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Bainbridge; Dave: Celestial Fire

Known for well over twenty years as one of the linchpins in folk-prog rockers Iona, Dave Bainbridge released his second purely solo album, Celestial Fire, through a crowd funding platform earlier this year; the general release following on soon after. So why, ten years down the line from his solo debut, has Bainbridge decided to release a second album under his own name? Well, after spending some quality time with Celestial Fire, the answer would seem threefold: to build and expand upon his main band's folk themes, to offer up a pleasingly different side to his musical and lyrical nature and to assemble and work with an impressive cast of hugely talented musicians.

In terms of the, possibly, expected folk themes, you can find plenty on Celestial Fire, Troy (it's folk and it's rock, so of course I'm on it) Donockley building upon beauty and poignancy found elsewhere in abundance. Add in cello, "string ensembles", timpani, gongs, bouzouki and much, much more and you can be assured that this album doesn't lack for an atmospheric backing which forms much of its framework. Yet where Bainbridge surprises is through an approach that wouldn't be out of place on an, at their peak, Yes album, and numerous injections of fiery guitars (there are some seriously searing solos on Celestial Fire) resulting in an album with many sides and many twisting turns.

In terms of cast, well there's too many to simply list here, however let's just bandy about names like Randy George (bass), Colin Leijenaar (drums) and Mr. Donnockley (Uilleann pipes), and you'll know Bainbridge isn't mucking about. Vocally the main name, and voice, is that of Damian Wilson (Threshold and many others), however the numerous female co-vocalists also finds Sally Minnear, Yvonne Lyon and Joanne Hogg at times leading from the front, at others swirling alongside Wilson to quite wonderful effect. Some onlookers occasionally raise concerns regarding Wilson's theatric, floating style and yet here, he hits the nail firmly and with confidence every time; his meandering, then go for the throat delivery matching the mix of ethereal and stridently forceful music it fronts.

Lyrically we are in "spiritual" realms, the themes behind Celestial Fire sometimes blatant in their beliefs, other times slightly more ambiguous in intention. And yet the pitfalls of feeling like a "worship" album, or a visit to the palaces of parallel worlds with hidden meanings, are carefully avoided.

Iona fans will grasp onto the floating, almost Clannad like "Love Remains", which actually begins as a full on romp of some potency, or "Innocence Found", where guitars mimic where the pipes would usually lead; while the short, and revisited introduction, "Heavenfield", shows Donnockly at his best. However "For Such A Time As This" is a guitar delight, tumbling drums setting a base from which Bainbridge simply lets go in stunning style, as his piano work also makes a lasting mark. Add in wonderful spoken word sections from Minnear (I could listen to her all day long and never lose interest) and superb drumming from Leijenaar (whom I could watch hammer the skins all day long and never lose interest) and we're verging into Prog Rock/Metal crossover.

The album actually centres around four ten minute-plus numbers, a collection of shorter excursions filling the gaps between in colourful and vital manner; the likes of the (verging on epic) title track, or "In The Moment" a keen mix of restrained beauty, instrumental showcase and interesting storytelling. While the shorter "See What I See", or "On The Edge Of Glory" do a fine job of holding the interest, while almost preparing the way for the next lengthy excursion.

'Thrown' my way at a time when the SoT staff are asked to think about preparing end of year best of lists and the like, it would have been easy for me to see Celestial Fire as a bit of an unwanted distraction, but egged on by the wonderful Ed Unitsky artwork and clout of those involved, I popped this album in the player. Even with numerous other tantalising titles to assess, it has been a hard job removing it and I've no hesitation in declaring that my top ten of 2014 suddenly has a gatecrasher. Even in a year which has produced a collection of top notch progressive considerations, there's always more to discover and boy am I pleased I was asked to discover Celestial Fire.

Track Listing
1. Heavenfield
2. Celestial Fire
3. See What I See
4. The First Autumn
5. For Such a Time as This
6. Innocence Found
7. Love Remains
8. In The Moment
9. Heavenfield Reprise
10. On The Edge of Glory

Added: December 27th 2014
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Dave Bainbridge online
Hits: 2670
Language: english

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