July 6, 2024

When you go to a gig, you usually know the band and their music and have some idea what to expect. In the case of Dave Bainbridge and Sally Minnear, that’s not quite the case since they haven’t recorded anything together under this moniker apart from one album (Live In The Studio). Of course, they are known for their exploits with others and both have lengthy and impressive CVs. Bainbridge co-founded Celtic folk/prog band Iona back in 1989 and was their prime mover for a quarter of a century. Since then, his list of collaborations with rock artists is as long as your arm, including being a member of the Strawbs and Lifesigns. Minnear shot to fame as a singer in Michael Flatley’s hugely successful dance musical Lord of the Dance and has been in high demand as a singer ever since. If her surname rings a bell then it’s probably because she’s the daughter of Kerry Minnear, a key member of Gentle Giant during their legendary ‘70s period.

But prior to Bainbridge and Minnear hitting the stage, Chas Cronk got the evening underway. And if Cronk’s name rings a musical bell too then he’s been the bass player in the Strawbs, and hence was Bainbridge’s bandmate for a while. Cronk was joined on stage by two friends, a singer and a guitarist (Betty D and Martin Taylor, if I heard the introductions correctly), and they ran through a set that consisted partially of Cronk or Taylor originals, but mostly of covers of American songs. Those covers ranged from ‘70s standards – Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi and Peter Frampton’s Baby I Love Your Way – through to 21st century classics, amongst which rousing versions of Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road and Gnarls Barklay’s Crazy stood out. It was a fifty-minute set, which is on the long side for a support band, but it passed by in a flash and was well appreciated by the audience.  

Minnear’s impressive set of percussion instruments

The stage at The Bedford is large compared to most small venues and for once it looked positively spacious with just two people on stage. Bainbridge was stage left, hemmed in on one side by a bank of keyboards and on the other side by a selection of guitars. Minnear was stage right with the most extraordinary set of percussion instruments. The large vertical drum with ribbon lights around the edge certainly stood out, but the raised tray in front of her contained everything from recorders to wind chimes and one or two things I wouldn’t even know how to name.  

The first of their two sets opened with Treasure, a joyful and upbeat tune from Iona’s 1993 Beyond These Shores album. Minnear put herself in the unenviable position of inviting comparison with original Iona singer Joanne Hogg, and yet her voice was so warm and powerful (and not dissimilar to Hogg’s) that she pulled it off with ease. Bainbridge used the bouzouki in this song, and extensively elsewhere, giving a traditional Celtic feel to much of the music.  Some of the fretwork on the bouzouki was a marvel to behold, although sometimes hard to see since Bainbridge mostly remained seated. When he played electric guitar, he stood up and it was easier to admire his silky skills. It’s not surprising that he’s often voted into top ten prog guitarist lists.  While Bainbridge’s guitar work was spectacular, Minnear provided crucial textures with her woodwind and varied percussion work.

Bainbridge in acoustic mode….

The first set was dominated by Iona material with the trio from the 1992 concept album The Book Of Kells particularly impressive. The oddly titled Luke:The Calf was the standout of these three. The studio version of this song is a quiet ambient piece with the main melody given to flute. Here, Bainbridge played it on electric guitar with the sort of glorious soulful delivery that reminded me of Andy Latimer in his prime. Despite the focus on Iona songs, other material was cleverly introduced into the set. Minnear had a solo slot singing Ayla Nereo’s Look At The River, using loopback to recreate the layered a cappella sound of the original, and Bainbridge played the electric guitar-driven To The Far Away from his most recent solo album. All of this was accompanied by some gorgeous projected imagery, much of which I assumed was of the isle of Iona.

…and electric mode

The second set that Bainbridge and Miner played was less oriented around Iona material. Some traditional material was thrown into the mix in the form of Humours Of Ballyloughlan, a jig which Bainbridge played quite brilliantly on the bouzouki, and Siúil a Rúin, one of the songs sung by Minnear in Lord Of The Dance. We even got a song co-written by Minnear’s father – His Last Voyage from Gentle Giant’s 1975 opus, Free Hand.  There was also time for some virtuoso piano improvisation in another track from Bainbridge’s solo catalogue, Veil Of Gossamer, and what he described as the closest he’s come to writing a Christmas song with the beautiful Innocence Found.

The ability of the pair to use music to change the mood from reflective to joyful was quite amazing.  The way they closed the set with two Iona classics was another demonstration of this. The very prog-like and slightly pompous Heaven’s Bright Sun would have been an excellent way to close the concert, but they returned afterwards for Minnear to give a spine-tingling rendition of Beyond These Shores which I think generated quite a few moist eyes in the house.     

Having recently been dismayed by some of the acts at Glastonbury, where the most exciting point of discussion seemed to be how many costume changes Dua Lipa had made, tonight’s concert by Bainbridge and Minnear was very refreshing. Just two consummate musicians at the top of their game playing an eclectic two-hour set of songs. Perfect!

The spectacular projected backdrop