Iona Calls it Quits

Around the time I turned 40, I was despairing of being able to find truly satisfying contemporary music to listen to. I had been listening to (mostly) rock for three decades, and was finding both new and old rock music increasingly unbearable, both musically and, especially, lyrically.

Sometime during the autumn of 2000, I stumbled across an interview with Rick Wakeman where he was asked what his favorite Christian band was. He answered that his favorite band at that point, without qualification, was Iona. I thought that was a pretty good recommendation, and I ordered a copy of a recent (1998) multi-disc concert recording called Heaven’s Bright Sun.

After a short atmospheric piece to open the recording, the band launched into a brisk, poppy song in 4/4 time, combining electronic instruments with percussion and Irish pipes. About half a minute or so into it, an angelic voice started singing a paraphrase of Jesus’ teaching on trusting God from chapter 12 of the Gospel of Luke: “Consider the flowers of the field in their beauty/more lovely than even the clothes of a king”, at which point the drummer (Terl Bryant) fired off a rapid sequence of light staccato cymbal trills as tasteful as anything I’d heard any jazz drummers produce, and I was absolutely filled with delight at what I’d found. I had a new favorite band, and I overcame the temptation to swear off contemporary music as hopelessly puerile.

The rest of that concert album was, for the most part, even more impressive than the opening bit, and I soon found myself buying up their back catalog of five studio albums, and eagerly awaiting new releases. Most of their music is far less poppy than the “Treasure” song that introduced me to the band – being not infrequently instrumental, or longer-form songs with substantial instrumental sections, although their vocal music is gorgeous. Unfortunately, there would only be two more new studio albums released by Iona after 2000: one in 2006 (The Circling Hour), and one in 2011 (Another Realm). Earlier this week, the band announced that they have called it quits as a band, and will be moving on with their own various projects.

Many of the folks that have been a part of this band since it was formed in 1989 have also produced wonderful music as solo artists or in other collaborations. The work of Dave Bainbridge and Troy Donockley particularly stands out for for its quality, although Joanne Hogg’s solo work is also compelling, if less musically ambitious.  All of them do well, but there was something special about the band efforts that we simply won’t have again, and that saddens me, in a way. I appreciate that everyone has to move on in life, but I don’t have a favorite band anymore, and I don’t even see any candidates – for all the old reasons: the spiritual/moral insipidity of most aesthetically good contemporary music, and the aesthetic insipidity of most Christian music. I’m going to miss knowing Iona was out there keeping the world safe from falling into absolute insipidity.

For an outro, the song that brought me such joy upon first listen sixteen years ago: