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Iona - Iona CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

2.24 | 6 ratings

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The Bearded Bard
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars A Bearded View On Progressive Rock #2

Iona are a Christian folk rock band, I get that, but it should be possible for them to talk about their music, as well as their beliefs, shouldn't it?

OK, for the members of this band their music and faith might be so closely connected they consider the music they make an extention of their personal beliefs, but I don't think I'm asking for too much here, am I?

My expectations going into this may not have been the best, I see that now. Prior to picking up this DVD in a used CD/DVD shop in downtown Oslo some 7-8 months ago, and seeing it for the first time, I had very little experience with the music of this band. And 7-8 months later I still have very little experience with their music. Other than the tracks on this DVD, I've heard a couple of tunes from their "The Book of Kells" album, but that's it.

I thought, however, that this DVD would be a good starting point for further exploration of the band's music, and a nice way to get some background information on them at the same time. How wrong was I? Well, I got some background information, but I already knew they were a Christian band. What about the music itself? What were their thoughts about that? Apart from a little about the story behind their song "Flight of the Wild Goose", and that they want their listeners to become curious about Christianity when hearing their music, there's no answers to those questions to be found here, sadly.

On the back of this DVD it says, "Filmed in 1990..., this unique documentary shows the band in its very earliest days, soon after the release of their first self-tiled album, in conversation and rehearsing ideas for their follow up album 'The Book of Kells'." This DVD does indeed show the band in its earliest days, and there's a good amount of conversation on it, but not much about the music. Mostly, or should I say, almost exclusively, the conversation concentrates around the individual band members' personal faith.

Although I'm not religious, I see myself as a pretty open minded guy (not necessarily opposites, I know, he-he). However, the amount of conversation about each band member's personal beliefs displayed in this short (30 min.) documentary leads me to question the band's motives for making, not only this documentary, but also music in the first place. Is it simply to convert people to Christianity? OK, a bit harsh perhaps. As I've said, I'm not very familiar with this band, so I may have got the wrong impression, but when hearing what they have to say in these interviews it sounds to me that the members of Iona are Christians first, musicians second.

Between the conversations with religious topic there are, however, some interesting features, though they're few and far between. The film starts by showing the band out walking on windy Iona, the small island in the Inner Hebrides from which the band has taken its name, with the band's music playing in the background.

The island's raw, untouched nature of fields and rocks, and captivating surroundings of sky and a seemingly endless ocean, could've set the tone for an interesting half an hour of nature footage and music in perfect harmony. Due to the footage's poor 80's quality however, and that someone thought it was a good idea to edit the sky and ocean's appearance, changing their colours from their natural blue and white to a purplish/pinkish red, and thereby creating a cheap and out of place psychedelic effect, it fails to do so.

From there we go to the band in concert at an unspecified location (again with poor 80's quality footage), and then back to the island for some more walking on Iona's rocky shores and subsequent interview with the band's singer and keyboardist, Joanne Hogg. She talks a little about a certain St. Columba, of how he came from Ireland to Iona, how he founded a monestary there, and how his story was an inspiration for her as a Christian. Later on, saxophonist/flutist David Fitzgerald elaborates on the story of Columba and his arrival at Iona. These are the highlights of the interviews as far as I'm concerned.

The rest of the interviews I feel you have to be a Christian to enjoy. It's all talk of personal beliefs, at almost annoying length, and next to nothing about the band's music or history. The drummer, Van Essen, in a short clip from a band rehearsal, talking about how he joined the band, and a little about how they work on new music together, is the sole exception.

Throughout the documentary we go back and forth between interviews on the island of Iona and seeing/hearing the band in concert, and sometimes the two segments are mixed together. This gives the documentary a good flow, which is one of its few redeeming qualities.

The songs/pieces on this DVD are all taken from Iona's self-titled debut album. The music overall is nice enough, but there isn't very much Celtic folk to be heard here, and certainly not progressive folk. Iona may have developed a more Celtic folk feel to their music later on in their career, but here they sound more like a new agey happy-Christian band, like a cross between Enya (in her solo world music years) and The Kelly Family, than a Celtic folk band. Fitzgerald's sax, often resembling the sound of the sax in Dire Straits' "Your Latest Trick", is very much in focus, and you could almost say it goes perfectly hand in hand with the 80's quality of the video footage.

Watching this film hasn't put me off wanting to investigate Iona's music further, 'cause I think the few tracks I've heard off the "The Book of Kells" album showed the band could do much better than what's on offer here. That said, I'm not in any great haste to continue the exploration.

I do not recommend this DVD as a starting point for exploring Iona's music, but I'm pretty sure fans will find it interesting. It wouldn't hurt being a Christian when trying get something of value out of watching this DVD though, 'cause it's as much a film where the main objective seems to be promoting Christianity as it is a music documentary.

2 stars.

The Bearded Bard | 2/5 |


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