Interviews

How were you introduced to Mary Fleeson's work?

 David Fitzgerald

David F. writes:

I have known Mary (& husband Mark) for a good many years now and have grown to love, appreciate and respect them as very good friends and as family. During visits to their home, on Holy Island over the years, I have got to know and admire their huge creativity. In past years Mark & Mary have incorporated Dance, Music, Puppetry, Writing, Media, Technology & Creative Art as a means to express the themes that they have sought to share through their work & ministry. In more recent years I began to see Mary’s amazing Calligraphy (which is often described as visual art or ‘the art of giving form to signs in an expressive, harmonious & skillful manner’ – Mediavilla 1996). This resonated immediately as over the years I have responded to art & images and this has been used of God to speak profoundly to me. As a musician, who has sought by the Grace Of God to bring purpose & truth through sound over the years, creative art has been a major source of inspiration & also revelation. I could see, in Mary’s images, something of what God has often revealed to me through art & images, deep within my spirit, echo’s & reflections of eternity.

In past years my encounters with art have been life changing, such as the time when a scholarly man of God (called Dr George Forrester) introduced me to the Gospel of Christ through the painting of William Holman Hunt ‘Light Of The World’ (which is an allegorical painting based upon Revelation 3:20 ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me’). As the themes of this painting were unfolded & presented to me I was drawn into another world and into the Presence Of the Lord Jesus Christ. My life was changed forever!

I could share with you many such encounters throughout my journey. My first encounter with ‘Life Journey’, the book was during a very warm, relaxed and lovely moment in Mark & Mary’s beautiful kitchen. We were sharing coffee & general conversation when Mary passed to me a copy of her new book – ‘Life Journey’. I knew some of the paintings already and was aware of their great beauty & capacity to speak to me.

I was also so very grateful to Mary that she had brought such depth & inner meaning to one of my recordings through her paintings - this has become one of my most treasured & hangs on the wall in our home: ‘Light Eternal’ (‘Lux Aeterna’). In previous projects I have responded to art and to images, here an artist had responded to music and had brought new meaning and had elevated what we had sought to bring through sound. I have always believed that art and music combined are so very powerful, particularly when they are in harmony and united in purpose by The Holy Spirit Of God.

As I turned the pages of the book, as prayers, poems, verse & images were revealed I felt my spirit rise within me, I knew that God was doing something very special & that this was one of those encounters that would have very significant purpose. As I looked upon the colours, themes and images I began to hear sounds… I turned to Mary & said “I believe that this could be an amazing source of inspiration for a musical project”. Mary answered “Really? Who would you work with to produce such a recording?” Immediately I said, “For this, it would have to be only one person – Dave Bainbridge.” Mary Answered “Would he be willing to do it?” I responded by saying “Let’s see” and called Dave at home.

I explained to Dave that I had been visiting Mark & Mary on Holy Island and told him a little about what I sensed about ‘Life Journey’ and said that I would like to call in & drop off a copy of the book to him (on my way home to Norfolk). We met, I gave Dave the book and our journey into this project had begun.

God was at work!

 

 Dave Bainbridge

Dave B. writes:

My wife Debbie and I first met Mary many years ago at the house of Andy and Anna Raine - friends of ours who live on Lindisfarne. Mark and Mary had recently moved to the island and opened their [Christian resources] shop. At the time I had no idea that Mary was a brilliant artist, but found this out a while later. I did know however that Mary and Mark liked Iona’s and David’s music and had a deep interest in the ancient stream of ‘Celtic’ Christianity as demonstrated in the lives of Saints Columba, Aidan, Cuthbert etc. I gradually became aware that Mary was developing her own style of artwork, inspired by some of the great Celtic treasures such as The Lindisfarne Gospels and The Book of Kells.

Years later, Mark and Mary discussed with David about the idea of recording an audio accompaniment to her ‘Life Journey’ book and in turn David approached me with the idea of us collaborating together on the project. Upon reading the book and being amazed by its stunning artwork I could immediately see the potential for an interpretation in music and thought it would be a great project on which David and I could renew our working relationship after almost 10 years.

 

 

 Hello

 

Tell me about the writing and recording process for the album.

 Dave Bainbridge

Dave B. writes:

We didn’t have a huge budget for the album and so to work within the financial restraints I felt that David and I should record everything ‘in house’ at my studio and with no additional musicians and that the album would be purely instrumental, unlike our previous collaboration ‘The Eye of the Eagle’. This enabled us to keep to budget, but also it defined what sound palette we had available. As we both play a number of different instruments we had a huge number of possible sound combinations with just the two of us. So the first thing we did was to pray for inspiration and guidance and then discuss which aspects of what Mary had written and illustrated we should home in on for each track.

We then discussed which instrument of David’s might be the most appropriate main voice for each piece (sax, flute, whistle etc), and then we started improvising, recording everything we improvised. As a rule I’d improvise using a keyboard sound and on a few tracks we’d first set up a rhythmic loop of some sort to jam along to.

We did this for 2 or 3 days and amassed a huge amount of material, which we both felt was really inspired. We had two sessions like this, separated by 6 months and that gave us a basic direction on each of the 13 tracks. We constantly referred to the book when recording and listening to make sure that we weren’t going off at a tangent and to check that what we’d recorded was in harmony with the words and illustrations.

Then I spend a long time going through all the material we had recorded and gradually shaped the improvisations into coherent compositions, developing themes and textures. This was especially true of pieces such as ‘Follow Him’, ‘Magnificat’, ‘Tree’ and ‘Life Journey’. Many of the pieces though, such as ‘The Unknown Destination’, ‘Your Breath’, ‘As the Touch’, ‘Acts’, the first half of ‘Heart’ and the whistle sections of ‘Light Eternal’ remain pretty much as we’d improvised them.

David and I then had a third session together in March of this year to record some additional sax, flute and whistle parts, prior to me finishing off mixing. The recording was spread over such a long time because of our busy schedules and also David being ill for a period last year.

 

David Fitzgerald

David F. writes:

The first consideration was how much time did we have? These were likely to be limited, due to our respective commitments & also budget. I didn’t see these as too much of a problem though as Dave & I have worked together on many projects over the years and have always got things done quickly. We always rely on God to inspire and to lead us as we write together and not anticipate that our respective skills are sufficient – far from it! With each project there has been a certain theme (and counter themes!) and some of these have demanded of us to go to the very depths of our being and to discover musical expression beyond our natural ability (I think of the ‘Song Of An Exile’ project with Adrian Snell, which focuses on the holocaust, in particular). Thank God for the anointing of the Holy Spirit! Thank God for His Mercy and His Grace, that He should inhabit our praises! (Psalm 22:3). We need His inspiration & enabling totally.

Once Dave & I had read through the book we arranged to meet for a few days to explore the themes & images. It was decided that initially we should work Chapter by Chapter and move through the book as if on a journey. A week before the recording I was in Canterbury (Christ Church University), attending (and participating in) an event that was being directed by my son Andrew. During the evening I had some space and found myself within the beautiful Chapel Of Christ In Majesty (with my Soprano Saxophone) where behind the altar there is a tapestry (by the artist David Holt) which spans the whole wall and is rich in colour & complex in design. The main theme of this ‘tapesty applique’ is the Risen & Glorified Christ as Redeemer of all creation. As I explored the themes and images of this beautiful work of art & as I then looked out through the massive windows that line the western side of the chapel on to the magnificent Canterbury Cathedral, which was illuminated at night, I recorded spontaneous lines that I was playing in response to what I was discovering around me (I usually carry a digital recorder with me). It was good to do this, it was a sacred moment and felt as if God was setting in place lines that would go on to become foundational for some of the improvisations that I later recorded for the project on the Soprano Saxophone. This was good preparation.

It had been a long time since Dave & I had met to record and yet as we started to set up in his studio (Open Sky in Lincolnshire, which is the County next to Norfolk where I live) it quickly felt like old times. We then prayed to God to unite us in purpose & in creativity. After exploring the first chapter, sharing what we were discovering in this initial painting and in the written text, we started to play together and to allow God to speak through us by the Holy Spirit - the lines just flowed…

Our first recording was ‘The Unknown Destination’. Listening back to an early mix most of what we recorded (if not all of the opening flute lines) during this first meeting were used. This initial track captures what we were seeing & sensing in these beautiful images of sea, sunrise, Celtic Cross (which looks as if it is assembled from weathered ship’s timber) and the soaring birds. I felt that what we needed in this opening track was to capture the essence of ‘beginning’ (as in the journey of life), of setting out into the unknown and yet being aware that in the journey, wherever we are, whoever we are, whatever we believe ourselves to be, we are never alone. God is in every place at every time. The flute seems to wander, being carried by the winds that cascade across the painting. Yet from the lines that seem weave and flow, in like manner to the soaring sea bird free to explore and to go wherever it might wish to fly or to be taken there (by powerful gusts of wind) comes this beautiful theme – which is then taken up and set firmly in place by the guitar. It reminds me of what Jesus says to us “The Wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8)

I thank God that there is this chemistry, a profound understanding, a second sense, that unites us when Dave & I play together. We know this to be the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a unique alliance, I know this. ‘Deep calls to deep’ (Psalm 42.7)

I could write pages on how we approached each theme and how we came to interpret what we were discovering as we worked our way through the book, there were some very special moments. You will hear these in the recording. There is great diversity throughout this album, from huge soundscapes to more intimate moments, all reflecting what we were discovering in the journey.

 

What do you see as the purpose of Mary’s work and your subsequent musical adaptation of it?

 Dave Bainbridge

Dave B. writes:

I think ‘Life Journey’ the book can be taken on different levels, depending upon where the reader is coming from in their journey of faith. I have shown it to unbelievers who have been drawn in by the sheer quality and depth of the artwork. Mary’s aim is that the book will draw people closer to the God who inspired the words and imagery. That was definitely my aim for the music too .

When an artist or musician’s work is a natural extension of their daily relationship with God, the Holy Spirit has a way of bringing more depth and insight to what we do that we first realise. David and I were noticing things within Mary’s artwork which even she was unaware of, but which were obviously God inspired. So at times we were able to draw out different aspects and perspectives on her words and images. Here are some notes I wrote about one of the tracks called ‘Heart - A Call to Confidence’ which sort of illustrate this as well as give a window into our way of approaching the music;

“When we recorded the first half of this piece, David and I really wanted to express the first half of the verse on page 155 (‘A pain deeply buried / deep cries out to deep / He knows the emptiness / cracked, torn and barren etc’). Hence the stark nature of the opening section.

In order to counter this I felt that the second half of the piece had to be not just comforting, but totally transcendent, as Holy Spirit comes to fill the emptiness, but not only that, but to totally surprise and overwhelm us with His electric Presence (as the dove so dominates the picture). I wanted the chord progression and the guitar to soar ever higher, just as the rainbow does in the picture - up to infinity. As Bill Johnson has said - ‘if God comes into the room and you're still alive then he must like you’! I see the ultimate aim of this book and music as being to bring people into God's wonderful Presence. In that place you cannot help but be changed.

The ever evolving and unpredictable chord progression also expresses to me vulnerability - we are not on familiar ground, we open ourselves up to whatever God has in store for us - we have to get outside of our comfort zones and rely totally on him. And yet, to me at least, there is something very inspirational about the second half of this piece. I wasn't so much thinking about the 'Do not let your heart be troubled' line as the 'Do not be afraid' line. We enter uncharted territory and yet we can do so with confidence because the God who made the whole universe and holds the whole world in his hand is with us. I think that the piece has to have this transcendent theme.

The other phrase that really struck me is on page 116 - 'The dove is like freedom'. It's ironic that the most peaceful people I know are the ones who've given God everything and have taken the biggest risks. That's true freedom. I love the fact that in Mary’s amazing picture, the Holy Spirit (dove) is bursting out of the frame that threatens to trap Him. That's how I felt the music had to be.”

 

David Fitzgerald

David F. writes:

Good question. This is right at the heart of things when considering any project – what is the purpose? As already explained I could see very real significance & purpose as art is such a potent force to communicate and so it was not difficult to immediately comprehend that these paintings and this book would offer to us so much that we could utilize in a recording project. However, I am not very good at responding only to ‘ideas’ (or even an ‘opportunity’). At the root of any project I seek to know the mind and the will of God. Is He speaking to us? Is there something for us to do here Lord? Is this of your making? I then ask God to open doors that should be opened and to close doors that should remain shut. I seek His protection and His clear leading, because if anything that we produce as artists is to have any real meaning, in this world and in the world to come, then God has to be at the heart of our labours. I know that Mary, Dave & I see our work not only as creative art but as a means of expressing our love and our adoration of the God that we serve, Father, Son & Holy Spirit. It is an act of worship.

I also agree with what Dave has said in that this book, and Marys art, can be approached very much on an individual basis. This is why we felt that the recording needed to be totally instrumental, so that the listener could enter into the landscape of sound and vision and travel very much on a personal level. For those who only buy the CD they will be able to look at each image & read the prayer for each theme (or piece). The music will then take them into their own personal space without distraction. As I listen to these now I encounter something which is uniquely different every time, it is like prayer, like a new day, God’s handiwork is always fresh – like the morning dew.

For those who would like to explore further then it would be good for them to get both the book and the CD as there is so much more to see and to read, as Mary takes us on a shared journey through her beautiful artwork & writings. Here there is much to discover and to receive.

Perhaps one day you might then travel to Lindisfarne, to Holy Island, to that ‘thin place’, where worlds come together, connections are made and flows occur and where the beautiful ‘Lindisfarne Gospels’ were created (c.715).

We are all so very individual, God has created us and planted His infinite DNA within – we are totally unique, every living person. I wonder at that, I wonder at so many things! The challenge for an artist is how do you create a work of art or a composition that might have the means to say something to everyone? As Christian artists we can narrow the field by seeking to express something that is meant only for a certain group of people. On the other hand we could seek to offer a work that could well have the capability of speaking to a much wider audience.

I remember when working on ‘The Book Of Kells’ with Iona how receptive people were to the idea of music being written in response to these ancient Celtic Illuminate Manuscripts (c.800 now on permanent display at the Trinity College Library, Dublin). This amazing book has been described as being ‘the work of angels and not of man’ and are still regarded to be one of Ireland’s national treasures. The main themes of the book are the four Gospels, each Gospel having it’s own symbol of the Four Living Creatures before the throne of God (Ezekiel 1 & Revelation 4 & 5 – Man, Lion, Calf & Lion). As I sought to understand what God was seeking to be saying to us through this project, as we began to write and to record ‘The Book Of Kells’, I asked God to show to us what it was that should be at the centre of this project – what followed were very profound and powerful images and impressions that subsequently became themes for our project. With ‘Life Journey’ Dave & I could sense and see very tangible connections with ‘The Book Of Kells’ in that we were responding to Celtic Imagery each with their associated themes. It was as though the years had evaporated & we were once again journeying through similar landscapes – within some of the pieces you will hear ‘echos’ of ‘Kells’… As with ‘Kells’ this project, through it’s art, verse & written prayers, has something for each one of us, no matter where they are in the journey of life.

For me, as one who is advancing in years, I realise more and more how so very short and transient this life is. It becomes more and more clear that this journey, as expressed so wonderfully in John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’, is but a short pilgrimage ‘from this world to that which is to come’. ‘Life Journey’ resonates this eternal truth – there is something here for us all, even for those who have not yet discovered who it is that created them & who has placed them within this space in time called life.

‘Life Journey’ is a perfect Christmas present! (or gift at any time!)

 

 Mary Fleeson

Mary F. writes:

In the book ‘Life Journey’ I aimed to share the stories and ideas that had inspired me in the hope that others would be similarly encouraged. It is a book which can communicate in different ways, through the artwork, the meditations, prayers, poems or through the simple activities. Its purpose is to inspire people into a closer walk with Jesus, to encourage those who are struggling and to challenge those who might need a new way of thinking about their faith and the world around them. The purpose of the CD is similar, to introduce themes of life and Christian spirituality in an inspiring, challenging and beautiful way.

 

You mention that recording ’Life Journey’ was like returning to the source of the inspiration of Iona’s early work. How was this so?

 David Fitzgerald

David F. writes:

For me, even though I am no longer a member of Iona the band (for the present – who knows?), the connection has never been severed. What happened to me, back in the late 1980’s, was so profound & so life changing that I could not extract what God has placed deep within me all those years ago (this continues to live within & continues to breath & to speak as I play through my wind instruments). It was His leading & His choosing that led me to the Island of Lindisfarne. I had made no plan to go there, nor did I have any knowledge of our Celtic Christian heritage at that time. It would take pages to go into all of that, but let me just say that following years of touring with Adrian Snell (& with Dave B) I had learned more and more of the Jewish roots of our faith, this had a very profound effect upon me. Having been to Israel a number of times, to play and to record, and having discovered so much about our Judeo-Christian heritage as we toured across Europe (East & West) I know that deep within me was this yearning to know more about the faith that I professed and lived for. I know that this was God’s preparation and that when I found myself on Holy Island with night closing in (back in 1989) I was ready to hear His voice and to receive what He had to impart. When later (the next day) I shared my experience with Dave it was pretty clear to both of us that God intended to unite us and to call us to share through music all that He was igniting back in those early days – it was so vibrant and fresh and exciting, the music seemed to explode from within us!

This is what lives within the music, it is so intrinsically spiritual; it goes way beyond ideas or musical formulas. This is why whenever Dave & I unite to play or record there is this spark that fans into flame. You have to be there in the studio to know what I am talking about.

Dave has mentioned times when he & I used to improvise and work together during the days of touring with Adrian Snell. I know that these were also foundational, as were the actual concerts with Adrian. His music and the themes that he is willing to confront and to express are so very rich both musically & spiritually.

You have to think when you listen to Adrian’s music or attend one of his major presentations. To get more of what I am sharing here do listen to ‘Alpha & Omega’, ‘Song Of An Exile’, ‘City Of Peace’ or ‘The Cry’. For Dave & myself this meant that we had to respond with depth & knowledge & skill that needed to go far beyond our natural ability. These too were exciting times. Dave was exploring all that was available through technology as well as his continued quest to ever widen his skills as keyboardist, guitarist as well as composer, arranger & producer. I was going to as many places as possible to find new instruments – of various ethnicity – and using these for new recordings and concerts. (During the Iona days I was even contemplating learning the bagpipes! – I really liked the way that bands like the Battlefield Band use these in modern folk/rock music, Also, being Scottish, I wanted to embrace my own roots in this way – I still wish to learn but am working on my piano/keyboard skills these days).

I see improvisation in this way – it is (to me) speaking in tongues in sound, all inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is he who enables us to speak & to prophesy and to impart the deep things of God (wordless sound) – it is powerful. I do not take this for granted - it is Holy ground. In the natural I am unworthy, I need the covering & the mercy of Jesus. Only by the Grace of God are we able to minister in this way.

Later, during the early days of Iona, Dave & I continued working in this way. Often we would approach a certain theme or seed of an idea and ask God to unite us and to speak through us whatever He would wish to impart or express through us. Many of the Iona (instrumental) pieces were brought to life in the way. I treasure those moments still.

When we got together for the ‘Eye Of The Eagle’ project (which I am listening to as I write today), with the writer David Adam, we were able to continue the journey once more. With that project we were responding only to the written word and to David’s rich intoning of his written prose as well as passages of Scripture. This was an amazing project to work together on, in Scotland with the legendary producer Calum Malcolm. I do hope and pray that we shall see this recording made available once again? There are many moments within that project that I believe were some of our finest recording - at the time of its release the ‘Eye Of The Eagle’ was being hailed as a ‘Celtic Symphony’. I felt that this had so much potential, both as a live as well as recorded project. May it be so.

Dave & I have explored so many themes from the Celtic Christian tradition and drawn deeply from the rich teachings & creativity of our Celtic forebears. There is so much to discover and to learn from the lives these early saints, such as Columba, Aidan & Cuthbert. We are not in any way highly knowledgeable, nor do we even attempt to give the impression that we are scholarly historians, we are pilgrims and have much yet to learn and to discover. This is why, for each project, we have sought the wisdom and authority of people such as Dr Bernard Meehan (Trinity College, Dublin – for the ‘Kell’s project) and Canon David Adam (for ‘Eye Of The Eagle’).

We have been so grateful to learned friends for all that they have taught us over the years and for their willingness to assist us in our quest to work with integrity.

Apart from the joy and the blessing of being able to continue our journey together the wonderful thing about ‘Life Journey’ is that we have worked on a project that is very much about the here and now. Although Mary’s artwork is certainly inspired and in some ways a reflection of ancient Celtic illuminated manuscripts (such as the books of ‘Kells’ or  ‘Lindisfarne’) it is also a reflection of her life in the here and now on Holy Island. In this way Dave & I could explore new themes and ideas. As well as a wide musical soundscape you will also hear, woven into the tapestry, birdsong, bells, wind & sea - all recorded on Holy Island.

It has been a beautiful experience. God has blessed us abundantly. We hope and pray that many shall join us in the journey and be drawn into the Wonderful Presence of God, who loves all His creation.

 

 Dave Bainbridge

Dave B. writes:

David and I first started working together with singer songwriter Adrian Snell. Together with Adrian we toured all over Europe with two of Adrian’s big works ‘Alpha and Omega’ and ‘Song of an Exile’ in the late 1980’s. As the stage set up wasn’t too complicated, we often found ourselves with time to improvise together - me on keyboards and David on his assorted saxes, flutes and whistles. We were both excited with some of the things we were coming up with spontaneously and this led to our desire to do something of our own together, which eventually turned into IONA. So, just spending time together improvising again felt very much like it did back in those early days.

The very first IONA concert was is fact just David and I playing together. After Joanne joined us a month or so later the focus and identity of IONA changed as we went from an instrumental project to one that included vocals and a great songwriter in her own right. Although this has been wonderful, maybe something of the spontaneity and freshness of those early improvisations was lost. It was nice to know that that spark of creativity was still there in the interaction between David and I.

Also, David’s very clear call from God to discover the roots of our faith in the lives of those early Celtic Christian saints occurred on Lindisfarne, where of course, Mary lives and works.

I also wanted to reflect the atmosphere of this place where there has been a Christian presence for more than 1300 years by including on the album many of the sounds that you might hear on the island - sounds which the early monks would have been so familiar with, the various sea birds, wind and waves and the church bell calling people to prayer. Many of these were recorded on the island by Mary’s husband Mark as he walked around with a little portable recorder.

 

 

Which “A Call To…” section of the book and CD stand out for you and why?

 David Fitzgerald

David F. writes:

Well, where do I start! I love the whole book & the whole recording!

I shall try… I have already mentioned how so very much the painting ‘Light Eternal’ speaks to me and of how God has spoken to me so clearly & powerfully through art & images throughout my life.

I am reminded of a time when I stood before a triptych in one of the side chapels of St Edmundsbury Cathedral (in Suffolk). The painting was by Matthias Grunewald entitled ‘Crucifixion’. I was recording in the Cathedral for the ‘Lux Aeterna’ project and set within this album were pieces based upon the Crucifixion & Resurrection of Jesus. As I stood there before the painting I was struck by the sheer brutality of the image and once again cut to the soul when looking upon these images of the Crucifixion. I was again deeply horrified as I was reminded once more of how mankind could treat the Son Of God. Grunevald’s painting seemed to express so powerfully all that was essentially wicked & dark & foul in this fallen world, of how far humankind could fall when out of relationship with our loving Father (and in league with the powers of darkness). I was standing before this powerful image with a good friend, Martin Shaw (not the actor but Canon of St Edmundsbury, now Bishop of Argyll & Islands). After a while standing before this painting he gently said, ‘There can never be resurrection until there has been crucifixion’. These words lived with me as I went through the recording of ‘Lux Aeterna’.

At the centre of Mary’s painting is a Cross, at the base of the Cross is what looks to be blood red fire. If you look very closely at this there also appears to be, in the flame-red, an impression of a mother & child? (I may be wrong here…). If I am not wrong  then this does speak to me so very powerfully. (In any case art will speak to us on a personal level and will reveal something new and different to us all as we encounter it). Also on the recording ‘Lux Aeterna’ I recorded a piece called ‘Christchild’, which sought to express the years that we know little of – when Jesus was growing through his infant years.

I had all kinds of impressions during the recording of this piece and sought to express something tender & beautiful here: the Lord Of All Creation as a very young child (get your head around that!). As I look at the image in red even now I am reminded of the words of Simeon when he speaks these chilling words to Mary ‘…and a sword will pierce your own soul’. (Luke 2:35). It gives me the impression that even at this most tender moment, even at the birth of a Child, there is the Cross.

Within the painting you will see other images, the Resurrection, the Presence of God the Father and over just about the entire painting is the Holy Dove – the Holy Spirit Of God. The title of the chapter of this painting is ‘A Call To Believe’. Mary then explains to us in her writing that we are called to ‘believe the impossible’ in a world ‘that makes little sense’. We are called to believe in the Virgin Birth, God becoming a man, The Resurrection and to go beyond our human perception or intellect as believers and as followers of Christ.

In the recording of this piece I know that Dave & I could have gone in all kinds of directions. Certainly with the Cross at the centre of the painting the music could have been more dark or painful but we both got this overwhelming sense of the sheer majesty and awesomeness of God. The whole impression that we got from ‘Light Eternal’ was the sheer immensity of God, who is Lord of All Creation, who made each and every one of us, whose answer to our hatred and our rebellion was to send to us His Loving Son, His Only Son, who showed to us His love for all humanity, and who taught us wisdom beyond all others and who was willing to suffer such a brutal murder at the hands of those He made and loved.

The words of Mary overwhelm me:

My Creator, I worship You
Your immensity surrounds me.
My Saviour I worship You,
Your sacrifice humbles me.
My Light, I worship You,
Your purity overwhelms me.

Amen & Amen!

Listening to the early recording the track is quite sparse. There was, in the early mixes, a pipe organ – which I rather liked actually. Then Dave introduces this massive orchestral mix of Cathedral Organ, Angelic Choir & layers of Guitars before the whistle & guitar play the track out. The original recording was quite simple, almost barren sounding, the whistle calling out lines which speak of so many things to me… When I play I sense & see images, impressions, they are sometimes without form or definition – in the natural.

I know that what I play is in many ways in unison with what I am sensing and seeing, I know that when I come out of some of these experiences I have been transported, in the same way that I have known when in the Presence of God either in the assembly of fellow believers, in worship or in moments of personal devotion, prayer or encounter.

What is so amazing about the way that Dave & I work is that when we finish recording Dave then goes away and turns our initial ideas into a masterpiece. I prefer not to tell him what I want in each piece, although we do share very carefully what each of us is seeking to express or bring to each piece and there is also (during mixing and editing stage) shared thought & final comment on what is unfolding within each piece. With ‘Light Eternal’ Dave had taken our early recordings and found exactly the right combination of sounds.

I love the opening lines, the guitar which seems to be probing or exploring, the whistle calling out across the landscape, the gentle swell of the strings and bass lines, and then the gradual sweep of the Heavenly Choirs which seem to descend upon us from all around and then there is an explosion of worship, with pulsating drums, HUGE Cathedral Organ and even a Northumberland Pipe (with the whistle still soaring above) – there is such mix of sounds and traditions here! (as there will be in Heaven!).

Then, we are brought from the Heavenly Realms into this amazing, peaceful & beautiful landscape (I can see across the windswept dunes on Lindisfarne here), with the guitar, still probing and exploring, and the whistle still calling out – then the Island’s birds hear and respond, we are in unison praising our Lord & Creator. Then, for me, the most amazing & wonderful moment - suddenly the electric guitar unites with the whistle and (as in the painting) the Holy Dove sweeps over us, and we are all united, lost in wonder, adoration and praise…

 

 Dave Bainbridge

Dave B. writes:

That’s a tricky one to answer! I love Mary’s illustration for ‘A Call to Journey’ (The Unknown Destination) especially the way Mary has done the cross, with it’s rough, earthy feel and colours contrasting with the majesterial gold knotwork patterns. The illustration for ‘A Call to Believe’ (Light Eternal) is just amazing with its wonderful layered depiction of the Trinity. The poem ‘Embrace Me’ on page 59 from ‘A Call to Vulnerability’ (As The Touch) is something I love too. Written very much in the Celtic tradition, this really sums up what I believe we were created for - an intimate relationship with God, and I think David’s beautifully sensitive tenor sax playing on the second half of this piece is one of the most moving passages on the album.

However the track that, for some reason always immediately brings me into an awareness of God’s presence is ‘Star - A Call to Trust’. When I looked at Mary’s illustration with what looks like a hand flinging a star into space I was reminded of a piece from Iona’s ‘Book of Kells’ album called ‘Trinity Godhead’ which we’d recorded back in 1992, in which we’d tried to portray a similar scene. So I dug out my old Korg M1R synth module which is what I’d used for some of the really evocative, floating sounds on that track. This track deliberately starts in a similar way and seeks to portray some of the mystery of a God who can create stars and yet who chooses to encircle us with His love, protection and presence if we choose to ask Him to.

The repeated 4 note melody continually encircles the listener throughout the piece. The fast ascending cathedral organ scales that build into the majestic middle section were inspired by a recording that David had of some music by an amazing composer called Duruffle. I hope the end section after all the majesty also reflects Mary’s observation about the illustration, that ‘The hand seems to reach out in a loving, gentle gesture to caress the face of the creator, symbolised by the star.’ I could have had this end section just repeating and repeating, growing larger and more enveloping for ever as we gradually become engulfed by His awesome and overpowering Presence! Maybe on the ‘Eternal, Heaven remix version’!

 

 Mary Fleeson

 Mary F. writes:

‘A Call to Believe’ is written around the image ‘Lux Aeterna’ which has long been one of my favourite pieces and was inspired by a composition by David Fitzgerald, I love the idea that a piece of art which grew from his music would then inspire a further piece of music which in itself holds more ideas and pictures which may become new artwork. 

 

What were the highlights in the making of the ‘Life Journey’ project and, in contrast, what was the toughest part?

 Dave Bainbridge

Dave B. writes:

The whole album was a joy to work on and obviously working again with David was great as there is such a unique chemistry when we play together, especially in the studio, where we’re able to just let the creativity flow and try out all our ideas. There always seems to be point for me when I’m getting to the last stages of an album project where everything suddenly seems to come together and what I have in my head is finally coming through the speakers, often after much toil and trial and error. That stage of this project was particularly exciting and I remember late one night when David and I listened through to all the tracks in almost their finished state, in order for the first time. We both realised then that the album was going to be something special.

What was also great was Mark and Mary’s trust in us just to do what we felt was right and also their enthusiasm throughout the recording process.

To be honest I don’t remember any particularly tough parts. In a sense the toughest part is now to come. Getting the word out about the album to as many people as we can with zero marketing budget! And selling enough copies for Mark and Mary to at least break even in a world that increasingly likes its music for free.

 

 

 David Fitzgerald

David F. writes:

I can say to you that working on this project with Dave has been one of the most rewarding & inspirational experiences that I have known. From the opening moments of our first session together, which you can hear in the first piece of the project - ‘The Unknown Destination’ - we could tell that we were in for something pretty special! There are so many highlights. I love the way that this project takes you on this huge journey, you truly do not know what is coming next as the recording unfolds. There are so many variations in sound – from intimate gentle moments to huge orchestral landscapes and choirs of angels!

The opening flute line is a perfect example of how things progressed for us in the writng and recording process. Dave & I have always had this unique chemistry when either performing live, writing or merely exploring musical ideas. Past examples of one take compositions are found in early Iona pieces (such as ‘John The Eagle’ from ‘The Book Of Kells’), or on ‘The Eye Of The Eagle’ recording and also in this project. What I love is how strong melodic lines come from improvised sessions. Quite often I don’t even consider them as they occur (I am always lost in the moment) and then when we listen back we can hear certain ideas that then become main themes. Sometimes we can develop these and in this project the opening flute line becomes something of a core theme, which is developed, enhanced and revisited throughout the recording.

One of the main highlights in this project for me was how Dave could pick out certain themes and then make them something very special. Listen to how Dave picks up on the opening flute line on ‘The Unknown Destination’, plays this with utter conviction on the guitar – as if this is indeed was an established thematic idea – and then decorates these lines (and my flute improvisations) so beautifully & skillfully. This is how things got underway. Ideas would come from reading each of the prayers, internalizing these, meditating on them whilst also exploring each of Mary’s complex & intricate images. It was truly like painting in sound as we just set out and sought to capture the right mood, atmosphere & interpretation for each of these themes.

Another highlight for me was also how the idea of sounds from the Island would come to mind. One perfect example of this is how we introduced birdsound into the project. Whenever I consider the combination of music and birdsong I have to think of the composer Olivier Messiaen. He once said that birds were “Our desire for light, for stars, for rainbows and for jubilant songs”. This perfectly describes how Dave & I see things when it comes to what we have sought to express in our music over the years! Messiaen also believed that birdsong (their calls) were a music that manifested the music inherent in creation. He would wander through forests with his writing pad, notating the songs that he heard and then translate these into music. His music and his ideas are worth exploring. He was a man of faith, who believed that his faith was his ‘sole reality’. He also believed that to grasp this fully one must meet God by passing through death and resurrection – exiting, in other words, the temporal world. He once said that music can prepare a person for this journey by means of its capacity to conduct a perpetual dialogue between space and time, and sound & colour, which leads to a unification of these elements. The musician who grasps this fundamental principle can achieve a foretaste of eternity.

There is a moment in ‘Life Journey’ (in the middle of ‘Light Eternal’) when you can hear me soaring away on an Irish Whistle and then the birds join in (as if I were somewhere on Holy Island surrounded by these). For a while we are having this wonderful discourse – I imagine this to be combined worship of the God of all Creation. Suddenly Dave’s guitar joins me and we are swept higher and higher into the heavenly realms – it is glorious! Listening back to this I still get goose bumps and am elevated into the Presence of God. It is to me the music of heaven.

I could write pages on each and every track but would wish to say to you that each piece was like a revelation. I know that God inspired Dave & myself and that the project has been a sheer joy (no tough parts for me – apart from a bit of a health scare, which put the project on hold for a while. Thank God that seems to have gone away for the present. We believe, we hope and we praise God for complete healing!). With Life Journey we have been truly blessed - I would like to do it all again!

 

In what way was the ‘Life Journey’ project different from other projects you have been involved in?

 Dave Bainbridge

Dave B. writes:

There were similarities in the approach to Iona’s ‘The Book of Kells’ and ‘The Eye of the Eagle’, our other collaborative album in that these were also inspired by books. ‘Life Journey’ is the one that more directly seeks to be a musical accompaniment to the book from which it seeks its inspiration, following the chapter headings in order. Our aim though was definitely that the album would stand up as a work in its own right apart from the book as well as with it.

The other main differences were that the whole album recording started with nothing prepared beforehand, but was based on improvisations which were then developed. On these other 2 albums most of the material was written in advance. And that, apart from some drums on one track and violins on another from Frank van Essen, all the instrumentation was played by David and I. Previously when we’ve worked together there have always been several other musicians involved.

 

 David Fitzgerald

David F. writes: 

I think that for me the most prominent consideration was the fact that Dave & I had not worked together on a project for such a long period of time. Prior to ‘The Eye Of The Eagle’ (1999) Dave & I had worked together regularly – on the projects of Adrian Snell, Iona and other recordings (such as ‘Sh’ma Yisrael’ with Barry & Batya Segal from Israel). This time there had been a 10 year gap! (hard to believe really). However, this brought in many ways not only a returning (to previous ideas & collaborations) but also it brought a freshness to this project – a beginning if you like.

I think also that you can hear in ‘Life Journey’ not only echoes of the past (we have mentioned the similarities to some of the pieces within ‘The Book Of Kells’) but thematic, harmonic & stylistic ideas that are drawn from a very considerable sound pallet and that are unique to this project. One other composer that became an influence to the direction of some of the more expansive sections of the project was the work of another French composer, Maurice Durufle, and in particular sections of his most amazing and profoundly moving ‘Requiem’ (which was written in memory of his father). It is amazing to consider that when Durufle was first assembling ideas for the ‘Requiem’ he was working on an organ suite using themes from Gregorian chants. Some of these were incorporated into sections of the ‘Requiem’. This is how musicians and composers work (in all areas of music), we are always listening and soaking up the goodness of what we discover (in music, in art, in creation and so on). In the same way we, being deeply moved by sections of particularly the opening ‘Introit’ & ‘Kyrie’ and also the ‘Sanctus’, sought to capture something of the scale and the beauty of Durufle’s work.

I think that it is fair to say that as Dave & I increase in years we remain both pilgrims and also students of life. In this way we are forever young! There is so much to absorb this side of heaven, can you even begin to imagine what there is to discover beyond this universe on into eternity? As the Bible says, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.’ (1 Corinthians 2: 9).
I also love the next section, which says ‘But God has revealed it to us by His Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God’ (v.10). Paul calls this a ‘foretaste’ of things to come.

I think that Dave has captured this sense of wide-eyed expectation of the sheer wonder and mystery of God in eternity in his amazing composition ‘Star’. I would love to hear this arranged for orchestra and choir one day! Maybe we could also play some of themes on Guitar & Soprano Saxophone (with Choir & Orchestra!). Something to think about? It is interesting that some of our music is being featured on the UK radio station ‘Classic FM’ at this time. Perhaps we should consider writing something specifically for the Classical market?

‘Life Journey’ has been very much a special and a unique kind of journey. As we met (in Dave’s studio in Lincolnshire) to write and to record each theme Dave & I have sought after the Spirit Of God to unlock our mind and our senses as we considered the eternal truths that are to be found within the themes and artwork within Mary’s book. We believe that God has inspired us once again to produce sounds that speak of eternity as well as of the beauty and the tangible reality of this world and of this life that we all share.

I think that in ‘Life Journey’ there is something of a tapestry here of so much that has been an inspiration to Dave & myself over the years. Also, having the freedom to write pieces without the restriction of required formula was also amazingly liberating – we could go anywhere with the music. I just wish you could hear all of the mixes, from early first takes to the final master of each piece. I am listening to these as I write, it is a sheer joy to hear how these pieces came about, of how they first came to light and of how these have grown into what are now established pieces.

 

 

What are your ultimate hopes for this project and, in particular, how it will help followers of Jesus?

 Dave Bainbridge

Dave B. writes:

I hope that as with all the albums I’m involved with, it will reach as wide an audience as possible, both believers and unbelievers. Music is an incredible art form, able to touch people regardless of their beliefs, social class, ethnicity etc etc and Holy Spirit knows no barriers. So often I’ve been encouraged by letters and emails from people who have been deeply touched  in some way or circumstance by our music. We can never really anticipate what God’s plans are for the music but they usually go way beyond what we can imagine. We can just be faithful in doing our best and getting it out there.

My main hope and prayer though is that both the book and cd will awaken a deeper awareness of God’s presence to whomever listens to it. I was in our prayer room the other day and not feeling particularly focussed on God. I put the cd on and listened to all 71 and 1/2 minutes of it and during that time, as I prayed, the peace of God returned to me. The worries of the day subsided and I was able to feel Holy Spirit’s presence and know the Father’s incredible love for me. At one point it almost became overwhelming.

 

 David Fitzgerald

David F. writes:

What a challenging and important question to ask?

My immediate response to these probing questions increase my awareness that a) Any project that we should embark upon should have the right motives at the centre of things and b) What is the purpose of any project – who is it meant for and what should it achieve?

As a musician and as a follower of Christ I think that I can say that the most important thing to consider, when commencing any project, is to seek earnestly the will of God. The Bible says that if we walk in the Spirit ‘We have the mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and that ‘We speak God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began’ (v.7). Surely this has to be at the heart of our thoughts, desires and motives as we go about our daily lives, as creative artists but also as messengers and ambassadors of the most important treasure of all – the Good News of the Gospel Of Jesus Christ.

When I saw and read Mary’s book for the first time I knew that God was doing something remarkable and new through ‘Life Journey’. Art is such a powerful medium, particularly when the artist has surrendered their gifting to the Lord of all Creation and seeks to make their creativity an act of worship. When we encounter the work of such an artist we are immediately drawn in and begin to engage with something beyond human endeavor, we see the Hand Of God.

I think of the work of Saints across the centuries and the legacy that they have left behind and of how powerfully their acts of creativity and worship continue to speak to us today. Our work, by comparison, is most likely more temporal (let us be honest here). Most contemporary Christian work is for a season.

 

My prayer is only this, that this project will do whatever God intends for it to do. I know that Mary spends many hours on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in prayerful labour over each and every work of art that she produces. The same can be certainly be said for Dave as he works day and night to produce sounds that go beyond his own ability as a musician and composer. In all of these things we need the inspiration and the touch of God upon our work. Only then could it speak to us, to reach us and to reveal to us the love of God.

Inherent in all of the music that Dave and I have produced over the years I have always sensed this ‘voice’ of longing and of ‘calling’ to us (just listen to ‘Graceful Trinity’ to get an idea of what I am saying here). You can hear it in many of the themes and also the rich harmonies that engulf our melodic lines. I see this as being God’s heart calling out to His fallen world.

One of the most moving and most powerful expressions of God’s sheer longing to embrace His children is demonstrated to us when Jesus laments over Jerusalem: ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!’ (Matthew 23:37 NKJV). How beautiful a picture is this of God’s true love for His people.

May our music continue to be a voice that calls out to the children that God has created. May this new project, a combination of sight and sound, draw many into the Presence and into the Knowledge of God, who loves them and wishes to embrace and to bless them for all eternity. Also, may ‘Life Journey’ be a work that is pleasing to Jesus, our Lord and our Redeemer’.

‘Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer’ (Psalm 19:4/KJV).

 

 Mary Fleeson

Mary F. writes:

The ultimate hopes are that Christians will get to know their God better and that non-Christians might see glimpses of a glorious Creator who inspires His children today as He always has done.