Dave Bainbridge: His Iona Story

Bainbridge liveIona’s story is as fluid and mystical as the band’s blend of prog, Celtic, folk and jazz. It started with a few session musicians and produced songs that have changed people’s lives.

When the project began, founding guitarist and keys player Dave Bainbridge had no idea how big it would become. After playing for other people, he thought it time to put out some of his own material.

“My plan was to record an album as cheaply as possible (as I had no record company interest) and make 100 copies on cassette,” he recalled. “I even started to make a list of people I thought might buy it! That was the sum total of my vision, but God had other plans!

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Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop – Love Letter for Fire


Sam Beam and Jesca HoopIf Beam and Hoop sounds like a gymnastics event, it is the songwriting that stretches and flexes on this fluid performance. Fans of both should be thrilled.
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Afro-Celt Sound System – The Source


There are few bands whose names are as appropriate as Afro Celt Sound System. It feels a bit tacky to do so, but you could describe them crudely as ‘Riverdance on safari’, so well do they blend the Celtic and African roots of their sound.

What pulls this first release in ten years so powerfully together is the rhythmic drive of both cultures. There is real energy here, but that is just the motor. The styling on top is equally exciting. Layer upon layer of lush, interwoven textures give this collection the feeling that you could play it for months on end and still be getting to know it better.

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Nick Page Experiences the Dark Night of the Shed

Nick page

When I had a monthly review slot on BBC Oxford’s Sunday Breakfast, Nick Page was the man to come in and round the show off, because his combined wit and wisdom had huge appeal. There is plenty of both here as he tackles the mid-life crisis.

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Format: Hardback, 220 pages

While Page would probably shudder at being labelled a brand, for those who have read him, his books ooze appeal like pine trees ooze sap. Among family, friends (and the couple who visited us for the first time this week and saw this book in the lounge) he is universally respected and enjoyed.

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Songs of Separation

Songs of Separation artists

“Songs of Separation” isn’t really about separation, admits  project creator Jenny Hill in the liner notes to this feast of female folk artists, explaining that it really looks across borders “to remind us that we’re all so much more connected than we seem.”

4 Stars
Label: Navigator Records
Time: 12 tracks / 56 mins

Effectively a protest directed at the Scottish Independence lobby, it features five English and five Scottish musicians – including leading lights like Eliza Carthy and Karine Polwart, together with Moulettes collaborator Kate Young and Mary MacMaster – working together during a week on the island of Eigg to arrange and record this dozen songs.

(I say, “working together,” but Carthy’s track could just as well have been taken off a solo album.)

Separation is used very loosely, and not just geographically, the songs also dealing with such issues as death, the loss of home, the gap between rich and poor, and the disconnect between human beings and the living world. It only appears inside the packaging, but the project is sub-titled ‘Reflections on the Parting of Ways.’

There is tremendous variety here, all within folk traditions, with traditional Gaelic songs, a touch of music hall on “London Lights” and two à capella tracks, recorded in a cave. When you get such a creative bunch of artists together, the result is often an impressive richness of detail. That is shown here, from the recording of the corncrake that opens the disc to the amalgamation of tunes in “Over the Border,” the history encoded in several of the songs, and the depth to which the concept is explored in many of the lyrics.

The outright highlight for me is the very Gaelic-structured “Sad Am I,” with a compelling rhythm, memorable tune and the inventive use of backing vocals.

But not far behind, with its short, wordless refrain, is a colourful account of “Echo Mocks the Corncrake”. “Poor Man’s Lamentation” has one of the strongest tunes.  The fiddle-fuelled “Over the Border” medley would have made a great finale, but that honour goes to the reflective, banjo-led “The Road Less Travelled.”

With these artists, the playing and singing will always be of the highest order, but the project (more about it here) works well as a whole and is highly recommended to folk-lovers.

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Philip Yancey on Prayer

IPhilip Yancey

In the business world, inventors can make a fortune by giving shape to simple ideas that affect nearly everyone, such as the tetra-pak milk carton and cats’ eyes in the road.

The millions-selling author Philip Yancey does a similar thing in the world of literature. He explains, “I choose a topic that I don’t feel good about, that I have a lot of questions about, rather than something I feel like I am an expert in.” It just happens that his questions are often ours too, and we lap up his books.

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Arvo Pärt – Musica Selecta

Arvo Part Musica Selecta

This meditative and quietly transcendent release is a landmark recording to celebrate this significant composer’s 80th birthday.

4.5 Stars
Label: ECM
Time: 19 tracks / 141 mins

Arvo Pärt must one of the top few most influential modern classical composers and this collection has been compiled to celebrate his 80th birthday.

Although missing the classic “Spiegel im Spiegel,” Musica Selecta would undoubtedly overlap with a greatest hits volume (“Fratres,” played by pianist Keith Jarrett alongside violinist Gideon Kramer, and “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten” would form its bedrock) but this is more of a singular celebration. Producer Manfred Eicher refers to it as a “personal… sequence. Each episode offers an insight into our shared journey.”

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Wim Wenders – The Salt of the Earth (Blu-ray)

Wenders, Salgado, Salt of the EarthWim Wenders’ excellent biopic of photographer Sebastiäo Salgado is punctuated with  images so arresting that they make you wish the terms ‘breathtaking’ and ‘stunning’ were not so over-used.

Distributor: Artificial Eye
Duration: 114 minutes + bonus features

Who better to direct a film about the life and work of a photographer, than Wim Wenders, an arthouse filmmaker who has recently preferred to take photographs?

Wenders was originally struck by the work of Sebastiäo Salgado, when he came across a Bosch-like image of gold miners and a haunting, dignified portrait of a blind Tuareg woman, which he still has above his desk, and which often brings him to tears.

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Musical Impressions of 2015

The Star Wars franchise features the battle between independent human spirit and the faceless forces of empire power, not unlike some conflicts that showed up in the world of music in 2015.

Publishers Darth Warner/Chappell have collected some £1.3 million per year in royalty fees for use of the song “Happy Birthday to You” (even when just a few seconds are used), but with refreshing humanity, a federal judge finally ruled in September that the song should belong in the public domain.

Without the ruling, it would not have been free to use until the end of 2016 in the UK and 2030 in the USA.

In a case of an artist – albeit one of the world’s most popular singers – making a stand against the clout of the technological empire, Taylor Swift withheld her latest album 1989 from use by Apple in June, so persuading the company to reverse its policy of not remunerating artists during the three-month trial of its streaming service AppleMusic.

In an open letter, Swift wrote, “We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.”

Artists themselves (or their lawyers) can be keen to exert control, such as when the Foo Fighters insist that photographers must hand over ownership of their concert images to the band following their initial publication.

So in protest in July, the Quebec newspaper Le Soleil kept the  staff photographer in the office and sent a cartoonist to cover the Foos’ local gig.

Using a heart-warming, must-see YouTube video, 1000 Foo Fighters fans performed “Learn to Fly” in an attempt to lure the band to play for them in Cesena, Italy.

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Ann Widdecombe, Wild Thing

Ann WiddecombeThere is a potent chemistry when mixing political figures and the BBC’s Saturday evening show Strictly Come Dancing.

In 2008 John Sergeant, the man whom Margaret Thatcher famously ‘handbagged’ live in a news report, just as famously stomped and dragged his dance partner Kristina Rihanoff around the floor ‘like a sack of spuds’ in a paso doble.

In a later series,  retired Home Office Minister Ann Widdecombe was the one being dragged around, by her dance partner Anton Du Beke, to the somewhat inapt sound of Wild Thing. The week before, she showily descended to the dancefloor on a wire to perform a tango.

I spoke to her the Monday after her sixth show, just as she started to face the same pressure that was put on Sergeant to resign, on the basis that the public’s love of comedy figures was putting more serious dancers out of the competition too early. (She refused, as Strictly is an entertainment show, and that is what she brings.)

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