Iona–Fibbers, 06/10/13

Photos included in this posting were taken by Marc McGarraghy, whose work can be found on Facebook or the Yellow Mustang website. Thanks, as always, go to him for allowing me to use them.

Even without having heard anything by them or researching them, there are some bands I know that I want to see. I’m fairly certain I first came across Iona shortly after discovering Mostly Autumn, through following links on the latter’s website. I’m not sure what the connection was but the fact that there was one was always going to be good enough for me to keep an eye out for them. However, with the band having been in a state of hiatus for a few years, there had been little activity to pick up on. Earlier in the year, I spotted that they would be playing Fibbers and the fact their entry on the “What’s on” list included a note that the last time they had played the venue they had sold out two consecutive nights was one of the things that spurred me into buying a fair few tickets (not just for this gig) in advance.

I don’t know how long ago that last time was but Fibbers could hardly be said to be full tonight. There was a reasonably healthy crowd but Andy and I had no problem getting to the front, along with the stalwarts and photographers. We had been told there was no support band, with Iona doing a split set. From the look of the stage when we arrived, one reason why was obvious – the two sets of  keyboards and array of “folky” instruments, along with all the usual kit, probably meant that there would be too much to get ready between bands.

The band opened with (I think) Irish Day and it seems superfluous to say that it had a distinctly Celtic feel, especially with Martin Nolan’s tin whistle during the gentle opening. The song soon got more energetic and was a strong start to the set, even if the whistle was occasionally a little piercing (although that was probably our fault for standing so close to the speakers…) The number of pieces of kit on stage inevitably led to the band playing musical instruments (in the “chairs” sense) between songs and as early as track two Dave Bainbridge had swapped his electric guitar for a mandolin and Phil Barker exchanged bass for a slim-line double bass. Whatever this song was, it was more rocky than the first, with a nice percussion and low whistle section in the middle and there seemed to be a large amount of echo on Joanne Hogg’s vocals. That was, in my opinion, a bit of a shame as the first song had shown how clear and strong her voice was. Next up was an instrumental with Nolan again starting things off with a low whistle before moving onto uilleann pipes – an instrument I always find haunting and, with respect to any Scots reading, a lot easier to listen to than bagpipes. It turned out to be something of a jig, one of those that keeps building and, just when you think it is about to finish, almost starts again in a different key. (Being non-musical, I am more than willing to have any of the statements in that last sentence corrected.)

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Martin Nolan

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After a bit of a break while Hogg frantically searched for a plectrum, with Bainbridge finally handing one over, and explaining that she had been told by a Greek-speaking fan that she had been mispronouncing the name of next track, we were treated to Chi-Ro with its slightly more haunting vocals and the first guitar highlight of the evening as Bainbridge’s fingers could be seen flying along the neck. While the rest of the band left the stage, Bainbridge moved to keyboards and drummer Frank Van Essen switched to the much more portable violin for Ruach (Hebrew for spirit or wind), an atmospheric instrumental during which the audience was silent, waiting for the last note to fade before applauding. I have to admit that when the piano first came in during this track it felt slightly intrusive but it eventually grew on me to the point that it seemed natural. The rest of the band came back on stage for Edge Of The World, a gentler track with lovely vocals from Hogg. Ending the first set was the title track from the band’s latest album, Another Realm. Something about this one had me thinking that it was the most Mostly Autumn-like track, but I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was.

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Joanne Hogg

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After a short break, the band returned to the stage and Hogg announced, “Let’s rock!” before they launched into There Is Your Heart. There was that low whistle-inspired Celtic sound again but this was definitely the rockiest number so far. “Watch yourselves,” quipped Hogg, introducing Flight Of The Wild Goose and then asking whether we were normally this quiet. “We didn’t expect to find reserved in York…” The track itself was a high-tempo folk-prog instrumental. Before And The Angels Dance, Nolan explained that it would lead into another, traditional, track that was originally in 4:4 time before Van Essen got hold of it and added another beat. I think the crossover came when uilleann pipes gave way to a faster tin whistle section. Next up was a piece inspired by St Patrick’s Breastplate prayer, its three sections representing preparing for battle, the battle and the calm afterwards. For the first time Hogg’s vocals were slightly swamped but, musically, the middle section was particularly good at portraying the scene. It had been introduced as “A particularly long piece” but, at eleven minutes, it didn’t outstay its welcome. Murlough Bay is a lovely piece, its lyrics painting a picture of the apparently beautiful and romantic place on the Northern Irish coast that inspired it and, with “And dream that the troubles will end”, perhaps hinting at a less peaceful period for that land.

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Dave Bainbridge

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A short but impressive track whose name I didn’t catch saw Bainbridge playing guitar over a backdrop of Hogg’s ambient keyboards. The prevalence of religious imagery in the music had begun to grate a little on one of my gig-buddies, a confirmed atheist who, for some reason seemed to think he would have enjoyed it more if he had been a bit more prepared. Personally, I had barely noticed and had certainly not found it preachy in any way. Strangely, though, despite the fairly big crowd, the chorus sing-along of “Oooo, our king is here with us” from An Atmosphere Of Miracles, was muted. It must have been that York “reserve” again. Despite that, this was the most atmospheric track of the night and featured a rousing end. And so we came to the final track. “Don’t worry, it’s one of the long ones,” said Hogg, before apparently being taken by surprise by the opening and not announcing the title. Another jig-type opening morphed into a prog track that you could dance to, as evidenced by one audience member who was having a fine old time. It was a lively end to a great set.

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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