DAVE BAINBRIDGE – Interview By Brad Kesner September 1, 2022 INTERVIEW WITH DAVE BAINBRIDGE: by Brad Kesner | Photos by Martin Reijman SFL Music: Dave, it is such a pleasure to chat with you. I am particularly proud to cover your most recent masterpiece To the Far Away. I have followed your wonderful catalog of music for many years whether it was with Iona, your solo albums, your music with Lifesigns, or other collaborations you have done over the years. All of your music reflects your love and commitment (and I must say your strength of faith, genius and creative force) towards music. You most certainly have always been a beacon of positive energy for us all. Your newest album continues to receive high praise and glowing reviews. Deservedly so. You have done some very nice interviews as well over the years; that being said Dave, I want to make our conversation today a little bit different and for you to have some fun with this one. SFL Music: First of all Dave, I must say your life and musical journey has been most impressive. You have gone from humble beginnings in Darlington to high achievements and recognition through hard work and commitment from early on in your life. You most certainly have had wonderful influences all of your life starting with your parents, your sister, and other relatives. What are some of your warmest memories of that time? DAVE: Brad, looking back I was blessed in many ways that I had the background I had, growing up in Darlington when I did in the ’60’s and ’70’s. Both my mam’s and dad’s side of the family were very musical, so I was surrounded by music from as far back as I can remember. My parents divorced when I was three but both were always incredibly supportive when I decided I wanted to pursue music as a career. My sister Maureen was 8 1/2 years older than me and I was fortunate to be able to explore her really great record collection from an early age. I spend many happy hours on my own listening to The Beatles, Vanilla Fudge, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix, the Woodstock soundtrack album, various blues albums, Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story soundtrack and much more. Though I had classical piano lessons from the age of eight, I didn’t really enjoy them that much until I discovered that I could improvise and come up with my own tunes when I was around the age of 11. From that point on, which coincided with me gradually building up my own record collection, music became my passion, both listening to it and playing it. I joined my first band when I was 14 through answering an advert in the local newspaper and that was a significant part of my musical education. We rehearsed every week at Rod the bass player’s house and it was there that I first heard The Yes Album, Close to the Edge (both by Yes) and Selling England by the Pound by Genesis, all key albums in expanding my musical horizons. Whenever I could afford to, I’d go to rock concerts, first with my sister from the age of 11, then with my friends. We saw all the popular bands of the day, which spanned a diverse musical palette. The downside of my total absorption in music was that my school grades went from really good to pretty bad! Due to a lack of pupils wanting to do music I wasn’t allowed to study it at school for my last 2 years there, so I rebelled. Leaving school at 16, due to my poor exam results, I had the choice to go to 6th Form College where I could spend 2 years studying music and art and re-sitting my exams, or getting a job in the local steel works! Of course I wanted to go to college, but my step dad thought I should get a proper job. Thankfully my mam persuaded him, after many arguments, that I should go to college. That was a real turning point for me. The music teacher there, Mr. Craven was a fantastic teacher, pianist and church organist and immediately saw that I had a gift for music and in particular for composing. For the next 2 years I worked harder than I’d ever worked, and passed all my piano and music exams with top marks. Mr. Craven taught me piano and composition and allowed me to perform some of my own pieces in the college concerts. I can’t thank him enough for his incredible input into my life at that point. He suggested I apply for Leed College of Music as it was the only college in the country at the time that had a course that encompassed jazz, contemporary music and recording. I passed the audition and was very fortunate to get a discretionary grant to cover all the college fees for my time there. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to go. Our family was quite poor and lived in a very small house – for several years I slept in the bathroom (actually in the bath for a while until someone gave us a camping bed!). After my sister left home I was able to sleep on the sofa bed in the front room, which was also the music room, so from that point I was in my element, surrounded by all the musical instruments in the house and my cheap, but cherished stereo system. SFL Music: Much of your music is faith driven and full of spirituality Dave. There is no doubt your music always touches my heart and speaks to me on a very deep level. It is most certainly beautiful and artistically crafted. Could you tell us a bit about this aspect of much of your music? DAVE: My family members were not in any way religious, but I do remember that when I was very young my mam would always pray over me before I went to sleep at night. I enjoyed Religious Studies at school. At the time that meant studying stories from the Bible, but I could see that the teacher Mr. Rivers really believed these stories about Jesus and that they influenced how he lived his life. He was definitely the happiest person I knew – in fact my sister, who met him at a parents’ evening nicknamed him ‘Jolly Jesus’! It turned out that he was also a pastor at a Pentecostal church and on one occasion he got some university students who were Christians to come and give a presentation to the school. This consisted of an incredibly moving film about the life of Jesus, sort of set in the present day, followed by discussions in small groups and then some coffee bar meetings at the Pentecostal church which was at the end of my street. At the time I was quite happy doing my own thing, but something attracted me to the person of Jesus and I wanted to know more about someone who not only was said to be God incarnate, but who would associate with the outcasts of society and give his life freely because he loved every one of us. So at the age of 14 I became a believer in Jesus. From that point it was a natural thing for my faith to permeate my music. It seems to me that music can open up the door to our spiritual side in an amazing way, and help us discover a bigger picture, something outside of ourselves as well as awaken something deep with us. SFL Music: How difficult was it for you to initially break into the music industry Dave? Please share a little bit about your label “Open Sky”. DAVE: I think if you want to be a musician, you have to see it as a real vocation, something you have to do at all costs. When you consider that a genius like Mozart ended up in an unmarked pauper’s grave, you get the picture of what you’re letting yourself in for, especially if you want to be a composer playing original music, unless you’re very, very lucky. There have been tough times, especially early on when I was sharing a bedsit with my sister. There was one Christmas where we couldn’t afford the train journey home to stay with our mam and all we could afford to buy for Christmas dinner was a packet of Hula Hoops (a kind of chips for the US readers!) each! However I’ve been fortunate that there have been very few times where I’ve had no work at all (even if it’s been badly paid) and the week I left music college I had a job for 7 weeks playing in a summer show in the house band at a seaside resort, two shows every day! Then when that finished I was booked by a local music manager I’d met to play for a month with a popular singer in Germany – 31 shows up and down the whole breadth of the country in 30 days (we did two in different locations one Sunday!). It was a definitely a question of a lot of hard work, making and capitalizing on contacts and getting known on the local music scene, making and sending out loads of demo recordings and (in those days) sending out letters to people I thought might be interested in what I do, such as TV and video companies whom I thought might use original music, studios and producers who might employ me as a session musician etc, etc. I placed an ad in the local newspaper as a piano and guitar teacher and built up a reputation as a local teacher. I did loads of gigs, at one time playing regularly up to 6 nights a week in several different bands to build up my chops and earn a living. I gradually started to get work as a composer, musician and producer through persistence, being reliable and being someone people could work with, without any dramas! Diversification was definitely a key! Open Sky Records came about many years later around the year 2000, after Iona were dropped by our US record label. Back in 1990, our UK label signed a deal with a new and upcoming US label for US distribution of our albums. The people in the US at the label loved the band and were very keen to work with us. They helped to establish an audience for us in the US and Canada, which we were very thankful for. However as often happens, the original label bosses eventually left and some new guys came in who had a very different focus for the label, i.e. to find more pop oriented chart acts. They were then bought out by Time Warner. I remember them sending us a letter saying how this was a very exciting move for them and it would be great for us! Six months later they dropped us, saying they no longer thought our style of music was compatible with their vision! We had been thinking for a while that setting up our own label might be the way to go and this basically spurred us on to do that very thing. So our first release on Open Sky Records was The River Flows box set, on which we worked with other distributers, keeping the rights to the album ourselves. Thanks to a really bad contract we had signed back in 1990 it took us 10 years to recoup the money spent on the first 3 Iona albums. Once we had the rights back we were able to release The River Flows and that took us 6 months to recoup! So, all our releases since 2000 have been on our Open Sky label. Latterly I’ve handed a lot of the record company running of Open Sky to Gonzo Multimedia as I don’t have the time or money to do the day to day running anymore. But if you go to our web store (www.musicglue.com/iona) you can see that we’ve amassed quite a large number of releases over the years, the latest being my album To The Far Away, released in November 2021. SFL Music: Dave, what bands were your strongest influences over the years? DAVE: All the previously mentioned artists from my sister’s record collection were obviously very big influences. If I had to name one album of those that had a big impact it would have to be the 3 disc Woodstock album my sister had. It had such a diverse range of great artists and introduced me to some great songs, artists and in particular great guitarists. I especially loved the tracks on there by Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Ten Years After and Crosby, Still, Nash and Young. When I got my first guitar I spent hours and hours trying to learn the solos and riffs on the songs by these artists. This really helped to develop my ear training and guitar technique! The first record I bought with my own pocket money was All Right Now by Free. Such a great, rocking song with one of the most well constructed guitar solos ever recorded, by the late, great Paul Kossoff. Once I started playing the guitar a few years later, this was one of the first tracks I tried to play. As a side note, many years later I played the actual guitar that Paul used to record this track! A friend of mine had bought it years ago and I played it several times when it was in his possession. I loved Mark Stein’s raw Hammond organ sound on my sister’s Vanilla Fudge albums and after that Jon Lord’s playing and visceral sound with Deep Purple really influenced my wanting to play organ. Yes and Mike Oldfield showed me that rock music could be adventurous and multilayered and be approached in an almost orchestral way. I loved the folk influences in Oldfield’s pieces and the Irish rock band Horslips, who also combined folk and rock in an exciting way. I could list a vast number of bands and artists really, but I was particularly attracted to bands that were crossing the boundaries between rock, folk, classical and other genres and being adventurous with harmonies, beyond the obvious 3 or 4 chord pop songs of the time, so Gentle Giant, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Focus, Hatfield and the North and early Genesis were amongst my big influences. SFL Music: When you started your studies initially in music, you had a classical focus which changed somewhat later when you took your course in jazz while in college. Plus, you also had a lot of early rock influence listening to your sister’s albums. Based on all of this, what direction did you see yourself going initially in your career and what genre were you most focused on? What caused any changes in that initial direction? DAVE: I’d always loved improvising, and studying jazz helped me to understand more about scales, modes and harmony, but I never felt like straight ahead jazz was where my heart was. Just recently I reconnected with a guy I was at college with called Alan Barnes. He’s an incredible jazz saxophonist – one of the best in the UK. You can really hear and feel the jazz tradition in every note he plays. But he’s only got there through a total dedication to and immersion in that genre. I always felt more of a pull towards music and subject matter that was closely linked to my roots growing up as an Englishman from the north-east of England and more widely from the British Isles. In schools in 1960’s Britain there was a strong choral tradition. Singing hymns every morning written by some of the best 19th and early 20th century British composers from the age of 6 informed my sense of certain very ‘English’ sounding chord progressions and melodies. I’m sure this is why British progressive rock always sounded different from that over the Atlantic. Britain is so small compared to the USA. There aren’t the vast, open roads and vistas, so composers here would often write about more colloquial and quintessentially English things as Genesis did in their early days. Or we’d look to history for inspiration. That’s something we have in abundance here. My first public performance, when I was about 9 years old was playing a traditional Scottish tune called The Skye Boat Song on the melodica at a school concert. Traditional folk tunes were often taught to us especially in the first years of school. Or we’d look to our imaginations to create worlds that were infinitely bigger and more exciting than our own, often dreary existences in our cold, rainy and grimy northern working class provincial towns. I felt that in the perfect marriage of Yes’s mystical music and Roger Dean’s otherworldly artwork. So I never thought of focusing on a particular genre, but rather just tried to create music that resonated with all the things I liked and all that I was feeling. In that sense I think my path has been extremely consistent, going right back to pieces I wrote in my teens. SFL Music: There is a very impressive list of musicians you have played with, or that have been musicians or guests on your albums (such as Rick Wakeman), and also that you have collaborated with over the years. Dave, could you please share who some of those musicians were? DAVE: Before we started Iona I worked much more as a freelance musician and got to work with a number of great artists. Through my involvement with The Norman Beaker band I got to play with some of the greats in the blues world, including the late, great Jack Bruce, whom we toured with in the UK and Europe, Buddy Guy, Buddy’s brother Phil Guy, Lowell Fulson (a big early influence on Frank Zappa!), Paul Jones (of Manfred Mann fame), Pete Brown (lyricist for Cream and Jack Bruce), Colin Hodgkinson, Louisina Red, PP Arnold, Chris Farlowe and many, many more. I was fortunate to tour with Phil Keaggy back in the late 1980’s. He is one of the best guitarists anywhere and I spent much time with him on tour asking him to show me different things on the guitar! I got to play with a lot of soul artists as well, including Gloria Gaynor and Eddie Holman. Iona took up so much time (not just the writing, recording and touring but all the administration stuff I did) that I had to turn down much further work with other artists, including (sadly) with Jack and Gloria and also with Neal Morse, whom I was asked to tour with around 2011. Those were very hard decisions. However, it was through Iona that I got to work in the studio with Robert Fripp and Moya Brennan (of Clannad), both amazing experiences. When Iona came to an end around 2015 and people knew I was available, a lot of new opportunities opened up. I joined Strawbs as keyboard player, Lifesigns as guitarist / keys player, toured with Paul Bielatowicz of Carl Palmer’s band, joined Downes Braide Association (with Geoff Downes and Chris Braide). I got to play with some of the original musicians who recorded the Alan Parsons Project albums, such as Larry Zakatek, David Paton and Stuart Elliott, toured with Dave Kerzner in the UK. Playing with Strawbs led to performing with Annie Haslam, Eric Bazilian, Larry Fast and others at the Strawbs 50th Anniversary weekend. And so on! SFL Music: Please tell us a little about your time with Strawbs and your time with Lifesigns. DAVE: My friend Paul Bielatowicz was on a UK tour called Classic Legends of Rock back in early 2015. He was playing with Carl Palmer and The Acoustic Strawbs were on the bill. One night Dave Cousins from Strawbs asked Paul if he knew any good keyboard players, for an upcoming full Electric Strawbs tour. Paul recommended me and I met up with Dave at one of the gigs on the tour. We hit it off. He was already aware of my work with Iona, which he really liked. After the tour he called me and asked if he could come up to my studio (a 5 plus hour drive for him!) as he had an idea for a song. We worked on it for a couple of days and it ended up becoming the epic title track on The Ferryman’s Curse album. Soon after this Dave was ill so the planned Strawbs tour I was to have played on was postponed, but we continued work on The Ferryman’s Curse album. So the first gig I played with the band was on the Moody Blues Cruise in the Caribbean at the beginning of 2016. We toured extensively over the next 3 years in the UK and USA, releasing The Ferryman’s Curse, Live in Gettysburg and Settlement albums (the latter I had less involvement on, though I did co-write the track Champion Jack). This all culminated in the 50th anniversary weekend in New Jersey in April 2019, which had a whole host of guests and was an amazing time. I did seven orchestral arrangements for the occasion, with Tony Visconti also doing 3 more. The last gig I did with the band was in September 2021 at a festival in the UK. Since then Dave Cousins has retired from live work due to ill health, but we hope there will be a new Strawbs album coming at some point. It was through Strawbs that I got to meet John Young on Lifesigns. John played keys with Strawbs for two years some time before I was in the band. At a Strawbs concert in Birmingham, UK around 2016/17 one of my keyboards stopped working. The following night we were due to be playing near where John lives and Dave Cousins suggested we contact him to see if he had a keyboard I could borrow for the rest of the tour. John saved the day and kindly brought said keyboard to the venue. We met briefly and at the end of the tour when we took the keyboard back. We stayed in touch after that and realized we had a lot in common musically and background-wise. John came to a couple of gigs I did and asked me if I’d like to contribute to some tracks on the second Lifesigns album Cardington. I really liked the music and the guys in the band so was very pleased when John asked me to join after the departure of Nicko Tsonev. I think the band has gone from strength to strength since then and has really gelled with the addition of Zoltan Csörsz on drums. I was particularly able to stamp my personality in the playing on the Altitude album, being the only guitarist (apart from a guest acoustic guitar appearance on “Ivory Tower” by Robin Boult). Things are looking very positive for the band for 2023 with a new agent and possible USA tour and we’ll soon be working on a new album. SFL Music: Dave, you do an incredible job of always having a first class lineup of musicians on your albums. What other musicians are on your wish list that you would like to have on one of your future albums or projects? DAVE: I am blessed to have so many great musicians as friends whom I’ve been able to call upon. My priority is always the music. I come up with the ideas for that first and then see who would be the best people to collaborate with to achieve the sound I have in my head. There are a number of well known musicians I could have asked to be on my albums but for me it has to be all about the music and who will be the best interpreter of that, rather than who is the most famous person I can ask. I have been in contact with one musician whose work I’ve admired for many years whom I’m hoping will be on the next album and if it works out I’ll be writing some of the music specifically with him in mind, but until it’s confirmed I won’t say who it is! SFL Music: (Have some fun with these next ones Dave.) What would be the ultimate fantasy band you would love to put together with any artists currently living or no longer living no matter the genre? DAVE: This is always a subjective question as quite often ‘super-group’ type bands don’t work because music is all about the way musicians gel together and leave space for each other. And of course great players aren’t necessarily the best composers. That said, I’d have loved to have seen what Jimi Hendrix would have done and who he would have worked with, had he lived. Electric Ladyland was such an innovative album and I can imagine he may have been involved in some amazing collaborations with keyboard players during the 1970’s as keyboard technology and synthesizers in particular were becoming really creative tools. He and David Sancious together could have been a pretty interesting combination, maybe with Jack Bruce on bass and vocals. Jack and Jimi knew each other. Or, Jimi and Vangelis, exploring a more creative and abstract sound world. I’d love to hear guitarists such as Guthrie Govan and Eric Johnson’s playing in a different context, with more modern orchestral accompaniments. SFL Music: Dave, if you were a reincarnated soul, what musician would you have liked to have been either living, no longer living, or in the past? DAVE: Maybe Ralph Vaughan Williams, JS Bach or Keith Jarrett. SFL Music: What career would you have gone into if it was not music? DAVE: I’d have gone to Art College and been an artist, photographer or done some sort of technical drawing job. That was my other passion. SFL Music: Dave, please share something about yourself that no one else knows about. DAVE: Before music became my passion in my early teens, I wanted to be a professional soccer player, or a train driver! I still like to kick a football though I rarely get the opportunity these days. SFL Music: What is coming up in your future Dave? Are you currently working on an album or project? DAVE: I’m currently finishing off mixing the new album from my friend Dave Brons, called Return to Arda. Then I’ll be concentrating on writing and recording music for my next solo album. I also have some work to do on recordings from the Strawbs 50th anniversary weekend, which I’m collaborating with Larry Fast on. This will eventually be released on DVD. I hope to continue doing more concerts with Sally Minnear next year in our duo setting, which is always great fun. There are a few other possibilities in the pipeline, but nothing confirmed as yet. I started a Patreon page back in March, which takes up much of my time. These are incredibly difficult times for musicians and composers. In past days I could rely on royalty income from album sales to sustain me during periods when I was writing new music. However that income stream has almost completely dried up, thanks to streaming platforms (which generate almost no royalties) and much reduced album and download sales. At this period in my life I really want to finally concentrate more fully on writing my own music, but that is only possible if I can generate some income. Writing and recording an album takes many months and then when you add on the cost of paying musicians, it becomes a financially unsustainable situation. Patreon offers a really great solution to this dilemma. Patreon allows artists to focus on their work, rather than how many people it will appeal to. Sadly today a lot of art – no matter how brilliantly executed – is not commercially viable. To the Far Away for example has yet to recoup my investment in it. Through Patreon however, artists don’t have to waste time and money trying to appeal to everyone, but they can turn to their patrons, their niche, directly and hopefully see organic growth from this solid base. It’s small beginnings, but as I write I have around 66 patrons who regularly contribute a monthly amount, which is helping me to continue as a composer and recording artist. In return patrons get exclusive access into my creative world, through exclusive video content, weekly Zoom gatherings and many posts about what I’m working on, plus much more. They are the first to hear new ideas as they develop. It’s a really wonderful thing to feel the support and be part of a community that is there to see the creation of new art. Hopefully as my Patreon membership grows I’ll be able to devote more time to working exclusively on new music. Potentially this could be the most creative period of my life. So please check out my page at www.patreon.com/davebainbridge if you’d like to be part of this. SFL Music: Your album To the Far Away is not only a beautiful album but tells a heart touching tale based on your own personal experiences. It happened during what was a very challenging time with the Pandemic and lock down and in particular, it was very bitter sweet time because of your separation from your fiancée Sharon over distant borders. What helped you the most during this very difficult time in your life Dave? DAVE: Thanks Brad. Yes, Sharon and I were due to be married at the end of March 2020, but before I was able to travel to the USA, the borders closed and I was unable to get there until 8 1/2 months later. Of course at first we didn’t know how long we’d be apart, expecting that it might be just a couple of months, so we always hoped. What turned things around for us was discovering a Facebook group called “Love is Not Tourism”, a few months into the pandemic, which was set up by people on both sides of the Atlantic who were in the same situation as us. They had found legal ways to get around the USA’s border closure by spending 15 nights in a country that was not on the USA’s Covid banned list. So we started to plan for me to get to the USA via 15 nights in Mexico, which meant me spending time in Cancun during the tail end of the hurricane season! We were eventually reunited on 3rd November 2020, and married on 27th December. Skype was a lifeline for us and we spent hours every day on there doing fun stuff or just hanging out. For me I was able to get into a routine of working and exercise – running or walking each day on the secluded country lane on which I lived. As I spend a lot of time on my own working on music when not on tour anyway, the pandemic lockdown actually didn’t feel that different to usual in some respects and it gave me the opportunity to work on The Book of Iona box set, albums for Lifesigns, DBA and Strawbs and other sessions and of course on To The Far Away. So it was in fact a very creative time, which really helped. SFL Music: Dave, thank you so much for your time during our chat. I have such a high level of respect for not only what you have accomplished over the years, but also of what a truly good soul you are. Thank you for all of the wonderful music you have gifted us with over the years. Is there any final thing you would like to share with all of us out there that love your music? DAVE: Thanks Brad! I can’t stress how important it is for people to support artists, composers and musicians, especially those making new music. Without this support, music will just become a nostalgia trip and will cease to be a relevant, cutting edge art form. The music industry model that enabled bands like Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis and many others to flourish back in the 1970’s no longer exists, so it is absolutely crucial to, as much as possible, buy albums and merchandise directly from new, emerging and niche artists and support them via ventures like Patreon and Indiegogo etc. and to go and see them live. The positive side to this is that there is now the chance to have a much more direct connection to your favorite artists than was possible in the 1970’s and to actually be part of their creative process and journey. More information about Dave Bainbridge: Website: www.davebainbridgemusic.com Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DaveBainbridgeMusic/ Shop: https://www.musicglue.com/iona or USA at https://thebandwagonusa.com/collections/dave-bainbridge Share It!