CRS Interview

Interview with Stephen Lambe of Classic Rock Society

Stephen Lambe of CRS interviews Andy Glass following the release of Prophecy

SL This is the 2nd Solstice album in 3 years.  You have become almost prolific? What’s going on? 

AG I know….it’s mad!! We’ve pretty much been fired up since recording Spirit in 2010 and the plan was to keep the music coming with a live album in 2011, which we managed, and then a new studio album in 2012, which we didn’t. So a year late’s not too bad and, as you say, for us a proverbial outpouring :))

SL The band line up has had a consistent line up for 6 years, which must be gratifying.  What are your ambitions for the band now?

AG It’s about reaching a wider audience now. It’s frustrating that we’re unable to jump in a bus and live hand to mouth out on the road playing anywhere and everywhere as we did in the 80s. For one thing I used to spend a lot of time underneath the bloody bus keeping the old banger going and you’ve got to be young and preferably sedated to handle that kind of thing ….especially during a Scottish winter. Or how about starting the bus every morning by rolling down a steep hill (atop which you spent the previous night) with Marc Elton holding a burning diesel soaked rag over the air intake while I wait for just the right moment to pop the clutch ….yeah, because we’ve only got one shot at starting this thing before we run out of hill…oh and by the way the air brakes wont be working until that engine fires!! Christ it doesn’t bear too much contemplation.

So now we must find other ways to connect with people and making good albums that magazines like CRS want to talk about has got to help. I want to keep building on the creative momentum we have right now and the next album’s very much in the dreaming stage.

SL Can you give me thumbnail sketches of each member of the band?

Ok well Pete Hemsley is drummer #4 after Dave Harden, Martin Wright and Clive Bunker. Pete is a great musician and friend and convinced me to reform the band in 2007…thanks man! We met in ’87 while he was signed to Virgin with The Jazz Devils and I was just settling into the role of jobbing muso. This was towards the end of the period when, if you were well managed and had some tasty demos, you could reasonably expect a label to advance £250,000 against an album that existed largely in the imagination of the artist. We made a lot of music together including New Life and a cool album under the name of This before Pete emigrated to Australia in ’94. Once there he built an excellent reputation as a producer, winning awards for his work and signing to Sony for whom he recorded an ambient dance album called The Lord’s Garden that included radical remixes of Morning Light and The Journey. His reputation as a great drummer also bore some serious fruit when he played with Page and Plant during their Aussie TV promo tour.

During the 90s I was doing a lot engineering work in studios and took advantage of some downtime to work on Circles. I’d been recording with singer John McGuire (who’s contributed vocals to Prophecy) and he brought in a, just out uni, Emma Brown to add backing vocals to some tracks. It took me about 5 minutes to poach her and she’s been with the band ever since. Emma is singer #6 after Sue Robinson, Shelley Patt, Sandy Leigh, Barbara Deason and Heidi Kemp (phew!) and has carved out a career as a singing teacher and performer in numerous shows and gigs along the way. 

I’ve known Robin Philips since he was about 9 years old around the time I formed the band with Marc Elton….I said to him….just give it a few years son:)) His mother Margaret is an amazing woman and wonderful pianist and her spiritual and practical support has been an essential constant for me throughout the bands existence. Rob grew up in a house filled with music so he was always going to be musical but seeing him grow into the fine player he is and then joining Solstice has been a kind of circle completed. Like all of us he makes a living from music that consists largely of jobbing gigs and teaching. Rob 

Jenny Newman was already a well established player on the folk scene when I was introduced to her in ’92. I first saw playing a folk festival and thought, bloody hell, I’ve got to meet this woman!...and I did. Jenny was a Goldsmiths graduate who dropped her work as a classical player to concentrate on her passion for traditional fiddle music and it’s there that she made her mark. She’d agreed to play on Circles but delays in recording meant that by the time I was ready she was touring Canada and the States with Shetland folk/rockers Rock, Salt and Nails…bugger! So it wasn’t until we started gigging in support of the album that she actually joined the band. We worked together on her 2000 solo album before she put together 3sticks with myself and Pete. We’ve recorded two albums and continue to play ceilidhs and festivals. She’s had her tunes used in Radio 4 productions and had plenty of airplay on Beeb folk shows. Her tunes get played live in sessions all over the place.

Steve McDaniel is another muso that does a lot of recording and production work and I met him in 95??...anyway he was in the studio making poetry on a totally knackered Fender Rhodes. Steve’s always got a project on the go, production, writing, he was off playing shows in deepest Africa earlier in the year. He’s made a fine solo album under the name Zark and has just finished a classical piece for orchestra. Google Planet Zyz..

Me, well highlights were starting the band whilst ‘living the life’ out of an caravan in the woods….yeah it was the genuine hippy deal and then, despite that and a total lack of aggressive ambition, finding ourselves playing to 17,000 at Reading and providing the soundtrack to the rising sun on the Solstice at Stonehenge Free Festival 1984. Beyond Solstice, and with an encroaching sense of professionalism, touring as Bill Wither’s guitarist in the 80s and as front of house sound engineer for Tull on long US and European tours still sounds pretty good. But for me playing with Solstice has always been my real passion.

SL You’ve signed to Esoteric for this album.  Why the change?

AG Well, Solstice songs have long been published by Cherry Red and back before we recorded Spirit they’d suggested Esoteric Antenna, their prog label run by Mark and Vicky Powell, for a physical release. David Robinson’s superb Festival Music label had done an excellent job of releasing our back catalogue at that time and went on to do a great job with Spirit and Kindred Spirits. When we were working on Prophecy I was thinking about the possibility of accessing wider distribution when Stephen Wilson suggested Esoteric Antenna…that name again! This time I made contact with Mark Powell, he like what he heard and off we went. I feel disloyal to Festival Music of course who continue with 6 Solstice albums on the label. David knows what bloody prostitutes we all are, poor guy has to deal with all the time. Or maybe we just wanted to be on the same label as Todd Rundgren :))

SL The new album has a real 70s feel.  Long tracks and lots of soloing.  Was that intentional? What were you trying to achieve with this album?

AG No not all. To be honest there’s never any agenda when it comes to writing the music. I think this is why it’s such an obsession with me…it’s actually what comes out when I write music…totally honest and unadulterated. I actually start feeling incomplete without the creative outlet it provides. It’s what I want to hear and play and the rest of the band’s input just makes it (a lot) better.

I guess the 70s feel is unsurprising, they were my formative years in every sense and a period of incredible musical creativity that produced so much classic progressive, rock and pop music. I still listen to Yes, , Camel, Joni Mitchel, John Martyn, Hillage, Crimson, Bowie, Zeppelin …. the list goes on and on and I’m not sure there’s that much that compares since. Having said that I’m loving English Electric from Big Big Train and Steven Wilson’s The Raven has been getting a lot of plays in my car this year. Don’t get me wrong I hear a stack of new music, partly through working with a lot of teenage musicians but, you know what, most of them want to play the same stuff I loved at that age….and it’s not me that introduced them to it….honest! My 11 year old son is a huge Sabbath fan and we went to their Birmingham NIA show last night, they were thrilling…I rest my case.

SL The last two albums have seen a move away from the folkier elements of the band to something a lot rockier – again, is this an intentional move or the way that the material led you?

AG Has it? Ok well it’s certainly not a conscious move. Obviously the folk edge comes from Jenny’s fiddle which, with the exception of Eyes of Fire, inhabits the music pretty much throughout. In Black Water she plays a great tune called Beth Cohen’s that we’ve been playing at ceilidhs with 3sticks and it’s kind of migrated into this big fusiony Solstice piece. 

SL You’ve produced the bands first really epic track in “Warriors” – why approach a song of that length for the first time?

AG Well with all the songs they generally start out as a guitar part, riff or even a groove and then kind of expand organically from there, and Warriors just kept on growingJ From the outset we’d liked the idea of a continuous conceptual piece so I felt encouraged to let the songs reach their natural conclusion….how ever long it took!

SL Can you tell me about some of the lyrical themes on the album?

AG Lyrics are the part of the writing process I find difficult, but with this album the songs are based on a Cree Indian prophecy that correctly predicted horrendous damage to the planet at the hands of corporate greed….and hopefully a way to avoid complete catastophe. That gave me plenty to think about when it came to words. Native American culture is a fairly common theme in our music but this is the first time it’s inspired a whole album.

SL I remember you were finding it hard to get good gigs. That seems to be changing – how has that come about?

AG We’ve certainly had some nice gigs of late and I’m optimistic for the future what with the new album and now that James Anderson (son of Ian) is our booking agent. Having said that, it’s incredibly hard for bands at our level to get viable shows, despite keeping costs to an absolute minimum.

SL Tell me about how some of your classic tracks came to be remixed by Steven Wilson? What has he brought to the songs?

AG It’s true the old saying “you never know who’ll be in the audience” and Steven has been in ours a few times. A fact unbeknown to me until after the launch show for Spirit in 2010, a gig I believe you also attended. Steven showed up at our Underworld gig in Camden last summer and during an after show chat he asked if I had the original Silent Dance multi-track tapes. It turns out that Steven’s always been particularly fond of Earthsong and Cheyenne and he fancied having a go at remixing them. As luck would have it Nigel Mazlyn Jones, who recorded the album, had just had a clear out and sent me some of the tapes…talk about synchronicity. 

Steven has an incredible ear and technical skill as you can hear not only in his own work but also his major league remixes like Aqualung and Close to the Edge. He manages to bring out the best in the recording technically and musically whilst staying true to the artist’s original intention.  The clarity and openness he’s produced on Find Yourself is bloody brilliant, he’s breathed new life in to that track for sure. Sadly the Cheyenne master didn’t survive but it’s wonderful to hear Return of Spring, Earthsong and Find Yourself sounding the way we’d hoped for first time around.

SL Tell me about your collaboration with artist Barry Kitson?

AG Yeah, another amazing break! Again following the launch of Spirit, I got an email through the website from Barry saying how much he’d enjoyed the album. I’d no idea who he was at the time but I was in my sick bed that day and, unusually for me, I clicked on the signature link at the bottom of the message. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I found myself on the website of this incredibly successful artist for Marvel, 2000AD, DC comics and more besides. The guy’s a bloody icon in the comic art field. Like Steven, Barry is a bloody lovely guy and has been incredibly generous and supportive. Right away he offered to do a gig poster if we needed one but at the time we were putting Kindred Spirits together so I went…..”err Barry, we’ve go this live DVD coming out ummm would you consider doing the album cover??”  Of course he went on to do a load of great artwork through out the booklet and has done the same again for Prophecy. We’re lucky buggers!!!

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