The Civic Hall, Stourport
Sunday, 5th March, 2023
A wonderful way to start off the Sunday repertoire of, once again, varied bands that makes Fusion always such a brilliant festival! A delightfully stimulating choice for a midday start, as the night owls among us amble in, these are thought provoking songs of depth and integrity with relatable lyrics. It’s vocal-led, electronica-vibed, pop with proggy nuances. Frankly, they wouldn’t be out of place in the commercial Top 40, and would certainly nudge a few acts out, given half the chance!
Pure voiced Farrah West, and partner Richard West (of Threshold), fingers flowing on duo keyboard racks, draw us in with a warm onstage rapport, and an intriguing narrational video backdrop. Farrah reveals a true aptitude to seemingly effortless vocal craftsmanship; her truly beautiful and compelling voice, at times powerful and sonorous, then soft and emotionally breathy.
League of Lights are somewhat truncated, in duo form today, but I wouldn’t have known anything might be missing, and their performance made me want to see the full band in action, very soon!
Drifting Sun are a band I have been quietly impressed by, having heard some of their work, and I was somewhat surprised to hear that this was their first live gig. Ever.
If there were nerves, they were not obvious, and the last day of Fusion 4 got into its stride with some cracking Prog. The band were tight, well-rehearsed, and grew into the performance quickly, dispelling any first show fears. The presence of the legendary John Jowitt on bass must be reassuring, and he owns the Civic stage, clearly enjoying himself. However, every member of this band pulls their weight, and there are some stellar performances. The focal point is Jargon (of Verbal Delirium) as front man, and his voice is commanding and assured. Layered keys from Pat Ganger Sanders fill out the sound like a mini orchestra, and the guitar work from Gareth Cole is excellent. Each song is a minor epic, but none of the selections chosen today outstays its welcome, and the set is all too short. There was such passion and power in this performance I was compelled to get their most recent album, so I’ll be more familiar with them next time they play.
Cracking debut show guys, come again!
The Northumbrian melodic prog rockers were last minute replacements, but certainly rose to the occasion with another quality set of melodic rock, soaked in prog influences. Gamechanger was a great opener, with driving, accessible riffs and a catchy chorus. Philip Stuckey’s vocals were as assured and soaring as ever, with Ade Fisher’s classic rock guitar intertwining with Phil Morey’s melodic bass, Adam Sayer’s dynamic drums and Gary Holland’s flowing chords and proggy noodling.
The popular and majestic The Bridge (That Spans the Edge of Time) was followed by the vintage rock of Better to Run, with Ade working up a head of steam on the fretboard, and then the proggy Rush-tinged Age of Renewal.
It was the debut live performance of the heavier tones of Carry On, with Phil suitably resplendent in gold shirt and belting out the epic vocals.
Run sparkled and galloped very nicely, but the more thoughtful Yearn with its smooth, jazzy, melancholic overtones was a well-judged contrast.
The Watcher ended the set in epic style and with the warm camaraderie of the band transferring to the appreciative audience, it was a very nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon at Fusion.
I first saw Cairo last year at the Cambridge Rock Festival, and they solidly entertained, so I felt more than ready to enjoy them again. Keyboard player and vocalist Rob Cottingham used to be in Touchstone, and there are some musical similarities at times. The band are completed by rhythm section Graham Brown on drums (also of Grace and Fire and The Paradox Twin, and a great drummer) and bass player Paul Stocker, guitarist James Hards and lead vocalist Sarah Bailey. All are great performers. I was struck by the dynamic rhythm section, sweeping keys, strident guitar figures, and smooth vocal delivery, the shifting rhythms, satisfying prog and hard rock sensibilities alike.
The band confidently delivered a number of tracks from forthcoming album Nemesis, including the engaging Asleep at the Wheel and Rogue, featuring guitar stylings like a prowling lion, yet the whole somehow retains a commercial edge, combining elements of hard rock and prog within a cohesive whole. I was struck by some of the lyrics, conveying the pain of loss and attempts to draw sense from such experiences.
Overall, I was entertained and impressed, especially by the new material, and eagerly await the new album.
Prog Rock Supergroup Cyan provided a rich feast of high-class musicianship in an outstanding performance. The ultimate in polished Prog is what you get in an intoxicating mix of 3/5 of Magenta, including the excellent Rob Reed, the dazzling guitar skills of Luke Machin of The Tangent and the sublime talent of Peter Jones of Camel and Tiger Moth Tales.
Cyan somehow combined full-on gloriously bombastic PROG with smooth ’80s rock/pop style, sometimes in the same song, such as the gorgeous Don’t Turn Away, which opened up with the thrilling sound of Prog Steeds riding into battle!
The excellent For King and Country made up the vast majority of the set, along with new song Broken Man, another epic opening with a distinctly Celtic atmosphere. Pete Jones excelled as always on vocals, but also played the penny whistle (in the great opening instrumental Snowbound) and saxophone, along with some excellent additional guitar work. Luke Machin was scintillating on guitar, backed with characteristic rhythmic power by the multi-talented Magenta rhythm section, Jiffy Griffiths on drums and Dan Nelson on bass. The set had variety with the ‘Radio 2 song’, Pete Jones’ description of the smooth I Defy the Sun. In contrast, their showpiece epic is the unashamedly PROG The Sorceror, one of Rob Reed’s greatest songs – absolutely spectacular!
For King and Country rounded off this special set magnificently and the crowd were on their feet in excitement and adulation.
One of THE sets of the afternoon… and a new album in the pipeline means more is yet to come. They really don’t get much better than this shining jewel of a set.
Fusion came to a rousing and joyously nostalgic ending as the original Marillion Drummer Mick Pointer brought his stellar band to perform the classic Marillion debut album Script for a Jester’s Tear on its 40th Anniversary – and for the final time EVER in the U.K.
As many of the crowd are ‘of a certain age’ (!!), this brought many of us right back to our teenage bedrooms when Marillion were ‘our band.’
Nick Barrett, from Pendragon, was brilliant on guitar, able to play the Rothery parts but also add his own distinct twist on some parts. Ian Salmon was solid as a rock on bass alongside the Marillion founder Mick Pointer, who was pounding out those memorable songs with great drive and verve. Landmarq and Credo (and probably some others!) keyboardist Mike Varty was fluent on sparkling keyboards, adding his own flourishes to those well-known songs.
Out front was the larger-than-life Brian Cummings, who was wearing a rather tight fitting costume (!!) of the ‘Script’ era and sporting the classic face paint (and hair extension?) of the famously piscine original singer. After a slightly wobbly start vocally, Cummings reassuringly slipped into an uncanny imitation of the Fish voice and showed his own engaging humour and charisma as a front man. It later emerged that the band had not met for five years and had not even had time to rehearse, so it was utterly remarkable just how well they replicated the Script album, along with legendary epic Grendel and other B-sides… and the large crowd bloody loved it, singing and clapping along enthusiastically.
It was just blooming great fun and a wonderful way to end a fabulous weekend.
The reviews in this update are based on the TPA Team’s ‘Live Updates’ posted on social media at the festival.
Final Words on Fusion 4 – The crowds were bigger than ever, and the quality of the bands playing continues to reach incredible heights of quality, particularly with prestige Prog acts like IQ.
The venue is perfect with a high stage for good visibility for all. The sound throughout the weekend was impeccable and the lighting and video screens were fantastic. The people running the event were charming, efficient and SO committed to this music – they are clearly first and foremost Fans, but also run the event very professionally – this is no soul-less corporate event. The camaraderie amongst the crowd at the event and afterwards until the early hours was so welcoming, with a sense of community for festival goers old and new.
FUSION goes from strength to strength – pretty much a ‘MUST BOOK’ each year now – see you next year. LEO