In 563 A.D., St. Columba set foot on a tiny island off the west coast of Scotland called Iona. He set up a monastery there and used it as a base to introduce Christianity to the pagans of Scotland and Northern England. The name means “Isle of Saints.”
In 1988 A.D., a young Christian named David Fitzgerald visited the tiny island and was deeply moved. “God met with me, touched me, refreshed me, and lifted me up,” he says on the Iona website. “And He put within me a hunger to learn more about the spiritual roots of our nation.”
That journey turned into an exploration of both the spiritual and the musical roots of the British Isles and a band named after the pivotal isle.
Fitzgerald and co-founder Dave Bainbridge took the inspiration and “started writing some jazz rhythms, soul sax, and Celtic aires.” Bainbridge also wrote to vocalist Joanne Hogg – from Iona – and asked her to join the band. The night she received the postcard she had a dream about being on the island and the next morning wrote the song “Iona.”
For the past twenty years, Iona, based in Britain, has been dedicated to introducing the world to both early Celtic music and the Gospel. “I sense an incredible feeling of unity with the previous inhabitants,” writes Fitzgerald. “I am challenged by these early saints.”
Fitzgerald, Bainbridge and Hogg created a fusion of sounds around Celtic Christian subject matter, weaving complex harmonies and musical patterns into a worldly, stirring and spiritual sound – “with a sense of urgency, fortitude and vision.”
Their debut album was titled “Iona” and the second was “The Book of Kells,” a concept album meant to evoke the eighth-century book of the Gospels. All of their albums have been praised highly by the critics. Joanne Hogg’s voice is routinely described as “crystalline.” Bob Darden of Billboard magazine called the album BEYOND THESE SHORES a "modern-day masterpiece,” saying “their music seems to draw from the collective memories of an entire race of people.” Q Magazine raves about their ability to fuse “traditional instruments convincingly into service alongside their electric counterparts,” praising them for giving twists to “the new age Celtic thing.”
Though Fitzgerald is no longer with the band, and other musicians have come and gone, the basic quintet has been together for some time. In addition to Bainbridge and Hogg, Phil Barker plays the bass; Troy Donockley gives much of the Celtic aire through his pipes and whistles; and Frank van Essen, a multitalented Hollander, plays percussion and violin.
||Though they are still together, the five spend much of their time in solo projects, though still working in varying degrees on each other’s projects.
Hogg is recording a solo project in Van Essen’s studio. She is donating the profits from it to charities that help children in extreme poverty. She is also leading worship in her own church and has written songs especially for them.
One of Bainbridge’s many projects is an accompaniment to an illustrated book in the Celtic tradition on a call to Christ-centered living. There will be a track for every chapter of the book. Ironically, he is working on it with his old pal and co-founder, David Fitzgerald.
By Nate Lee for ChristianMusic.com