The Civic, Stourport on Severn
Friday 4th March to Sunday 6th March 2022
Finally, the Fusion Festival, first planned for late March 2020 and postponed twice, returned triumphantly to this excellent venue in the Midlands after the two year pandemic nightmare. If ever we needed the release and joy of live music, now is the time. The line-up has had to change a few times due to various understandable issues, but Steve and Louise Gould successfully gathered an outstanding roster of varied acts and held a magnificent festival of live music. Fans gathered from all over the UK, with others travelling from Europe and at least one visitor from California (known in some quarters as ‘The Vinyl Hunter’!). The Prog community was there in force, including members of The Progressive Aspect and an array of Progzilla Radio presenters, both organisations supporting the event… but most of all this was a coming together of music fans, friends old and new, all celebrating the sheer joy of live music.
TPA posted live updates from the festival online and here we gather together and tidy up those mini-reviews to give an overview of the event.
Friday 4th March 2022
The Paradox Twin
Here we go… opening Fusion 3.5 are The Paradox Twin – and what a great scene-setter. There are lots of people here, lots of chat, interaction with the band and they look great. I’m hearing some Tangerine Dream, with thumpy bass and a tight rhythm section. Moonblood (from their 2018 debut album The Importance of Mr Bedlam) is apparently the first track The Paradox Twin ever wrote, and methinks it’s their best track of the night. Classic neo-prog… love it! (RS)
This Reading-based band have recently released an excellent second album, Silence from Signals, and have been produced by Progressive Rock’s Renaissance man, John Mitchell. Well, if he thinks they’re worth working with then they’re worth hearing. They did not disappoint, entertaining the expectant crowd with a set of high quality melodic progressive rock songs, fronted by multi-instrumentalist Dany Sorrell. Highlights included Mir from the debut album and opener Haptic Feedback from the new one. Sorrell shared some great blended lead vocals with the excellent Nicole Johnson, well supported on bass and drums by Diane Fox and Graham Brown. The Paradox Twin got the event off to an impressive start. (LT)
Rain fell wonderfully on the Fusion audience with an intoxicating mix of Rock, Funk, Prog… and all sorts really! There appear to be absolutely no musical boundaries for this talented band, with the great voice and guitar of Mirron Webb out front. Multi-instrumentalist (mainly keyboards) and co-vocalist Rob Groucott was outstanding, adding some great harmonies with Mirron. The legendary John Jowitt (ex-IQ and Frost*) still sinks battleships with his thunderous bass lines, particularly on the funky Dandelion from their outstanding 2020 debut album Singularity. Fellow ex-Frost* and IQ member Andy Edwards is currently taking a break from gigging to focus on the next Rain album, and new live drummer Andrew Brooker was also right on the nail in only his second gig – not easy drumming shoes to fill!
The scintillating and sinuous Devils Will Reign, which traverses a bewildering range of influences and threads together so well, was the highlight of their set. Rain played four new songs from the forthcoming album, including Genau, Something New, Fear is the Night and Radio Silence, and they all sound very promising.
Singularity‘s title track had a rather radical rocked-up make over from the rather more ambient and experimental album version, and they got the whole place rocking by finishing off their set with a grooving version of Jimi Hendrix’s Manic Depression. This was different and sparkling stuff from a band who really stretch their envelope. Long may Rain Reign! (LT)
Franck Carducci and The Fantastic Squad
Headlining Day One, Franck Carducci and The Fantastic Squad are quite unique, with a certain Arthur Brown feel about some of it. There was a Led Zeppelin vibe, and even some Rocky Horror. My first impression reminded me of The Tubes from their 1978 era. Hugely entertaining, and every musician was on point. I somehow couldn’t take my eyes off the exceptional lady drummer, Léa Fernandez, whose rhythm was amongst the best I have ever seen, and Cédric Selzer could easily have been mistaken for ELO’s Jeff Lynne. More of this please… Quality Rock ‘n’ Roll. I LOVED it! (RS)
Wow! Just Wow!
What else can you say about this wonderful French showman and his great band?
Fabulous fun, great rock, tongue-in-cheek sauciness, mesmerising effects, and amidst all that mayhem, fantastic musicianship. Franck was his usual charismatic self, singing his great songs with aplomb, leading his merry pranksters with panache. Mary Reynaud sang and danced in her inimitable and beautiful style, exuding grace and allure in equal measure, whether as an Angel with whirling wings or a rather naughty Alice. Mary also treated the audience to her rather unconventional playing of the Theremin, and wowed them with a spectacular dance of light with inventive use of reflective stage gear. Simply breath taking.
Franck’s new band were… well, Fantastic! All skilful musicians and equally flamboyant performers in Franck’s Rock ‘n’ Roll circus, with great keyboards from Cédric Selzer and extravagant guitar from Barth Sky. Most notable was brilliant drummer Léa Fernandez, who really ripped it up in the encore. Amidst Franck’s own songs, he also played a moving solo spot of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, in which the whole crowd sang as a mighty choir – a real sense of togetherness – and the fun was finished by a celebratory cover of Led Zep’s Rock and Roll. Just fabulous. They ran well over time, but no-one cared because this was a brilliant and joyous display, all the troubles of the world disappearing for a couple of hours. Almost certainly the best band of the weekend right there. If you want a night of great showmanship, stellar musicianship, thrilling spectacle and great entertainment, just go and see this band next time they’re near you. Live music doesn’t come much better – support it and just have great fun! (LT)
Saturday 5th March 2022
After a cracking first day, Stuckfish take the stage to start Day Two, punching way above their weight for their slot on the billing. The set is awesome, with some tracks from their new album Days of Innocence, due out 22nd April and due to be officially launched at the Cluny in Newcastle on 16th April.
These guys are as perfect live as they are in the studio. Front man Phil Stuckey has a truly elegant and eloquent presence on stage, with a unique and powerful voice, and is great at addressing the crowd. Ade Fisher is an exceptional guitarist, with mesmerising solos equal to the very best Prog epics. Phil Morey on bass and Adam Sayers on drums keep the rhythm section absolutely on point and Gary Holland holds together the five-piece band to make the whole. They are that good, and they deserve much greater traction. (RS)
John Hackett Band
Second on Saturday’s bill, a nice change of pace for this lovely and varied festival with the John Hackett Band, probably best described as many layered jazzy prog, played by four charmingly unassuming but superb musicians. John Hackett on vocals, flute and keyboards (often simultaneously, skilfully playing flute one-handed) offered intensely flowing fluttery flute riffs and flourishes, interspersing punchy rock melodies from both Nick Fletcher (guitar) and Jeremy Richardson (bass), the latter also taking the odd lead vocal, with engagingly unfettered drums and percussion from Duncan Parsons.
This was a set of real contrasts, with some notable songs taken from the band’s We Are Not Alone album and the Hackett/Fletcher collaboration Beyond the Stars. Several pieces reveal themselves to be in several distinct sections that created great interest as to where it was all going – sometimes lyrical and contemplative, the next moment frantically careering along at a frenetic pace, then atmospheric with a sense of impending doom. All this was nicely followed by an entirely different track with a calypso feel, Duncan enthusiastically bashing away and semi-vocalising along with improvisational ‘ba ba ba-da’-ing – most delightful!
Friendly chats from John between songs engaged the audience, as did the lush vocals from Jeremy, initially hidden but wonderfully surprising when his voice emerged, most effectively on their tribute to the recently departed Ian MacDonald (co-founder of King Crimson) with the moving and beautiful I Talk to the Wind (originally from the In the Court of the Crimson King album); sublime! (RT)
The Blackheart Orchestra
This talented duo weave atmospheric waves of sound to chill out the Fusion crowd in mid-afternoon. Chrissy Mostyn’s distinctive and lovely vocals soothed over gorgeous soundscapes created with multi-instrumentalist Richard Pilkington. This band have echoes of Florence (+ The Machine) and, dare I say it, Kate Bush (well, it turns out even the band quote Kate Bush and Pink Floyd as references… so yeah, I can dare say it!). Chrissy also played keyboards and acoustic guitar as this talented duo played a variety of instruments to fill the hall with ambient vibes from their fine 2019 album Mesmeranto, including Drown Me Out and Wolves.
However, I will be honest and state that whilst I enjoyed the set, after a while I craved a little more variety in the sound as it all started to just wash over me – but others were loving it. They certainly fill the room with soothing and atmospheric sounds, but personally I need a little more grit in my musical oyster. Entertaining and beguiling nonetheless. (LT)
Tiger Moth Tales
A fabulous performance from Peter Jones and his great Tiger Moth Tales band, which went down a storm. New songs from the excellent just released A Song of Spring album included the jolly Mad March Hare, the pastoral beauty of The Goddess and the Green Man and the sweeping and elegiac Light. In Light Pete Jones somehow managed to play the guitar solo (performed on the album by his Camel band mate Andy Latimer) with one hand, whilst at the same time playing a keyboard backing with his other hand!!
The frivolity and audience involvement during the inevitable The Merry Vicar segued smoothly into the bonkers Toad of Toad Hall from the Story Tellers, Part Two album for some light-hearted fun. The Robin Hood infused romp of Ballad of Longshanks John was one of the only songs from 2017’s The Depths of Winter, but this was more about the new life of Spring and hope after two depressing years, and Tiger Moth tales caught that sense perfectly.
The glorious second half to Don’t Let Go, Feels Alright and the spectacular Tigers in the Butter showed off the great skill and touch of the band with Andy Wilson on guitar, Paul Comerie on drums and Mick Wilson on bass and backing vocals. The evergreen journey back to a “Tuesday afternoon in 1967” in A Visit to Chigwick nostalgically brought the gig near to a close before the touching, hopeful and melodic Still Alive ended the set magnificently… receiving an immediate standing ovation for one of the best shows of the festival. Peter Jones and Tiger Moth Tales are an assured and brilliant live band who should be so much more well-known – just outstanding as usual. (LT)
This Winter Machine
This Winter Machine opened Saturday night with mixed results. Writing reviews is a privilege – and usually a pleasure – but if they mean anything, they have to be honest.
The band’s recent Kites album is excellent so I was really up for this, however, I have to say that this was a disappointing gig… a view shared by many in the audience, including some very faithful This Winter Machine fans.
This was the third or fourth gig for this new manifestation of the band, and they have yet to find a keyboard player… and the absence of keyboards was an absolutely crucial issue. Playing to programmed keys and click tracks clearly affected the spontaneity and flow of the performance.
The setlist largely concentrated on Kites, which has some very strong material, particularly the outstanding Pleasure and Purpose, one of Al Winter’s best songs. Dom Bennison was outstanding on guitar and gave a good account of himself in the considerable challenge of singing the vocals on the lovely Sometimes, which were sung by Peter Jones of Tiger Moth Tales on the album.
The standout tracks of the evening were the new two-parter River, which bodes very well for the next album, currently being written.
Al Winter is a fine vocalist, but something was not quite right here. It later emerged that illness had limited rehearsal time recently, which clearly affected his performance as he is usually an excellent live singer.
The new band clearly have talent and drive, but for this gig they unfortunately failed to communicate that energy and spirit to create a sufficient connection with the audience. The issues with click tracks and breaks between songs created a barrier between band and audience, to the point where it felt like watching a rehearsal at times. It is also clear that this is effectively a new band, still gelling and forming, playing without the essential keyboard element which underpins much of their music. Nevertheless, they played with skill and commitment in less than ideal circumstances.
The good news is that this is a band with an abundance of high-quality material, undoubted talent and great potential… sadly they simply did not do justice to themselves this time around. This will not be an easy read for the band but I know they can do so much better when things are right. This live music thing ain’t easy! (LT)
Headlining Day Two, Solstice is a massive draw for this festival. Tunes old and new abound and the band look so freaking happy! The crowd loves it. What an incredible mix of instrumental and vocal harmonies, thumping bass, drums as tight… well, as a drum, soaring fiddle and guitars solos, super-confident vocals. This band has it all and are full of extraordinary energy, every one of them.
Andy Glass takes the lead with guitar solos that rate amongst the very best, with Steven McDaniel on keys (how I adore that Kurzweil sound), Jenny Newman (one of the best fiddlers out there – do you know, there’s no easy way to say that…), Rob Phillips on that beautiful and understated bassline, and the awesome Pete Hemsley on drums. Jess Holland’s vocals are as sweet as cherry pie, and she is now in line for best female vocalist somewhere, supported by Olivia Armon’s harmony backing.
There were songs from across their full repertoire, and even looking into the future with the new Siren Song, which had many on their feet dancing. Yup, dancing to Prog! I will NEVER get bored of anything they do, fresh as the day Andy formed the band 41 years ago. It brings tears to my eyes every time… (RT)
Sunday 6th March 2022
Pearl Handled Revolver
Sunday kicked off with the ‘Electrifying’ (see what I did there, if you know their songs?) Pearl Handled Revolver!
A midday start did not matter a bit for these delightfully doom-laden blues/electro, sometimes psycho/trance infused rockers, most likely to be found amid the dregs of an espresso coffee cup with a smattering of cigarette ash sprinkled over them. At midnight!
Vocalist and harmonica player Lee Vernon stalked the stage like a master of ceremonies when he wasn’t singing, generously highlighting each of his fellow musicians, indicating how important each one is to the whole sound, although he and keyboard player Simon Rinaldo do appear to command most of the attention, as, combined, they are the obvious meat of this warm and filling dish. Lee behaved like a man possessed by the music, gesticulating and throwing himself about, and in masterful possession of one of the most intense narrational blues-with-a-touch-of-emphatic-rasp voices around. Simon’s playing was a wonder to hear and behold; pounding riffs and trickling improvisations abound, as this band has no bass guitar player, oh no, not necessary as the keys do it all – and seemingly effortlessly! Andy Paris on guitar and Chris Thatcher on drums provide the extra supporting flavours, not just the potatoes and gravy, to this deliciously spicy stew!
Terrific renditions of If the Devil Cast His Net and Belly of the Whale, plus many others, absolutely gave the wonderfully heated room the most appropriate chills! It was all rather delightfully primal, and there was even prog dancing, me amongst those who got up on their feet, although plenty were grooving about in their chairs, so inviting is the unique but evidently Can/Doors influenced sound. I’ve seen these guys play several times in different settings, and for me this was by far their best – and most audience engaged – gig. Many newcomers to this band were absolutely gobsmacked into submission, and rightfully so! (RT)
Bloody Hell, what an opening act for Day Three – Pearl Handled Revolver! This is skilled psychedelic blues that I have not heard the like of since I played a Doors album. Energy, excitement, incredible musicianship, harmonica (oh my God!) and visions of Spaghetti Western movie soundtracks.
Late night, smoky club atmosphere, and it’s only midday. I’ve always been a massive fan of keyboards and I could listen to this all day with Simon Rinado’s tinkling of the Mellotron and Hammond organ ivories; I find my attention shifting constantly between all four band members, being particularly transfixed by Lee Vernon’s exceptional character as front man, with his raw and raspy vocals, and all credit due to Andy Paris (guitars) and Chris Thatcher (drums and percussion). The first note of every song leaves me almost in awe, jaw well and truly dropped. On reflection, my favourite performance of the whole weekend… or am I just in shock? Headliners without any doubt. Every prog fan will love this, and even if you only have a passing interest in The Doors, this is a must for you. I have never seen a whole crowd standing ovation at 1pm on a Sunday, and I’m not likely to again. I’m still choking on my pint… INCREDIBLE! (RS)
The Far Meadow
Second on the Sunday bill, continuing the intensity in a completely different vein with the lyrical epic-ness of symphonic neo prog band The Far Meadow. The mood was blissful and uplifting, perfect for a Sunday afternoon.
Marguerita Alexandrou’s engaging clear-as-a-bell vocals enhanced the terrific virtuosity of the other four musicians; with Eliot Min’s keyboards bubbling and floating alongside valiant stand in (for Denis Warren) John Barry’s soaring guitar, Paul Bringloe’s quirkily flourishing drums, and Keith Buckman’s inventive 5-string basslines underpinning the infectious melodic sound, absolutely packed with riffs, improvised solos, and recurring themes. Sometimes jazzy, often Canterbury-ish, always captivating with every note, with a particularly interesting musical theatre feel to some of the vocal lines. I also noticed the attempted co-ordination of costumes with lovely floral shirts, nicely reflecting the Meadow I imagine, although Paul seemed to have eschewed his – or must have somehow missed the memo – in favour of the traditional slogan t-shirt.
Proggle the Monkey, splayed out on the front monitor, seemed to feel as I did, absorbing the glorious sound that transported us off to exhilarating pastures new, as exemplified by the multi-faceted opening number, appropriately entitled Travelogue, from the album Foreign Land. The sound mix was generally amazing throughout the festival but Eliot’s keyboards couldn’t be heard for the stunning cascading riff on this track, although we could see him playing it. But it didn’t matter a bit – the band could hear it on stage and those in the audience who heard the track for the first time and then bought the album would have an unexpected treat waiting for them! Subsequent tracks were taken from this and their previous album, 2017’s Given the Impossible; special mention for The Seamless Shirt from the latter, with its gorgeous referencing of the traditional English folk song Scarborough Fair. (RT)
Comedy of Errors
Absolutely sensational set from Joe Cairney and the rest of brilliant Scottish melodic progressive rock band Comedy of Errors. Jim Johnston was outstanding on keyboards, weaving magical and elegiac musical spells, especially on his personally very resonant and uplifting 2014 album finale, Spirit. Sam McCulloch and Mark Spalding were both stellar on twin electric guitars, complementing each other intuitively with touches of beauty and also bursts of power. John Fitzgerald was great on six-string bass guitar, propelling this progressive rock machine along with the power and precision of Bruce Levick on drums.
Comedy of Errors concentrated on their back catalogue with great renditions of the epic The Student Prince and Jekyll from 2011 debut album Disobey, alongside fluidly gorgeous pieces from 2013’s Fanfare and Fantasy’, including the flowing Fanfare for the Broken Hearted, The Answer and Going for a Song. Front man Joe Cairney was engaged, animated and charismatic, and his voice was bang on the money throughout, smooth and melodious or passionate and powerful as was needed – simply outstanding.
The place erupted immediately in a standing ovation and the merch stand virtually sold out (always a great sign!). A real triumph for a highly skilled and sensitive outfit, and there were definitely many new converts to this excellent band, who remarkably have roots back in the ’80s as a live outfit in the mould of early Marillion, but who only released their first album in 2011 – it’s never too late to start!
Comedy of Errors have two new albums out in 2022 – based on this form they will be very much anticipated. (LT)
Opening the final evening of a truly exceptional weekend of quality Prog and more was Landmarq. Originating circa 1990, they have been through a number of line-up changes and have now settled on a fabulous creation, with Wolf Campen taking centre stage.
Straight from the off the band gets into the groove, covering tracks from their full repertoire. All mutually supporting each other, Solitary Witness, from their Infinity Parade album, has a certain delicacy to it, a steady underlying rhythm and trademark keyboard solo from Mike Varty and soaring vocals and guitar from Uwe Drose. Steve Gee’s bass and Andy Allen’s drums, of course, keeping the rhythm tight and secure.
Turbulence, from their epic Entertaining Angels album, is a crowd favourite indeed, filled with emotional vocals and melodies to die for from the whole band, each getting their turn to shine. Embrace, from the Aftershock album – dedicated to our prog mascot chimp, Proggle – was classic symphonic prog, with Wolf serenading our favourite chimp; all quite romantic really (!!?), and sealed a beautiful song.
Calm Before the Storm, a prog epic, and a most appropriate title, built to a tremendous instrumental crescendo. Personal Universe, from Entertaining Angels, followed, originally sung by Tracy Hitchings, but Wolf really makes it his own. It only goes to show that a beautiful melodic song can be made so by either a female or male voice. You have to see some of Uwe’s finger-picking guitar solos to fully appreciate the tenderness of this song.
Mountains of Anglia, another epic from Entertaining Angels, has a super neo-prog intro and scope for audience interaction, the crowd enthusiastically joining in. It’s good enough to be a Prog single… are we allowed to have that? Better than Top of the Pops, but not quite Old Grey Whistle Test.
Back to 1992, After I Died Somewhere was a cinematic beauty, a duet by Wolf and Mike on piano. Some might criticise it as being too theatrical, but it’s better than that. There’s no doubt that Wolf could take on a musical theatre role and it was all a bit of fun before reverting to familiar symphonic prog with overtones of Camel.
Despite the odd stage hiccup, affectionately admitted by Andy as a senior moment, and a certain awkwardness from Wolf at times (which was really not a distraction and only goes to show the reality of band coordination), every song was pretty polished. A thoroughly enjoyable set for which they richly deserved their standing ovation. (RS)
Majestic, Magnificent, Magical… Magenta!
This wonderful festival was brought to a close in wonderful style with a truly outstanding and joyous performance from a band of pure Prog class. Those who had never seen Magenta were blown away by the sheer musicality and assured performance by a band who were clearly just so pleased to be out performing again. They blasted in on the electro sci-fi drama of Trojan and then went stratospheric with one of their best songs, the ever so Yes infused Gluttony from the 2004 classic album Seven. Chris Fry on guitar was stunning, showing such virtuosity and showmanship – just mesmerising. Rob Reed was outstanding in weaving musical patterns with style on keyboards. The ‘Noisy Bastards at the back’, as Christina Booth affectionately called bassist Dan Nelson and drummer Jiffy Griffiths, were a powerhouse with the ability to also be deft and subtle – simply one of the best rhythm sections out there. Pearl, from 2013’s The Twenty Seven Club and based on the tragic singer Janis Joplin, was a soulful showcase for the beautiful, impassioned vocals of the peerless Christina Booth. Not only was Christina on top vocal form but she was a front woman with wit and warmth to engage the crowd. Too Many Voices was a lovely new song, written for sadly deceased fan Andy Goodall, who left the band some money to record, so they went to Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios and recorded an EP in his memory – it was a touching tribute showing how well Magenta can touch the heart as well as thrill with their virtuosity.
Magenta chose songs from across their whole career, including a segue of the uplifting Towers of Hope and the spectacular Demons (featuring yet another master class from Chris Fry) from the fine 2006 Home album. The shimmering Anger (again from Seven) brought some calm and reflection with another crystalline vocal from Christina and Fry on acoustic guitar.
Bela, from their most recent album, 2020’s Masters of Illusion, was dramatic and dark before the band launched into the spectacular finale Light Speed / Warning right back from their 2001 debut album Revolutions… I may have mentioned this before but Chris Fry was off the scale on this sequence.
By the time of the joyful Lizard King, the front of the stage was filled with standing and – dare I say it – dancing Prog fans (!), valiantly trying to clap along to this great number. By the time we reached final number Pride, the whole place was on its feet, totally engaged with this joyous and skilled performance. Fry and Reed engaged in a fun and thrilling guitar/keyboard duel and the ‘Noisy Bastards at the Back’ made sure the whole show finished in a grandstand manner.
If there’s a better live Prog band out there at the moment I’ll eat my Hat !!!
Magical Majestic Magenta are back. (LT)
It was fitting that Magenta could provide such a wonderful final performance of the festival, brimming with musical skill but most importantly sheer joy at just playing live music.
Steve and Louise Gould, along with Martin Walters and the rest of their fine crew, did a fantastic job in setting up such an enjoyable and classy festival, full of great bands in a comfortable venue with good sight lines for all. Special mention must also go to Cannock Sound who provided the excellent sound and production for the event.
This was only the third full Fusion festival (and the first was just a one day event), but judging by the evidence of the many festival goers on the Sunday on the internet desperately trying to already re-book accommodation for 2023, it appears that Fusion may well be establishing itself as a significant and notable Progressive Music Festival. Fusion will justifiably attract more and more of an audience and will be an attractive gig for high-quality bands to get on the bill.
Thanks to Steve and Lou Gould from all at The Progressive Aspect – it was a cracking weekend… and boy, did we all need it! See you next year. (LT)
[Photos by Richard Swan (Landmarq, Pearl Handled Revolver, Solstice, Stuckfish), Rosamund Tomlins (The Blackheart Orchestra [main], The Far Meadow, John Hackett Band) and Leo Trimming (The Blackheart Orchestra [small], Comedy of Errors, Franck Carducci, Magenta, The Paradox Twin, Rain, This Winter Machine, Tiger Moth Tales)]