Fusion 5: Music without boundaries. | A great journey.

Steve Gould’s notorious Fusion festivals have been on my radar since their inception some years back. Logistics have weighed against me from the outset, though meeting Steve last year for the first time in the flesh as it were, we bonded instantly. It was then I knew I had to plan well in advance to attend Steve’s next venture, Fusion 5. With tickets purchased and a caravan booked on a nearby caravan park the trip became something to really look forward to. Armed with full weekend passes including the Friday evening performances too, myself and the Viking of Prog Johnny Blakey of Progwinds fame set off from our homes in the icy wastes of the North East for Stourport. After a fairly long journey and settling into what would be our home for a few days we made our way up the hill towards the venue stopping off on the way for a pint and a chat with fellow Progzilla presenters Mike Whitfield and Brian Watson who we spied sitting in the conservatory of a pub near the river Seven. Next stop, Stourport civic centre to make ready for the evening’s entertainment. Noticeable from the outset was the amount of love and respect in the room. There was a healthy community spirit which I instantly felt comfortable being part of. Rarely is this kind of vibe experienced in today’s society. It was great too to meet fellow presenter Shaun Geraghty and his lovely lady Nina and the whirlwind that is Cheryl Griffiths.

My expectations weren’t high for the first evening as it wasn’t a full day like the pending weekend performances and with the exception of one of the bands I hadn’t heard of any of the others. First up were duo Candacraig consisting of Sharon Cannings on keyboards, whistles, vocals etc and Martin Nicholls playing guitars and singing. Playing music from their latest album Lit By Lightning the pair took the place by storm moving as they did from sweet flowing melody to rousing powerful and well crafted songs. The bands playing had all been asked to prepare images of animation for the back drop and Candacraig’s contribution fit seamlessly with their music and image. After a short break and a bottle of the rather splendid Worcester Way pale ale, the hurricane who is Charlie Bramald hit the stage fronting the killer prog band Ghost Of The Machine. Playing songs from the bands most excellent album Scissorgames. Charlie really does fit nicely into the classic Prog idiom donning a black hooded gown and involving himself in the theatrical nature of the genre to a smile inducing degree. The band themselves were tight and a joy to watch.

After refuelling with ale and food from hub that was the civic centre bar I perused the stage to view a myriad of instrument indicating a slightly larger head count than the previous performers. As the band filed onto the stage I was very unsure what to expect from this predominately youthful Italian ensemble but from the get go Madfellaz blew me away. There were so many elements to their sound ranging from reggae to Zappaesque melange of sax, keys, and erratic guitar playing. Madfellaz set the bar very high for the rest of the weekend and I for one fell in love with them. Three bands in and I had already spent what cash I had on me on CD’s but it wasn’t going to stop there as the quality of all the bands throughout the weekend was so high I joined in the many similar minded folks and spent a bloomin fortune. How the hell do you follow that? Well, by something out of this world! That came to earth in the form of Henge. Purporting to be from outer space, though outside of the bands various onstage persona’s Henge boarded their spaceship in Manchester and their arrival on planet Stourport announced by their leader Zpor, AKA Mathew Whitaker. The rest of the instrument weilding aliens also had their own intergalactic moniker’s, bass player Pete Turner being Goo, Synth player Ray Medhurst being Grok and drummer Sam Draper being Nom. This really was neo-pschedelia at it’s very best. Many of the crowd including Rain bass player John Jowett were in the mosh pit at the front of the stage freaking out. One hell of a performance and a fitting conclusion to the opening evening to a very special weekend.

As the band filed out to the merch desk a hardy crew made their way to The Swan, a Prog pub would you believe? This really was an environment honed for the die hard prog fan. As Fusion 5 attendees mingled with some of the artists who had played so incredibly all evening some of the 1970’s Prog icons were emanating from the jukebox, pictures of them adorned the walls and ceilings as well as guitars in glass frames. Amusingly, as Cinema show, one of my favourite Genesis tracks was being played all of the people sat at the same table as myself were anticipating the famous keyboard solo and just as it was about to begin the jukebox was turned off. It caused quite a vocal furore, though the funny side was soon celebrated with laughter. At 2am we ambled down the hill to our caravan and after a quick Tennessee brewed beverage fell exhausted into our beds. Happy boys! After our 4am bedtime it seemed no time at all before we headed off to the farm shop for a full English breakfast and walking up the road to round two of Fusion 5. Entering the foyer of the civic centre I was presented with an abundance of vinyl as are record stall had been set up selling some great music. I was in my element. A little weary I took to my seat and awaited the first band of the day. I was not to be disappointed as Ruby Dawn took to the stage. What a great day to start a Saturday morning? Channelling the late Janis Joplin the smokey blues tone of singer/keyboardist Carola Baer hit me right between the eyes. The synergy between Carola’s keyboard and Dave Salsbury’s atmospheric guitar was to me quite stunning. The band played a selection of songs from their album Beyond Tomorrow which I felt compelled to purchase the moment they left the stage. I’ll be keeping my eye on this band.

Opposite the merch desk were two lovely ladies selling food. Goat curry, the very thing for a hungry Prog fan! And a quick return to the hall to watch Dutch band Flamborough Head. The band had literally driven from the Netherlands to play, very impressive indeed. The images progected on the back drop were of the coastal view of Flamborough Head in the UK. I was slightly baffled by this as I was listening to a Dutch band named after a location in the UK singing songs that give out a pastoral England vibe. Beset by gremlins, guitarist Hans Spitzen battled with failing amplification before bringing the set to an abrupt halt. Swapping out the old amp for a replacement Hans continued with their set to great aplomb. Singer Margriet Boomsma added some flute to the mix playing tunes from the bands Jumping The Milestone. In stark contrast were the whirlwind who are EBB. A little more harder hitting and missing one of their key members due to a family emergency EBB went down a storm. Singer/guitarist Erin Bennett is a force to be reckoned with and I felt the need to purchase the bands beautifully clad cd Mad And Killing Time.

As well as listening to and watching some great bands it was great to meet in person some of my fellow presenters from Progzilla Radio. Not least one of my American colleagues Cheryl Griffiths who spent the whole weekend networking. Before I got chance to go to the bar between bands I was grabbed by Cheryl and marched towards a crowd near the merch desk. I was introduced to bass player Steve Gee who seemed interested in chatting to me. Before he left to play a fabulous set with Landmarq we had planned a future interview which I am really looking forwards too. I chatted at length with the band’s keyboard play Mike Varty too whom I found absolutely fascinating. When the guys hit the stage I was nailed to my chair. Even after dropping the laptop from his keyboard rig and having to reboot it whilst the rest of the band ad libbed was testament to how professional they were. Singer Wolf Campen kept the ball rolling until normal service had been restored. Nothing was going to get in the way of Fusion 5 being a success.

Kite Parade catered nicely for those in the audience who required a little more bite. A step back from Prog in a more classic rock style It was clear the band had a loyal following amongst the ranks of the crowd. As the evening went on it was the turn of Pearl Handled Revolver to play their unique form of Prog which to me sounded like early Pink Floyd meets The Doors. I was mesmerised by this band and would advise anyone to check them out. Headline act for the day was the amazing Frank Carducci & The Fantastic Squad. This really was a Prog cabaret act and after only one song had to vacate the stage due to the fire alarms sounding. The building was evacuated until the fire brigade arrived. I had just enough time to grab my beer and run. It was pretty cold out in the car park but to everyone’s surprise Frank Caducci & The Fantasic Squad appeared on the steps singing acapela’ whilst Frank himself played acoustic guitar. After being given the all clear the appreciative crowd reclaimed their seats whilst once again the band donned their stage attire retuning to the stage to finish one of the most entertaining sets of the day. The sensual and creative theatrics brought to us by Mary Reynaud added to the almost circus nature of the band such was the powerhouse tour de force of everyone on the stage especially drummer Lea Fernandez. The most colourful and exuberant of all the band throughout the weekend. It certainly gave the Fusionites that were shoe horned into The Swan plenty to talk about afterwards. It was good to see that some of the bands didn’t leave vicinity and shared some quality time with the people they had been entertaining, some of whom I think I may have even bonded with. 2am and turfing out time came along so Johnny and I ambled down the hill to our caravan, or should I say trailer to be a little more rock and roll? We also befriended a local homeless man who wondered the streets of Stourport balancing the branch of a tree on his head. He certainly brought about a new dimension to the gig and I couldn’t help feel really sad for him.Sunday morning, Lynchburg Tennessee’s finest export was certainly making its potency felt as we made our way to the farm shop for another full English. With my record bag over my shoulder and the need for an Americano at the coffee stall outside the venue we set off up the hill. Gaining access to the venue Monkey Trial had already taken to the stage easing us in to the days event with some gentle electronic soundscapes. Monkey Trial comprise of Clive Mollart playing Theremin, synthesiser and electronics accompanied by Shaun Bailey on guitar. The guys certainly appeased the Tangerine Dream fans in the audience giving out a great ambiance as they did. In stark contrast was The Room who delighted all with some great melodic rock. Indeed the afternoon was a fairly diverse affair as The Mighty Ra took to the stage. Dogged by sound gremlins for most of their set they delivered hi octane Prog metal to a high standard. Amidst the guitar lead songs it was great to hear Rob Wilsher’s keyboards cutting through the mix and sounding pretty good to my ears. However, they were very loud!

Also having difficulty getting their sound right was The Hayley Griffiths band. Taking time to ensure that everything was sounding tickety boo before the scantily clad Ms Griffiths graced the stage, drummer Jimmy Pallagrosi took plenty of time getting his kit and the onstage levels just right. It paid off as it brought about a significant improvement from the previous band. Hayley played a great set, though the operatic nature of the music wasn’t to my taste I fully appreciated how good they were. At this stage I had totally forgotten that I was a Progzilla Radio presenter as I was having such a ball. I was reminded by one of my American colleagues Alan Krasslow who’s voice was failing a little as he had been conduction interviews all weekend for the live stream. Alan AKA The Krazz asked me if I would like to help out with one of the interviews which I of course agreed to. To get the idea of what was expected of me I accompanied Alan whilst he interviewed one of the most intriguing bands of the day so far. From Finland The powerful and youthful Overhead blew everyone’s mind with both fantastic music and images. Indeed the animation linked to their songs were so good I could have watched them in isolation. Credit to singer flautist Alex Keskitalo who is responsible for the bands artwork and song writing. The band as a whole were off the scale and it was a pleasure to sit in whilst Alex and bass player Janne Katalkin were interviewed.

Time for the penultimate band of the day, the rather marvelous Rosie Cunningham. This was an absolute treat. The almost Vaudeville imagery was a joy to watch and Rosie’s sweet voice could soar at times taking the listener back to the late sixties and early seventies. And what a band? Guitarist Rosco Wilson sung one of his own songs and played a mean axe too whilst elsewhere Arron Bozzi Thompson infused the musical style with great Hammond and electric piano. The rhythm section too were solid. Bo Walsh on drums and Claudia Gonzalez Diaz on bass and flute kept the rest of the band tight. It was a pleasure to help out with the interview which I hope people enjoyed on the live stream.

Last band of a fantastic weekend was legendary Welsh Proggers Magenta. And what a great headline act they were too! I have seen Magenta on a few occasions now, though I don’t believe I have ever seen them as lively as I witnessed at Fusion 5. They really were on fire. The interplay between guitarist Chris Fry and head honcho Rob Reed who was without doubt the most animated I have seen him attack his keyboards or Chris with his guitar. Singer Christina Booth simply took every song in her stride. Beginning the set with Gluttony from their ubiquitous album Seven which just happens to be my favourite songs from the band, they played a broad cross section from their back catalogue including The 27 Club and Masters Of Illusion. Chris Fry’s guitar gymnastics spilled into the audience when he decided to descend from the stage and play in the central aisle before sitting next to a lady on the front row. This performance rekindled my love for Magenta which although has never fully waned I allowed to place lower down in my playlists. Having enjoyed the element of youth in many of the bands over the weekend I was staggered how seasoned and enjoyable Magenta Have become. Watching this time honoured band I noticed how despite the vim and vigour on show here, it was evident how comfortable in their own skins they were, which made for a very special performance culminating in a very special event.

So, what was the highlight for me? Well, too many to mention. However, one masterstroke by Steve Gould is that he involved ex Genesis roadie Richard MacPhail who was giving talks in between bands setting up etc. I found him utterly enthralling. I spoke to him at length whilst he was manning his stall. Great dude.

Johnny and i left on the Monday morning. We skipped breakfast and headed North with memories of the most fantastic festivals of  the year in our hearts and mind. Steve and Lou Gould, thank you. I  doth my cap.  You have created a community of greatness.

Pictures by Shaun Geragthy.

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