Dave Bainbridge & Sally Minnear at Darlington Forum Music Centre 2024

Dave Bainbridge & Sally Minnear

Forum Music Studios, Darlington
Tuesday, 2nd July 2024

It proved a triumphant return to his home town of Darlington for Dave Bainbridge, accompanied by his musical partner of many years, Sally Minnear. Now largely based in the United States with his wife, Sharon, he was the co-founder of the Christian-inspired progressive and Celtic folk band, Iona, and has kept alive the spirit of the band over the last decade with the help of Sally Minnear, daughter of Gentle Giant keyboardist Kerry Minnear. She came into prominence as a vocalist in the Lord of the Dance shows of Michael Flatley, and more recently has been doing sterling work as a backing vocalist for neo-prog giants, Pendragon. As well as several excellent solo releases, Dave has been part of Strawbs in recent years, and along with many other projects, is firmly ensconced as lead guitarist for John Young’s superb Lifesigns project.

The last time I saw Dave and Sally together was at a memorable and atmospheric 2019 concert of Iona music at Durham Cathedral (accompanied on stage by Dave Fitzgerald), but the extended lockdown period and some unfortunately clashes of dates (such as for a Hartlepool gig in 2022) meant that this the first time I had been able to see the duo live for almost 5 years. Whilst the Forum might lack the ethereal splendour of a church or cathedral, there was a wonderfully intimate and friendly feel amongst the well-attended audience of family, friends and prog rock fans in the largely seated hall.

Dave Bainbridge at Darlington Forum Music Centre 2024
Sally Minnear at Darlington Forum Music Centre 2024

Arriving on the stage quietly for the start of the first set, Dave shared his feelings of trepidation as he looked out on many familiar faces as he was reminded of the piano examination he once sat on that very stage in his youth. However, judging by the beaming smiles and positivity the duo emitted throughout the performance, any slight nervousness soon dissipated.

Dave Bainbridge at Darlington Forum Music Centre 2024

“Can you spot the link between the first two songs?” Dave asked the audience, before they played a delightful version of the theme from the Detectorists TV programme and followed it with the vibrant and inspiring Treasure from my favourite Iona album Beyond These Shores album. There was a strong Celtic feel to much of the evening, and Jigs went down very well with those in attendance.

Dave Bainbridge & Sally Minnear at Darlington Forum Music Centre 2024

It is a testament to the beautiful, angelic vocals of Sally, that they effortlessly reached the heights of those of Joanne Hogg for the title track of their 1990 debut, Iona. The use of projected backdrop images of landscapes conjured up a lovely, pastoral ambience, and this worked well for To The Far Away – the title track from Dave’s most recent solo album – with his soaring electric guitar virtuosity on display for all to see.

Not to be over-shadowed, Sally did wonderfully well in using vocal loops, to build up an exquisite multi-layered soundscape for Californian singer-songwriter Ayla Nereo’s Look At The River – a very satisfying highlight of the evening. Sally’s use of pipes, percussion and wind chimes complement Dave’s soaring guitars and expressive piano and keyboards throughout the evening, and together they really created a rich and ethereal sound.

Sally Minnear at Darlington Forum Music Centre 2024

That song was followed by three tracks from Iona’s sophomore album, The Book of Kells with the spiritually uplifting Chi-Rho, the atmospheric and thoughtful Luke – The Calf, and then the dynamic exuberance of Kells. Wonderful stuff indeed, although finishing off the first set with Wave After Wave from 2000’s Open Sky album even topped that for me. Even as a duo, Dave and Sally were able to retain much of its sweeping grandeur through keyboards and acoustic guitars and subtle percussion.

Dave Bainbridge & Sally Minnear at Darlington Forum Music Centre 2024

Although the second set started with an upbeat Today, it was the traditional feel of Humours of Ballyloughlin, which marked a refreshing change in style, with Dave repeatedly looping his Irish bouzouki playing to create a wonderfully evocative wall of Celtic folk sound. The virtuosity was stunning to behold. Innocence Found, from Dave’s Celestial Fire album (and the band name Sally and Dave used to use on tour) weaved its delicate and wistful nativity-themed spell over the audience, with Sally and Dave combining marvellously.

Dave then switched fully to piano and treated us to some gentle improvisations before morphing into the beautiful Veil of Gossamer – with Dave showing his undoubted abilities on keyboards as well as on the guitar.

Dave Bainbridge at Darlington Forum Music Centre 2024

Sally then surprised many prog rock fans in the hall, with a stripped-back, but captivating, version of Gentle Giant’s His Last Voyage, from the Free Hand album, and co-written by none other than her father, Kerry. She went back to her Lord of the Dance years with the dreamily flowing Suil a Ruin, with Dave taking centre stage with an exuberant, electric guitar-led, Angel Of God.

We were on the final lap now, and Sally gave her all as we returned to The Book of Kells for Revelation. Whilst we weren’t quite up to full break-out of Irish dancing, our toes tapped and our hands clapped for the vibrant, Castlerigg/Reels – often a closing crowd pleaser at Iona concerts in the past. There was still time for a reminder of how proggy Iona could be at times, with the sumptuous and atmospheric guitar-led instrumental Heaven’s Bright Sun – although they might have left the most memorable moment till the encore, with an emotionally stunning version of Beyond These Shores, that certainly had me starting to well-up by the end. Absolutely timeless.

Dave Bainbridge & Sally Minnear at Darlington Forum Music Centre 2024

Thank you, Dave and Sally, for keeping the flame alight! The whole concert was a joyous celebration of the music of Iona and much more and proved another memorable and musical diverse show at the Forum – which is increasingly promoting progressive music in all its forms – thanks to the work of Mike Prendergast of Gasto Promotions. Both Dave and Sally are incredibly busy musicians at present, but hopefully they’ll always be able to find time to come together still in the years to come.

Set 1

‘Detectorists’ Theme
To The Far Away
Look At The River
Luke – The Calf*
Wave After Wave*

Set 2
Humours of Ballyloughlin
Innocence Found
Piano Improvisions/Veil of Gossamer
His Last Voyage**
Suil a Ruin
Angel of God
Heaven’s Bright Sun*
~ Encore
Beyond These Shores*

* Iona covers
** Gentle Giant cover

Dave Bainbridge – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Irish Bouzouki, Keyboards, Loops & Effects
Sally Minnear – Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Pipes & Recorders, Wind Chimes, Drums & Percussion, Vocal Loops

Dave Bainbridge – Website | Facebook
Sally Minnear – Facebook