Ten years after the release of his first solo album, composer and multi-instrumentalist Dave Bainbridge returns with his second release, and whereas Veil Of Gossamer had the trappings of a solo album – no criticism intended by that remark – Celestial Fire is unmistakably a full band release. A glance at the impressive cast list below, which draws from past and present Iona members, as well as other notable musicians, will confirm this. Now as the aforementioned Veil Of Gossamer has remained a firm favourite over the last decade I was delighted when Dave announced he would be releasing a follow up recording. Now I doubt any introduction is required to either Dave Bainbridge or in fact the majority of the assembled cast, so I will dispense with the introductions.
As seems to be the way now, Dave ran a fan-funding campaign for this release, so along with those who participated and the majority of Iona fans also purchased this release, I wonder who else may have taken the plunge with Celestial Fire? I moot this question as, with such a release, I would have anticipated more coverage in the progressive press and certainly more reviews of this epic album. I’ll come back to this later…
Given how much I enjoy listening to Iona’s haunting Celtic soundscapes and my long standing appreciation of Dave’s first solo album, I had anticipated that Celestial Fire would resonate with me, however there was little to forewarn of the magnitude of this release. Now for those who enjoy old school prog, then this surely is a ‘must buy’ album. Encompassing complex rhythmic structures, immensely varied and melodic vocals, fiery and impassioned guitar, sweeping and majestic keyboards, Mellotron, guttural and deep bass, exciting and dynamic drumming – surely a delight to those who enjoy the halcyon days of prog. Although I feel I should qualify the “old school” remark here by saying, Celestial Fire does not merely regurgitate the 70s, but rather takes it by the scruff of the neck and drags it firmly into the modern era. Something Yes might consider doing again, who I mention here, as sections from this album are reminiscent of the aforementioned band in their full glory. Let us not dwell here any longer methinks…
But should all the above still not entice you in, then mention of the more delicate moments – the emotional Celtic timbres, ethereal vocals and wordless voices, superb acoustic guitar, a whole gamut of flutes, violin, whistles, saxophones, Uilleann Pipes and real strings.
Right… well bringing together the innumerate stellar performances, from all concerned, is some crafted song writing, thoughtful lyrics, fantastic production and last but not least – a finely illustrated cover and sixteen page booklet with artwork from Ed Unitsky.
Hopefully you are now suitably engaged…
So returning to my remark about the lack of fervour within the progressive press to Celestial Fire perhaps this may be down to Dave’s long standing involvement with Iona and although their distinctive and gentle, ethereal folk sound is ever present, this album rather encompasses and embraces those elements and then takes them down a more convoluted progressive and rock route. As the album title suggests, this is a fiery and dynamic release…
Now I’ve spent many hours listening to Celestial Fire, made reams of notes on the music, before finally coming to the conclusion that there is just too much going on to do justice to the music in just a few paragraphs. With four tracks clocking in at over the ten minute mark, I’ve opted out of a track by track approach and merely taken snapshots from across the album.
The album opens with the brief but haunting Heavenfield, created in true Iona fashion with Troy Donockley on Uilleann pipes – accompanied by an array of gongs, timps, percussion, keys and ethereal vocals. A short piece that is reprised later by the guitar, and which in turn segues to the delightful album closer, On The Edge Of Glory. The Uilleann Pipes return, this time around performed by Martin Nolan, in a piece that would have sat very comfortably in the Lord Of The Rings film trilogy. Gosh – I got to end of the album quickly – where are my notes?
So back tracking to the epic title track, aptly named as it opens with an incendiary display of immensely dynamic performances, full of melody, themes and a powerhouse drive from Randy George on bass and Collin Leijenaar on drums. Soaring over this is Dave’s sweet guitar and dense layers of instrumentation and vocals – far too many to mention here. Lasting some two and half minutes, before moving into one of those delightful, floating vocal sections that Iona create so well, which in turn… I’ll stop here as with a further eleven or so minutes still left to run, I risk the chance of entering the track by track approach. So mention only of Sally Lyon’s wonderful early vocal delivery which, as the track progresses and builds is taken on by Damian Wilson, adding weight and soaring power.
Damian Wilson continues into the driving and rocky See What I See – which I suspect will delight Saga and Flying Colors fans alike. In sharp contrast, The First Autumn, the first of two ballads, opens with haunting strings laying foundation to some delicately performed vocals from Yvonne Lyon’s and Sally Minnear.
The wonderful Over The Water, from Dave’s first album, has remained a firm favourite, whilst its successor from Celestial Fire must surely be the instrumental For Such A Time As This. I say instrumental, there are some spoken words and wordless vocals – but primarily an instrumental. For many years now Dave Bainbridge has been recognised as an accomplished guitar player, Celestial Fire and this track in particular show him to be a truly great player. Something those who catch the GB3 tour will no doubt find out. For Such A Time As This is a wonderful, top drawer, jazz rock piece and in many respects brought to mind the two David Sancious & Tone re-releases I reviewed recently. Over the fourteen minutes or so of the piece, the music develops into a crafted prog middle part before closing out in breath-taking fashion.
Sandwiching Such A Time As This is the second of our ballads, Innocence Found which comes firmly from the Iona camp by way of Mike Oldfield. Julia Malyasova’s vocal here is scintillating and wonderfully complemented Sally Minnear along with Debbie and Evie Bainbridge.
As I said there’s so much happening on this album that each listen reminds you of something else to mention. I noted earlier on Dave’s guitar work, well during Love Remains he confirms that he is also a formidable keyboard player. Sweeping piano, very much from the Keith Emerson, David Sancious mould. And Dave’s keyboard skills re-emerge once again during the last of the mini epics, In The Moment, with a driven organ solo that Jon Lord would have approved of or fans of Ryo Okumoto would delight in. A track that, from its peaceful beginnings grows in stature – featuring possibly Damian Wilson’s finest vocal and accompanied by an awesome vocal ensemble. Themic and majestic as Genesis in full flow…
I’m left with the feeling that I have done a disservice to the many musicians not mentioned thus far, all of whom have turned in fantastic performances and are a credit to this fine album…
Dave Bainbridge with the Celestial Fire Band have announced a selected few UK concerts later in 2015 – visit the TPA Gig Guide for more details – culminating at this year’s The Summer’s End festival. I reckon those attending are in for a real treat.
There’s much to absorb with Celestial Fire and with four epic tracks and a release spanning just under an hour and a quarter, it’s certainly taken many weeks to fully appreciate the music – and I’m still finding greater depths. I sincerely hope that this album is embraced across the progressive community, it won’t appeal to all – what music does – but for those who enjoy their music as described here, then this is must buy album. In conclusion I reviewed Veil Of Gossamer back in 2004, remarking at the time that it would rank highly in my albums of that year. Well it has done so ever since and I feel sure that Celestial Fire will be joining it over the coming years.
[To tie in with our review of Celestial Fire, TPA’s Bob Mulvey spoke to Dave Bainbridge about the album and his recent concerts with GB3. You can read the interview HERE]
01. Heavenfield (1:05)
02. Celestial Fire (15:18)
03. See What I See (6:03)
04. The First Autumn (4:03)
05. For Such A Time As This (10:30)
06. Innocence Found (5:51)
07. Love Remains (13:03)
08. In The Moment (14:23)
09. Heavenfield Reprise (0:47)
10. On The Edge Of Glory (3:07)
Total Time – 74:31
Dave Bainbridge – Guitars, Bouzouki, Mandolin, Piano, Organ, Keyboards, Autoharp, Finger Cymbals, Darbukka, Chimes, Indian Leg Bells, Beer Shaker, Tambourine & Backing Vocals
Collin Leijenaar – Drums & Mellotron Choir
Randy George – Bass Guitars & Taurus Bass Pedals
Gabriel Alonso – Gongs, Timpani, Percussion, Cymbals, Gongs, Crotales & Shaker
Damian Wilson – Vocals
Sally Minnear – Vocals
Yvonne Lyon – Vocals
Julia Malyasova – Vocals
Joanne Hogg – Ethereal Vocals
Andrea Alonso – Vocals
Debbie Bainbridge – Backing Vocals
Evie Bainbridge – Backing Vocals
David Lyon – Backing Vocals
Graeme Duffin – Backing Vocals
Troy Donockley – Uilleann Pipes & Whistles
David Fitzgerald – Tin Whistle, Flute, Chinese Flute & Saxophones
Martin Nolan – Uilleann Pipes & Tin Whistle
Frank van Essen – String Ensemble, Solo Viola & Violin
Todd Reynolds – Solo Electric Violin
Corinne Frost – Cello
Record Label: Open Sky Records
Year Of Release: 2014