If not the new Iona, it is at least an interim one – and a version that fulfills some of its dreams.

 Live in the UK (2CD/DVD)
Artist: Celestial Fire
Label: Open Sky
Time: 15 tracks / 121 mins. + DVD

While some solo ventures can be self-indulgent, Dave Bainbridge’s re-construction of Iona seems more like a correction, a re-alignment to suit his version of the vision –a bit like Steve Hackett re-defining the Genesis catalogue.

So, despite there being no Troy Donockley or Martin Nolan, he still includes a set of reels, (played here on guitar); great Iona tracks rarely given a live workout get one here; and Iona drummer/ violinist Frank Van Essen is also in the band.

But this is a new incarnation. Those rarely played classics have a fresh sound: “Revelation” has gutsier guitar and “Today” gets a slap bass solo before the percussion section kicks in. And you wonder how many of the fragments that have become huge tracks here began as ideas that didn‘t feel right to the band in its previous form.

One of the biggest surprises here is that his early solo track “Until the Tide Turns” never got to be released as a band track. It sounds so much like later Iona that it could have slipped seamlessly onto Another Realm and no one would have blinked at it.

But let’s address the dinosaur in the room, as there’s an even older band making its presence felt here. The Celestial Fire solo album revealed just how much Yes have influenced Bainbridge. The title track that opens this set seems to get Yessier with every listen; when Simon Fitzpatrick does his virtuoso solo bass spot, he plays “Roundabout” (out of interest, at the show I saw on the following tour, it was “Bohemian Rhapsody”); and the encore – a real delight when it appeared out of the blue – was the gorgeous “Soon” from the end of Yes’s epic “Gates of Delirium.”

In case there is any doubt, I consider this to be A Good Thing. It is as if there has been this proggy fire creating sparks in Iona, but not allowed to blaze quite like it does in this setting. There is a wonderful keys solo in the 1 Corinthians 13-inspired “Love Remains” where Bainbridge lets rip on synth. If it were three times as long no one would complain.
(It left me wondering what would have happened had Bainbridge ended up with the Yes keyboards role after one of the many sackings and resignations that mark their history. He’d certainly have been better suited than Geoff Downes.)

This set is a beautifully-balanced blend of solo material, covers and Iona tracks. If the first half of the show features more of the shorter songs from Book of Kells, the second half dwells on the more atmospheric tracks, such as the beautifully Celtic “Songs of Ascent - Part 2” (think Mark Knopfler’s Local Hero) and a mix from Beyond These Shores.

The musicianship on this disc is breathtaking and they all have some of their best spells on “In the Moment,” which climaxes the main set. Kirkpatrick has a phenomenal grasp of his instrument and his pedals add gravitas as the guitar soars and the keys catch the scale of the theme. Dave Brons is a fine guitarist and works fluidly with Bainbridge. They do a Wishbone Ash-like twin break at one point.

There will inevitably be comparisons between singers Sally Minnear and Iona’s Jo Hogg. Minnear has slotted well into the role and has the warmer tone, but is not quite as strong as Hogg, sometimes seeming a little nervous on stage (understandably, as it was only her second gig with the band). There are no signs of that in “Soon,” however, and as it caps the show, it is just one of the places that make your neck hairs tingle.

The DVD adds so much to the pack. With three guitarists, it shows who is playing where and has plenty of close-ups for those who want to watch technique – and there is always something going on worth watching, not least Fitzpatricks’ account of “Roundabout” played just on six-string bass, with a little looping. Given the size of the tiny stage (which has the visual stylings of your Dad’s garage and is probably a similar size) it is remarkable how rarely you see a camera intruding (at one stage it sheepishly shrinks back, like Homer Simpson into that hedge).

There are over a dozen extras, mainly snippets from rehearsals (and several make you wonder whether Sally Minnear was giving her colleagues promo T-shirts for her Dad’s band).

This is a very fine package, judiciously compiled, and with a mass of great music. The second CD alone would make a superb release. For anyone who has an interest in Iona, this is a no-brainer, but it has far wider appeal and should make plenty of prog-lovers happy.

Derek Walker

My blog includes compilation interviews with Dave Bainbridge about Iona and his solo projects.