"It's worth noting that all Solstice's releases have been DPRP recommended, not an accolade too many bands can boast and in my eyes Kindred Spirits is another release that will be added to that list."
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DVD Tracklist: Morning Light, Solomon’s Bridge, Sky Path West, Freedom, Cheyenne, Ducks, 5456, Here And Now, Oberon’s Folly, Flight, Sacred Run DVD Extras: New Life (5:06), Brave New World (10:13)
CD Tracklist: New Life (5:10), Peace (6:56), Earthsong (7:49), Thank You (5:36), Medicine (6:13), Brave New World (9:59), Don’t Tell Me (8:42)
"A glorious package"
Solstice are as unfashionable as Plus Four trousers and cravats and yet, 31 years after their original formation these demi-gods of Britprog (see what I did there?) are still going strong, to which their recent studio album 'Spirit' (reviewed in Fireworks 44) duly attests. That review concluded as follows: "I would ask them to try and replicate more of the spirit of their live performance in the studio next time around".
Well, perhaps my plea has been answered by the good people at Festival Music because the backbone of this DVD plus CD release is a recording of the launch gig for 'Spirit' at The Pitz Club in Milton Keynes in March 2010, and as such is therefore its live companion. What is demonstrated so very clearly here is that the band is no hostage to progressive music, because they draw influences from a wide range of genres and meld them into something that they enjoy playing and draw the audience in with their infectious spirit. Of the seven tracks on 'Spirit' all but the title song is performed, and as expected these are just a little bit special in the live environment, and on the middle-eastern flavoured 'Here & Now' the band lightens the emotional load when drummer Pete Hemsley solos alongside samples from 'Tubular Bells', 'Star Trek' and 'The Simpsons'. There, I told you that this band has fun...
The gig starts with 'Morning Light' from the 1993 album 'New Life' and represents an auspicious start, as this is a heavyweight song from the band's recorded catalogue. A trio of tracks not from 'Spirit' come in the middle of the show, starting with the cerebral 'Cheyenne' with superb vocalisation from Emma Brown which is in complete contrast to 'Ducks' which fuses ska and country rhythms (I kid you not) and '5456' which continues the ska theme with this Toots & The Maytals number which includes enthusiastic audience participation. It's absolutely wonderful, but perhaps I've now lost all of the musical purists who read this magazine! The gig closes with a fantastic encore of 'Sacred Run' (from the 1997 album 'Circles').
The DVD also includes a bonus of two songs taken from the band's performance at the 'Night Of The Prog' festival in Germany later in 2010, but Brown's vocals have sadly been largely lost in the mix. The accompanying CD has six tracks also recorded at the Pitz Club in 2007 and 2008 that were not part of the album launch gig. Amongst these are some particularly fine performances by guitarist and band leader Andy Glass. Indeed the whole package reveals him to be a charming, totally committed and hugely talented performer whose standing in the world of progressive music deserves to be much more prominent in my view.
For me, this is a glorious package. For you: well, if you enjoy "Britprog" and can take quirky malarkey with the more serious moments, then do give it a try!
Paul Jerome Smith
Many bands I’m sure could give lessons in the art of survival and none more so than Solstice. Formed in 1980 and with three studio albums under their belt their career looked to be on hold following the belated release of the 1998The Cropredy Set live recording. However F2’s excellent 2007 ‘Definitive Edition’ repackaging of the band’s back catalogue marked a resurgence of interest leading to a new studio release Spirit in 2010. This displayed a harder, more contemporary edge to the band’s sound but still compares favourably with the likes of Yes and Mostly Autumn. The albums launch included a performance at the Pitz Club, Milton Keynes, England on 6th March 2010 which was captured on camera providing the bulk of this DVD. Coincidently this is the same venue where the bonus DVD included with the Spirit album was filmed the previous year.
Confidence in the new material ensures that the Spirit album is performed almost in its entirety with the title track being the only conspicuous omission. The line-up from the album is all present and correct, namely Andy Glass (guitar), Jenny Newman (fiddle), Robin Phillips (bass), Steve McDaniel (keyboards), Emma Brown (vocals) and Pete Hemsley (drums). Morning Light (taken from the 1993 New Life album) is perhaps a tad too ponderous to make a really effective set opener and is swiftly followed by the three opening tracks from Spirit. They are all skilfully performed although for my money Andy’s guitar histrionics occasionally get the better of him (and the melody) as inSolomon’s Bridge whilst Sky Path West takes Solstice into previously unchartered prog-fusion territory. Best of the trio for me however is the world music flavoured Freedom where Jenny’s fiddle playing really soars.
A stately Cheyenne is beautifully sung by Emma and in complete contrast is the tongue in cheek Ducks which fuses Jenny’s fiddle driven reel with a reggae beat. The ska theme continues with an unexpected cover of Toots and the Maytals 5456 with enthusiastic participation from the surprisingly youthful looking audience (this is a prog gig after all!). Having lightened the mood, they return to the Spirit album beginning with the rolling and Middle-Eastern flavoured Here & Now which allows both bassist Phillips and drummer Hemsley to indulge in lengthy solos. The latter has samples from Tubular Bells, Star Trek and The Simpsons thrown in for good measure. With the band’s performance noticeably improving as the show progresses they are really on fire by this point.
The haunting Celtic ballad that opens Oberon’s Folly provides another welcome change of mood whilst the aptly titledFlight really soars with superb guitar and violin interplay between Andy and Jenny. The Yes like a cappella section is superbly performed by Emma and Jenny leaving Andy to deliver his most strident guitar solo of the evening. Fittingly they close with and electrifying rendition of Sacred Run, one of the band’s strongest tunes taken from the 1997Circles album.
Visually and sonically Kindred Spirits is a major improvement on Solstice’s two previous DVD’s. Whilst the stage lighting is not always sympathetic to the cameras where band members are occasionally shrouded in darkness its well shot with strong colours, sharp images and first rate sound production.
DVD extras include two songs recorded at the ‘Night of the Prog’ Festival in Loreley, Germany on 4th September 2010. The expansive Loreley stage in broad daylight is in stark contrast to the Pitz Club show but the band look very much at home performing within the festival environment. This is especially true of Glass whose guitar workout during Brave New World could give both Steve Hackett and Nick Barrett a run for their money aided by a showy synth break from McDaniel. It’s pity that given the space available more footage from Loreley didn’t make it onto the DVD.
The accompanying CD was again recorded at the Pitz Club but this time in 2007 and 2008 and includes a selection of older tunes absent from the ‘Spirit’ shows. Of these Peace and Medicine standout, the former thanks to a stirring guitar workout from Glass and the latter thanks to a haunting melody where again Glass shines (if you pardon the pun). Brave New World (one of three songs here from the debut Silent Dance album) is undoubtedly the highlight however sounding suitably triumphant and proggy. The concluding Don’t Tell Me on the other hand is pure nonsense sandwiching the stoner standard Don't Bogart That Joint and Ian Dury’s Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll in between a fiddle led reel.
A final word for the Kindred Spirits artwork which is something of a departure for Solstice. Gone is the usual mystic symbolism replaced with a comic book style design by veteran Marvel artist Barry Kitson depicting the band members as super heroes. The liner notes are by Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson who is a self confessed Solstice fan. If this collection is given sufficient exposure then many more I’m sure will be joining him.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Oh I do love a live album, a product that does divide its community, love or loath them, there is no denying that they have made peoples careers, giving them almost legendary status. If I was to set you a challange to name your favourite live album, you will probably start reeling off titles which in all honesty will probably for the most part, come from the late 60’s to the early 80’s. For me the defining era of the live album was the 70’s. It always seemed a much more mature and relevant method of promoting an artists talents than using the mundane compilation to fulfil contractual obligation, not that this is what this release is, far from it. For me it really does test an artist’s mettle, displaying an inherent quality of character laying bare their musical souls. The live album offers mystique allowing the listener an opportunity to build their own visuals, creating mythical pictures of grandeur.
Then along came video, DVD and Blu Ray, a medium that changed everything but that’s a whole other story.
31 years in existence and this is only their sixth release. Solstice is not the most prolific band in the world, but then Andy Glass has always worked with the ethos of quality over quantity which is Festival Music’s ethos also, something that has served both well. Festival Music has performed a sterling job in making sure that their back catalogue was remastered to the highest order and that they provided a continuation of that work ethic for both 2010’s Spirit and 2011’s Kindred Spirits, which has to be a dream come true for any band.
It is also worth noting that all their releases have been DPRP recommended, not an accolade too many bands can boast and in my eyes Kindred Spirits is another release that will be added to that list.
This new release incorporates both audio and visual elements within its packaging making it the perfect companion forSpirit, being a good entry level for the uninitiated and a fantastic release for fans of old. For me it is the DVD that is the real winner here, but don’t write the cd off as that is a stunner too.
The DVD historically documents the Spirit launch show recorded at the now defunct Pitz Club in Milton Keynes which would appear to have been a bit of a spiritual Mecca for the band. The bonus extra’s New Life and Brave New World on the DVD is from their 2010 Loreley show.
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty. As ever, Solstice offer their majestic artistry to who ever wants to participate, a band that has a somewhat unique sound which incorporates prog passages that are embellished with folk, a sound that feels both tribal and spiritual. The beauty of their creations is that you can actually feel the love, energy and emotion they have invested throughout. Andy’s guitar work is just an extension of his personality; the fret work is metered precisely, as if the guitar is part of his being, switching between lead and rhythm with the flick of a switch. Jenny Newman sonically compliments their interactions and vice versa, the duelling between them at times is really exciting, perfectly complimenting each other. Emma Brown builds the storylines with conviction, whilst the listener hangs in the balance intently caressing every word offered.
The older songs still sound fresh and relevant Cheyenne being a very good example of this. Even when you listen to the cd you can feel the band engaging with the audience with their warmth and passion. Ducks sees the band getting the audience to dance allowing Jenny to breathe and display her virtuosity, a mixture of Celtic Ska and Country rhythms. Ska is the order of the day with the band working their way through 5456 and Brave New World. The track that always intrigues me though is Don’t Tell Me, a brave and intrepid musical journey, which can feel out of place at times, but does confirm that the band have a fun loving side too. It’s also nice to see Robin Phillips, (bass), Pete Hemsley (drums) and Steve McDaniel (keyboards) having fun engaging in some musical malarkey working their way through Tubular Bells (theme for The Exorcist segment), Star Trek and The Simpsons, something that breaks down the dark intensity of Here And Now.
The whole package in general manages to perfectly capture the band live since 2007 albeit in the same location, but no matter. This is a release worth buying, that does work on several levels and is highly entertaining. The audio and video quality is impeccable throughout, with the usual multi angle shots, only the two Loreley tracks being slightly ropey on sound.
The live arena is definitely the place to see this band, a place that they are very comfortable in. Having seen Solstice live several times I can categorically confirm that this really is a true representation of what the band are about.
What you waiting for?
Conclusion : 8 out of 10