The Civic Hall, Stourport
Saturday, 4th March, 2023
Spriggan Mist have changed a little since I first heard their debut album, many years ago. They seem to have become more ‘Rock’ – the sound is tight with a tell-tale metal prog bass signature. Quite theatrical in presentation with a pagan steampunk styled lead singer, who delivers beautifully, however my highlight (and what gives this band an individual presence) is their sax and recorder player.
It is a lively and welcome start to Saturday, clearing away The Swan Inn cobwebs. I enjoyed the sound, comparing favourably with Introitus. Folkloric with metal memes. It is engaging and their hour long set is over far too soon.
An exciting first visit to Fusion by this band, and they made an immediate impact from the first note. Grungy bass throughout from Mark Piercy, great to wake people up from the excesses of the night before – I do like a bit of bass forward in the mix.
They centred their set on their recent EP, The First Wave, with Jopheus Burtonshaw’s progressive prominent keystrokes and Ben Ellis on guitar. For a man of his age, Jopheus really is very good indeed. There are lots of influences apparent in their music, from Tangerine Dream to Jean Michel Jarre, and more than a smattering of Marillion. These are all pinned together with some delightful guitar riffs and delicate yet confident atmospheric vocals from Curtis Adamczyk, which are a fabulous throwback to the ’80s style of Neo-Prog.
There are some very cinematic moments, with soaring guitar and piano backing reminiscent of early Steven Wilson work, and even a harpsichord patch. Acquiescence II and Direlight are truly excellent – more like that please. This was a confident performance and emulated very closely their EP release. It is regrettable that there was not greater engagement by the audience because it is very alluring work, albeit a little laboured at times. It will be interesting to see how this band develops with an expanding repertoire.
Good job, Fluctus Quadratum… Keep going, because I’m looking forward to the next album.
Well, EBB spectacularly woke up the Fusion audience with an intoxicating display of high-class rock, tinged with Prog and dripping with sensuality. Erin Bennett led with attitude and confidence, singing powerfully and shredding out her distinctive gritty guitar sound. Alongside her, the memorably named Kitty Biscuits shared much of the vocals with passion, as well as spoken word poetry and an array of skilful percussion… and very expressive dancing.
The brilliant and rocking Tension announced this new band assertively and marked them out as distinctly different. The Animal said “I” carried on the momentum, drawing the crowd into EBB’s hard-edged but fluent style. A great new song inspired by the Ukraine War called Cost and Consequences featured a fantastic keyboard from Nikki Francis, who was excellent throughout. Kitty Biscuits was particularly impassioned in this impactful song and imaginatively her crying voice morphs into a keening guitar sound from the talented Bennett.
EBB feature great harmony vocals with Suna Dasi on synths complementing the vocals of Erin and Kitty. The ‘token male’ Bad Dog prowled around with a rock-solid bass and Anna Fraser, whom Bennett announced had the fortune of ‘seeing her ass all gig’ (!?), was outstanding on drums, driving EBB along with great rhythmic power.
EBB finished with great aplomb with a positive song of redemption from their excellent debut album Mad & Killing Time in the flowing Mary Jane… and the Fusion crowd instantly gave them a standing ovation. EBB will surely keep flowing onwards and upwards.
Saturday late afternoon saw I Am The Manic Whale bring their unique brand of melodic prog rock to Fusion 4. Led by Michael Whiteman (fresh from his exploits working with Ryo Okumoto), the band delivered a well-balanced set with bags of enthusiasm, melody, harmony and complexity.
Three songs from the band’s most recent album kicked proceedings off. Billionaire started gently with Michael’s plaintive vocals, but then gained momentum with David Addis’s lyrical guitar lines, John Murphy’s vibrant keyboard chords, with drummer Ben Hartley keeping the rhythm tight, along with Michael’s expressive bass. Into the Blue playfully mingles power and delicacy, while their wonderfully quirky homage to the joy of Lego, Build it Up Again, is both accessible and yet full of proggy complexity (so reminiscent of early Spock’s Beard).
The gentle and yet jaunty Zephyr, from the Christmas Selection Box, is a lovely contrast with some nice guitar work from David, before the band showcase an enjoyable, perky new track, entitled Erno’s Magic Cube.
The popular Valenta Scream is as driving, joyous and busy as the Intercity 125 train to which it is dedicated, before it is sadly time for the final song – their prog epic, Strandbeest – which displays all their intricate twists and turns with light and shade through to its majestic conclusion – including a gorgeous closing guitar solo.
A confident, highly enjoyable and well-received performance from some of the nicest gents in prog rock, and hopefully it is one that has increased their growing fan base further still. ‘What larks, Pip!’
Well, that was the discovery of the festival so far! Orpheus 9, representing the USA, just treated us to a Prog masterclass. Despite being obliged to use some borrowed equipment, such as John Jowitt’s 5-string bass, the band put on a fine display of dramatic progressive rock. They occupy the heavier end of the spectrum, but play with a great sense of light and shade. Front man Jason Kresge has a passionate but nuanced vocal style and plays some intense keyboards at the same time.
Their songs are complex but accessible, well-paced and flow naturally. The title track to their first album, Transcendental Circus, was a case in point, full of complexity but easy on the ear and riveting to watch. They caught the crowd out a couple of times with ‘fake endings’, which goes to show that most of the audience were unfamiliar with them, but were won over with their confident display and panache.
I’d like to think we will see much more from this band, they were that impressive.
A name with which I was previously unfamiliar, although my preliminary online perusal suggested that Viriditas presented a musical proposition somewhere between Magenta and maybe Neal Morse, which engaged me enough in advance. In a live setting, my initial impression may not have been that far off perhaps. The band name, according to Wikipedia, relates to vitality, fecundity, lushness, verdure or growth. I think the nomenclature is well founded, as I can tell the band do strive to drive forward their sound with a sense of drama and narrative.
Their latest album, Green Mars, is the second part of a planned trilogy, based on books by Kim Stanley Robinson, with which I am again unfamiliar. There certainly is an underlying sense of drama and intrigue within the material which does tend to draw the listener in. Overall, whilst the musical material itself did not immediately impress me personally, this may have been based on a lack of familiarity, and the band certainly impressed with their musical ability. The front-line vocal delivery of Mike Waters and the late stand in for their usual female vocalist (sorry, we did not get your name), really drove the story line forward confidently, whilst the bass and drums hold down a solid backbone, augmented perfectly by the guitar and keyboards. There were some interesting instrumental interludes, featuring reeds and acoustic bouzouki, which added to the overall dynamism.
Generally, I enjoyed Viriditas and look forward to absorbing further the Green Mars album I bought from their merch stand.
Saturday’s headliners, the maestros of neo prog! What a scoop to get IQ in their continuing celebratory 40th anniversary – well done Steve & Lou, our esteemed festival curators!
Kicking off with the rousing, perennial gig favourite The Darkest Hour from Ever, they forged ahead with some of their and our favourite epic pieces from the back catalogue of albums including Frequency, Subterranea, Road of Bones, The Wake, and the most recent Resistance.
Charismatic frontman Peter Nichols intrigues us with his direct gaze and snippets of characterisation in his demeanour, with additional touches of costume enhancing his performance. His unique voice, by turns soft and inviting, then impassioned and yearning, is complemented by Mike Holmes’ ever dynamic guitar, with a particularly superb solo on the gorgeous Shallow Bay. Neil Durant on keyboards provides thrills, drama, and atmosphere in abundance, and Cookie’s appropriately subtle or powerful drums, along with Tim Esau’s reassuring bass, effortlessly command the roles of backbone and structure.
The video wall, as always, provides wondrous depictions reflecting the songs’ subjects.
A great choice of numbers for this set displays their versatility and consistent strengths over the years, with High Water segueing into Narrow Margin, and Road of Bones particularly moving, as was the closing number Headlong which ended an all round most fabulous day!
The reviews in this update are based on the TPA Team’s ‘Live Updates’ posted on social media at the festival.