Reviewed by Paul Quinton
The latest incarnation of the excellent Fusion Festival returned to Stourport Civic for its fourth event, this time around expanding to a four-day event, including a launch party on the Thursday night at the 45 Live club in Kidderminster. This year’s event had been hit by a couple of bands pulling out of the Sunday line-up in the fortnight leading up to the show, but as usual, the organisers, Steve and Lou Gould and their excellent team, were able to rejig the bill to keep this excellent event running as smoothly as it always seems to do.
Unfortunately, personal circumstances meant that I wasn’t able to make the whole event, but the chance of seeing the marvellous Solstice on the Friday night was not to be missed. Stourport Civic is a fine hall, seating about 300, and this year the Fusion team had upgraded the production package, courtesy of Cannock Sound Hire, adding a HD screen to the back of the stage to their usual terrific PA and lighting package.
Friday’s package was opened up by DAVEY DODDS at the somewhat un-rock ‘n’ roll hour of quarter to six in the evening, playing a shortish set of his Celtic influenced folk, which has been summed up with the question of whether it’s ‘prog folk or is it folk prog?’ This gig he played solo, although he also gigs with a group of musicians known as Davey Dodds and Friends, but having undergone treatment for cancer in the last year, the solo gigs had ben a way of getting back to playing live. Musically he plays what is known as an electric octave mandolin, but calling on his Cornish background, he creates an atmosphere of impending storms and foreboding, accentuated by some very impressive imagery on the screen.
Next up were THE WOOD DEMONS from London, who were a bit of a mixed bag. This struck me as one of those cases where the whole was less than the sum of its parts. Musically they’re really good, the foundation laid by John Silver’s bass and Ed Kontagyris’ drums, and the tones and layers added by Naomi Belshaw’s violin are very listenable, especially during the instrumental ‘The Odd Particle’, where the guitar and violin worked together really well, but the vocals were rarely as strong as the music, in particular during the lengthy opening track, where the vocal melodies were often harsh and repetitive until they gave way to a typically absorbing middle section. They played a couple of new songs, including ‘Trickle Down’, which has the makings of an epic show stopper. There’s a lot to like about the Wood Demons, and it will be interesting to see where they go in the future.
There was definitely a buzz in the hall before THE EMERALD DAWN began their set, a band recently getting a lot of exposure, but who rarely venture this far from their Cornwall base. They start with one of their most popular songs, ‘When Darkness Falls’, and they were another band to benefit from the use of the imagery on the back screen, which, again, was really well done. Guitarist Alan Carter adds some saxophone to the sound, but I’m not sure if this was deliberate or down to the sound mix, but these parts often sounded a little discordant to me, although I enjoyed the gritty riffing in ‘Shadows In Light’. The early part of the set seemed to be dominated by the instrumental part of their music, but in the latter half keyboard player Tree Stewart’s vocals came much more to the fore, which gave the set a completely new dimension, and I’d have like to hear a lot more of her voice in the set, as well as her excellent playing. A word, too, for drummer Thomas Jackson, who was superb throughout, and, along with Jiffy Griffiths (Magenta, Kinky Wizards) and Elliot Bale of Empyre, is one of the best new drummers I’ve heard in the last few years. The Emerald Dawn brought the house down, and with new music on the way, there should be good things happening for them in the future.
Headliners SOLSTICE seem to have had a serious resurgence over the lockdown, with bandleader Andy Glass revamping and expanding the line-up, and releasing two highly praised albums in the past eighteen months, although as he pointed out during a lengthy sound check, ‘we can be a nightmare for the crew sometimes’. After all that, though, at times early in the set, Jess Holland’s vocals were a little low in the mix, although the band hit their straps straight away. Opener ‘Shout’ gave way to old favourite ‘Guardian’, which included a tremendous guitar solo from Andy Glass, but the momentum was halted when he broke not one, but two strings toward the end. While he was changing the strings, the rest of the band promptly improvised a jam, before the band played some stuff from Light Up, their latest album, including the outrageous Prog Funk of ‘Wongle no.9’, for which Andy claimed he’s invented a new word, ‘polyphomania’, for the highest state of Prog. By this time, the band had hit top gear and looked to be having a whale of a time themselves. ‘Cheyenne’ included a crowd singalong, orchestrated by Andy Glass from several rows deep in the stalls, the main set ended with the gentle ‘New Day’, with Jenny Newman shining on violin, and despite noises off about the curfew, they decided to finish with ‘Morning Light’ regardless. Solstice are always a delight to watch, are probably the perfect band for a festival like this, and sent the crowd out into the night with a huge smile on its collective face.