Lat night I accompanied my good friend Dave to see the Celtic prog-rock band Iona live at St Georges Church in Leeds. The church turned out to be a large city-centre building with a warm atmosphere and extremely well-equipped interior. In fact I think it was one of the best modernisations of a traditional worship space I’ve ever seen.
Anyway, the gig. Wow. It’s been a long while since I last saw Iona in concert, but they’ve not lost any of their passion, skill or touch. At times rocking, at times deeply moving, this was an evening where a group of consummate professional musicians showed us what being a band was really all about. From the jigs and reels where they expertly mix traditional Celtic music with modern grooves, to ethereal soundscapes, to blisteringly fast virtuoso guitar solos, to haunting and compelling melodies, they are pretty darn fantastic. To be honest, words fail me; this is music that got into my soul a long time ago and will remain there for a long time to come.
I first got into Iona back in about 1992 or 1993, I remember having their Beyond These Shores album on continuous repeat in my Walkman until the tape snapped. In fact that was such a traumatic event for me I remember exactly where it happened, and that sad day comes to mind whenever I walk past that spot (by the allotments just off Willans Road). A couple of years later I saw them live at the Irish Centre in Leeds where they were recording their live album Heaven’s Bright Sun, and I remember standing right at the front of the crowd with my hands against the speakers, lost in rapture of this sound I was hearing.
In fact the recording of Inside My Heart from that album still brings me to tears every time I hear it. As I said to my wife earlier today, sometimes you experience something that, to you at least, is so close to perfection that it shows you a glimpse of a world which is to come. Something you can’t touch or fathom yet, but you know it will eventually be within reach. That’s what Iona’s music does for me.
Visit the site, listen to the samples. Then buy every album you can, because this is a band who (in my opinion) are one of the finest groups to ever come from these small islands. Heck, I think they are one of the greatest bands in the world.