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Return of Solstice
on 20 November 2013
Young prog fans in the UK in the early 1980's had some good times. There were enough bands (Twelfth Night, Marillion, IQ, Pallas, Pendragon, Solstice etc.) to create a lively scene (which became known as 'neo-prog'), enthusiastic audiences, plenty of gigs in decent venues (The Marquee and The General Wolfe were my usual hunting grounds) and a sense of expectation that one or more of the bands would break into the big time. Personally speaking, I was also very lucky to have an indulgent mother who was brave enough to let a young teenager from the Midlands head off on his own to London and elsewhere to pursue his passion for music.
My favourite bands from that period were Twelfth Night (who released a really strong album called Fact and Fiction), IQ and Solstice. I saw these three bands more than any other. Solstice were a powerful live act with strong compositional skills and great musicianship throughout the band. In particular, I was a huge fan of their guitar player, Andy Glass, who specialised in truly epic solos. Whenever I got there early enough, I would pick a spot right in front of Andy so I could be close to the action as his soloing took flight (the poor bloke must have thought he had a stalker.) Andy's playing was one of the main reasons I picked up a guitar and started Big Big Train.
Despite many amazing gigs and a devoted following, commercial success never quite happened for Solstice. They made an album called Silent Dance but, despite the hard work of all who made it, the album didn't capture the power and majesty of the band at their best. One of their contemporaries, Marillion, went on to major success, and some of the other neo-prog bands were signed to decent labels, but Solstice fell behind and then fell apart.
However, there have been occasional signs of life from the Solstice camp since the mid 1980's (some re-issues and re-union gigs and even some new music) and now, in 2013, the band are signed to a supportive label and have released a fine new album.
Prophecy consists of a suite of 5 excellent new songs. There are many wonderful passages of music on this album (in particular the epic West Wind and the understated but majestic closing sections of Warriors and Black Water). As if that isn't enough, there are also three bonus tracks from the Silent Dance album which have been remixed by Steven Wilson.
And it turns out that the Silent Dance LP did, after all, capture the power and glory of Solstice in the early 1980's, it was just that the album needed the mixing and engineering skills of somebody like Steven Wilson to bring out the full quality of the audio recorded onto the multitrack tapes.
If you haven't bought any Solstice music before and need a pointer to their sound, imagine a mid-point between Yes and Camel, then add some fiddle. But Solstice have always had their own identity and I strongly recommend checking out Prophecy to get a good idea of what they are all about. Whether on new songs like West Wind or on reborn classics such as Return of Spring, this album shows them in fine form.