St. George’s Church, Hartlepool, County Durham
Saturday, 18th June 2022
As much of the country baked in the uncharacteristically hot June weather, I was delighted to be going to church, which I have to say was refreshingly cool. Entering St. George’s Church I was minded of the Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy gig at Howden’s Shire Hall some five years ago now, solely down to the warm welcome which greeted us and the open and friendly nature of all those people behind the event. Kudos to Paul Rodgers for organising the event and it was obvious much time and effort had gone into the preparation, especially as we moved to a partitioned area for some pre-concert refreshment and a catch-up with friends.
Possibly a first for me and many of the ‘congregation’ to be seated in a church on a Saturday evening – something noted by Progzilla Radio’s Steve ‘The Progmeister’ Petch as he warmly introduced Dave Bainbridge and Sally Minnear to the stage.
Steve’s introduction highlighted Dave’s tenure with Iona, his solo work and Celestial Fire, whilst briefly touching on his involvement with Strawbs and as a member of Lifesigns, to mention just a couple from his impressive portfolio. Sally’s introduction made mention her father (Kerry), known to many as co-founder of Gentle Giant, whilst multi-instrumentalist Sally has had a diverse career including Celestial Fire, along with her involvement with Michael Flatley’s The Lord of the Dance…
As might be expected, a fair portion of the evening’s show came from the Iona camp, and the concert began with a delightful rendition of Iona’s hauntingly beautiful Kells Opening Theme, taken from The Book of Kells, released some 30 years ago this year. Sally’s wonderfully pure voice accompanied by Dave’s lush soundscapes proved to be the perfect start to the evening. And we remained with Iona for the second song, the upbeat Treasure, taken from Beyond These Shores and performed by Sally on acoustic guitar and Dave on bouzouki and vocals.
The setting for the concert at St. George’s was an excellent choice, with its lovely architecture, stained glass windows and the impressive pipe organ forming the perfect backdrop for the stage. In contrast, the stage was offset with TV screens offering close-ups of both performers, and to my mind complemented the mix of both traditional and modern instrumentation employed by Dave and Sally.
We return to the ethereal, Sally apologising in advance as she employs technology for the self-explanatory Vox Loops into D Drone & Jigs. Perhaps previous mishaps prompted this opt-out clause, however not the case on this evening with her layers of sweet harmonised vocals reverberating around the room. Stunning!
As the title suggests, the music segues, utilising the low D drone, into a stunning thematic solo from Dave, before culminating in the jigs. Also stunning!
Dave’s sense of melody and harmony are ever present, whereas his technique allowed him to take those elements to dizzying heights, my friend commenting that he had the soul of Andy Latimer and the flair and dexterity of Eric Johnson. It certainly echoed my thoughts…
As gigs struggle to return to capacity, following the two year hiatus caused by the global pandemic, it was extremely heartening to see such a good turn out for the evening, and for those who attended were treated to a wonderous evening of music. Adding to the enjoyment, and throughout the evening, both Sally and Dave’s interactions with the audience were refreshing and endearing, delivered with sincerity, invariably with infectious smiles, and it has to said a fair modicum of humour – Dave in particular with his “also available at the Merch desk” quips 😉 – appreciated by all…
Following Sally’s touching musical rendition of the Robert Burns poem A Red, Red Rose, we move to the first of Dave’s solo piano pieces. This time around it is Dave who offers a disclaimer, however as with Sally’s previous performance, mere mortals would be hard pushed to detect anything other than a perfect performance. Dave’s superb rendition and improvisations on the title tune from 2004’s The Veil of Gossamer was truly breath-taking. Over many years, and up until tonight’s gig, I had perhaps viewed Dave as a great guitarist and an accomplished pianist, this evening proved him to be a master of both.
The Iona catalogue featured heavily, however Dave’s solo albums were covered, along with traditional songs and music from Lord of the Dance. Dave’s powerful and touching version of Caoineadh Cu Chulainn represented the evening’s first visit to LOTD/Riverdance. The Veil of Gossamer was revisited with the gentle ballad Until the Tide Turns, Sally delivering the lyrics taken from a David Adam poem with delicate charm. Shuil A Ruin, “sung from the point of view of a woman lamenting a lover who has embarked on a military career”, and represented the traditional.
The interval, and an opportunity for some to visit the oft mooted merch desk 😉 , along with a coffee for me (apologies to St. George’s for consuming all the Biscoff biscuits on our table!), and wine and beers for my companions. Time also to reflect on the first half with unanimous agreement that we had witnessed something rather special.
Once again the lights dimmed and we returned to our pew, shortly followed by Mr Petch to welcome Dave and Sally back to the stage.
Dave and Sally continued where they had left off with gem after gem. Iona’s Today from Beyond These Shores taking us in, followed by the rousing four-part arrangement of a traditional Irish jig, The Humours of Ballyloughlan, played on bouzouki and utilising a ‘looper’. What was totally refreshing over the evening was the self-effacing nature of both performers, their skills never in doubt as far as the audience are concerned, however both Dave and Sally acknowledge and embrace that the technology may trip them up.
The pace is taken down as we return to Iona’s The Book of Kells with Dave’s stunning instrumental, Luke – The Calf, whale sounds and soaring guitar tones over an ethereal soundscape; truly hairs on the back of the neck. As a side note, there’s a wonderful version of this track by Frank van Essen & Dave Bainbridge to be found on the Meditations of A Sound Mind Vol.1. Changing the mood once again, but staying with The Book of Kells, we have the jaunty Chi-Rho, whereas Divine Presence from Journey Into the Morn with its flowing acoustic guitar proved to be a touching moment, Sally’s voice truly angelic.
As I sit writing this review, magical moments from the evening keep flashing back. Dave’s second solo piano interlude, this time around Macharie Moor from Beyond These Shores, a mesmerising moment as he transforms the tranquillity of the Iona instrumental with his variations on the original themes. The dreamy, lush sonic soundscapes of Heaven’s Bright Sun are sharply interrupted by Sally’s rhythmic rolling toms and cymbal, demanding attention, as of course does Dave’s flowing guitar. With more and more scribbled notes appearing on my desk by the minute, I’ll perhaps just close out here…
A truly memorable concert and one that left a warm glow. Such was the varied programme of material it defied the fact that there were only two musicians on stage. I would urge that should you get the opportunity to catch one of the Dave Bainbridge and Sally Minnear shows – you grab it with both hands…
[TPA would like to thank Gerald Oliver for the live photos used in this review.]
Kells Opening Theme
Vox Loops into D Drone & Jigs
Red Red Rose
Improv & Veil of Gossamer
Irish Day (Journey into the Morn)
Caoineadh Cu Chulainn
Until the Tide Turns
Shuil A Ruin…
The Humours of Ballyloughlan
Luke – The Calf
Macharie Moor (improv)
Songs of Ascent
Heaven’s Bright Sun
Beyond These Shores
My Lagan Love
(* Not entirely sure as to the full accuracy of the above setlist.)
Dave Bainbridge – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Bazouki, Backing Vocals
Sally Minnear – Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Whistles, Tenor Recorder, Assorted Percussion