Recording of the Forthcoming DVD

Live at University of London Student's Union - 18th November 2004

Concert Review

Review © Stephen Lambe 2004
HTML and Production © Russell W Elliot 2004
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Last updated: 20 November 2004

While it's a terrible shame that Iona have dropped off the regular live circuit, it does give each UK concert a sense of occasion, especially if, as in this case, it was to be recorded as a DVD to be released in 2005. The performance itself provided enough warmth to sooth what had been a stressful four hour drive from Western England in pouring rain.

Meanwhile, not a great deal has changed in Iona's world since the last played in the UK in Rotherham in 2002 (review). Guitarist / keyboardist Dave Bainbridge and the delightfully Dickensian figure of Troy Donockly on wind instruments and guitars now tour as a duo playing Iona tunes and a few other pieces, some of which made an appearance in the band's first set. This was a semi-acoustic warmup which also included relaxed, atmospheric versions of some of the band's older tunes.

The lineup has remained the same since 2000's superb Open Sky album (review). Joanne Hogg is still a superb vocalist, combining a great range with surprising power, and, of course, that beautiful, angelic quality which makes her one of the best female vocalists in rock music. The short-haired Frank Essen is a fine drummer, and combines some great snare and cymbal work with a few moments of delightful violin while the modest Phil Barker plays some nimble bass. However, the duo of Troy and Dave are the hardest worked.

Troy is remarkable, jumping effortlessly between low, high and tin whistles, plus his trademark Uilleann Pipes, cittern and acoustic guitar. Despite a heavy cold, he remained his virtuosity shone though. Providing some beautifully atmospheric synth in the opening set, it was in the second set that Dave Bainbridge came into his own, with some searing lead guitar that continues to mark him as one of the UKs most under-rated guitarists.

After a short break, the band treated a rapturous audience to a full 100-minute electric set, with pieces taken from a variety of albums. Whereas atmosphere and dreamy sax was the bedrock of the Iona sound in the early 90s, this has now changed. With no sax or flute player to compete with, Troy's wind instruments are allowed to come to the fore, and now the typical Iona sound seems to be Uilleann pipes or low whistle played in unison with lead guitar in a variety of superb celtic rock excursions.

"Woven Chord," their instrumental opener to the second set is typical of this, while the second song provided real contrast, the powerful vocal piece "Wave after Wave." The awe inspiring "Inside My Heart," with its tension filled vocal section, and awe-inspiring guitar solo continued an almost perfect beginning.

The band also trialled three new pieces for possible inclusion on their new album for release in 2005. The most impressive of these was "The Wind of the Lake," a wonderful piece of celtic prog, though the other two pieces also impressed. The superb, emotional epic "Encircling" was also played, and the band finished on "Castlerigg," plus the usual whirl through a variety of celtic reels. Four emotional encores followed, closing on the lovely "Murlough Bay."

Set list. Semi-acoustic set: "Chi-Rho," "Green fields of Canada," "Edge of the World," "Jigs," "Today." Electric Set: "Woven Chord," "Wave after Wave," "Inside my Heart," "The Wind of the Lake," "Luke," "The Factory of Magnificent Souls," "Encircling," "Strength," "Treasure," "Castlerigg / Reels." Encores: "Irish Day," "Bi-Se I Mo Shuil Pt.2," "Flight of the Wild Goose," "Murlough Bay."

Fifteen years and five studio albums into their somewhat stop-start career, this performance showed that Iona have lost none of their ability as a remarkable, uplifting, emotional live act. Though their lyrics remain strongly Christian, they are worth the effort for anyone that likes the emotional, atmospheric rock of Mostly Autumn or Karnataka (for instance) and the band deserves a much wider audience. Hopefully the DVD and 2005 album will go some way towards achieving that.

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