge is still there, along with singer Joanne Hogg (acoustic guitar, keyboards) and drummer Frank Van Essen (also on violin) who was a guest back then, with the current line-up completed by Phil Barker (bass, electric double bass, darbuka) and Martin Nolan (Uilleann pipes, low and tin whistles). Strange to think that both Nick Beggs and Troy Donockley were involved on that album all those years back, wonder whatever happened to them……?
When a band contains a genuine multi-instrumentalist like Dave Bainbridge, it allows the band to have incredible breadth and diversity in what they are playing, here always steeped in the Celtic tradition of the Western Isles along with the Christian message which made the isle of Iona such a focal point for centuries. There is something very special about those islands, as anyone who has ever been will attest to, with powerful communities and a feeling of being in a place removed from much of modern life, and being all the better for it. This is what Iona bring with their music, changing mere notes into something magical and transformative. Whenever I listen to their music I am back on the islands, up in that area of Scotland where my father was raised and retired to.
Joanne has a wonderfully clear voice, similar in some ways to Annie Haslam or Christina Booth, while beneath her we have music that is often built on an incredibly powerful rhythm section with Dave and Martin guiding the melodies. While it is Celtic, it has much more direction and passion than the likes of Enya, and while it can indeed go into the dreamstate, there is a great deal going on and this never falls into the background. There are times when this really rocks, times when we all want to reel, and plenty of others when all we can do is listen and be taken away. This is complex music, with complicated arrangements, yet there is also a sense of space and fresh air within it so it never smothers but instead lifts the listener.
Containing music which does indeed go all the way back to ‘The Book of Kells’, more than two hours long spread over two discs, this is the perfect introduction to Iona for anyone, and is a delight from beginning to end.
10/10 Kev Rowland