Definitve Edition Reviews

Definitive Edition Album Reviews

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 Country of Origin Format Record Label Catalogue #
 UK  CD  F2 Records  200709C
 Year of Release Time:CD:1   Samples
1997/2007 62:40   Click here


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)

 Country of Origin Format Record Label Catalogue #
 UK  2CD  F2 Records  200709B
 Year of Release Time:CD:1  Time:CD:2 Samples
1993/2007 41:33 76:07I Click here


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)

 Country of Origin Format Record Label Catalogue #
 UK  2CD  F2 Records  200709A
 Year of Release Time:CD:1  Time:CD:2 Samples
1984/2007 42:59, 70:04 Click here



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)

 Country of Origin Format Record Label Catalogue #
 UK  2CD  F2 Records  200709D
 Year of Release Time:CD: Time:DVD Samples
2002/2007 45:12 55:31 Click here


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 Review of Definitive Edition Solstice Albums

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


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