Iona Live At Queens Hall, Edinburgh

Wednesday 15th June 2011

Queens Hall, Edinburgh, Saturday 11th June 2011 concert reviewed by Lins Honeyman.

Joanne Hogg
Joanne Hogg

Iona rolled away the years last night as their eight date UK tour neared its end at Edinburgh's Queens Hall and, despite a lower than desired turnout, the Celtic fusion veterans had the enthusiastic and appreciative audience eating out of their hands in a show that confirms the band still have what it takes and more.

Glasgow-based singer/songwriter Yvonne Lyon, assisted by her husband and fellow songwriter David, opened the evening with a short acoustic set which included the current single "The Coffee Song" and the optimistic "Everything's Fine". Performed with Lyon's inimitable laid back sincerity, her songs lifted the cold, rain-soaked Scottish crowd and her skilled delivery betrayed the fact that she has become one of Scotland's premier artists - or, as Iona lead singer Joanne Hogg put it on the night, "a Scottish treasure" - thanks to no small amount of hard graft over the years.

From the moment Iona walked onto the stage and launched into new song "The Ancient Wells", it was clear that the band were glad to be back together and on the road again. No doubt aware that they had much to prove thanks to their time away from the spotlight and the fact that a show of hands confirmed that a sizeable chunk of the audience had never previously seen Iona live, the group dazzled and enthralled soon after with a set of jigs and reels that even had a small section of the normally reticent Edinburgh crowd up dancing.

The sheer chemistry and respect shared between founding members Hogg (vocals, piano) and Dave Bainbridge (lead guitar, bouzouki, keyboards), together with Phil Barker on bass, drummer-cum-violinist Frank Van Essen and relative new boy Martin Nolan on pipes and whistles, was plain to see and made for an evening of virtuoso performances. Special mention must go to Joanne Hogg's spine-tingling vocal delivery that seems to have embodied the theme of the new album by stepping into another realm - in fact, a constant of the current tour is the acknowledgment by many that the Ballymena singer had never sounded better. In addition, Martin Nolan proved that he has not only succeeded in the considerable task of filling former member Troy Donockley's shoes but, thanks to his natural Irish good humour and his ability to make those Uillean pipes swoop and soar, he also adds a completely new dimension to the band's overall sound and persona.

Dave Bainbridge
Dave Bainbridge

Keen to honour their longstanding fans, Iona made sure that past glories were revisited with sublime performances of the likes of "Today" and "Edge Of The World" (from the 1993 album 'Beyond These Shores') before celebrating the band's 20 year existence with a stirring rendition of "Flight Of The Wild Goose" from the band's eponymous debut all those years ago. A spotless version of "Bi-Se I Mo Shuil (Part 2)" showcased the band's innate aptitude at handling mind-boggling time signatures whilst Nolan and Bainbridge, as they had done for most of the night, played a range of complex melodies completely in unison without dropping a stitch.

Despite these echoes of the past, it was material from their new album 'Another Realm' that proved to be the highlight of the evening and hammered home the point that this band still have their best years ahead of them should they decide to continue working and touring together. New songs like the album's title track and "An Atmosphere Of Miracles (Part 3)" had people flocking to the merchandise table at the end to purchase an album that could easily match the popularity of classic Iona releases such as 'The Book Of Kells'.

Whilst there has always been an over-arching spiritual aspect to their music, Hogg in particular didn't miss a chance to acknowledge where the inspiration for her songs came from with her introductions for new tracks such as "And The Angels Dance" and "White Horse" - a prog rock telling of Christ's return - pointing most decidedly towards Jesus. At times, despite the concert's secular setting, proceedings literally moved into another dimension and were elevated from being merely a music event to a time of spirit-filled worship. Although this may have left some regular gig-goers somewhat puzzled or uncomfortable, it certainly made for an electric and unforgettable atmosphere.

Before Nolan and Bainbridge left the crowd with some musical Ovaltine (as coined by Nolan) in the form of the soothing "Air From France", Hogg summed up the fact that they had all been in the presence of God over the last few hours by explaining that the following evening they would be playing Glasgow's King Tut's Wah Wah Hut. "I suspect though," said Hogg, pausing for effect, "that there will be an altogether different King there that night."

No doubt there will also be yet another awestruck audience that will experience and cherish an incredible performance from one of Celtic music's finest exponents. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Lins Honeyman
Lins HoneymanLins Honeyman is a Perthshire-based singer/songwriter and currently presents The Gospel Blues Train on Cross Rhythms Radio on Saturday nights from 11pm and on Listen Again.


Reader Comments

Posted by Jim in USA @ 23:13 on Jun 26 2011

Came to Glasgow from USA on June 12 to see Iona. Have had their music since Beyond These Shores in 1993. Great music, wonderful gifting and Hogg was correct in that the KING was there.

Posted by NIGEL HANMORE in CHICHESTER, WEST SUSSEX @ 17:10 on Jun 17 2011

I just wanted to say that I liked your article.I saw Iona at The Brook in Southampton and loved the gig.I'm in no way a religious person but still absolutely love their music and think that Jo's voice is just the best their is and coupled with Dave's genius it makes them,for me,the most underrated and criminally overlooked band around.The turn out at So'ton was very poor and I just felt really sorry for them considering their combined talent and shear hard work.It makes me sick that all the rubbish that gets shown and played seems to do so well when a real class act like Iona struggle!Anyway,I'm going to see them again in Surrey in October and will be on to the local radio stations (again) to try to get them some airplay and/or an interview,but I won't hold my breath.
Once again,great article,sorry to rant on a bit.

Posted by Andrea Brown in Edinburgh @ 00:26 on Jun 17 2011

I was one of those who didn't appreciate Hogg's between song "witness". Both David and Martin spoke between numbers and neither of them felt the need to bring their religion firward. I was also a bit cheesed off at the Edinburgh-bashing that went on from the stage, starting with Yvonne's tale of being told that Edinburgh people don't like singing - a theme embellished by Hogg who finally insulted us by stating "well, at least your clapping was good". Yeah, and all Weegies are Neds, and all Irish are stupid!
Incidentally, I definitely didn't appreciate Yvonne's tone when warning us that Iona may be a bit loud. We weren't all in our dotage, after all, and we had bought tickets for a rock gig! In short, music fabulous, skills brilliant, banter shameful. At the end I couldn't wait to get out before someone tried to convert me to Christianity, and I shan't be going to another of their gigs.

Reply by Dougie Adam in Glasgow @ 22:13 on Jun 26 2011

If only Yvonne and Iona had poked fun at Edinburgh natives having no sense of humour it would obviously have been more apt in Andrea's case.

At King Tuts the following night Yvonne and Iona joked that the Edinburgh crowd were better singers than the Glasgow crowd... and we laughed.

At most concerts singers will give away where their worldview lies in their between song chat. In Glasgow Joanne Hogg spoke about how one of the new songs was inspired by the book of Revelation but i don't remember her telling the crowd they had to convert to Christianity or share her point of view... she just credited where the inspiration from the song came from, something fans at a concert or buying CDs will often be curious to know.

Is Andrea saying that songwriters can't be inspired by religious faith or if they are they shouldn't perform religious songs in public or mention at a concert but if Oasis want to write an ode to the joys of Cigarettes & Alcohol and swear on stage then that's less offensive than someone saying this next song was inspired by reading a bit of the Bible (in case you're interested to know).

Yvonne also joked about buying chips from a kebab shop in Glasgow on the way home from the Edinburgh gig and the Glasgow crowd didn't take offense or see it as "shameful banter".

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