Troy Donockley's second solo disc cannot in any way be described as mainstream classical but is an absolute stunner nonetheless. Donockley is best known as a member of the brilliant Celtic Christian rock group Iona, who have made many magnificent recordings (e.g. Journey Into the Morn , Beyond These Shores), often embellished by guest appearances from the great and good of the Celtic and progressive rock milieu, Robert Fripp and Maire Brennan (Clannad) for instance. Likewise Troy has also appeared with such luminaries as Breton harp genius Alan Stivell and I am happy to report that his superb credentials and connections feature heavily here too. Van Morrison pianist Neil Drinkwater contributes to several tracks and Steeleye Span's Peter Knight pops up on one. Current and former Iona members also feature, with Joanne Hogg's magical voice, Terl Bryant's percussion and Nick Beggs' soulful Chapman stick all involved. What we have though is very much more than an all star line up running through a few songs. This is a lovingly crafted and conceived project with a true spiritual bent, although less overtly Christian than Iona.

The classical feel to many of the pieces is provided by the integral involvement of the Emperor String Quartet and York Cantores Choir and the overall impression is very much reminiscent of the Fripp/King Crimson/David Sylvian/NoMan progressive axis with, obviously, a greater emphasis on Celtic themes and instrumentation. The latter aspect also recalls Mike Oldfield's superb collaborations with Maddy Prior ( Incantations ) and The Chieftains (Ommadawn), not forgetting Troy's own astonishing Uillean pipe arrangement of Finlandia (as We rest on Thee our Shield and Defender on Be Thou My Vision: Celtic Expressions of Worship, Volume 1 ). One track also even reminds me of late Joy Division!

The opening Conscious is a shortish track - less than five minutes - but introduces us straightaway to the choir and string quartet. The title track, The Pursuit of Illusion , has a fascinating background, being based on a First World War Chinese magician who died tragically when his "bullet catching act" went wrong. I hear it as an extended allegorical meditation, beautifully sung by Joanne Hogg, even by her very high standards, on the transience of the human experience, on this earth at least - eight minutes of spellbinding music! Little Window which follows is indeed as its title suggests as Donockley's guitar meshes with Drinkwater's piano, Bryant's percussion and Chris Redgate's lyrical oboe to provide a gentle postlude to the stunning Illusion .

The ten minute Floating World features Knight and Beggs, along with Andy Duncan's ethnic percussion in a piece that seems to revisit original 1970s prog-rock preoccupations. A Bridge, which is just that, then merges into Fragment , another truly inspired piece, again with Hogg's vocals to the fore and again with an intriguing genesis. This time the text is taken from the Unknown Books of the Essenes , the latter being the militant but mystical Jewish sect finally routed at Masada by the Romans in 73 AD. The translation used is highly poetic and would have been worthy of inclusion on one of Iona's own albums. Finally the two part, twenty minute Colour of The Door proves that Troy Donockley really does believe in leaving the best until last. The two minute first part provides scant preparation for the astonishing tour de force that part two is revealed as. I am not entirely sure as to the subject matter but it is clearly of a deep spiritual nature. It ranges far and wide, from almost whispered, melancholic vocals (this time by Troy himself) set against tintinnabulating bells, through string driven meditations to full on choir and organ and sequenced arpeggios, and really has to be heard to be believed. In all this a distinct thread, theme, whatever you want to call it, is maintained, thereby giving direction and discipline to a piece that could otherwise have pulled in too many different directions at once. A fine end to a fine record. It had me reaching for my old Iona albums plus King Crimson etc is and highly recommended to anyone who loves both modern and accessible classical music and high quality rock/folk/ambient. I now cannot wait to hear the previous solo effort, even if it only half as good as this.

Neil Horner     Visit the website.

TROY DONOCKLEY - The Pursuit Of Illusion

Troy Donockley is a gifted multi-instrumentalist: he plays Uilleann Pipes, flutes, whistles, guitars, keyboards, percussion and he sings. Next to Iona, he can be heard on numerous productions, like the records of Maddy Prior.

His first solo-album The Unseem Stream from 1998 (reviewed in iO Pages 14) contained a very pleasing mix between folk and classical music. On The Pursuit Of Illusion he continues this. Amongst others together with former Iona-members Nick Beggs (Chapman Stick) and Terl Bryant (drums, percussion) as well as Iona-singer Joanne Hogg, Donockley again creates a fascinating album.

Conscious opens the CD with a beautiful melody. In this piece the York Cantores Choir can be heard with Duncan Rayson on church organ. In the title track there is a role for The Emperor String Quartet. Here Donockley and Hogg sing a duet. The second part is rhythmic and has a very positive touch. Floating World is a strong example of what Troy is capable of: light repetitive sounds, Peter Knight on violin and bass violin, the voice of Hogg and a great ending. In Fragment Hogg sings again, accompanied by the choir and the string quartet. The best is saved until the end: The Colour Of The Door, a track of almost 20 minutes, is a varying and impressive epic piece. First Troy sings a part with the strings and Neil Drinkwater on piano and the middlepiece with Donockley on Uilleann Pipes, is Cinematic and cerebral.

This is a masterpiece of a multifaceted musician.

© 2003, Paul Rijkens, Dutch progressive rock magazine iO Pages.

(27 November 3003) When Troy Donockley originally contacted Musical Discoveries to ask if we would like to review his latest album The Pursuit Of Illusion (Lanternmusic Ltd (UK) LNTNCD1, 2003), we jumped at the chance. Troy is, of course, one of the world's premier multi-instrumentalists, having won the award from The Classic Rock Society in this category previously. Although still fully engaged with Iona, this is his second solo project. We met Troy in 1997 ( review ), again in 2002 ( review ) and continue to follow his work. He has contributed to the recordings by other artists including Maddy Prior, Joanne Hogg ( review ) and Mostly Autumn ( review ) to name a few of those reviewed previously at Musical Discoveries.

Troy suggested that we listen to the album initially in a quiet room with a glass (or bottle) of burgundy (or maybe merlot). After a few listens, it's clear why. This is not an album to be listened to in the car. Regardless of where or how the album is enjoyed, it is certain to delight enthusiasts of Celtic- or progressively-styled instrumental projects. That two (three really) of the songs include the vocal work by the stunning Joanne Hogg will serve as a special bonus for many as well.

The album was a massive project for Troy and required him to travel to points far and wide for recording and mixdown. The story as told to CRS Rock Society editor Martin Hudson in a recent interview involved transporting his studio gear to the various locations around Englandto record the material. Troy ventured to the USA to work with longtime fans that offerred state of the art mixing facilities that would do this material justice. Others allegedly hope to apply future lottery proceeds to stage the project live!

Pursuit Of Illusion is indeed primarily an instrumental album with several of the tracks having enormous soundtrack quality in their sound. In addition to Joanne Hogg's vocal contributions, Troy was also ably assisted by Iona members past and present including Terl Bryant (drums, percussion) and Nigg Beggs (chapman stick). A variety of other guests contributed strings and woodwinds while the York Cantores provide choir parts to several of the tracks.

We especially appreciated the Celtic touches across the album in strings, percussion and woodwinds and made note of the tremendous whistle melodies that Troy is long known for. The choir parts are equally lovely and work perfectly in Troy's compositions. Troy's own vocal work is equally delightful; it in fact joins oboe, choir and organ in the thematic opening number "Conscious."

Joanne Hogg's lead vocal in the standout title track is positively and completely awe-inspiring and is indeed a tremendous contribution. Yes, we did play it over and over. Jo's joint vocalise with Troy in "Floating World" perfectly blends with the rich and broad spectrum of instrumentals within the number. And her soaring lead in the short song "Fragment" atop the textures of the York Cantores is just tremendous. Her voice drifts in and out of the arrangement as this rich vocal number develops.

The album concludes with the epic second part of "The Colour of the Door," a multi-dimensional number that combines rich and involved tempo shifting instrumental arrangements with various vocal elements. Troy plays Uillean pipes, low whistles, tin whistles, guitars, bouzouki and keyboards as well. Neil Drinkwater's dramatic piano part, joined to Troy's Celtic winds and Terl's percussion in one of the expansive bridges are all most notable. The Emperor String Quartet and York Cantores Choirespecially the soprano during the concluding segment, contribute additional textures to this tremendous piece.

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order Troy's Pursuit Of Illusion from here. While significantly more instrumental than his work with Iona and Joanne Hogg, his second solo project is a tremendous album, worth a trans-Atlantic journey. It is indeed a must listen!

© 2000-2003 Musical Discoveries. Visit the website.

Review published in KOID'9 Nr 46 (late June 2003) - approximately 350

Troy DONOCKLEY : The Pursuit of Illusion

Troy Donockley is known for being a member of Iona, but also for his collaborations with the female singer Maddy Prior, from the legendary folk-rock band Steeleye Span. We can find Troy credited on quite a lot of albums released during the 12 last years, for this multi-instrumentalist is doing also some sessions. He also played live with
Midge Ure, ex-singer and guitarist of Ultravox, for instance.In 2001, you could read in Koid'9 Nr39 a review of his magnificent debut solo album, "The Unseen Stream", which was released in 1998 indeed. Five years later, "The Pursuit Of Illusion", whose title is inspired by Troy's interest in the science of magic and conjuring, enjoys the collaboration of the same musicians who performed on his previous album : Neil Drinkwater on grand piano, Duncan Rayson on church organ, Chris Redgate (oboe), The Emperor String Quartet, the two ex-members of Iona, Nick Beggs (Chapman stick) and Terl Bryant (percussion), Andy Duncan (percussion), and introducing a large contribution from the american choir York Cantores, (apparently) specialized in ancient music. And of course, there's Troy himself, who plays the famous Uilleann Pipes, tin whistles, low whistles, electric and acoustic guitars, bouzouki, mandola, keyboards, percussion and, for the first time, sings a bit as well. Donockley stands as a composer first and foremost here, as he is leaving a certain amount of the tracks to be performed only by his guest instrumentalists for some parts.

Far from being stuck into the Celtic genre, even if we can see some quite obvious elements of it, "The Pursuit Of Illusion" gathers and melts lots of influences and musical colours, coming often from the classical genre, but a rather modern classical repertoire (nothing really experimental, don't be afraid ! But sometimes, one can notice a trace of repetitive music in the style of Philip Glass or Wim Mertens). There are also some influences coming from ancient european music, indian music…

"The Pursuit of Illusion" is beautiful and full of emotion, that's what one can say if one wants to describe it in a few words. It's mainly a calm album, bathing in a meditative atmosphere too. The tracks are often based on the string quartet, the choir, the oboe,
the organ, a rather unusual ensemble! And then, there is Troy who plays his different instruments according to the tracks. The arrangements are very varied and never overloaded, just elaborated and subtle, never pompous.

The opening track, "Conscious", gathers during 5 minutes the melancholy string part of the quartet and the oboe, a repetitive organ sequence, the piano, the low whistles and the mandola, plus the angelic voices of the choir. "The Pursuit of illusion" which comes after, lasting almost 9 minutes, has got an instrumental first part with the string quartet, the cello playing the main melody, then comes the voice of Donockley, not very powerful, but smooth and soft, very pleasant indeed, soon joined by the more powerful and stirring voice of Joanne Hogg (who is becoming really a great singer as years go by). The lyrics of the track are inspired by the fatal accident which killed a very famous Asian magician called Chung Ling Soo in London in 1918. The instrumental section ending the track is slightly more energic, moving, brilliant. "Little Window" is rather different, with only a piano, an oboe and the electric guitar of Troy, plus some very discreet percussions. It's a fairly mysterious, melancholy piece
of music, like are some of the tracks by Steve Hackett – reminescent of the latter as Troy has got his electric guitar sounding like a violin.

The 10 minutes of "Floating World" are, in my opinion, the only weak point of this album. The track, featuring the violin of Peter Knight, seems obviously inspired by indian ragas, with a repetitive pattern based on harmonium and synthesizers, Joanne and Troy's ethereal vocals, Duncan and Bryant's percussions, Beggs' Chapman Stick, Troy's electric guitar and whistles. It's a rather long track for its purpose, seemingly partly improvised and which never really takes off. The very short "A Bridge" that follows, with Troy playing solo on tin whistle with a background of strange synthesizer sounds, is used as an introduction to the marvelous, ethereal "Fragment" which, during almost 5 minutes, reminds us of the antique church chants… or maybe Barber's Adagio (!) with the soothing voice of Joanne Hogg and, once again, the Emperor String Quartet and the organ. A majestic track with a religious atmosphere, casting a spell on the listener, as solemn as it is beautiful.

To end the album, the main dish [I think you also say "pièce de résistance"!] is the huge suite "The Colour of the Door", divided in two parts spanning no less than 21 minutes. And believe me, it's NEVER padding out ! The two minutes intro has got a very classical tone, starting with the string quartet, then arrives the majestic organ, the choir and the electric guitar, then it gives way to a multi-facetted track, blatantly progressive. The second part is also partially vocal (Troy) and it's also the only piece where we can hear the famous Uilleann pipes and most of the instruments mastered by Donockley, along every guest on the album, except Joanne Hogg (a pity !). The Uilleann pipes, which Troy knows how to make vibrate like a human voice, introduce a moving melody, helped by a synth sounding like cristalline bells, then they're joined by the piano and the strings. The melody develops like a bird which has never flown, spreading its wings for the first time… then it's a third section, more strained, with a piano whose playing keeps going faster and then the Uilleann pipes taking off, the synths and the flute, a sudden stop during which the choir and the synths wave an angelic music, and then enters the electric guitar (sounding rather like a violin) and so on… We could describe so many different sections ! And yet, the whole piece sounds always homogeneous, coherent, magnificent… This real progressive rock masterpiece can remind us slightly of Mike Oldfield at his best (of the late Swedish band Tribute too) but with a much more marked classical influence and a very different personality, a tangible, absorbing emotion, if ever you want to listen carefully.

This album is certainly not atmosphere music, it's simply beyond any attempt of labelling music. It's maybe the classical music of the third millenium, it's the world of Troy Donockley, a marvelous musical world, sparkling and bursting with a thousand colours. A trip that we are lucky enough to repeat endlessly to find out new details
during each listening.

Available on Troy's official website

Marc Moingeon

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