DAVE BAINBRIDGE INTERVIEW (19.9.2015)
Kimmo: Congratulations for your new solo album, Celestial Fire. It is excellent successor of your first solo album, equally brilliant ”Veil of Gossamer”. Why such a long time between the albums?
DAVE: Thank you very much Kimmo!
After Veil of Gossamer came out I became busy again with other projects over the next several years - two collaboration albums with Troy Donockley and others with David Fitzgerald and Nick Fletcher (whom I co-wrote a guitar concerto with!), 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 releasing another solo album.
The other problem was funding another one. With Veil I had some recording company backing, but as things changed with the record industry, finding someone to fund another album was very hard. By the time I was again thinking about another solo album, crowd funding had started to take off as a means whereby artists could invite their listeners to participate in the funding of a project, in return for various unique perks, or just the pleasure of knowing they’d helped to bring about the creation of music that might otherwise have not gotten released. So in 2013 I launched what would become a very succesful Indiegogo Fund raising campaign and raised £19,000 to help fund what would become ‘Celestial Fire’. It was brilliant to feel the enthusiasm and support from all the people who contributed. That really spurred me on to make the album the best I possibly could.
There weren’t any issues as far as writing. I’m always coming up with new ideas and will usually record quick demos or write them down on manuscript the old way! So when I started seriously on ‘Celestial Fire’ I listened back to a lot of the demos I have as I knew there were ideas in there that may not have suited and Iona album, but would be perfect for this project. So it’s not as though I was working constantly on the album since the release of ‘Veil of Gossamer’. Really I started in earnest in 2012. In fact the tricky thing for me was which ideas to use on the album as I started off with about 40 or so demo ideas! Some of these will probably make it on to the follow up to ‘Celestial Fire’ which I’m determined won’t be another 10 years away!
K: To begin with, we would like to hear something about your own musical background and musical influences?
DAVE: I come from a very musical family. My dad was a guitarist and banjo player and my mam played the accordion and organ and they both sang. My sister was a singer and a very good pianist and all my aunts and uncles were musicians / entertainers! So it’s not surprising that I became a musician as well!
I started classical piano lessons when I was 8, then guitar (from my dad) when I was 13, then joined my first band, called ‘Exodus’ when I was 14. My sister Maureen was 8 years older than me and I used to listen to all her records when I was little. She had albums by Jimi Hendrix, Vanilla Fudge, Free, Jethro Tull, The Beatles, The Woodstock Festival soundtrack and several blues albums, which I really liked - even when I was about 9 years old! Then when I was about 10, Maureen joined a really good local rock band called ‘Nimrod Fisk’, singing and playing the organ. For a while the bands hammond organ was resident at our house and whenever I got the chance I’d switch it on and play it! I loved the sound!
It was around this time that I first heard bands like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. I was immediately drawn to the fantastic playing and sound that Jon Lord made on the organ and Richie Blackmore on guitar. It was rooted in the blues but with a new raw, visceral energy and excitement that I loved. One of the first albums I bought was Deep Purple’s ‘Deep Purple in Rock’ and for me it was a game changer. This was the music I wanted to play!
So I continued my classical piano studies, but most of the time I just liked to improvise, write my own music or to learn Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin songs!
I was introduced to Yes and Genesis by my friends in my first band and this was another key moment for me. I suddenly heard how rock music could be combined with classical influences and structures to make longer form compositions that really took the listener on a musical journey.
Growing up in the ’70’s was an amazing time for an aspiring musician, composer like myself. Suddenly there seemed to be all these bands and artists who were combining different musical genres to create something new and fresh. Bands like Gryphon and Gentle Giant drew upon medieval harmonies and instruments to broaden their musical palette. The Mahavishnu Orchestra infused their music with exotic Indian scales and improvisation. Other bands, like Purple and Zeppelin expanded upon the blues boom of the ’60’s with a heavier sound. Yes introduced classical elements, huge cathedral organ sounds and intimate classical guitar - even country influences in Steve Howe’s playing!
Other artists I listened to, such as the Irish band Horslips, brought traditional Irish folk influences into a rock context. And of course Mike Oldfield also brought folk influences into contemporary rock, but also introduced a cinematic soundscape to his music, which immediately appealed to me.
Once I began to study music more deeply, aged 16, my new music teacher enthusiastically introduced me to the great 19th and 20th century composers, such as Debussy, Stravinsky, Vaughan Williams, Mahler, Satie etc, and my musical vision was further broadened.
When I was 18 I went to music college and studied jazz harmony and improvisation for 3 years and was introduced to great bands/artists like Weather Report, George Duke, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and especially the amazing pianist/composer Keith Jarrett.
So I suppose my own music has influences from all these people plus many more that I’ve listened to over the years.
K: Besides leading IONA for a long time, you have also played with such musicians as Jack Bruce, Robert Fripp, Nick Beggs - and of course Troy Donockley, who is well known today for all Finnish Nightwish fans?
DAVE: Troy and I have been good friends for the past 25 years! I first met him soon after I’d heard his great band You Slosh and then tracked him down to see if he’d play on the first Iona album. We became friends after that and in 1995 Troy became a full time member of Iona until 2009 when he left to play with Nightwish. He’s one of my favourite musicians and we’ve always had a deep musical empathy, partly I think because we come from quite similar backgrounds - northern working class families with parents who were entertainers/ musicians. We did two collaborative albums together in 2005/6 (From Silence and When Worlds Collide), which I think are great albums which were not really publicised much at the time. You can still get them from the Iona webstore (www.iona.uk.com/albums).
Nick was a member of Iona for 4 years and it’s great to see how well he’s been doing in recent years. He’s a great musician and a very funny guy.
I got to work with Robert after Nick had given him the first 2 Iona albums. Robert told Nick that he used to listen to them when he was in the bath and said he’d love to guest on our next album, which was ‘Beyond These Shores’. It was great working with him - he’s totally unique in his musical approach.
I did quite a few gigs playing keys with Jack prior to Iona in the late 1980’s and up until 1994. That was a big thrill as he was another big hero of mine and an incredible talent. Once when we were staying at his house after a rehearsal and chilling out, I listened to him improvising on the piano for about 2 hours - playing some fantastic stuff. He had an amazing voice and it’s very sad he is no longer with us. In fact I had to turn down a gig with him when Iona started taking off - the choices you have to make sometimes as a musician!
K: Celestial Fire is full of excellent musicians. Could you tell us about them? Did you have those specific musicians in mind when you started to plan the album?
DAVE: I remember when I started working on my first solo album ‘Veil of Gossamer’ I’d had this idea of doing a ‘Mike Oldfield’ and basically playing everything myself! However when I started recording I realised that to really get the best out of the music I had to take into consideration my own limitations and find the best musicians to do what I couldn’t do. I’ve always considered myself primarily as a composer, then a musician, so for me the most important thing is the composition and presenting it in the best possible light.
So with Celestial Fire I again followed this idea - it was a case of finding singers and musicians who would be best at interpreting the music. Of course I know my friends from Iona’s playing styles very well and knew they’d be perfect for certain parts. With this album though, I specifically wanted to draw more upon the ‘progressive rock’ type musical influences that I grew up with, so I wanted musicians who would really understand that genre - particularly the rhythm section. It would take too long to talk about each guest musician/singer on the album (there are 20!), but I’ll mention a few of the key people.
I’d know Randy (George - bassist) for a long time, even before he’d started playing with Neal Morse’s band. Rick Wakeman first mentioned Randy’s band Ajalon to me in about 1997, when he had just guested with them. Then Randy contacted me around 2001 about contributing a track to a compilation cd he was putting together called CPR 1 and we stayed in contact after that. He sent me an Ajalon album and I really liked his playing on it and I remember us discussing 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 (he played a Rickenbacker on several tracks AND Moog Taurus bass pedals - what more could I ask!). Randy gave 110% on the album and has been really enthusiastic and supportive about the music.
I’ve always loved drummers like Billy Cobham, Simon Phillips and Gary Husband, who have this incredible technical ability, but also have an explosive power. I heard this same excitement in Collin Leijenaar’s playing and knew he was the man for the album as not only does he have the technical ability and power but also a real love for the whole progressive genre. It helped that Collin was already familiar with Iona’s music and really liked ‘Veil of Gossamer’. Collin had contacted me a few years earlier asking if I’d like to play keys with him in Neal Morse’s band for his 2011 European tour (Collin was organising the band)! 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. His playing on the album is just amazing, and 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!
The other area I wanted the album to be different to an Iona album was in the choice of singers and specifically I wanted male vocals on some tracks. I actually didn’t have any specific singers in mind until after I’d started writing and recording. So the songs came first, then I thought about who would be the most appropriate voice for each song.
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 from Iona, 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 by David Sancious and Tone and I just loved Alex Ligertwood’s singing on that, which was powerful, but had a soulful edge to it. I did have someone in mind who could sing exactly like that but he wasn’t available.
Then my friend Pete Gee from Pendragon sent me his latest solo album ‘Paris’ 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.
So I tracked Damian down and he came up to my studio for two sessions. We really got on really well and Damian put absolutely everything into every performance and did a brilliant job. We finished early after the second time he came to the studio and we did some jamming together and recorded a few acoustic ideas with a view to maybe doing something together in the future!
I had singer Sally Minnear in mind to be involved in the album from quite early on and in fact she did more singing than anyone else on the album, doing loads of layered vocal parts, harmonies and some lead vocals, which we recorded over several sessions at my home studio. She comes from a very musical family (she’s the daughter of Gentle Giant’s Kerry Minnear) and is great to work with in the studio, being very quick and accurate. I first heard her sing several years before when she was the featured vocalist in the touring production of ‘Lord of the Dance’ and I loved the ethereal, quite English sounding, plaintive qualities her voice had. This must have been around 2008 and I had in the back on my mind that I’d love to work with her at some point. ‘Celestial Fire’ was the obvious project to ask her to work on.
K: How did you work to put the music together? Did you record your own parts first or how ?
DAVE: The first thing I did was to compile an iTunes playlist on my computer of all the fragments of musical ideas I had from my many demo recordings (some of which dated back to 2007), which I thought could work with the project. it was then a case of looking at each idea (some only a minute or so long) and seeing if I could develop them into complete compositions. So, for example the 13 minute plus ‘Love Remains’ started out as a piano only demo of the first minute or so, then I worked out ways to develop that initial idea by changing the underlying harmonies etc. Once I had an idea what I wanted the piece to be about, it became easier to develop the whole form, introducing vocal sections and the very fast extended band instrumental section in the middle, then the emotive, slower paced guitar solo section, which continues on the meaning of the preceding lyrics.
Then I did quite detailed demos - in fact now, because I have my own studio and can record to a very high standard I make sure that the parts I record even at the demo stage are good enough to keep for the final recording if necessary. I programmed guide, but detailed, drum and bass parts and sent these first to Collin, who recorded his drums in his own studio, and then to Randy, who dubbed on his bass parts.
Although I had a specific idea of how I wanted the overall sound to be, I think it’s very important to give musicians the space to also bring their own ideas, otherwise you might as well just use a computer! I was more than delighted with everyone’s contributions and the ideas they brought.
So some parts were recorded remotely at studios or home set ups in The Netherlands, Los Angeles, New York, Denmark and Scotland(!) and then the other musicians who lived closer to home in England came to my studio to record. One of the reasons it too a long time to complete the album was just the logistics of working around everyone’s busy schedules.
Once I had everyone’s contributions recorded I completed recording my guitars and keys etc parts and the album mix at my studio.
K: For me there are many different and new shades in Celestial Fire comparing to Veil of Gossamer. Was that on purpose? Or did the music just turn out to be like that ?
DAVE: I specifically wanted this album to really draw on the more ‘progressive’ side of my musical personality. When I first left music college back in the early 1980’s, my first goal was to form a ‘progressive’ type band influenced by artists such as Yes, Hatfield and the North, David Sancious etc. The band was called Plan B and I wrote loads of music for it. We spent about a year rehearsing every week and did a live in the studio 4 track demo, but unfortunately it was the worst time to try and get promoters interested in this type of music.
Punk had made the whole ‘progressive music’ scene totally unfashionable and virtually extinct overnight and all the bands on the local music scene in Leeds, where I lived were now either punky bands like The Clash or new wave Talking Heads type bands. I went to loads of gigs and loved the energy of these bands, but sadly we couldn’t get any gigs for Plan B and so the band split without even doing one gig.
It’s been great to see the resurgence of ‘progressive’ music over the past few years and for much of that amazing music that came out of the 70’s to be finally acknowledged to be artistically valid. I started listening to many of the newer bands in the genre and got to thinking; “Hold on a minute, this is the musical style I grew up with and actually I think I’ve got a lot to say through this medium.” A lot of the music I was hearing, though well played was harking back to the past rather than sounding new and fresh. Either that, or it was filled with virtuosic playing, but lacking in interesting harmonies or well written compositions.
I think many people in the genre don’t grasp that composing is quite a skilled art - it’s not something that you’re automatically able to do when you’re a musician. It’s something that you have to work at every bit as much as mastering an instrument. As well as writing much of the music for my band Iona over the past 25 years, I’ve also written music for many different commercial media productions and this has really honed my craft. This is one area I think I can contribute something significant to the resurgent progressive genre and where I believe Celestial Fire stands out.
K: Where did you get the idea of asking Ed Unitsky for the artwork? How was it to work with him?
DAVE: Ed had been a friend on Facebook for a while and already loved Iona’s music, so we were already in contact with each other. I knew for ‘Celestial Fire’ that I wanted to work with someone who could really interpret the music in a deep way and I loved some of the things Ed had done. He was so enthusiastic and encouraging when I sent him early mixes of some of the tracks, so it worked out really well. He is amazing at what he does.
K: Soon you are going on tour in UK to play Celestial Fire songs. Are you going to have the same band there as in the CD? I assume the line-up is not going to be quite as extensive as in the album? In the album you are playing all guitars and keyboards yourself. What about live performances – will you need some help for that?
DAVE: Ha ha! It would be far too expensive to take all 21 people (including myself) who were on the album on the road! It’s just initially a short tour of 3 concerts, including the Summers End Festival, so I had to find a way of doing it with the minimum amount of people to make it work financially, but at the same time also being able to perform the material from the album as faithfully as possible.
Originally Collin was to be on drums but he’s had very bad problems with his arms this year and is currently unable to play hard, which is terrible as he’s such an amazing drummer. So my Iona bandmate Frank van Essen has stepped in and been working very hard to learn the complex drum parts. The advantage of having Frank in the band is that he’s also an incredible violinist, so he’ll be showing off that skill on several tracks, as well as some backing vocals.
Randy was certainly up for playing live with the band but the cost of his flight and visa from Los Angeles would have been totally impractical for this tour. But I’m really thrilled that Simon Fitzpatrick will be playing bass (and Chapman Stick and bass synth!). He’s Carl Palmer’s regular bassist and is a monster player.
As there are lots of complex keyboard parts I have to cover for this music, my good friend Dave Brons will also be playing electric and acoustic guitars and mandolin. I’ll be playing about half and half keyboards and electric guitar, plus bouzouki.
Lead vocals will be Sally Minnear, who also plays percussion, acoustic guitar and keyboard. I’d asked Damian early on about singing with the band as well but he’s incredibly busy and was already booked for a tour. We’ve adjusted a few parts of the songs to fit Sally’s vocal range and I think it will work out great.
K: You have great epic tracks in Celestial Fire. Those must be quite challenging indeed for any musician. Are you going to play also those long ones live?
DAVE: Yes - we’re going to play the three longest tracks on the tour! It has been quite a challenge to get them together! For the past couple of years I’ve been using a Korg Kronos 88X as my main keyboard and it’s probably only because of this that I can attempt all the keys parts live. It’s a fantastic performance instrument and I’m easily able to layer sounds from my laptop software instruments with the internal sounds to produce seamless transitions when I change sounds and patches. I’ll be using that along with my trust 1986 vintage Roland JX10 (mainly for playing sounds from my laptop). It’s taken several weeks to programme all the live patches!
There are some places where I need to switch instruments and the band will need to sustain certain chords a little longer for me to have time to do that. With Iona I play keys in a standing position and it’s easier to play keys still with the guitar around my neck. However with the Celestial Fire tracks being so much more complex, I’ll need to play keys from a sitting position (I’m using my feet to control the keys sounds from 5 different pedals!) and often need to play without the guitar around my neck! So there are some logistical challenges!
Dave Brons has had to build a special Steve Howe type stand that his acoustic guitar can permanently stay on to facilitate quick changes of instrument.
Sally has bought a fantastic vocal processor box called a TC Helicon Voice Touch Live 2, which attaches to her microphone stand. With this she has control over her vocal effects settings for each song (in fact on the longer piece for different sections of the same song!). It also does vocal looping and she can bring in a long delay just for one word of a line. We tried it out on a gig last weekend and it sounded fantastic. This makes it possible to replicate some of the unusual vocal effects on the album and some of her beautiful, layered vocals.
K: Is there going to be also some other material in concerts besides Celestial Fire? And...is there going to be a live recording ?
DAVE: Yes we’ll al so play some pieces from ‘Veil of Gossamer’ as well as some Iona songs, including a few that have not been played live for 20 years! We’re also planning to do a cover version of one of my favourite songs from a very well know ‘prog band’ from the 1970‘s as an encore!
The second concert is being filmed and I’m hoping that we’ll also be able to do a multitrack recording, but that’s not confirmed yet. We’ll at least get a desk mix but those are never very representative as you don’t hear exactly how it sounds in the room. It depends on how it turns out as to what we’ll do with it. At least we should have some video footage we can use for publicity.
K: You are also doing duo concerts with Sally Minnear. What kind of performances are those ? Do you perform there also material from Celestial Fire?
DAVE: Yes, Sally and I have just done a duo tour in the UK. It was great fun and all the concerts were very well received. Sally’s got an amazing voice and a lovely on stage personality. It was a big mix of venues. There were two outdoor concerts, a few small theaters, a church and a house concert! We definitely plan to do more of these next year. It’s a more relaxed affair than the band concerts will be and we’re able to easily chop and change the set around.
The core of the material we play is Iona pieces plus some traditional folk melodies and tracks from my solo albums. We’ve done ‘Until the Tide Turns’ and ‘Veil of Gossamer’ from the first solo album and ‘Innocence Found’ from Celestial Fire, but it would be impossible to attempt any of the long tracks from ‘Celestial Fire’ with just two people! But it’s not just a stripped back acoustic set, though we do do some acoustic versions of some of the Iona songs. There are also some epic electric guitar moments and Sally has a large percussion set up which incorporates some toms which we use on some of the bigger sounding things.
The duo format also gives me the opportunity to do some completely improvised piano / keys pieces and some solo bouzouki pieces where I use a loopstation to jam with myself. With the introduction of Sally’s new vocal processor we’re also doing some very atmospheric improvised things with vocal loops and keyboards, which is great fun.
K: Thank you for the wonderful gig of IONA in Finland 2014. How are things with IONA today? What kind of plans do you have for the future?
DAVE: It was wonderful to be in Finland for the concert - it would have been nice to stay longer!
Iona is currently note really active. Since the beginning of 2014, Joanne has wanted to do far less with the band - maybe just 3 to 4 weekends per year and nothing in July or August (Finland was the last summer concert we’re likely to do in the near future). So we did a tour in Germany in May, but there is currently nothing else in the diary. It’s very difficult to sustain a vision for the band with such small windows of time available, so I’m just ploughing on and doing my own things until / if that changes. I love all the Iona music we’ve created and it’s important to me to keep playing it as it’s still very relevant, so it will still feature in whatever other things I do - solo, duo or band concerts, to a lesser or greater extent.
K: How was it to combine your extensive solo project with work in IONA?
DAVE: As Iona was already not that busy it was not a problem.
K: When will it be time for your third solo album?
DAVE: I have recorded most of the tracks for a solo piano album, which I hope to release as soon as I have time to finish it and we can afford to get it out. Then I’d like to start work on a follow up to Celestial Fire next year. It takes a lot of time to do the publicity, organise gigs, send out albums, etc etc, but hopefully early next year, after I have finished a couple of other things I’m involved with, I’d like to start putting music together. I have an idea for the theme of the album already.
K: Dave, thank you very much for the interview. Would you like to say something for the Colossus readers?
DAVE: Well thanks for reading this far! Do check out my other releases, which you can get direct from us at www.iona.uk.com and most importantly, please keep supporting artists you like by buying their albums direct from them wherever possible and going to their concerts. It is much, much harder to earn a living by producing original, adventurous music now than it was 10 or 20 years ago, which is why many great musicians resort to playing in tribute bands! The future of music is in our hands and we all need to invest in new, upcoming artists as well as the older ones by not stealing their work but paying them a fair amount to make the living that will then create true progress in music.