Prophecy - Deadly Earnest
The return of a legend when it comes to psychedelic music, and with guitarist, backing vocalist and main man Andy Glass still at the helm, the only original member, it is, somewhat surprisingly, a stunning album. The new sextet includes females as vocalist Emma Brown and fiddle player Jenny Newman illustrate, plus a male quartet on the guitars, keys and drums. The album itself consists of 5 tracks, so you're getting the necessary short and long prog-rock classic approach to things on what is also a type of concept album, to boot (plus there are 3 bonus tracks that we'll come to later). The sound is very similar to their ye olde album “Silent Dance” only sounding remarkably fresh, original and surprisingly addictive for what is a hippy-esque example of prog-rock. The first track, “Eyes Of Fire”, eases you in gently with a low-key melodic mood that's as emotive as it is wistful, all manner of cosmic bliss flowing and floating its way through layers of heavenly female vocals, drifting guitar refrains and gently strummed acoustic, all creating a seriously full-sounding pastoral mood which warms the cockles of your heart, with even a Pink Floyd-esque electric guitar break around the 6 minute mark, taking you towards the end on ebbing waves of guitars and keys, now joined by Mason-esque drumming and the whole thing is pure “WYWH-era” Floyd. The 8 minute “Keepers of The Truth” is seriously decent seventies prog, like a cross between Renaissance, Wolf, Genesis and Greenslade, with organ, violin, keys, guitars and rhythm section backing, interweaving with and soloing over the rich sounding female vocals, again a strong burst of electric guitar providing the bite when the solo sizzles and burns, but there are so many textures, as the rhythms maintain a mid-paced strength and the whole thing is a mix of smouldering flame and energising bite. The synths come to the fore as the whole thing builds to a cresecendo, then winds down to end as it began, only with that female vocal joined by....well..... practically everything else. “Warriors” is a 17 and a half minute prog-rock epic by any other name, and if you can imagine a cross between Yes, Renaissance and Brand X with more atmosphere, less pomp, definitely better crafted and plenty of dynamics from searing guitar breaks to vocal-led passages of great reflection, then this numbers alongside the great prog-rock epics of that era and beyond. The next two tracks, at around 11 minutes each, follow a similar path, working a treat and essential listening for anyone into seventies prog, and even modern-era prog, come to that. Through playing , production, composing, singing and arrangements, they don't put a foot wrong from start to finish. So, not only do you get what is arguably one of the finest albums to come out of prog-rock Britain in the last 20 years, but you also get three bonus tracks from the original “Silent dance” album, remixed by Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson, the icing on what is already a seriously tasty cake.
Andy Garibaldi (Dead Earnest 12-13)
Geoff Feakes' Prophecy Review - DPRP
2010 marked a resurgence of activity for Solstice with the release of Spirit, their first studio album in 13 years. Since then they've released 2011's live CD/DVD set Kindred Spirits and now a brand studio album, Prophecy. Common to all three releases is the now fully established line-up of Andy Glass (guitars, vocals), Pete Hemsley (drums), Jenny Newman (fiddle), Steven McDaniel (keyboards, vocals), Robin Phillips (bass) and Emma Brown (vocals).
The band began life in 1980 as a neo-prog collective and perhaps the most conspicuous change in recent times is the prominence of Glass' guitar playing establishing him unmistakably as the bands front-man. And whilst his phrasing still contains elements of the Latimer, Hackett and Howe style of old (particularly when he's playing the melody line) there is now a harder, bluesy edge to his soloing. He is also responsible for writing all the songs that collectively lend a new-age spirituality to the album. The concept is reinforced by the linking of each track and the thematic nature of the evocative cover and booklet artwork (by veteran Marvel Comics artist Barry Kitson). Kitson also supplied the artwork for Kindred Spirits but here the images are richer and as a result more sympathetic to Solstice's lyrical and musical style.
With each track ranging from the 8 to the 17 plus minute mark they are given plenty of time to breathe. Eyes Of Fireopens the album in subdued but atmospheric fashion, taking a generous amount of time to establish its ambient setting. The harmonies here are quite gorgeous complemented by an extended and very David Gilmour-ish guitar solo. With its lilting acoustic guitar and violin theme, Keepers Of The Truth relieves the solemn mood with Emma's uplifting vocal melody recalling the prog-folk Solstice of old. Guitar and synth solos from Glass and McDaniel respectively play fast and loose with the main theme before joyous counterpoint choral harmonies brings the song to a satisfying conclusion.
The album's near 18 minute centrepiece, Warriors is brimming with musical references. The stark piano opening echoes Yes' Awaken followed by a bouncing guitar line reminiscent of Pink Floyd's Run Like Hell. A rapid, reoccurring guitar riff brings Steve Howe's frenzied playing near the start of Heart Of The Sunrise to mind whilst Glass' main guitar theme (taking up a good deal of the songs centre portion) is very Camel-esque including a seven note phrase similar to the one in Yes' The Revealing Science of God. Finally a haunting acoustic melody is resplendent with rich vocal harmonies that are especially evocative of Jon Anderson's solo efforts (not to mention Yes in their sweeter moments).
West Wind is a song of two contrasting halves with a reflective acoustic guitar and haunting vocal intro that breaks out at the 3½ minute mark into an Ayreon flavoured metallic guitar riff in an almost middle-eastern setting. Jenny's strong violin playing and McDaniel's brassy keyboard orchestrations add to the sense of the dramatic, subsiding into meditative electric piano which returns to the opening theme. Beginning with stark electric guitar and violin, the concluding Black Water builds progressively (in the manner of Steve Hackett's Shadow Of The Hierophant) driven by Hemsley's powerhouse rhythm before returning to the strident middle-eastern flavour of the preceding track. Emma's voice doesn't enter the song until around the halfway mark and even then is sparingly used almost like another instrument, knitting effortlessly with McDaniel's memorable piano motif and Phillips' fine bass work.
With the main album clocking up almost 60 minutes, the bonus tracks may perhaps seem a tad superficial but they do at least give added value for money. All three songs are taken from the original master tapes of what would become Solstice's 1984 debut album Silent Dance, remixed here by self-confessed Solstice fan Steven Wilson. The warm melodies and introspective charm of all three is in marked contrast to the edgier mood of Prophecy even though lyrically they share a similar vision. Find Yourself has a smooth jazz ambiance and Sandy Leigh's breezy vocal whilst the infectious instrumental Return Of Spring (for me the strongest of the trio) is dominated by expressive violin playing from Marc Elton. For the acoustic tranquillity of Earthsong, Sandy's evocative singing sounds very Jon Anderson-like complemented by Mark Hawkins' moody bass which (thanks to the remix) is nicely upfront.
The bonus tracks demonstrate just how far Solstice have come since their '80s beginnings. Given the near 30 years that separate the recordings and the fact that, with the exception of Glass, the personnel has changed the album still retains a sense of symmetry which is a testimony to Wilson's sympathetic production. Bonus tracks aside, Prophecy is perhaps the strongest Solstice effort since 1997's Circles and as such bodes well for the bands future.
GEOFF FEAKES : 8 out of 10
Solstice - 'Kindred Spirits'
Added by Central Electronic Brain January 28, 2012
"A glorious package"
Solstice are as unfashionable as Plus Four trousers and cravats and yet, 31 years after their original formation these demi-gods of Britprog (see what I did there?) are still going strong, to which their recent studio album 'Spirit' (reviewed in Fireworks 44) duly attests. That review concluded as follows: "I would ask them to try and replicate more of the spirit of their live performance in the studio next time around".
Well, perhaps my plea has been answered by the good people at Festival Music because the backbone of this DVD plus CD release is a recording of the launch gig for 'Spirit' at The Pitz Club in Milton Keynes in March 2010, and as such is therefore its live companion. What is demonstrated so very clearly here is that the band is no hostage to progressive music, because they draw influences from a wide range of genres and meld them into something that they enjoy playing and draw the audience in with their infectious spirit. Of the seven tracks on 'Spirit' all but the title song is performed, and as expected these are just a little bit special in the live environment, and on the middle-eastern flavoured 'Here & Now' the band lightens the emotional load when drummer Pete Hemsley solos alongside samples from 'Tubular Bells', 'Star Trek' and 'The Simpsons'. There, I told you that this band has fun...
The gig starts with 'Morning Light' from the 1993 album 'New Life' and represents an auspicious start, as this is a heavyweight song from the band's recorded catalogue. A trio of tracks not from 'Spirit' come in the middle of the show, starting with the cerebral 'Cheyenne' with superb vocalisation from Emma Brown which is in complete contrast to 'Ducks' which fuses ska and country rhythms (I kid you not) and '5456' which continues the ska theme with this Toots & The Maytals number which includes enthusiastic audience participation. It's absolutely wonderful, but perhaps I've now lost all of the musical purists who read this magazine! The gig closes with a fantastic encore of 'Sacred Run' (from the 1997 album 'Circles').
The DVD also includes a bonus of two songs taken from the band's performance at the 'Night Of The Prog' festival in Germany later in 2010, but Brown's vocals have sadly been largely lost in the mix. The accompanying CD has six tracks also recorded at the Pitz Club in 2007 and 2008 that were not part of the album launch gig. Amongst these are some particularly fine performances by guitarist and band leader Andy Glass. Indeed the whole package reveals him to be a charming, totally committed and hugely talented performer whose standing in the world of progressive music deserves to be much more prominent in my view.
For me, this is a glorious package. For you: well, if you enjoy "Britprog" and can take quirky malarkey with the more serious moments, then do give it a try!
Paul Jerome Smith
Solstice – Silent Dance (The Definitive Edition)
Country of Origin:UKFormat:2CDRecord Label:F2 RecordsCatalogue #:200709AYear of Release:1984/2007Time:CD:1 42:59
CD 2: 70:04Info:SolisticeSamples:Click hereTracklist:
CD 1: Peace (6:31), Earthsong (6:38), Sunrise (4:07), Return Of Spring (4:54), Brave New World (8:47), Cheyenne (5:59), Find Yourself (6:01)
CD 2: Demo 1982: Morning Light (1:12), Return Of Spring (6:50), Whyte Lady (5:49), Morning Light (1:31), Pathways demo: New Life (4:21), Whyte Lady (5:49), Pathways (6:23), Morning Light (2:44), Demo: Sunrise (3:42), Peace Tape Demo: Peace For The New Age (6:38), New Life (4:37), BBC Friday Rock Show 1983 Session: Find Yourself (4:30), Peace For The New Age (6:34), The Sea (7:31), Cannablise Legalis (4:47)
Solstice – New Life (The Definitive Edition)
Country of Origin:UKFormat:2CDRecord Label:F2 RecordsCatalogue #:200709BYear of Release:1993/2007Time:CD:1 41:33
CD 2: 76:07Info:SolisticeSamples:Click hereTracklist:
CD 1: Morning Light (3:47), Guardian (10:42), The Sea (6:53), New Life (4:54), Pathways (5:05), Journey (10:04)
CD 2: New Life (demo) (3:42), Spirit (demo) (3:09), Live Bootleg 1984: Morning Light (3:03), Return Of Spring (7:50), Pathways (7:56), Live Bootleg 1985: Sunrise (4:28), Peace (7:00), Earthsong (6:12), Cheyenne (6:09), Brave New World (9:36), Chicken Train (4:22), Time For A Toke (2:38), Guardian Of My Soul (11:14)
Solstice – Circles (The Definitive Edition)
Country of Origin:UKFormat:CDRecord Label:F2 RecordsCatalogue #:200709CYear of Release:1997/2007Time:62:40Info:SolisticeSamples:Click hereTracklist: Salú (5:24), Circles (8:32), Soul To Soul (7:20), Thank You (5:51), Medicine (5:50), Sacred Run (6:19), Coming Home (3:07) Bonus tracks: Medicine [previously unreleased early version] (5:50), Salú [demo] (4:53), Coming Home [demo] (2:59), Freedom [demo] (6:34)
Solstice – The Cropredy Set (The Definitive Edition)
Country of Origin:UKFormat:2CDRecord Label:F2 RecordsCatalogue #:200709DYear of Release:2002/2007Time:CD: 45:12
DVD: 55:31Info:SolisticeSamples:Click hereTracklist:
CD: Morning Light (3:24), New Life (4:50), Find Yourself (4:42), Circles (7:38), Ducks On The Pond (4:07), Awakening (3:48), Medicine (5:33), Thank You (4:45), Sacred Run (6:19)
DVD: Morning Light (3:24), New Life (4:50), Find Yourself (4:42), Circles (7:38), Ducks On The Pond (4:07), Awakening (3:48), Medicine (5:33), Thank You (4:45), Sacred Run (6:19) Bonus material: Interview with Andy Glass
If one band could lay claim to the label ‘prog’s best kept secret’ than Solstice would surely make the shortlist. And I’m speaking here from personal experience. When I put the first of these discs in my CD player my initial reaction was ‘where has this band been all my life’? I say life when in reality I mean the past 27 years. After forming in 1980 they have released just four albums that have been lovingly remastered and repackaged as part of this collection from F2. Familiar with the band in name only I was under the misapprehension that they were a folk-rock act. True, the violin and female vocals do add a folky vibe but in essence Solstice are a prog band with the accent on melody in the grand tradition of Yes, Genesis, Camel, BJH, Renaissance, Mostly Autumn and Magenta. In addition to violin the mix includes keyboards, bass and drums with the focal point being the soaring and lyrical guitar style of Andy Glass. Any fan of Howe, Hackett, Gilmour, Latimer and Iona’s Bainbridge will love his playing. He is also responsible for writing the bulk of the excellent songs and the one common factor in the band’s ever evolving line-up. With the necessity to consistently recruit new singers, part of those changes has involved six successive vocalists.
Like so many bands before them, their formative years included numerous club and university gigs up and down the UK resulting in several appearances at the legendary Marquee Club, London in 1983. By this point vocalist Sandy Leigh had joined the band, which in addition to Glass included Marc Elton (violin and keyboards), Mark Hawkins (bass) and Martin Wright (drums). It’s this line-up that went onto to record the debut album Silent Dance released the following year. Prior to Sandy, Sue Robinson and Shelly Patt respectively had sung with the band and despite their brief tenure they both appear on the Silent Dance bonus disc. Appearing as it did in the formative years of neo-prog their debut could be categorized as part of that movement whilst tipping its hat to the classic works of the 70’s. This is clearly evident from the opening bars of the pulsating but melodic Peace. A striking melody underpinned by fine guitar, violin and synth interplay is capped by Sandy’s evocative voice which is as close to Jon Anderson’s as you can possibly get.
The closing song Find Yourself is something of a departure for the band with a smooth jazz flavour notable for Hawkins’ warm fretless style bass and funky keyboard musings reminiscent of Stevie Wonder. Sandwiched between this and Peace are five beautifully crafted songs that range from the acoustic tranquillity of Earthsong to the Mike Oldfield flavoured Cheyenne with its seductive choral chants and pounding multi layered percussion. This song also brought to mind the excellent Red Box (remember them the early 80’s?). Sunrise and Return Of Spring provide Elton the opportunity to indulge in expressive violin soloing (which remained an important ingredient of the Solstice sound) and he closes Brave New World with some upfront Tony Banks style synth noodlings. Glass adds majestic electric guitar to the same song sounding like Steve Howe at his sweetest. In comparison his sunny acoustic work throughout the album has a real Ant Phillips vibe.
The Silent Dance bonus disc is a real bonus indeed cramming in a wealth of demo and live material recorded by the band prior to the debut album. For the four opening tracks they had yet to find a lead singer so Glass and Elton provide the vocals. Return Of Spring stands out for me sounding quite different to the final version with the addition of rich synth lines that add weight to the melody. The bass also sounds a tad punchier on these earlier demos. The ethereal Whyte Lady is an interesting song in that although there are two versions here, this is its first appearance on CD. The melody is also uncannily close to The Police’s Don’t Stand So Close To Me. Tracks 5 to 8 feature Sue Robinson who has a pleasant voice in an Annie Haslam kind of way, whilst Shelly Patt makes her sole appearance on an early version of Sunrise that fades all too quickly.
Peace For The New Age marks Sandy’s recording debut with Solstice and is also noteworthy for the urgent proggy performance by the now complete line-up. The final four tracks are however the disc highlights taken from a 1983 session for BBC Radio 1’s Friday Rock Show. Benefiting from a polished sound the band gives a tight performance both instrumentally and vocally, a result of their extensive gigging up to that point. Peace and The Sea demonstrate Glass’ guitar mastery to the maximum and the latter could have sat quite comfortably on a Steve Hackett album. The concluding Cannablise Legalis (original title Pot Noodle) provides a glimpse of the bands humorous side and best described as a country and western thrash! The only thing missing is a washboard.
Nine significant years separated the release of the band’s second album New Life and its predecessor. The intervening years proved to be turbulent times for Solstice. Vocalist Sandy Leigh made a quick exit followed by bassist Mark Hawkins who was given his marching orders following one Christmas gig. They were replaced by Barbara Deason and Ken Bowley respectively who can both be heard on the bonus disc here. Things didn’t run to plan however and within a year of their debut release the band decided to call it a day. Apart from a charity event in 1986 they didn’t resurface again until 1992. As New Life testifies the return heralded a more confident and polished sound with Glass asserting himself in both the guitar and production department. For his part Elton’s exceptional violin work throughout provides a perfect foil for Glass especially when they turn up the heat. The album also included two of their longest compositions to date. With only Glass and Elton remaining from the previous release they enrolled Heidi Kemp (vocals), Craig Sutherland (bass) and Pete Hemsley (drums). Morning Light proved to be a suitably strident opener with a strong performance from Heidi and soaring David Gilmour style guitar dynamics from Glass.
Guardian contrasts a reflective song section led by a luscious vocal with fiery guitar and violin exchanges. Glass and Elton are clearly having a blast here. Glass then embarks on a monumental spree of soling that again suggests he has been listening to the Floyd guitarist during the band’s hiatus. The Sea for me has to be Solstice’s pièce de résistance. It’s an evocative instrumental with stunning guitar and violin against a shimmering backdrop that conjures up Yes’Onward. And whilst were on the subject, New Life and Pathways are two lively songs with catchy melodies, skilful harmonies and flawless instrumental work that consistently evoke Anderson and co circa The Yes Album/Fragile/CTTE. The concluding Journey has an epic scale combining Genesis style 12-string tranquility with moments of heavyweight bombast. The Sutherland/Hemsley rhythm partnership comes into its own here as does a multi tracked Heidi Kemp. The coda is a peach, building from a sweet melody that has more than a passing resemblance to Minnie Riperton’sLovin’ You, to a symphonic crescendo.
The New Life bonus disc (subtitled Demos & Bootlegs) consists of two demos plus recordings taken from three gigs between 1984 and ‘85. Although the live recordings betray their humble origins by lacking in presence, the band’s raw energy is clearly evident. Barbara Deason’s voice has an appealing frailty along the lines of Judie Tzuke although she does occasionally struggle to reach the high notes. Songs from both Silent Dance and New Life are included, together with three that never made it onto album, namely Spirit, Chicken Train and Time For A Toke. Not surprising considering the uncharacteristic style of each. The Spirit demo has a breezy jazz feel and typical of the kind of thing that Sade would record. Chicken Train and Time For A Toke are taken from a Marquee gig which has the live atmosphere that’s absent from the other shows. Both are rousing blues romps with bags of audience participation allowing the band the opportunity to let their hair down. Of the more serious stuff I especially like Elton’s stunning violin soling during Return Of Spring which stylistically reminded me of the great Stefan Grappelli.
Although ten years have past since its making, Circles is still the band’s most recent non-live recording. It’s also generally regarded to be their finest. In addition to the strong material one reason I guess is the diversity of moods compared with the two previous releases. It also includes for my money the two definitive Solstice songs, Medicineand Sacred Run. This time it’s a single disc only with four bonus tracks included. In the run up to the recording another line-up change brought on board (surprise, surprise) a new vocalist in Emma Brown and the band’s first ‘name’ musician Clive Bunker (Jethro Tull, Pentangle, Gordon Giltrap) on drums. With Craig Sutherland back on bass, Andy Glass and Marc Elton are also both present and correct. The latter takes more of a back seat role however handing over the keyboard and full songwriting duties to Glass. His violin is also used more sparingly.
The instrumental Salú is a surprising opener given that it’s a fairly laidback and contemplative piece. The weeping guitar is very emotive however supported by mellow bass and dreamy keys effects. The anthemic title track that follows is one of the bands best ever with a captivating melody lead by the assured vocal. Emma’s voice has the beauty and grace that we’ve come to expect from a Solstice singer but her overall performance is gutsier than her predecessors. The songs optimistic tone changes with the inclusion of a sampled news commentary on the police’s brutal tactics during the 1985 Stonehenge free festival. Soul To Soul has a similar feel to the opening track but a reflective vocal turns it into a compelling ballad with ringing guitar and a moody bass pattern. Elton’s expressive violin makes its first appearance on Thank You which also includes edgy guitar work from Glass and a memorable choral hook. The elegant Medicine, with its gentle acoustic guitar and melancholic violin, is without doubt the band’s most romantic song to date. The melody is to die for highlighted by a searing guitar break that sends shivers down the spin.
Follow that if you can and Solstice certainly does with the stunning Sacred Run sounding like Iona at their energetic best. It’s blessed with another great vocal and a cutting guitar melody that brings Steve Rothery to mind. The brooding closer Coming Home is something of a departure for the band. It’s a guitar instrumental with stately Mark Knopfler flavoured electric guitar over a mellow acoustic backing. There’s more to come however with the welcome return of Medicine. This is an earlier demo version with a charming vocal by Heidi Kemp and a smoother although less engaging string sound. The Salú demo is reasonably close to the final version although some of the guitar parts here are covered by flute courtesy of keys. Likewise the Coming Home demo uses the same device to replace the electric guitar. The flute and acoustic guitar combination lends a pastoral almost classical feel and the difference in mood is quite striking. The sweeping Freedom might be a demo but it has all the majesty of a fully worked piece. It also provides an effecting closing statement with an infectious choral refrain “We shall be free” driven by towering bass and drums.
The year following the release of Circles the band were invited by the legendary Fairport Convention to appear at the annual Cropredy Festival, a major event in the UK folk calendar. So on a sunny afternoon on 15th August 1998 the band took to the stage and worked their way through a stunning set that included songs from all three studio albums. They were one of two acts at the festival that year fortunate enough to be caught on camera and tape. However when it came to listening to the playback Andy Glass was disappointed to find that the recording didn’t match the quality of the performance. With a commercial release planned the bold decision was made to repeat the set live in the studio the following day. And it’s this recording that first made its appearance on CD only. Similar technical problems meant that the video never saw the light of day, until now that is.
Fortunately for Solstice they were able to retain the services of Emma Brown for the set and she remains their singer to this day. Marc Elton made the difficult decision not to perform live due to a hearing ailment leaving Glass as the sole founding member. The band came up trumps however with a real find in Jenny Newman who provides the stunning fiddle playing together with backing vocals. Steve McDaniels takes over the keyboard stool (although he often plays standing up) and new bassist Rob Phillips joins Clive Bunker in the rhythm department. From the suitably uplifting opener Morning Light with its orchestral intro to a storming version of Sacred Run the band are in magnificent form throughout. Bunker’s drumming in particular has far more presence increasing the dynamics on songs like Circles. Highlights include a new instrumental Ducks On The Pond and Awakening, the title song from Bunker’s then current solo album. Ducks is a real crowd pleaser combining reggae rhythms with an energetic fiddle led reel. Awakening features a lively performance from Emma sounding not unlike Siouxsie Sue backed by a monumental riff Led Zep would be proud of.
The DVD looks fine on my computer monitor but when transferred to a larger TV screen the shortcomings become all too apparent. The excellent sound quality is unfortunately not matched by the picture. Obviously recorded on video tape, the images and colours lack the sharpness that we’ve come to expect from DVD. It’s also discernible that the sound was recorded elsewhere with the vocals and vision at times slightly out of sync. Having said all of that, the benefits of seeing this exceptional band play live does make it highly watchable. Andy, Emma and Steve are clearly having a ball whilst Phillips comes from the Entwistle school of expressionless bass players. Bunker, unrelenting on drums, looks like the consummate musician he is. Visually Jenny’s fiddle playing skills are a joy whilst Glass plays to the camera with some showy guitar histrionics. The welcome inclusion of both Find Yourself and Medicine ensures there is a nice balance between the ballads and the more up-tempo numbers.
All these releases come with the DPRP stamp of approval but if I had to stick my neck out and recommend just one above the others then I guess it would have to be Circles. This is reflected in my rating below. In truth however, as part of the definitive history of one of the UK’s best and most unsung bands, they’re all worthy additions to any collection. In their own way they each display all the attributes that you would hope to find in a good prog album, memorable songs, stunning musicianship, great sound, beautiful artwork and superb packaging. Add the wealth of bonus material and you have one formidable collection. F2 have without doubt done an excellent job here. This is one of those rare occasions when the term ‘definitive edition’ really does have some value. Appropriately, to close both the DVD and the collection Andy Glass provides a fascinating insight into the band’s heady career. When the end result is music this good it has to have all been worth it.
Silent Dance:: 8.5 out of 10
New Life: 8.5 out of 10
Circles: 9 out of 10
The Cropredy Set: 8 out of 10
Prophecy - Prog Archives
Keepers of the truth…..More than 30 years after the band's formation, Solstice has created what is in my opinion their best album to date. Prophecy--the band's fifth studio album--consists of five tracks (with no breaks between them) that all in all run for just under an hour. (In addition, there are three bonus tracks which are older Solstice tracks remixed by Steven Wilson.) The album revolves around a concept or theme that wisely is never allowed to overshadow the great music. The comic book-like artwork by Marvel artist Barry Kitson provides an appealing visual aspect. The lyrics and the artwork complement the music well making for an organic unity.
Eyes Of Fire opens the album in a rather low-key fashion and on my first listen I worried that I was in for a sleepy experience. But instead this builds up nicely to a guitar solo and leads the way to the much more energetic Keepers Of The Truth and onwards to an exciting and progressive journey. The vocals are often Yes-like with the female lead vocals of Emma Brown being backed up by male harmony vocals in a way that strongly evokes how Chris Squire and (to a lesser extent) Steve Howe characteristically back up Jon Anderson in Yes. Even some of the New-Agey lyrics remind of Anderson's lyrical style and some acoustic guitar parts remind of Steve Howe's acoustic playing. The electric lead guitar playing of Andy Glass instead often evoke (his namesake in Camel) Andy Latimer's wonderful sound. The many violin-driven passages often remind me of Kansas.
With Yes, Camel, and Kansas belonging to my personal all-time favourite bands, being reminded of them here is a blessing for sure and a basis for commendation. But I also wish to stress that Solstice are by no means just followers, they have a sound of their own that also draws on Folk and Jazz music in ways foreign to the above mentioned Prog giants (and the New-Agey/World-Music 'feel' of the music is, if not unique, at least somewhat unusual; perhaps Mandalaband can be mentioned in the context). Solstice has certainly inspired hordes of female-fronted progressive Rock bands of more recent decent. They are often counted among the pioneers of the British Neo-Prog movement, but in reality they have close to nothing in common with the usual suspects of that subgenre (Marillion, Pallas, IQ, etc.). Solstice is somewhere in the borderlands between Neo-Prog and classic Symphonic Prog. The keyboard sounds may be modern, but the mind-set is closer to that of classic progressive Rock.
The three bonus tracks are remixes by Steven Wilson of three tracks from Solstice' 1984 debut album Silent Dance. The latter is a very good album as well, but hearing these tracks straight after the new tracks just stands to emphasise that these songs are better heard within their original context (new remixes notwithstanding). If you don't know Solstice yet, starting with Prophecy is a good idea, and the three bonus tracks (when heard in isolation from the new material) should make you curious about Silent Dance and the band's other albums. Solstice is a great and unfairly overlooked band well worthy of your attention.
PROPHECY - Andrew Darlington
In some parallel continuum, where green elves ride astride giant dragonflies across Roger Dean landscapes, people still listen to musicians who play to the limit of their not-inconsiderable interactive skills, and attempt to break on through to advanced levels where the ageing whore of rock is more than it has ever been before.
Snotty music-critics have long derided prog as a term of abuse. Flash, virtuosity, the ability to improvise creatively is suspect. Even potentially great guitarists such as John Squire or Johnny Marr are slagged off for the mere suspicion of straying beyond the most limited permitted style-repertoire. But music is now multiplatform-wide and diverse enough to ignore such sniping. Music has multiple parallel continuums, barely touching, unaware of each other's existence, but sufficiently self-sustaining to contain diverse appreciative audiences.
Andy Glass formed Solstice in 1980, which was not a kind era to this sound, but a re-issue of theirSilent Dance album provoked a 1990s reformation, and new material, and then a new 2007 line-up. And now Prophecy catches a whole new ripple of neo-progressive appreciation, with Treat and The Way We Live, and the amazing Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree as spirit-guide on hand for remix duties. You might not realise, but it's all around you. And - prejudices aside - it's impressive stuff, admit it. The sleeve-art, by 2000 AD's Barry Kitson catches the exact futuristic Native American meld of influences. And that's it, a kind of intense ambient spirituality, interpreted through involved instrumental interplay that never devolves into pure self-indulgence.
Andy's stinging soaring guitar is set off and precisely balanced, in this Solstice incarnation, by Jenny Hemsley's folk-pure violin adding earth to Black Water, Steven McDaniel's keyboards contributing ice to West Wind, Emma Brown's voice providing quiet fire, plus the thunky drums and bass gravity of Pete Hemsley and Robin Phillips. But it's all worked collectively, in immaculately textured ensemble interplay, with no space for ego-trips. Is that a Robert Plant sample on Warriors..? Maybe... Probably not... But five tracks, plus three remixes from the original Silent Dance eight-track tape, take in the width of multi-verses. You'll never hear this on the radio. N.M.E. won't like it. That doesn't really matter. It thrives and survives its own parallel continuum. That's enough.
Solstice - Kindred Spirits
"It's worth noting that all Solstice's releases have been DPRP recommended, not an accolade too many bands can boast and in my eyes Kindred Spirits is another release that will be added to that list."
Country of Origin:UKFormat:DVD/CDRecord Label:Festival RecordsCatalogue #:201106Year of Release:2011Time:DVD 110:00
CD 50:39Info:SolsticeSamples:Click hereDVD Tracklist: Morning Light, Solomon’s Bridge, Sky Path West, Freedom, Cheyenne, Ducks, 5456, Here And Now, Oberon’s Folly, Flight, Sacred Run DVD Extras: New Life (5:06), Brave New World (10:13)
CD Tracklist: New Life (5:10), Peace (6:56), Earthsong (7:49), Thank You (5:36), Medicine (6:13), Brave New World (9:59), Don’t Tell Me (8:42)
John O'Boyle's ReviewOh I do love a live album, a product that does divide its community, love or loath them, there is no denying that they have made peoples careers, giving them almost legendary status. If I was to set you a challange to name your favourite live album, you will probably start reeling off titles which in all honesty will probably for the most part, come from the late 60’s to the early 80’s. For me the defining era of the live album was the 70’s. It always seemed a much more mature and relevant method of promoting an artists talents than using the mundane compilation to fulfil contractual obligation, not that this is what this release is, far from it. For me it really does test an artist’s mettle, displaying an inherent quality of character laying bare their musical souls. The live album offers mystique allowing the listener an opportunity to build their own visuals, creating mythical pictures of grandeur.
Then along came video, DVD and Blu Ray, a medium that changed everything but that’s a whole other story.
31 years in existence and this is only their sixth release. Solstice is not the most prolific band in the world, but then Andy Glass has always worked with the ethos of quality over quantity which is Festival Music’s ethos also, something that has served both well. Festival Music has performed a sterling job in making sure that their back catalogue was remastered to the highest order and that they provided a continuation of that work ethic for both 2010’s Spirit and 2011’s Kindred Spirits, which has to be a dream come true for any band.
It is also worth noting that all their releases have been DPRP recommended, not an accolade too many bands can boast and in my eyes Kindred Spirits is another release that will be added to that list.
This new release incorporates both audio and visual elements within its packaging making it the perfect companion forSpirit, being a good entry level for the uninitiated and a fantastic release for fans of old. For me it is the DVD that is the real winner here, but don’t write the cd off as that is a stunner too.
The DVD historically documents the Spirit launch show recorded at the now defunct Pitz Club in Milton Keynes which would appear to have been a bit of a spiritual Mecca for the band. The bonus extra’s New Life and Brave New World on the DVD is from their 2010 Loreley show.
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty. As ever, Solstice offer their majestic artistry to who ever wants to participate, a band that has a somewhat unique sound which incorporates prog passages that are embellished with folk, a sound that feels both tribal and spiritual. The beauty of their creations is that you can actually feel the love, energy and emotion they have invested throughout. Andy’s guitar work is just an extension of his personality; the fret work is metered precisely, as if the guitar is part of his being, switching between lead and rhythm with the flick of a switch. Jenny Newman sonically compliments their interactions and vice versa, the duelling between them at times is really exciting, perfectly complimenting each other. Emma Brown builds the storylines with conviction, whilst the listener hangs in the balance intently caressing every word offered.
The older songs still sound fresh and relevant Cheyenne being a very good example of this. Even when you listen to the cd you can feel the band engaging with the audience with their warmth and passion. Ducks sees the band getting the audience to dance allowing Jenny to breathe and display her virtuosity, a mixture of Celtic Ska and Country rhythms. Ska is the order of the day with the band working their way through 5456 and Brave New World. The track that always intrigues me though is Don’t Tell Me, a brave and intrepid musical journey, which can feel out of place at times, but does confirm that the band have a fun loving side too. It’s also nice to see Robin Phillips, (bass), Pete Hemsley (drums) and Steve McDaniel (keyboards) having fun engaging in some musical malarkey working their way through Tubular Bells (theme for The Exorcist segment), Star Trek and The Simpsons, something that breaks down the dark intensity of Here And Now.
The whole package in general manages to perfectly capture the band live since 2007 albeit in the same location, but no matter. This is a release worth buying, that does work on several levels and is highly entertaining. The audio and video quality is impeccable throughout, with the usual multi angle shots, only the two Loreley tracks being slightly ropey on sound.
The live arena is definitely the place to see this band, a place that they are very comfortable in. Having seen Solstice live several times I can categorically confirm that this really is a true representation of what the band are about.
What you waiting for?
Geoff Feakes' ReviewMany bands I’m sure could give lessons in the art of survival and none more so than Solstice. Formed in 1980 and with three studio albums under their belt their career looked to be on hold following the belated release of the 1998The Cropredy Set live recording. However F2’s excellent 2007 ‘Definitive Edition’ repackaging of the band’s back catalogue marked a resurgence of interest leading to a new studio release Spirit in 2010. This displayed a harder, more contemporary edge to the band’s sound but still compares favourably with the likes of Yes and Mostly Autumn. The albums launch included a performance at the Pitz Club, Milton Keynes, England on 6th March 2010 which was captured on camera providing the bulk of this DVD. Coincidently this is the same venue where the bonus DVD included with the Spirit album was filmed the previous year.
Confidence in the new material ensures that the Spirit album is performed almost in its entirety with the title track being the only conspicuous omission. The line-up from the album is all present and correct, namely Andy Glass (guitar), Jenny Newman (fiddle), Robin Phillips (bass), Steve McDaniel (keyboards), Emma Brown (vocals) and Pete Hemsley (drums). Morning Light (taken from the 1993 New Life album) is perhaps a tad too ponderous to make a really effective set opener and is swiftly followed by the three opening tracks from Spirit. They are all skilfully performed although for my money Andy’s guitar histrionics occasionally get the better of him (and the melody) as inSolomon’s Bridge whilst Sky Path West takes Solstice into previously unchartered prog-fusion territory. Best of the trio for me however is the world music flavoured Freedom where Jenny’s fiddle playing really soars.
A stately Cheyenne is beautifully sung by Emma and in complete contrast is the tongue in cheek Ducks which fuses Jenny’s fiddle driven reel with a reggae beat. The ska theme continues with an unexpected cover of Toots and the Maytals 5456 with enthusiastic participation from the surprisingly youthful looking audience (this is a prog gig after all!). Having lightened the mood, they return to the Spirit album beginning with the rolling and Middle-Eastern flavoured Here & Now which allows both bassist Phillips and drummer Hemsley to indulge in lengthy solos. The latter has samples from Tubular Bells, Star Trek and The Simpsons thrown in for good measure. With the band’s performance noticeably improving as the show progresses they are really on fire by this point.
The haunting Celtic ballad that opens Oberon’s Folly provides another welcome change of mood whilst the aptly titledFlight really soars with superb guitar and violin interplay between Andy and Jenny. The Yes like a cappella section is superbly performed by Emma and Jenny leaving Andy to deliver his most strident guitar solo of the evening. Fittingly they close with and electrifying rendition of Sacred Run, one of the band’s strongest tunes taken from the 1997Circles album.
Visually and sonically Kindred Spirits is a major improvement on Solstice’s two previous DVD’s. Whilst the stage lighting is not always sympathetic to the cameras where band members are occasionally shrouded in darkness its well shot with strong colours, sharp images and first rate sound production.
DVD extras include two songs recorded at the ‘Night of the Prog’ Festival in Loreley, Germany on 4th September 2010. The expansive Loreley stage in broad daylight is in stark contrast to the Pitz Club show but the band look very much at home performing within the festival environment. This is especially true of Glass whose guitar workout during Brave New World could give both Steve Hackett and Nick Barrett a run for their money aided by a showy synth break from McDaniel. It’s pity that given the space available more footage from Loreley didn’t make it onto the DVD.
The accompanying CD was again recorded at the Pitz Club but this time in 2007 and 2008 and includes a selection of older tunes absent from the ‘Spirit’ shows. Of these Peace and Medicine standout, the former thanks to a stirring guitar workout from Glass and the latter thanks to a haunting melody where again Glass shines (if you pardon the pun). Brave New World (one of three songs here from the debut Silent Dance album) is undoubtedly the highlight however sounding suitably triumphant and proggy. The concluding Don’t Tell Me on the other hand is pure nonsense sandwiching the stoner standard Don't Bogart That Joint and Ian Dury’s Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll in between a fiddle led reel.
A final word for the Kindred Spirits artwork which is something of a departure for Solstice. Gone is the usual mystic symbolism replaced with a comic book style design by veteran Marvel artist Barry Kitson depicting the band members as super heroes. The liner notes are by Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson who is a self confessed Solstice fan. If this collection is given sufficient exposure then many more I’m sure will be joining him.
JOHN O'BOYLE : 8 out of 10
GEOFF FEAKES : 7 out of 10
Solstice - Spirit
Country of Origin:UKFormat:CD+DVDRecord Label:F2 MusicCatalogue #:201002Year of Release:2010Time:CD 60:05
DVD 97:51Info:SolsticeSamples:Click hereTracklist:
CD: Solomon’s Bridge (9:48), Sky Path West (8:23), Freedom (6:56), Flight (7:27), Oberon’s Folly (8:51), Here & Now (6:58), Spirit (11:41)
DVD: Morning Light, New Life, Sky Path West, Oberon's Folly, Ducks On The Pond, Chicken Train, Here & Now, Pete's Solo, Cheyenne, Freedom, Flight, Sacred Run, Brave New World
A band I discovered as recently as 2007 and who gave me a great deal of listening pleasure over the Christmas period that year is Solstice. It was a crash course of sorts as I was fortunate enough to receive the band's entire back catalogue courtesy of F2’s "Definitive Edition" collection. As I recall the band's future recording career was a little uncertain at the time even though they had recently reactivated themselves as a live unit. This brand new CD and bonus DVD release Spirit comes 13 years on from their last studio album Circles and appropriately marks the band's 30 years in existence.
The line-up of Andy Glass (guitar, vocals), Jenny Newman (violin, viola), Robin Phillips (bass), Steve McDaniel (keyboards) and Emma Brown (vocals) remains the same as 2002’s live album The Cropredy Set with the exception of the returning Pete Hemsley who replaces Clive Bunker on drums. It’s also the first studio album not to feature key member Marc Elton who along with Glass had been with the band since its inception in 1980. For those unfamiliar with Solstice they favour melodic prog with folky elements and as a starting point I would cite Camel, Mostly Autumn and Iona although such references fail to paint a full picture. Under Glass’ leadership Solstice continue to pursue their individual sound particularly with this latest release.
The opening song Solomon’s Bridge reveals a new and very fresh sounding Solstice. A deceptively tranquil intro of acoustic guitar and haunting violin erupts into a strident riff that has a cool American jazz (although not overtly so) vibe about it. Glass’ guitar dominates as it does throughout much of the album changing from the powerhouse tone that occupies the lengthy instrumental first half to a mellower picking style when Emma’s voice eventually enters several minutes into the song. Here, as it does elsewhere her beautiful but confident voice acts like a sixth instrument rather than providing the obvious focal point for the songs.
Sky Path West is in a more traditional Solstice vein (to begin with that is) with Glass’ familiar and searing guitar lines to the fore. The crystalline production benefits Hemsley’s crisp drum sound which alongside Phillips’ prominent bass lines provides a perfectly weighted anchor for the gutsy guitar solo that follows. Given his muscular playing here and elsewhere on the album I can’t help thinking that Glass has been working out since the last release whilst listening to American exponents like Carlos Santana on his headphones.
And speaking of Americans, it’s the extremist rant of charismatic war lobbyist Adam Kokesh that bookends the next track Freedom. The song itself apparently started life following the bands 1993 second album New Life and it sounds like it with a compelling massed chanting of the songs title providing the main hook. Tribal percussion, low whistles (courtesy of keys I think) and lively fiddle work add to the songs ethnic feel.
The appropriately titled Flight sees soaring guitar and violin trading places to deliver the melodic main theme whilst Emma’s singing is more strident than usual. The main thrust of the song which culminates in a wordless a cappella section is clearly inspired by Fragile era Yes but the sprawling, metallic guitar led assault that follows is from a different place altogether.
One of the albums most rewarding pieces Oberon’s Folly is in two distinct parts with the first being a reworking of the Bronski Beat song Puit d’ Amour. I’m unfamiliar with the original but in the hands of Solstice it’s a moving and ethereal Celtic ballad. Gradually it builds into the wonderfully named Lady Muck, a rousing instrumental reel written by Jenny Newman whose stirring fiddle playing and Glass’ crunching power chords provide an unlikely but effective combination. Overall, for me Oberon’s Folly echoes the prog-folk aspirations of Iona.
From the outset, Here & Now takes the band into unchartered prog metal territory with monumental chunks of heavy weight guitar offset by Jenny and Steve’s Middle Eastern backdrop and another strong vocal from Emma. She sounds almost siren like as the memorable choral refrain cuts through the turmoil created by the other five band members.
The concluding title song Spirit comes as a pleasant respite following the onslaught of the previous track. This is a fully worked version of a demo that appeared on the bonus disc edition of New Life. I remarked in my 2007 review that it had a breezy jazz feel typical of the kind of thing that Sade would record. Whilst the leisurely pace is retained, here it comes across as a sophisticated rock ballad with gorgeous harmonies, electric sitar embellishments (ala Steve Howe) and some very tasteful synth lines from McDaniel. It’s rounded off by Glass’ bluesy guitar workout which for my money goes on a tad longer than is necessary.
Complementing the CD is a live DVD which comprises the full set recorded at the Pitz Club, Milton Keynes on the 24th July 2009. Camerawork and picture quality is not the most pristine but it’s still highly watchable with sound, songs and performances of the highest order. The concert takes in material dating back to the debut Silent Dance album along with a healthy selection from Spirit, a testimony to Glass’ faith in the new songs. Unsurprisingly he remains in firm control throughout with guitar prominently featured.
Given the quality of the previous Solstice albums I was reasonably confident a DPRP recommendation was on the cards even before I’d heard a single note of Spirit. First class production, tunes, arrangements and performances it’s all here, so yes a recommendation is assured. I do have one reservation however. For me the histrionic guitar flights are a tad self indulgent at times to the point where it seemed like I was listening to a solo guitar album rather than a band effort. That being said, it does at least demonstrate the excellence of Glass’ musicianship and proves that he can hold his own with many of rock’s so called guitar heroes.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10