Solsbury Hill remains one of Peter Gabriel’s most cherished songs. It was also one of his first singles released as a solo artist. I’ve loved this song ever since its release, but It was less than ten years ago that I realised Solsbury Hill is actually place. Scanning a map of the hills around Bath, UK I came across Solsbury Hill. Could this really be the source of his inspiration?
It has been written that the song was influenced by Gabriel’s visit to the top of the hill, looking out towards Bath and the Somerset countryside. Whilst the song may deal with the metaphorical lyrics of ‘climbing up’ and ‘climbing down’ like the shedding of skin or starting again, it is also possible that he did contemplate his actions and future atop the hill.
Digging into his lyrics, I felt that whilst Solsbury Hill may have been the reference point rather than a physical reference to the hill. The song was more about the metaphorical journey going up the hill to reflect on his decisions and perhaps gain perspective and his ultimate return ‘down the hill’ to pick up on his new journey as a solo artist.
Released in 1977, just two years after Gabriel had left Genesis the lyrics reference his considerations atop the hill.. had he been foolish to walk away from the band he co-founded on the cusp of global stardom? “My friends would think I was a nut, Turning water into wine, Open doors would soon be shut…”
I feel he talks about his challenges and the easy path of returning to the band, to the life he knew … “Son,” he said “Grab your things, I’ve come to take you home.” but equally the challenges of being part of the music industry ”I walked right out of the machinery…”
I climbed Solsbury Hill one blustery Sunday morning, but only after I’d played the song!
From atop the hill you do get a great view of Bath and surrounding countryside. It is far enough from the city to get that a sense of space, even more so when the song was written over 40 years ago.
You too can walk in Gabriel’s footsteps and climb up Solsbury Hill. Managed by the National Trust, the hill is a popular spot for walkers easily reached from Bath. The hills aren’t high so a decent pair of shoes is all you need to climb the hill.
Solsbury Hill and Little Solsbury Hill are located above the town of Batheaston in Somerset. A few minutes drive from the centre of Bath or an hour’s walk.
The Somerset region of England, around Bath must have held some importance for Gabriel. Since 1978 he had been recording music at Ashcombe House outside Bath. HIs 1986 album, ‘So’ which heralded global stardom was recorded at Ashcombe House. I suspect it also laid the financial foundations for the creation of ‘Real World Studios’ in the village of Box, again just outside the city of Bath. Sadly, Real World Studios is not available for public visits.