Iona - The Circling Hour

Year of Release: 2006
Label: Open Sky Records
Catalog Number: OPENVP11CD
Format: CD
Total Time: 64:59:00

If ever there is a band who shows the fun in playing it has to be the gentle people of Iona. Having been together for eighteen years, they go from strength to strength, although their members are scattered all over Britain and even Holland, making it rather difficult to rehearse and record. Nevertheless they sound tighter than most bands will ever be and their mix of prog, folk and Celtic elements have placed them in a unique position the world, over as there's nothing like Iona's music. The interesting thing about this new album is that most fans are already familiar with three of the new compositions because they were already performed live on a number of occasions, eventually making it to the Live In London DVD, as recorded in November 2004 at the University of London. Probably by sheer coincidence these three tracks find themselves back to back on the new album, they being "Strength," "Wind Off The Lake" and "Factory Of Magnificent Souls."

The album begins with a solitary Joanne Hogg almost whispering whilst soft strings guide her towards what almost literally sounds like "the big bang," introducing musical colours like rays of sunshine that are catapulted at you from various angles. What strikes me throughout this album is the splendid drumming from Frank Van Essen, who brilliantly holds the middle between accessible rhythms and ingenious playing. A great gifted musician who is also a very talented violin player, adding an extra bonus to the music of Iona! In fact I can't think of another drummer also playing the violin. The shorter "Children Of Time" sounds extra lively due to the inclusion of extra percussion leading towards a powerful chorus supported by Troy's unique trademark.

We all know what a magnificent voice Joanne has, but in "Strength" she really outshines herself! Especially the backing vocals sound divine as they are lead by some kind of supreme power. Troy's Uilleann pipes most certainly make their mark during "Wind Off The Lake" before wind chimes introduce an almost Hackett-like approach by Dave Bainbridge. This much underrated guitarist most certainly can be seen as the world's absolute best, a thing he not only illustrates within the realms of Iona but also on his solo outing Veil Of Gossamer. "Wind Off The Lake" also sports a catchy melody, so I wondered whether an edited version emphasizing the latter could open some doors where radio airplay is concerned? If ever the band has recorded a song that blends both their skills and accessibility it has to be "Factory Of Magnificent Souls." If Steeleye Span could get on Top of the Pops with "All Around My Hat" then for sure Iona could do the same with this song. Sadly Top of the Pops is no more, but I can think of numerous TV- and radio-shows that could benefit from this great piece of music, which also in turn might be added to zillions of compilation albums. This song captures in a mere five minutes what Iona is all about: endless beauty, elegance, skill, and love condensed into one group effort. Magnificent and shivers down my spine all at once!

The trilogy "Wind, Water & Fire" is a very ambitious project which steers the band into a more "serious" and classical direction. Each element tackles a different instrument with "Wind" focussing on Frank Van Essen's sublime violin playing and arrangement skills for strings. It fuses into "Wind," which puts Joanne's vocals in the spotlight. Here she uses her voice to mimic the unpredictable gusts of wind ranging from soft breezes towards stormy outbursts. It all results in a fierce and lively ending with "Fire" which brings together all instruments. About halfway through, though, the rhythmic rush stops to make way for a more laidback approach in which Troy's Uilleann pipes get plenty of attention, paving the way for an outstanding guitar solo from Dave Bainbridge. The final "Fragment Of A Fiery Sun" goes back to the very beginning of the album with the same melody and a similar way of an almost whispering Joanne Hogg. A perfect ending to what has to be the band's best album to date!

Iona should be known the world over and should pull huge crowds and sell bucketloads of albums. So if you're a concert promoter who has been focussing on one-day wonders for the last couple of years: ditch all those unknown names in favour of consistency and quality and book Iona for your upcoming festival regardless whether it's folk, rock or prog inclined! Success guaranteed. In 2008 this band celebrates it's twentieth anniversary so let's celebrate this with a bang and give them the recognition they truly deserve!

Sound samples from ALL the tracks on the new album are available on the band's website so why not treat yourself and have a listen whilst you read this review again and then decide to purchase a copy of The Circling Hour a strong contender for "album of the year"!

Empyrean Dawn (7:49) / Children Of Time (5:33) / Strength (5:59) / Wind Off The Lake (11:02) / Factory Of Magnificent Souls (5:02) / Sky Maps (6:39) / No Fear In Love (5:59) / Wind, Water & Fire - Wind (3:30) / Wind, Water & Fire - Water (3:) / Wind, Water & Fire - Fire (7:14) / Fragment Of A Fiery Sun (2:45)

Dave Bainbridge - electric & acoustic guitars, mandolin, keyboards, piano, Hammond, wind chimes, bouzouki, choir voices
Joanne Hogg - vocals, keyboards, acoustic guitar, choir voices
Troy Donockley - Uilleann pipes, low & high whistles, tin whistle, tofran, bouzouki, acoustic & electric guitars, e-bow guitar, slide guitar, vocals, choir voices
Phil Barker - bass
Frank Van Essen - drums, darabukkas, djembe, finger cymbals, tambourine, violin, viola, bodhran, shaker, percussion, choir voices

Special guest:

Heather Findlay - vocals (11)

Iona (1990)
The Book Of Kells (1992)
Beyond These Shores (1993)
Journey To The Moon (1995)
Heaven's Bright Sun (1997)
Woven Cord (1999)
Open Sky (2000)
The River Flows (2002) (box set)
Various - Songs For Luca
The Circling Hour (2006)

Live In London (DVD) (2006)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: October 30th 2006
Reviewer: John "Bobo" Bollenberg
Artist website:
Hits: 7651
Language: english


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