Solstice - Sia

Kev Rowland

Surely here is a band who need no introduction whatsoever, as when it came to prog in the Eighties these were one of THE bands. I was really late to the party, not hearing 1984’s ‘Silent Dance’ until it was reissued by Progressive Records in 1991, and immediately fell in love with both that and the next album, ‘New Life’. Solstice built up a huge following in the live scene in the UK, but they never really had the stability and release schedule for them to establish themselves on a wider basis, and I am sure there are many of us who wish the breaks had gone their way as they always deserved to be much bigger. Their last album prior to this one was 2013’s ‘Prophecy’, and apart from new singer Jess Holland, this features the same line-up of Andy Glass (guitar, vocals), Jenny Newman (violin), Pete Hemsley (drums), Robin Phillips (bass) and Steven McDaniel (keyboards, vocals). Solstice have always been a band who have used female lead vocals and violin, something which has always made them stand out from others in the scene, and on this album, they have moved at times into a folkier side.

Songs such as “Long Gone” are simply beautiful, with the concentration on Jess’s beautiful vocals and Andy’s acoustic guitar, with some delicate accordion-style keyboards. When Jenny’s violin comes in over the top of the harmonies, it adds a touch of beauty which takes this to a whole new level. The album starts with one of its most overtly progressive tracks in “Shout”, where the layered keyboards and violin fool us as we jump into something which is quite funky in some respects, allowing a groove to build right from the beginning. This has always been Andy’s band, but he acts more as an arranger than a diva, only bringing himself forward when it is right for the music, yet he can more often be found in the background. This is the longest song on the album, at more than 10 minutes, yet it passes by incredibly quickly as the listener is drawn into some wonderfully melodic music.

Jess’s vocals are pure and clear, Jenny has the wonderfully folky style one expects from someone who has developed her style in that sphere, adapting it to prog but never moving too far away from the roots, then Andy adds in his pieces when the time is right and together the trio provide the melody, with keyboards often in a support role, as are the rhythm section. However, one needs to pay close attention to Pete, Robert, and Steven, as they are often laying down complex lines and rhythms which the listener may not always pick up on.

The whole album is a delight, and it is something of a surprise to find they have revisited a track from their debut all those years ago. Back then Andy was accompanied by Sandy Leigh, Marc Elton, Mark Hawkins and Martin Wright, and while I must admit I am not always a fan of bands going back to music they had previously released, this has been given a totally fresh lease of life some 36 years on from when it was originally recorded. It fits in perfectly with the rest of the album and brought a smile to the face of old proggers like me. I see Solstice are touring heavily in the UK, and as I don’t think they will ever make it down to Aotearoa, let’s hope we get another album from them soon.

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