December 17, 2022

Despite a few periods of musical inactivity, Solstice has been around for over forty years now, and IS still led and directed by guitarist and main-man Andy Glass. They began in the early eighties, a time when prog rock was undergoing some kind of renaissance after a fallow few years, when bands like IQ, Pendragon and Twelfth Night, not to mention Marillion, were beginning to make the genre respectable again after a stagnant period. But, despite being bracketed with such bands, Solstice were not a prog band as such, more a folk-prog band as they didn’t look to Genesis to show them the way; their music made good use of a violin, plus at the time they HAd a female vocalist in the Jon Anderson mould. Solstice also leaned more towards the early-mid 1980s ‘free festival’ scene, appearing at several.

Today, with Andy Glass the sole remaining member from the free festival days, Solstice are still alive and well and still recording new albums, with their seventh studio album, Light Up, due for imminent release. Andy Glass agreed to be interviewed about the album and other matters, and I began by asking how pleased he was with Light Up?

Light Up

AG:  Delighted ! I began the writing process with some anxiety we could follow our previous studio album, Sia, but as soon as we started recording vocals, it felt like we were moving forward. And, unlike Sia, this time Jess (Holland, lead vocals) and myself were able to work together in the studio, which makes so much difference. I also think this is a better album sonically, again myself and Pete (Helmsley, drums) could work in the same space to get the right parts and performances. We went to Afterglow studios for a week and put down the drums with their excellent young engineer, Ben Maxwell. Again, it makes a huge difference working in the same space rather than the remote home studio set-up we had for Sia.

VT: When Sia was released in 2020, you stated ‘Sia is going to be our best album yet’. Do you have the same feelings towards Light Up?

Yes, I do. Light Up is a continuum of the inspiration we felt creating Sia. Jess has really grown into her role in the band and this has meant more creative input and a greater confidence to own the music. For me the results bear this out.

Would Sia really not have happened but for lockdown?

 I don’t believe it would have. Before Lockdown, the idea was Jess would take over as vocalist, but there were no plans for any new album at the time. But lockdown created the unique opportunity for me to spend months in the studio, and for all of us to immerse ourselves in the music. I’m certain we would have recorded an album in time, but it wouldn’t have been Sia.

Solstice has been very prolific in recent times, what with two studio album in two and a half years, plus a ‘live’ album. What do you think has been the impetus behind this burst of creativity, and can you see this wave of creativity extending into the future?

 So, Sia was a game changer for Solstice, and for me in particular. I’ve just carried on with this total immersion and newfound commitment to drive the band forward. We have a ‘subscription’ model now, which means I can pay the band something when they work, and this ensures they’re able to turn down other commitments in order to focus on Solstice. This community support for Solstice is essential for us to be able to grow and create, and our ‘Guardians’ have helped us get this far. We’d have no chance without them.

Jess Holland at New Day Festival

Could you describe the impact Jess Holland has had on Solstice?

Jess is the creative and inspirational partner I’ve not had since the early days of Marc Elton. She’s a phenomenal musician, one who not only ‘gets’ the music, but also she’s someone who’s also brimming with new ideas when we work together. Then there’s her ‘live’ presence and the incredible onstage energy she has, which fires up both the band and the audience alike. If I had to ream up the perfect singer for Solstice, it would be Jess Holland every time. We’ve said before we’ve both ‘changed each other’s lives’ and I think this just about sums it up.

You’ve said, ‘Solstice are in a good place right now’. How much of this is due to the band having a settled line-up of musicians?

 Jenny (Newman, violin) has mentioned how much closer we are as a band now. It really does feel like a family. And, now, with the wonderful Ebony Buckle and Jen Sanin (backing vocalists)  onboard, working together is something we’re all excited about. It’s like we play a show and we’re immediately looking forward to being together again for the next one. Jeez, I love this band.

You’ve stated, ‘Solstice members, when they play with us, are losing money they could be making elsewhere’. This really does speak volumes about what the band and its music means to the musicians, doesn’t it?

Yes, it really does, and even with the support of our Guardians (people who pay subscriptions) it remains true they could be making much better money elsewhere. We released last year, to stand any kind of chance, we must at least be able to cover the expenses of the crew and musicians, and gig fees simply won’t cover this, because when there’re nine of you and you’re travelling 100 miles to do a gig, it’s usually taking a day away from your income stream. Thus, the ‘subscription’ model is the only realistic way forward for us, and we’re so grateful to those who’re already onboard.

So, based on this, how important is the support of your fanbase to the continued survival of Solstice?

There is no music or art without an audience. There’d also be no Solstice without the community around us, and we wouldn’t have got anything like this far over the past year without the support of our subscribers, and everyone who helped ‘crowdfund’ Light Up. It’s impossible to overstate the significance of our support community.

Jenny Newman with distinctive violin

How much freedom do Solstice members have to interpret the music you write?

 As much as they wish to have – and, for me, the most exciting moments are when someone’s contributed something I would never have thought of. Jess really puts her own stamp on the vocal parts. And she adds all those cool ideas and harmonies which give the songs their character. Pete will develop the basic programmed grooves into his drum parts, and this always adds so much. Jenny’s parts are often derived from her love of traditional music, which is another Solstice hallmark, and Steve (McDaniels, keyboards) often gets a completely blank slate. So, the whole band gets to put their stamp on the music. Yes, I write the songs and take the final decisions on arrangements and production,  but this is very much the product of the band.

There’ve been at least a dozen musicians who’ve played in Solstice since the band began. Has there been anyone who’s left whom you wish should have stayed longer?

Mark Hawkins !  After recording our debut album, Silent Dance,  a process fraught with personal and practical issues, we made the colossal mistake of believing replacing Mark was somehow going to make the band better. But the reverse was true, and we deeply hurt a lovely guy and a friend in the process. But we were young and stupid…

Solstice has had a few downtimes in its lengthy career. Presumably, with the current level of creativity, there’re no plans for one anytime soon!

This time has come at a point in my life where I can fully appreciate it for the gift it is. For as long as this line-up stays together, I’m going to continue giving it everything I have.

When talking about Solstice, you’ve stated ‘either we find new ways forward or we get off the bus’. What did you mean by this?

This was when we realised we couldn’t grow as a band without a subscription model, and the degree to which we can continue to develop is directly linked to this support. It’s a sad truth you can make a reasonable income as a musician in a tribute band, but you have no chance surviving as an original artist. Even with financial support from subscribers, you’ll definitely need a day job! Playing ‘live’ and recording loses money every time, and the huge amount of work myself, and others like Tim Smith, do behind the scenes, is of course completely unfunded. I take absolutely no money personally but, out of respect and necessity, the band members get at least expenses for everything they do.

Are you now ‘the band Solstice was always meant to be?’

Ah, the words of Martin Kielty! Absolutely, and my heart’s fit to burst. Who’d have imagined this would happen at this point in my life, and forty two years on from forming the band? Patience, Grasshopper!

Personally, you’ve had a long and varied musical journey… Solstice, the free festival scene, working for Jethro Tull, Playing with Bill Withers, being an educator, etc… so you absolutely have a story to tell. Any likelihood you’ll write an autobiography?

Ha! If only I could remember any of it!

Lastly, any chance of Solstice extending its record of three consecutive appearances at the New Day Festival in 2023? 

Three in a row was quite a result! The track A New Day from Sia got us an appearance in 2021 and Mount Ephraim from Light Up got us 2022.  Next year we’re performing at sister festival Alford Rock & Blues Festival, but I’ve high hopes for New Day 2024 though!

Solstice taking a deserved bow!