This great value box set takes all the band’s studio releases and more than doubles them with a fascinating trove of historic sound snippets and alternative versions. It’s going to excite a lot of people.

Label: Open Sky
Time: 17 albums

When multi-instrumentalist Dave Bainbridge put together a demo that included “Flight of the Wild Goose,” as the 1990s neared, he only envisaged a cassette album that he hoped a few friends would buy. What actually happened was life-changing: the songs led to a band that garnered fans around the world and won critical acclaim.

But it didn’t take a long time to get up to speed; their first release had quality running through it like grain through a tree. The band were already flying, like the soaring instrumentals that would become one of their trademarks, as – with no apparent models to draw on – Iona  forged a new template, letting the physical and spiritual heritage of Iona island shape their music.

The interwoven strands that defined their sound from the early ‘90s for some two decades were Celtic spirituality, instrumentation that embodied it – pipes and whistles from successive players – and Bainbridge’s prog influences, which drew out epic tracks and fed guitar lines full of drama. The pop sensibilities of Jo Hogg’s tunes, which rose to the surface in between significant instrumental sections, only added power to their mix.

Celebrating 30 years, the band is re-releasing every studio album with a companion disc in a 17-disc box set with a 24 page book and extensive notes. These are available both as a box set and individually as 2-disc packs. There is also a reprise of the Snowdonia album that was disc 4 in their The River Flows anthology and The Sound of Iona, a completely new album of largely instrumental, re-imagined tracks that involves personnel from every era of the band.

My review for the début album is exclusively at Folk Radio UK but every other album will be reviewed in chronological order (hence the numbers in brackets after the review titles, taking you through the band’s history).

This is a set that will excite Iona fans, more than doubling the amount of studio tracks available. It includes some fascinating bonus material, all echoing the format of the original disc, usually with examples of song development, occasionally (e.g. “Beijing” from the eponymous disc) offering better versions than the original, and where space permits (Kells has over half an hour), including songs not released in any format before. Only one main disc (The Circling Hour, where they sound a tad tired) dips below the 4-tock level. A couple (Beyond these Shores and Open Sky) are 5-tock marvels.

Derek Walker