Sandwiched between the finish of a successful mini tour with GB3 and literally the day before starting the first dates in Germany, with Iona, TPA’s Bob Mulvey managed to speak to Dave Bainbridge about the recent GB3 concerts and his latest studio album, Celestial Fire [reviewed here], released late last year.
BOB: Many thanks for taking the time to talk to TPA… It seems to be a really busy time for you at the moment, GB3, Iona, solo gigs with Sally Minnear and later on in the year with the Celestial Fire Band. You’ve recently just finished touring with GB3 – can you tell us how that is going?
DAVE: Yes it’s a busy time! I’ve literally just finished the GB3 tour and it was one of the most enjoyable tours I’ve done for a long time. Great music and the guys are all great company and pitch in with absolutely no ego problems. This was our first tour as GB3 so it was very much a first toe in the water. Although individually we’ve played with some well known artists, that doesn’t automatically guarantee that promoters and the general public are going to be interested. So we only had a small amount of gigs and not huge audiences but the reaction has been incredibly positive. People who were expecting an over indulgent concert of guitar solos told us they were thrilled at the diversity of the evening and the joy that emanated from the stage. Several said that some of the more emotive tracks brought tears to their eyes. We came away feeling that this is potentially the start of something very exciting, and we can’t wait to start organising the next tour.
BOB: Can you tell us a little bit about how GB3 project came together?
DAVE: At the beginning of 2014, Joanne (from Iona) announced that she wanted to devote much less time to Iona for the foreseeable future, in order to spend more time with her family and doing solo things and singing at Christian worship events in her native Ireland. So suddenly there was a big space in my musical life which is now enabling me to pursue other projects. One thing that cropped up was the idea of GB3. A sort of G3 type evening of guitar music, but with a bit of a twist. Guitarist Dave Brons had been a fan of Iona for many years and I’ve just got to know him personally over the past 3 years or so. He’s a great guitarist and has written some powerful, epic sounding instrumental guitar rock. I’ve guested on his debut album ‘Based on a True Story’, which I’m also mixing.
Guitarist Paul Bielatowicz and Dave had been friends for years and I remembering first hearing Paul on a cover mount cd from Guitarist Magazine several years ago and being blown away by what he was doing. Then there came the opportunity for me to tour on keys with the Neal Morse band in 2011 with Paul playing guitar, which sadly I had to turn down, due to Iona commitments. However I got in touch with Paul after that and discovered that he too had been a huge Iona fan when he was at college and had spent hours learning my guitar parts! He came to an Iona UK gig in 2012 and then I discovered that he and Dave knew each other very well. We were all scheduled to play at a fundraising gig for the victims of the Philippines typhoon in December 2013, but Paul couldn’t make it, so Dave and I did it and agreed to arrange another gig with Paul and bassist Simon Fitzpatrick soon after. That was in Leeds in March last year and it was a great night. We all did a solo set then came together to jam at the end and it was very well received by the audience, so we thought we’d see if we could organise some more gigs and the idea of GB3 gradually evolved. It’s GB3 because we’re all British guitarists, plus a bass player! (You can find out more at GB3Guitar )
Dave, Paul and Simon are lovely people and amazing musicians, so it’s quite an honour for me to be able to play with them.
BOB: Paul Bielatowicz’s fiery workouts, with the Carl Palmer band, will have been familiar to many, whereas Dave Brons is perhaps less familiar. But from what I’ve heard – Eric Johnson would appear to be a powerful influence. So how have the three contrasting styles worked in the live environment?
DAVE: I think it’s the contrast in our styles and musical approach that is really appealing to people. The basic concept is that we each do a set, then come together to jam at the end. Paul and Simon do a sort of classical power trio set along with (on this tour) drummer John Biglands (who was standing in for Collin Leijenaar who had to drop out due to a serious health problem with his arms, which will require a painful operation quite soon). They play familiar tunes by Beethoven, Chopin, Vivaldi and other classical composers with a virtuosity and ferocity that has to be seen to be believed! Simon also does some of his incredible solo bass arrangements of tunes like Bohemian Rhapsody, Rosanna and Stairway to Heaven which are a real highlight of the evening. Dave Brons play a set of his own compositions, which are very much in the orchestral rock mode, with wonderfully memorable melodies and Dave’s emotive playing. I play keys on his set, emulating the orchestral arrangements from his album, which has been a big challenge but hugely enjoyable.
I do a set with Simon and John (with Dave guesting on one track) which includes pieces from my solo albums, Iona tracks and some traditional folk tunes which I’ve rocked up! I also do some piano and keyboard pieces and improvisation, so my set is probably the most diverse musically and stylistically.
On the tour we’ve just finished, the end jam set consisted of three tunes: Voyager’s Return’ an epic piece of Dave’s on which we all do extended solos, the Nice/ELP arrangement of America, on which we swap solos, and the Iona favourite ‘Castlerigg/Reels’, on which we trade licks and Simon gets the chance to do the seemingly impossible – playing some of the incredibly fast lead lines on bass. It’s all fantastic fun and the admiration we have for each other definitely shines through.
BOB: I believe the Dutch concerts were filmed – so might we see a DVD at some point soon?
DAVE: Yes – both the Dutch concerts and the UK gig at Trading Boundaries in Sussex were filmed and recorded using multiple cameras and on multitrack. I haven’t seen or heard the results yet but I’m sure there will be enough material for us to consider putting out a DVD, if we can get the money together to manufacture it.
BOB: OK… congratulations on the Celestial Fire album. I must admit I was somewhat taken aback by the magnitude of this. Did you always envisage the album being this vast?
DAVE: I did imagine it to be a bigger sounding album than my first solo release ‘Veil of Gossamer’, incorporating more of the progressive musical elements I grew up listening to. I also wanted to have a powerful rhythm section that was really steeped in the genre.
BOB: Did you also always have in mind to integrate such an impressive cast of musicians and vocalists?
DAVE: Not really. As with most projects I do, things sort of evolve along the way as the music is written. I was pretty clear from the start about the kind of drums and bass playing I wanted on the album, and also that I wanted to feature a male vocalist more that previously, but apart from that the choice of the other musicians came as the music developed. I didn’t write with specific musicians in mind. It was definitely the music that dictated my choice of guest musicians. Then it was a case of finding the best people for the job.
BOB: I mooted the point, in my review of Celestial Fire, that those familiar, or marginally familiar, with Iona may not have anticipated the sheer scope of the album. Although the Iona sound is present this is a much more powerful, progressive animal. Might this be a fair observation?
DAVE: Ha ha! Yes I suppose so! I think sometimes people may have preconceptions when a band member releases a solo album, that the album is going to be a lesser, more scaled down beast, focussing primarily on the band member’s own instrument. I think sometimes that might well be the case, but I’ve always regarded myself primarily as a composer rather than an instrumentalist. Writing music is what I’ve always wanted to do and I certainly didn’t want to water things down for Celestial Fire. If anything, for me, my solo albums present me with the chance to be free from the inevitable (but necessary) compromises of being in a band situation, and to go beyond what I’m able to contribute as one of several musicians. In a sense you get the purer, undistilled, unedited sound of Dave Bainbridge on my solo albums!
BOB: The fact that you called on many of the Iona band (past and present) – did it ever trouble you that this might be seen as an Iona album under your name?
DAVE: No I didn’t give that a thought. I just wanted to make an album that was the best it possibly could be, both from a playing and writing point of view. I wanted to have the best musicians for the job and I know I can rely on my Iona band mates to produce the goods. As I am the co-founder of the band and have written or co-written much of Iona’s music, there is bound to be that personality somewhere in everything I do. So long as the album is good and the music really touches people, I don’t care about how it is labelled, unless the label discourages people from listening to it in the first place.
I did want to have a broader palette of sounds than on an Iona album and that’s why I choose a different rhythm section and different lead vocalists.
BOB: Listening to Celestial Fire comparisons, or more accurately influences, from other bands fleetingly came to mind – from Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer, The Enid, Gentle Giant, Tone (David Sancious); Holdsworth & Jarrett – music from across the jazz/rock spectrum; through to Mike Oldfield by way of Fairport Convention, folk rock and not forgetting the ethereal Celtic moods. Are you ever aware of these influences on the album – or is there a broader spectrum than those mentioned?
DAVE: One of the reasons I wanted to make this album was to try and recapture that sense of discovery and excitement I felt listening to the bands and composers that first inspired me to devote a lifetime to making music. In my Indiegogo campaign funding pitch I mentioned most of the artists you’ve just cited as big inspirations. I’m very aware of where you can hear the influence of some of these artists on my playing and writing. Sometimes this is a deliberate thing, a respectful nod to those pioneers who have gone before. But I hope that I’m able to take these influences and to create something new and fresh and relevant to now. If you listen to a guitarist like Eric Johnson, you can clearly hear who his influences are and he will freely acknowledge them. However, he takes those influences and then creates something unique to him. That’s basically how music has worked throughout the centuries. We all look for inspiration wherever we can find it and mine includes the artists you mention, but also composers and artists from other genres and other art forms, in particular from literature and painting.
BOB: The album does get fairly heavy at times – is there an unknown progressive metal side to Dave Bainbridge :0)…?
DAVE: Ha ha! Well, when I was 15 I was in a band called Apocalypse and we did Black Sabbath covers! That got pretty heavy! To be honest I’m not really that keen on a lot of the prog metal genre, not particularly because it sounds heavy, but because it’s often not very adventurous harmonically. You hear a lot of the same chord sequences and one thing I love in music is hearing unexpected harmonies. That is the composer in me, wanting to hear real substance in the music beyond what is currently fashionable. Having said that there are some geniuses around like Tosin Abasi, who is able to combine an amazing virtuosity on guitar with some pretty interesting rhythms and harmonies.
BOB: So was this a reason why you asked Collin Leijenaar to form part of the rhythm section rather than Frank (van Essen)?
DAVE: I’ve always loved drummers who combine amazing technical skills with raw power and who are able to really play dynamically, and who do all this and make it sound effortless. It’s like the bar lines almost become greyed out and they’re able to float over the top of them with these amazingly exciting fills, but at the same time coming in powerfully when the music demands certain accents to be reinforced. Examples would be Simon Phillips, Billy Cobham, Gavin Harrison and Gary Husband. I heard this same thing in Collin’s playing and knew that he would be able to bring something really special to the music. Collin is steeped in the prog genre and knew exactly what I was after – in fact he also played some mellotron choir in two places on the album! It also helped that Collin was very familiar with Iona’s music and my previous solo album. Collin’s playing on the album is incredible – exactly what I’d hoped for and more!
BOB: … and given Randy George’s more progressive leanings – a similar thought process?
DAVE: I’d know Randy 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!). Like Collin, Randy gave 110% on the album and has been really enthusiastic and supportive about the music. For me it was very important that the rhythm section had a real heart connection to the music and I think you can really hear that in their playing.
BOB: … and Damian Wilson?
DAVE: As I mentioned I wanted to feature more male vocals on this album as I knew that there would be some more rocky passages than on my previous releases, given the album’s musical concept. Finding the right male vocalist was probably the hardest choice for me of all the musicians. After years of working with some great female singers, such as Joanne, 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 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.
We really got on well during the vocal sessions and Damian put absolutely everything into every performance. 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!
BOB: With such a world class ensemble of musicians on Celestial Fire it is difficult to imagine space for any other contributions. But were there any others you would have liked to collaborate on this release?
DAVE: No – I’m thrilled with all the contributors on the album. Well, if I’d had the budget it would have been great to have had a full string orchestra in a few places, but Frank did an incredible job multi layering his violins and violas for the more orchestral sections.
BOB: Or on future works?
DAVE: I’m really blessed to be working with some world class musicians at the moment, so I’m not hankering after other collaborations for the sake of it. It would be interesting to play with Eric Johnson though, with me on keys as I think we’d come up with something unique. I love improvising chord changes on keyboards and it would be great to hear what he might come up with over my harmonies, which are often influenced more by English composers such as Vaughan-Williams than by anything else!
BOB: I had considered asking about a keyboard player, but as I remarked in the review that although you are well regarded for your guitar playing, not many will be aware of your keyboard skills. There’s some impressive piano, synth and organ on the album – did you derive more pleasure from those than perhaps your guitar?
DAVE: What many people who are familiar with me through Iona might not know is that actually piano is my first instrument. Before Iona I was known much more as a keyboard player than a guitar player. One of the things I wanted to do on this album was to bring my keyboard playing more into the foreground. In Iona, the keys play a more textural role, but actually I love playing Hammond, synth and piano solos, so this album was an opportunity to be able to do that. I love playing keys and guitar equally and one of the nice things about the GB3 gigs is that I get to do both as lead instruments, which is really nice.
BOB: That neatly brings me on to the live shows. Later in the year you are planning on taking the Celestial Fire band on the road. Presumably you will re-arrange the material to suite the live environment, but how concerned are you about pulling off tracks with this level of complexity?
DAVE: Yes – there are definitely 3 Celestial Fire gigs confirmed between 30th Sept and Oct 2nd (York – Fibbers, Bilston – Robin, Chepstow – Summers End Festival) and hopefully there will be more to come soon. I’m really looking forward to these. The band line up will be Sally Minnear (vocals), Dave Brons (additional guitars), Simon Fitzpatrick (bass) and Collin Leijenaar (drums) plus me. If Collin is not recovered from the operation on his arms, Frank van Essen from Iona will be playing drums. Yes there is a lot of complexity in the tracks and I’m soon going to be assembling a set list and looking at how best to arrange the tracks for live performance. It would have been great to have had Damian also adding his vocals but he’s busy and also we have to keep it financially viable for this run of gigs. So some rearranging will be necessary. The set list will include tracks from ‘Celestial Fire’ of course but we’ll also be including tracks from my first solo album and some Iona songs, which Sally sings really well. There are a few Iona songs that have rarely or never been performed live that I’d love to try – including some of the longer, more involved ‘proggy’ tracks. It’s a great band line up and we’ll tailor the material to suit the line up, which is more than capable of playing just about anything I can throw at them!
BOB: …and how are you going to manage to perform the guitar and keyboard parts live?
DAVE: The inclusion of Dave Brons on guitars for the tracks I’ll be majoring on keys on will make a lot of things possible. Both Collin and Frank play keys so on non drum tracks either of them could add something. Sally also plays acoustic guitar and if necessary I will sequence some keys parts, though I’d like to keep as much totally live as possible.
As well as playing bass, Simon plays Chapman Stick and he has a midi pick up enabling him to play synth sounds. I saw him playing some of the lead synth sounds as well as simultaneously covering the bass parts when I saw him doing Tarkus with Carl Palmer! So we’ll work out ways of making it possible!
BOB: Probably a bit early yet – but are there any other Dave Bainbridge solo albums in the pipeline? Perhaps a more stripped down version?
DAVE: Funny you should mention that! I have most of the tracks already recorded for a solo piano album, which, if I get time, I’d like to release before the end of the year. This is a mix of re-interpretations of some well known Iona tracks as well as some completely improvised pieces. This is something I’ve had in my mind to do for a good while. My daughter Evie has already taken some great photos for the album artwork.
OK… I’ve probably taken up enough of your busy schedule. But a couple of quick fire questions…
BOB: Do you get much chance to listen to music, what would be on your regular listening cycle and who in recent times who has impressed you?
DAVE: I don’t get as much time as I’d like to listen to music but when I do it tends to be quite a mix of things and there are not many things I’d listen to on a regular basis. I can mention some names but if you asked me again in a few weeks it would probably be a completely different list! I think you can learn stuff from listening to just about anything even if it’s not something you’d normally be attracted to. With my producer / arranger hat on I’ll be listening to different aspects of a recording or performance than if I’m listening to be moved or inspired. Off the top of my head a few things I’ve been listening to recently are:
Joey Alexander (an amazing jazz piano prodigy who’s still only about 12 or 13. He’s just released his first album and frankly he’s an incredible talent.)
I heard a track by The Gentle Storm the other day which was really good. My friends in GB3 continue to blow me away – Paul’s Preludes and Etudes cd, Simon’s Reflections album and Dave’s forthcoming ‘Based on a True Story’ album are all great.
I have two teenage kids so I listen to a lot of the music they like. My son Luca and I both like Flying Colors and The Neal Morse Band. My daughter likes Pentatonix – who are a great a cappella vocal group – I love their take on chart songs.
I listen to a lot of ‘classical’ music, in particular 20th century English composers like Vaughan-Williams, Finzi, Moeran and Tippett and French composers like Debussy and some of the things contemporary British composer Will Todd is writing – including his concerto for electric guitar and choir. I recently enjoyed the collaboration between guitarists Eric Johnson and Mike Stern.
Listened to a great Chick Corea solo piano concert on You Tube the other day. Keith Jarrett is usually listened to every so often and I found some great David Sancious stuff on You Tube recently – live and tracks from his classic Tone albums (which I originally had on cassette!). Paul had a Muse album with him when we were in the van the other day, which I quite liked (can’t remember the title).
There are some great things happening on the UK folk scene at the moment as well! At one of the clubs we played at in The Netherlands last week they were playing an old Camel album – first time I’d heard it for decades but I remembered why I loved them when I was younger – Andy Latimer’s guitar tone and phrasing is sublime!
My friend Troy Donockley sent me the new Nightwish album recently and I enjoyed some of the tracks on there – especially the longer ones with the orchestral sections and of course all the bits that Troy is featured on!
Actually I suppose I do listen to quite a bit of music!
BOB: Dave… many thanks for talking with us and best of luck with the rest of the gigging this year.
DAVE: Thanks Bob. I’m currently in Germany about start the only Iona tour of 2015, so never a dull moment!