I was at Wrigleyville Sports outside of Wrigley Field buying a Cubs hat. The employees at the store were very helpful, but also very particular about the cd’s they played on their little boombox. They were discussing music when I overheard the cashier saying “Games Without Frontiers” to one of his coworkers. I merely repeated “Games Without Frontiers?” immediately recalling the classic Peter Gabriel tune, and I’ll never forget the response I received. He looked at me and nodded with a side smile as he said one word: “Peter.” I mouthed “Peter Gabriel” as I nodded back and payed for the hat. I asked if he liked the aforementioned “Peter,” and he responded “his early stuff.” I asked if he liked Genesis, and he replied, “their early stuff,” which I interpreted to mean the Peter Gabriel years. Today, I’m writing about the song that marked the transition betweens Genesis’s early stuff and Peter Gabriel’s early stuff: “Solsbury Hill.”
Let me start by saying, I love this song. The first time I heard it, I was smitten immediately. The acoustic guitar intro of course was the first thing that struck me, but also the odd time signature (7/4), the constant bass drum, the melody, the big power chords at the end and the giant crescendo that starts at the beginning and goes to the very end. Actually, the triangle part alone could have carried the song.
There’s certainly a lack of unity online about which fret to put the capo on (or if you need one at all) for this song (2nd fret A-shape, or 4th fret G-shape). Some even debate about what tuning to use. I play it in standard tuning with a capo on the 2nd fret. The song is in B Major, but with this setup, it will feel like A. Certainly, you can argue for one way or another, but if you want to replicate the original studio performance, the second fret is the position used by Steve Hunter, the guitarist who recorded this part (see this interview: http://www.vintageguitar.com/3752/steve-hunter/). Another clue to this position is when you hear him play the F# (or the open E-string with the capo on the second fret) the E played on the B-string continues to ring. In other words, he plays the two notes on different strings which would be impossible using the G shape (4th fret position). Have I overanalyzed this? Perhaps. Are you just wanting to learn this song so that you can play the first two measure for your friends who refer to him only as “Peter?” Fine! Regardless, I’m sure you can find various live performances with Peter’s guitarists playing it in different positions to justify your personal preference.
The included transcription is not an exact note for note transcription. I took some liberties to reflect the bass line and the keyboard part, but it sounds very close to the recording and will work well as the sole accompaniment (but try and find yourself a decent triangle player). This song uses Travis picking, which is essentially a constant bass-note pulse executed by the right hand thumb. Your thumb should be playing steady eighth notes (all the notes in the chart with the stems down should be played with the thumb).