IO EARTH + Solstice @ The Robin, Bilston – 22nd April 2012


Review by Paul Quinton

When IO Earth played a date at The Robin last November, it had been intended that that gig would be the official launch of their new album, ‘Moments’. However, the best laid plans of bands and men, etc, so, although a decent amount of new material was played at the November show, this was the Robin’s first chance to hear a lot of the finished product.

Firstly, though, there was a trip back to the 70s with Solstice. Although they first came to attention when the New Wave of British Prog broke in the early 80s, they’ve been going since well before then, but surprisingly for me at least, this was the first time I’d ever seen them and definitely not to be confused with the Doom Metal band of the same name. Although the sound of the band is dominated by Andy Glass’ guitar, Jenny Newman’s violin gives the band a very enjoyable and welcome slice of individuality, which can only be a good thing as a lot of the time, Solstice don’t do a lot we haven’t heard before. ‘Flight’ in particular, although a highlight of the set, was very Camel-like. Despite my reservations, though, this was a very enjoyable set, and with Solstice due to return to The Robin in July, along with Credo and Grey Lady Down, I’ll look forward to seeing them again.

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of bands in The Robin, in many genres, but this was easily one of the loudest sets I’ve ever heard in there. There wasn’t as much distortion as when Blackfoot played there before Christmas, but the volume was certainly there. At times it was possibly too loud, as balancing the various players seemed to be a problem, sax player Luke Shingler was often inaudible, although when you could hear him, and felt the sax pressing down on your eardrums, you appreciated how loud it was.

The band opened their set with the title track off the new album, with vocalist Claire Malin making a delayed appearance in a cape and mask, suggesting that the band had put some work into their stage presentation this time around. As the show progressed , she also changed her costume a couple of times and also seemed  to have done some work on her personal stage presentation since her return from maternity leave, and I’d go so far as to suggest that this was the best gig I’ve heard her play with the band to date. It was also noticeable that keyboard player and sample-meister Adam Gough was playing guitar on several tracks, which shows the band are making a commendable effort to progress their sound.

With the set split almost evenly between material from both their albums, there were several highlights in the show. ‘Smokey Wood’ especially, with its twisting, insistent guitar riff was excellent, an excellent for Dave Cureton to show what a really, really good guitarist he is. The encore, ‘Light and Shade’ also gave him a chance to improvise, throwing sections of the old single ‘Popcorn’ into the song as well as some of Focus’ ‘Sylvia’.

All in all the band were on stage for the best part of two hours, a longish set which never seemed to drag. The only negative I can find, apart from the sheer volume, which occasionally masked some of the subtleties in the band’s music, was that the quieter, acoustic passages enabled the gig chatterers to make themselves heard. With the appearance at Rosfest and some recent gigs in Holland, the band seem to be having some success in making themselves known to a wider audience, and at the moment, I can’t think of many better bands from the Midlands working in the Prog field. They return to the Robin in November, with The Tangent in support, one of a series of really attractive gigs at the Robin later in the year.