Iona instrumentalists TROY DONOCKLEY & DAVE BAINBRIDGE recorded a unique album of improvised music at Lincoln Cathedral in 2004. Tony Cummings reports.
ICC's representation of Iona's Open Sky Records has meant that the CD and DVD racks of Britain's Christian bookshops are now sporting some superlative music. Amongst the most intriguing of all of Open Sky's issues and reissues is the release of the 'From Silence' album by Troy Donockley and Dave Bainbridge. The genesis of the album was the short series of live concerts by the two gifted Iona musicians in 2003. The space allowed by the stripped down duo format suddenly gave room for the two musicians to experiment and improvise. Soon Troy and Dave were putting together tracks for their first duo album 'When Worlds Collide' when work on the project was interrupted by an unexpected phone call from a music industry veteran and friend, Rob Ayling, the MD of the Voiceprint group of companies, one of the largest independent music distributors in the UK.
Remembered Dave Bainbridge, "I first met Rob in 1995 when I was mixing Iona's 'Journey Into The Morn' album up at (former Marillion) singer Fish's studio in Scotland. Rob was then managing Fish's record label and said he really loved what we were doing and asked about our distribution, etc. We'd just signed a deal with Alliance (now part of Authentic Media) and a mainstream deal with 3cord - a company set up by Iona's (then) manager Simon Hicks and Tony Patoto (who's now been involved with Delirious? for a number of years), so we were not free at the time. It turned out that Rob had been a big fan of Troy's old band You Slosh in his youth. He was an electrician from Dewsbury at that time, but with a huge love and passion for non-mainstream music - progressive, folk, things like that."
Bainbridge continued, "Our relationship with Rob picked up again around 2001, when we were beginning work on the Iona box set and set up our own Open Sky Records label, as we gradually worked to get back the rights to our back catalogue. Due to our limited resources we realised that a partnership deal with Voiceprint would be the way forward. Rob has great vision and has helped us in numerous ways, not least as a catalyst to help us realise many of our ideas, such as the forthcoming Iona - Live In London DVD. By the end of 2005 we'll have 15 CD and DVD titles out under the Open Sky/Voiceprint banner (including the whole Iona back catalogue)! Voiceprint deal with worldwide mainstream distribution and Rob helped set up the deal that has put our albums back into Christian outlets through ICC, who have really been doing a great job.
"Rob is always looking at how he can bring about new situations for artists which will stimulate their creativity and he had the idea of recording a series of performances in the wonderful surroundings of Lincoln Cathedral, the first of these being one by Rick Wakeman. When he suggested the idea to Troy and I we thought it would be a fantastic thing to do. We were both immediately enthusiastic about the sonic possibilities of performing in such a huge, reverberant space. And not just any space - but one contained in this most beautiful and ancient of buildings. With no music pre-prepared, just an idea of which instruments we might play, we decided from the outset to reverently seek our inspiration from our surroundings and the cathedral's acoustics, so that the music would, in some way, become part of the building and aspire, for the 70 minutes or so that we played without a break, to something beyond ourselves."
The historic session was set to take place on 27th October 2004. A week before the event the occasion took on an added poignancy of the tragic death in a car crash of Dave Williams, a world famous maker of uilleann pipes and a close friend of Troy Donockley. Said Troy, "I was deeply shocked at his death and I was one of the last people to see him alive. With the imminent recording of 'From Silence' I decided, as a tribute and elegy, to try to express my loss and love through the uilleann pipes which he had made for me and play nothing else. Dave had also suggested we dedicate the album to his memory which confirmed my feelings. As it turned out, and in keeping with our resolve to prepare and plan nothing, I ended up playing low whistles for the most part. However, for myself and Dave too, I feel that the track "From Silence 3" which arrived at a length of 15 minutes, is the centrepiece of the album and on this track I played the uilleann pipes. I think this totally free, spontaneous music said it all."
The recording was "choreographed" by Dallas Simpson, an expert in binaural recording - a technique which gives an extraordinary sense of movement to recording. As the duo played Simpson, wearing his binaural headset microphones, choreographed his movements to the music. The resultant sound is often stunning with Dave's keyboard, electric guitar and bouzouki loops swirling around Troy's pipes and whistles. Listening back today, Bainbridge is convinced that something very special has been captured on the 'From Silence' CD. "It was amazing being in the tranquillity and safe haven of the cathedral at night on a wild October evening. It was empty apart from us and the crew and I was aware of the vastness of the space and of the many, many people who have worshipped and prayed there over the 900 or so years of its existence. I was also more keenly aware of the connection that our fleeting lives have with the eternal, and Troy's mourning at the sudden loss of his friend."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.