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Progressive Rock Interviews

Dave Bainbridge

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Dave Bainbridge From 2009
MSJ: You are a busy guy with his hand in a lot of musical pies. Can you give our readers a look at the history of your involvement in music?
I was born in Darlington in the north east of England, and come from a very musical family (my mom played the organ and accordion, my dad played the guitar and banjo, my sister was a singer and played keyboards and all my numerous aunts and uncles played various instruments or sang!). So I was surrounded by all kinds of music from a very early age (from zero in fact!). I began classical piano lessons at the age of 8 and guitar lessons from my dad at 13, joining my first band when I was 14. We did various Deep Purple and Yes covers and a few original pieces and I was inspired at the time by the likes of Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman. I remember that when I was 15 I decided that I wanted to follow a career as a musician.

After a few years of hard graft doing all my piano grades I then studied for 3 years at Leeds College of Music (Note for prog rock triviaists - for a year I had the same piano teacher as Asia's Geoff Downes had - he was at Leeds College a few years before I arrived there), gaining two performance awards - The Sam Hood Rosebowl for Outstanding Performance and The BBC Radio 2 Best Jazz Soloist Award (for piano). At college I also developed a deep interest in recording and synthesizers, particularly through work with college bands The Leeds Synthonia and the Hyperspace Rock Orchestra (the latter was the brainchild of my electronic music teacher Pat Evans who insisted that we perform all our concert dressed in Roman style togas!).

After college I played in various jazz-rock, classical-rock, soul and blues bands throughout the '80's (including extensive work with English singer-songwriter Adrian Snell, and also I worked with ace saxophonist Snake Davis, Gary Boyle (from the '70's fusion band Isotope), Jack Bruce (of Cream fame) and even Gloria Gaynor (of “I Will Survive” fame!). I did a lot of session work, producing and writing music for advertising companies etc. Then in 1989 I formed  Iona with David Fitzgerald. Despite a few lengthy breaks, Iona is still going strong 20 years on! (see www.iona.uk.com)

My first solo album Veil of Gossamer was released in June 2004 and happily received much critical acclaim, as have the two duo albums I recorded with Troy Donockley (From Silence and When Worlds Collide) and my duo collaborations with David Fitzgerald (The Eye of the Eagle and Life Journey).

I've done a fair bit of work as a producer (producing numerous albums in various genres, including all nine Iona albums) and have written music for film (including “Wilfred” - award winning short cinema film featuring Derek Jacobi and Edward Fox reading the poems of Wilfred Owen; “The Lost Princess” (short silent movie based on fictional account of the last days of Princess Anastasia of Russia - premiered at the National Media Museum in Bradford); “Cinema”(Virgin Short Film competition entry), “The Last Coiner”(currently developing music for this feature film). For the past year on and off I've been involved in a two year video jukebox project, writing, recording and mixing in 5.1 surround sound music for 16 short films for an iMax cinema at the visitor centre of a major multinational company.

My music has been heard on many TV programmes, including Timewatch 
(BBC2) - Battle of the River Plate, Timewatch (BBC2) - Hadrian’s 
Wall, Snowdonia - Realm of the Ravens (Natural World Series’ - BBC2), 
World in Action theme tune re-arranged - Granada TV, Northern Lights 
- Feature on artist JMW Turner (BBC North), Songs of Praise (BBC1), 
Island Soldiers (ITV) and on many other TV programmes on BBC1 / 
BBC2 / ITV / MTV / Channel 4 / Channel 5 / S4C / US Cable / Family 
Channel / Channel 7 Sports (Australia).

I recently co-wrote and orchestrated a 24 minute long, four movement guitar concerto “Iberian Fantasy” with classical guitarist Nick Fletcher, which can be heard on Nick's new solo release “Cathedral of Dreams” which I also recorded and produced.

With my jazz hat on I'm an occasional member of the Fairclough / Youell band along with bassist extraordinaire Fred Thelonius Baker (In Cahoots / Phil Miller) and we have just released an album called Momentarily.

My wife Debbie and I also run the Open Sky record label and I have a small studio here in the East of England called Open Sky Studio in which I record and mix most of my projects (though it is also available for hire either with or without me!).

Recently I've been playing live with Iona (in the UK, Germany, Belgium and Holland) and also with Iona drummer / violinist Frank van Essen's band DEW (in the USA, Holland and Israel). So that's kind of what I've been up to musically!
MSJ: If you weren't involved in music, what do you think you'd be doing?
I was pretty good at drawing and when I was 18 I had to decide whether to go to music college or art college, but music was always in the blood so that won out. However, if I wasn't doing that for some reason I'd probably have gone to art college and be doing something artistic, or design based now, probably designing airport roofs like my cousin (who helped design the roof for the new terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport!). Alternatively I may have followed in my granddad’s steps and built dry stone walls in the remote dales of Northern England!
MSJ: How would you describe the sound of your varying projects - and particularly what makes them different from one another?
Well I suppose what ties them together is easier to define. I've always wanted to paint pictures in sound and to take people on a journey through the music. I had a great music teacher when I was 16 to 18. We'd spend loads of time just listening to symphonies and other works by classical composers such as Mahler, Debussy, Stravinsky etc. I loved the way these composers took you on a journey in sound, through different moods and emotions. I was always interested in orchestration - how different instruments would combine together to make sounds that would express varying atmospheres. So this also became my goal. I remember first hearing the album Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield at a friend's house when I was about 14 and thinking “That's what I want to do!” Suddenly, with the advent of multitrack recording and synthesizers it became possible to think in  terms of one person playing all the instruments on an album and it having the sort of approach you find in classical music in terms of constantly evolving orchestration, shifting rhythms and themes which evolved and re-occurred throughout the duration of an album. This is what I started to do when I was at music college at the end of the 1970's and what I've tried to accomplish ever since. So you'll find this approach on most of the albums I've been involved with, where I've tried to view the pieces on an album as an homogenous whole rather than separate, unconnected pieces.

Hopefully there is a sound that connects all of my work together as sounding like me and not a copy of someone else. For example I think I've evolved a harmonic language - certain chords and chord changes that I like and have a certain emotional impact. However there are some obvious differences from project to project, one obvious one being that some projects a much more improvised than others.

The Iona albums combine fairly standard format songs plus longer, evolving pieces and sometimes short instrumental pieces - our progressive rock influences definitely show at times!

The duo album I did with Troy Donockley in 2005 called “When Worlds Collide” featured more of our traditional folk influences, with several acoustic versions of the standard folk repertoire alongside our own pieces. Another project I did with Troy in 2004 called From Silence was a completely improvised live recording in the wonderful surroundings of Lincoln Cathedral here in England. That was the quickest album I've ever done - nothing particularly worked out beforehand and no overdubs!

My solo album Veil of Gossamer (also 2004) followed the Mike Oldfield concept. Originally I had the idea of playing absolutely everything myself, but in the end the project mushroomed and I got loads of guest singers and musicians having realized my own limitations! I still played about 15 different instruments on the album though.

I recently produced an album called Cathedral of Dreams (2009) for an amazing classical guitarist called Nick Fletcher. He's also a great improviser which is unusual for a classical guitarist. We had the idea of spending a lot of time improvising together and out of this constructing a sort of guitar concerto. The result was “Iberian Fantasy”, a four movement, 24-minute long work, which we fully orchestrated (using a combination of sampled sound libraries and real instruments due to budgetary constrains).

Another recent project was a jazzy sort of album with friends Pete Fairclough, Hayley Youell and Fred T. Baker (bassist with In Cahoots / Phil Miller) called Momentarily (2009). I really had to practice my jazz piano chops for this album as Pete's music is sometimes pretty complex harmonically and occasionally very fast! We managed to make this a sort of “Prog-Jazz”outing, with mellotron and hammond on several tracks.

Life Journey” (2009) is another album released this year on which I collaborated with saxophonist / flute / whistle player David Fitzgerald. This is all instrumental, based on improvisations we did and then used as the basis for the music - finding themes, harmonies that we then developed further. This is a bit mellower than other albums I've been involved with and there are some beautiful moments. David is an amazing flautist in particular, with a lovely tone.
MSJ: What’s ahead for you?
I've just been recording keyboards, acoustic guitar, bouzouki and mandolin parts on an album for Iona drummer/violinist Frank van Essen. This is Frank's band Dew Worship, which is based in Holland. I play with them when I can get over there and we have three gigs in Holland next weekend. They're all great musicians and wonderful people. Like the members of Iona, we are also united by our Christian  faith and long to see people discover the goodness and power of God in an intimate relationship with Him rather than the watered down powerless version of the gospel that the “church” has often portrayed. I expect there will be a few more Dew album tracks for me to play on soon.

We're also working on a new Iona album - to be released sometime in 2010, which I'll be co-producing with Frank. We're still writing material for the album but will get recording in earnest early in the new year. We're also planning to simultaneously release several compilation albums, which will each centre on a different mood and which will include remixed tracks or even just instrumental themes from previous albums and solo releases plus some new music. The idea is that these albums will accompany the main new album release and allow listeners more space to take in the themes expressed there if they so wish. That's the theory anyway! It all sounds very “prog-rock” but I think it will really work well and maybe introduce some of our listeners to great albums they've missed out on (the solo releases). The compilations would be mid-priced so they'd be great value.

We're hoping to play a lot more Iona gigs later next year too, including a trip to the USA to play at some festivals and other places.

I'll also be editing some tracks I recorded with classical guitarist Nick Fletcher in a week or two. These are tracks we recorded during the Cathedral of Dreams album sessions but couldn't fit on to that album. They will be on his next album, which will probably be released in 2011.

There may be 2 more short films to record the soundtracks to before Christmas, too.
MSJ: Are there musicians you’d like to play with in the future?
I was asked this in another interview recently, and did reel off some names, but actually I'm really happy playing with the musicians I currently play with. Iona is great - we get along so well and play together so well and there are still many musical avenues still to explore within the band. Of course there are many musicians I admire greatly and would love to meet. I may be doing something in the near future with a great guitarist called Jason Carter. He's a great solo acoustic player and plays Harp Guitar. Sometimes it is enough though just to hear and appreciate the work of others.
MSJ: Do you think that downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians? It’s been said by the major labels that it’s essentially the heart of all the problems they are having in terms of lower sales – would you agree?
Well I have to say that I've seen a huge drop in income from publishing royalties on album sales over the past year or two - like, down tenfold. That used to be a guaranteed reasonable source of income every 6 months. Revenue per download sale is a very small percentage of the total price the general public pay compared to the margin on a physical CD sale. Record labels we deal with are now having to charge us more per CD we buy from them to stay in business even though they are selling the CDs for a lower retail price, meaning we have to too, in order to stay competitive. They are also unwilling now to give out recording advances, so we're getting squeezed on all sides.   I don't think many people who illegally share files realize the impact it's having on musicians like myself, who are not supported by the major corporations. We now have to fund our albums ourselves and it can be very difficult financially when you are basically working for months with no income to write, record, release and promote an album that you know many people will download for free. I'm not sure what the answer is. Fortunately we can still sell a lot of CDs at gigs, but for up and coming musicians who are doing something outside of the mainstream and don't already have a fanbase it must be a lot harder and this will have an impact on the diversity of really creative music that is available.
MSJ: In a related question how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
I think it's great when you see the occasional live clip that someone has recorded on a mobile phone of a song at a gig on You Tube. That's good publicity, even though the sound might not be great. However if a whole show was recorded and traded without the band's approval I'm not sure I'd be happy about that. It could so easily get into the hands of pirates, who could then make a lot of money without the band getting a penny. I think true fans would realize that it would not be in the band's interest to do that. We have released 3 live albums over the years and were at pains to record them to the highest standard we could, because our music needs that clarity for all the detail to come out. They are far more representative of the band than a shakily recorded bootleg would be.
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch-nemesis and why?
Ha, ha - funny question! Anyone who sees music as a commodity or a tool for evil rather than as pure, artistic expression.
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band, who would be in it?
Well I have to say that Iona comes pretty close already! It would depend what style of music really. I love Michael Brecker's sax playing, but can't imagine him in a band with one of my favourite guitarists Allan Holdsworth, for example - too many notes Mozart! Weather Report at their height with Jaco Pastorius on bass were pretty awesome.

Maybe Pastorius on bass, Hendrix on guitar, Simon Phillips or Gary Husband on drums, Jon Lord on hammond, Joe Zawinul on keys and Evelyn Glennie on percussion with occasional vocals from Robert Plant!
MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view, who would be playing?
Well, off the top of my head; The above band of course, with Keith Jarrett solo, Keith Jarrett with Jan Garbarek, Palle Danielsson and Jon Christianson, Michael Brecker playing a piece especially written for him (and conducted) by Ralph Vaughan Williams, UK (Allan Holdsworth, Terry Bozzio, John Wetton and Eddie Jobson), Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares, Jeff Beck (with his current band), Gentle Giant, Donal Lunny, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Yes, Planxty, Moya Brennan, Jimi Hendrix (plus special guest Keith Emerson), Deep Purple (with Blackmore and Lord), Alan Stivell performing “Celtic Symphony” with all 75 musicians, Weather Report (with Pastorius of course), Michael Hedges, Joni Mitchell, Steps Ahead (again with Brecker), Peter Gabriel, Buddy Guy, Toru Takamitsu conducting some of his orchestral music, Aretha Franklin, Gwilym Simcock, Martine Lund + band, Guthrie Govan and band, Joe Bonnamassa and band, Art Tatum, JS Bach playing some  harpsichord, Eric Johnson, Andre Crouch, The London Community Gospel Choir, Julie Fowlis, Youssou Ndour, Altan, Lunasa, John Taylor, Claude Debussy (playing some of his own piano compositions) and Iona of course, but also joined for one set with a full 90 piece orchestra, and finally Eric Satie playing his own music in the backstage cafe!
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought, or what have you been listening to lately?
The soundtracks from High School Musicals 1, 2 and 3 (I have a 9-year-old daughter!) - some very good songs actually. I've been listening to an album by a young Dutch Jazz pianist that our sound engineer recorded. Forget his name now but that's a really nice Jazz trio album. Also Jeff Beck Live at Ronnie Scott's - wonderful stuff, and the band from Bethel Church, Redding, California - great young musicians who play passionately from the heart.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
We live in quite an out of the way, rural location, so traveling to concerts is quite expensive for us (with the whole family), so I don't get to many, other than ones I play in. I saw a great saxophone player whom I used to be in several bands with many years ago called Snake Davis earlier this year, with his band. That was great. I also saw Moya Brennan and band when I had a day off in Holland - that was great - I thought they were better than Clannad, whom I saw several times in their heyday. There is a great Dutch gospel choir called Fresh Fire Choir, whom I saw playing with their band (some of whom are friends) performing at a recent event I was playing at. They were really cooking!
MSJ: Finally, are there any closing thoughts you’d like to get out there?


Firstly, it's a pleasure for you to allow me to do the interview, Gary. After thinking of all those tasty musical artists playing together I want to become a festival promoter (would also need to be a time traveler too though)!

I'd just encourage people to keep supporting the music they love by going to gigs whenever they can and buying albums. Keep searching out new and upcoming artists and support them too. The internet can be a great tool to discover new music, but we also have a responsibility to use it sensibly and not to rip off musicians who are struggling to keep things together.
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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