British Progressive Folk rockers, Solstice, released their seventh studio album, ‘Light Up’, on Friday 20th January, through the Giant Electric Pea record label. Written, produced, mixed, and mastered by founder, leader, guitarist, and sole original member Andy Glass. ‘Light Up’ is the second album from the band since they were revitalised and reenergised by the arrival of new vocalist Jess Holland in 2020. The first album with Jess, ‘Sia’, released in 2020, was a critical and creative success for the band, receiving rave reviews from the Prog world at large. It is for sure a mesmerisingly uplifting album. Andy Glass has gone onto to say how excited and enthused he is with this current lineup that he really hopes to record a third album as soon as possible to continue the momentum of this renewed energy and undeniable band chemistry.
Solstice was formed in 1980 in Milton Keynes, by guitarist/songwriter Andy Glass, who is the sole founding member still in the band. During Solstice’s initial five-year run from 1980 – 1985, the band played many gigs and festivals, but only released one studio album called ‘Silent Dance’ in 1984. After which the band split up, reuniting in 1993 and going on to release the studio albums ‘New Life’ (1993) and ‘Circles’ (1997), and the live album, ‘The Cropredy Set’ in 2002. Glass once more put the band on hold to focus on his other band ‘3 Sticks’ and spend time on studio session and sound engineering work. It was around this time that Andy was invited to take the job of 'front of house' sound engineer with Jethro Tull, leading to five American tours and several tours through Europe and the UK. In 2007 he decided to resurrect Solstice once again, which resulted in two further studio albums, ‘Spirit’ (2010) and ‘Prophecy’ (2013). When long time vocalist Emma Brown decided to leave the band, Andy only had one name in mind to replace her and that was Jess Holland. Jess had been working with Andy and violinist Jenny Newman since 2018 in Jenny's highly successful Festival ceilidh band, FCPB. The current lineup of Solstice features Andy Glass on guitar and vocals, Jenny Newman on violin, Pete Hemsley on drums, Robin Phillips on bass, Steven McDaniel on keyboards and Jess Holland on vocals.
The beautifully serene green leafy artwork was created by Shaun Blake who was also responsible for the ‘Sia’ album artwork. Both these album covers complement each other nicely. Contained within the sleeve notes is a heart-rending poem entitled ‘Where the Heart Is’ from long-standing Solstice collaborator Oz Hardwick. The album contains six songs clocking in at forty-four minutes in total and is an album very much of two halves: Andy Glass has said that he had vinyl in mind during its composition with the intent of having ‘sunlit’ and ‘moonlit’ sides. Opening the ‘Sunlit’ side comes the very upbeat and bright ‘Light Up’. An insistent rhythm creates a juicy funky groove allowing the keyboards and guitar to weave in and out. Jess Holland’s angelic sweet dulcet tones waft over the melody like fragrant petals on a spring dawn. Jenny Newman’s violin peppers the tune with dramatic symphonic sweeps and jabs. Midway through the song breaks down into an acoustic guitar strummed interlude reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dogs’ before barking back into full on Funk mode, ferrying the track to its conclusion. “Let the morning in, and the day begin, wash the night away, there's a place in here, she will keep you near, don't look the other way.”
Second track, ‘Wongle No. 9’, takes the upbeat Funk element still further. An eclectic blend somewhere between Curtis Mayfield, Fairport Convention, Yes, Ozric Tentacles and Jeff Beck! A solid steadfast drum beat from Pete Hemsley sets the pace with a slinky bass line from Robin Phillips snaking in and out with menace. Tantalising violin sweeps from Jenny sail over Jess’s sumptuously teasing vocal lines, with seductive guitar phrases from Andy intertwining between the grooves. Super funky Rhoads piano from Steven McDaniel adds mind bending dimensions to the lively scene. “Come on in, take a look around, here we are again, hit the ground, up and on, take another day, here's to every hand, you gave along the way.” Sounds like they are having a lot of fun here. Apparently, the name ‘Wongle’ was just a made-up word to save the basic WAV track on the computer, with ‘No. 9’ being the version they used for the final master.
Closing what would be side one is ‘Mount Ephraim’, a vibrantly energetic Celtic Folk rocker named after Mount Ephraim Gardens located in the heart of the Kent countryside near Faversham. The story goes that Andy asked David Rees, the promoter of A New Day Festival, which is held at Mount Ephraim, what does he have to do to get booked to play the festival again, to which Dave jokingly replied, “Write me a song!” Well, they did, and this track is the result! The song is about the longing to gather in celebration with like-minded souls at a festival and the spiritual connection between the music and the people. They did, of course, get booked to play the festival two years in a row. Andy has a long association with Dave as they have known each other from their Jethro Tull days, Andy being their sound engineer for many years and Dave ran a fanzine, that helped promote the band and released material on his record label. Dave also re-issued three Solstice albums on his A New Day record label. The main driving force in this track is Jenny’s dexterous fiddle playing which whips up a storm and keeps everyone on their toes, Jess’s lilting vocal interludes interject between the maelstrom of sound adding elegant textures and layers. Moog synthesizer chords and phrases add to the overall mystical feel. “Come away, you will find, colours of the sea, over here, this enchanted garden, gather now one and all, can you hear the sound, of the song and the laughter calling.”
On to what is known as the 'moonlit' side of the album with the emotional ‘Run’. A beautifully atmospheric and delicately soothing song that allows Jess to really shine with her rich euphonious vocal performance and honeyed phrasing and intonation. Proficiently played sustained guitar scales and phrasing from Andy add to the overall emotive effect. “Another day across the line, consider when, we'll find the time to make our peace, I wonder how there came a day, we'd stand and watch her fall away, just slip away, call me back home, after all was said and done”.
The deeply moving and stunningly beautiful ‘Home’ is another song where Jess owns it with her soft mellifluous and sweet-toned spine-tingling vocal performance. “No matter where you roam, no matter where you’re from, no matter that your name, doesn't sound the same as mine, how anyone can say, look the other way, who are you to start, pulling us apart again.” Dazzlingly nimble guitar fret work from Andy elevates the track to enchantingly dizzying heights, guaranteed to stir emotion. A masterpiece!
Closing the album is the longest track on the album, ‘Bulbul Tarang’, which has an Eastern infused sound to it. Bulbul Tarang is a Hindi phrase that means “Waves of Nightingales” in English but is also the name of a Punjabi stringed instrument which employs two sets of strings, one set for drone, and one for melody. The strings run over a plate or fretboard, while above are keys resembling typewriter keys, which when depressed fret or shorten the strings to raise their pitch. The track opens with a drone played on this instrument before other instruments join in and take over allowing the track to grow and expand as it moves through time and space, twisting and turning through various moods and energies. Jess's delicately graceful vocals enter before repeated guitar arpeggios and violin phrases cajole each other for prominence. Jess's silvery double tracked vocals then blanket over the intertwining melody, with lush harmonies provided by Chris Sampson. To me the overall effect is reminiscent of the structured harmonies of Crosby Stills & Nash. Another ravishingly soaring guitar solo from Andy elevates the drama into the stratosphere before the track ends on a bewitching high. “When I hear you on the warm wind, I feel you everywhere, and the running water cools me, a song, a word, a prayer, hold me now, carry me across the water, look around here, show me all your color green and gold.”.
This a beautiful sounding album jam-packed with uplifting and positive vibes that will make you feel a whole lot better about life in general. Without doubt Solstice's best album to date. As long as they maintain the momentum the band's future looks very bright indeed!
Steven C. Gilbert.