SO much news including features, reviews, videos, tour dates and new music
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So we're up and running after the first live show at Fusion 4 and what a gig it was! If you haven't been to Fusion before I highly recommend it. Steve Gould curated a brilliant line up and the team ran the whole thing like clockwork (unlike our set □). The audience are absolutely wonderful and, despite the odd train wreck on our part, gave us a night to remember.
Photo - Martin Reijman
Photos - Stan Siarkiewicz
We're so thrilled to have been included in this month's Prog Mag with a three page Light Up feature and an review of the album. It's a great issue to be in with a huge spread on King Crimson and features and reviews for our friends, Exploring Birdsong and Square Wild. If you haven't tried Prog Mag before this issue might be a good place to start.
There's a few videos to share with you from ourselves and others. It was great to come across this reaction video from Just JP and a lovely review of Light Up from Nathan On Shuffle.
As with the Jess Holland Interview, these next two were filmed with the intention of including clips in a planned Mark Jepson documentary. Unfortunately it was not be so we thought we'd share the unedited results for anyone who fancies a deep dive into the period following Sia and our first rehearsals with Jess.
Talking of videos, out next get together, the day before flying out to the Netherlands for Progdreams X, is to shoot performance videos for Light Up, Bulbul Tarang, Mount Ephraim and Wongle No9 at the beautiful Grand Chapel Studio. We're hoping to have something to show for it by the end of April so watch this space.
And finally on the subject of videos, as you can see in the image below, we're getting very close to our annual 4k 'watch hours' on YouTube. This means we can apply to become YouTube Partners which provides us with opportunities to get a little something back as well as build our audience on the platform. So huge thanks to those who've been watching our channel. This really helps us make our target, especially if you run one of the longer playlists like 'live' or 'interviews' □
It’s no reflection on the band or their music but my guess is that Solstice might be a name unfamiliar to many readers of this site. But… that’s something I suggest you remedy!
The band itself has its roots in the UK in the 1980s, featured at the legendary Marquee Club, and appeared on BBC Radio sessions. The website tells of a 1982 gig attended by a then 15 year old Steven Wilson, a fan of Marillion, the band they were supporting that evening, and in more recent years, Wilson has remixed some of their early recordings.
Centered around guitarist Andy Glass, the 1980s burst of activity yielded one album and lots of gigs, before a hiatus until the 1990s. Another long break until 2010, was followed by Spirit(2010) and Prophecy (2013). But the current line up really came together in 2020 with the release of the Sia album, to which Light Up is the follow up.
History lesson over, let’s talk about the band today. Wikipedia’s designation of “neo-progressive, folk rock band” really doesn’t do it for me! The constituent parts are Jess Holland whose sparkling vocals are front and centre; Andy Glass’s guitar technique is superb, with the melodic touch of Gilmour blending with the technical prowess of Holdsworth; the rhythm section of original drummer Peter Helmsley and Robin Phillips provide a solid underlay to everything that’s going on; the “folk” is no doubt an adjective added due to Jenny Newman’s violin, which brings a celtic edge to the music; and finally Steve McDaniels’ keyboard add both texture plus a lead foil for Glass’ guitar. Andy Glass also writes all of the material, produces, mixes and masters it… and sonically the album is very strong!
“Light Up”, the title track, kicks the album off with Holland’s multitracked harmonies, an intricate almost jazz like time signature, and Glass’s guitar to the fore – it’s a great sound. After an acoustic interlude, the song shifts to an almost funky end section, which the violin joins, leading to a reprise of the opening guitar figures in the new context. The strangely titled “Wongle No 9” is next, with another funky opening, and some incredible soloing. The song plays out with an almost jam-like feel as the band ride the dynamics of the groove. “Mount Ephraim” is propelled by a violin figure around which the song forms. For this and the previous songs, the vocals here are very complimentary – the style isn’t story telling or conceptual lyrics. The closest comparison I could make would be to the role Jon Anderson plays in Yes, where his vocals feature and take the centre, but yield when the music takes over.
The first significant change of pace is on “Run”, which is a more traditional slower song format. The sensitivity of Jess Holland’s vocals here are superb, with looping phrases from throughout the song appearing at different points – it’s really beautiful. In the closing section, the low violin tones sound almost like a wind instrument, before Andy Glass joins violin and keys for the closing musical work out. As the song rises to its conclusion, Jess’s vocals and harmonies soar – incredible! The following “Home” picks up the lyrical theme of the preceding track, with many wonderful moments. I hate to draw comparisons, but I would say that fans of the eclectic styles of, say, Big Big Train, will find a comparable breadth of textures in this album.
“Bulbul Tarang” is another shift, as Eastern, almost sitar like tones, drive the song with the violin joining in a sympathetic style. Google tells me that the song’s title is the name of a Punjabi stringed instrument, which itself is derived from a Japanese instrument – and those influences definitely feature. This is my standout track on the album, as the influences and images of the natural world feature in the lyrics. Almost five minutes in, the song shifts, with some superb jazz piano, a lyrical guitar solo, and layered harmonies, plus the vocals of Chris Sampson adding a nice contrast in the powerful closing section. I can really see this one being on my Songs of the Year list for 2023!
You may not have noticed, but Prog Magazine’s 2022 Readers’ Poll featured Solstice as a Top 10 band, Glass as a Top 5 Guitarist, and Jess Holland as a Top 5 vocalist. As a new found investigator of this band, I can see why they reached that conclusion! I love “Album length albums” (collections of songs that last for the 45 to 50 minute mark) and “Light Up”’s 44 minutes make it a strong “start to finish” listen – plus there is lots of musical depth and breadth to this album. If you’re a fan of the melodic side of prog, I suggest you acquaint yourself with it right away. Me? I’m off to see what I’ve missed in the back catalogue over the last 40 years!
I've started writing for the next album (still fancy it as The Sia Trilogy :)) and the first demo got a thumbs up from the band, so we're off again □
All those who pre-ordered Light Up will have heard Blackjack but the more myself and Jess go back to it, the more it grows. Pre-production for an accompanying video's now underway with an incredibly exciting 'treatment' from Paddy Eason who's leading the production. It's a seriously ambitious project celebrating Ada Blackjack's extraordinary story and involving shoots both here and in Alaska (no, not with the band □) so we're expecting this to be a lengthy process.
In the meantime, if you like to hear the demo progress to date, check out the video below. We have the track mapped out now but there's still plenty of development to come and much work to do, particularly on the newly added third part.
Finally, here's the usual list of upcoming shows. We're at the Boerderij, Zoetermeer next and that's such a massive deal for me. Over the year's I've looked on longingly at the list of great bands playing this legendary venue... and now it's our turn □
Then at the end of April we have really exciting 3 day tour with our Italian brothers, La Maschera Di Cera. This may well be the only chance to catch them live in the UK so please do join us if you can.
Mini Tour with La Maschera Di Cera from Italy April 28th - 229, London - Tickets April 29th - Northcourt, Abingdon - Tickets April 30th - The 1865, Southampton- Tickets
July 1st - Alfold Rock n Blues Festival - Tickets July 21st - Colchester Arts Centre - with TRILOGY - Tickets
August 12th - Cropredy Festival, Nr Banbury - Tickets August 28th - Towersey Festival - Tickets SEPTEMBER 2ND - THE STABLES - MK with The EBONY BUCKLE Band ~ TICKETS October 14th - 45Live, Kidderminster with TRILOGY - Tickets November 11th - HRH Prog - Great Yarmouth - As far as I know this is happening but would advice caution based on some of the stories going around - Tickets
Finally, we're delighted to have recently welcomed two new Guardians who's support, in truth, is what keeps the band viable. Should you feel able to contribute in this way please follow this link for more information.
Love and thanks from us all for your support.
Solstice, 78 Watling Street, Towcester, Northampton NN12 6BS, United Kingdom