Renaissance

TrackAlbum
Carpet Of The SunAshes Are Burning
Sounds Of The SeaPrologue
Walking AwayIllusion
IslandRenaissance
Can You Hear Me?Novella
Running HardTurn Of The Cards
Can You Understand?Ashes Are Burning
One Thousand RosesTuscany
Northern LightsA Song For All Seasons
Ashes Are BurningLive At Carnegie Hall

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Contributor: Ian Ashleigh

It is easy to forget that Renaissance was formed in early 1969 by the former Yardbirds, Keith Relf and Jim McCarty, with Relf’s sister Jane. Two years later and none of the original members remained. Jane Relf’s friend, the lyricist and writer Betty Thatcher, wrote most of the lyrics for the early band, an association that would last until 1981 and a fruitful songwriting partnership with guitarist Michael Dunford.

A full history of the band can be found in the usual places, so I don’t propose to replicate the story of the early days or the way the halcyon line up came to be and what happened after.

The band’s success came when Annie Haslam brought her five octave vocal range to complement John Tout’s keyboards, Michael Dunford’s guitars, Jon Camp’s bass (and vocals) and Terence Sullivan’s drums. This was considered the classic line-up when the band created a sound around acoustic guitars and piano, Camp’s bass occasionally became the lead instrument (quite exciting for a would-be bass player).

Once again, I’ve chosen a 10 for my playlist and put them in that order. Inevitably, this focuses on the classic period and there were a few ‘either or’ moments that will come out and equally inevitably there will be glaring omissions for some people. I hope there are some surprises too.

We open the music with a song that would be on the shortlist for a personal top 20. Carpet Of The Sun opened side two of Ashes Are Burning and many of the live shows. It has a stirring tune and some very uplifting lyrics. It could, maybe should, have been a massive hit single in 1973; it really is an exuberant pop song. Just read the first verse and the chorus – magnificent:

Come along with me
Down into the world of seeing
Come and you’ll be free
Take the time to find the feeling
See everything on its own
And you’ll find you know the way
And you’ll know the things you’re shown
Owe everything to the day

[Chorus]
See the carpet of the sun
The green grass soft and sweet
Sands upon the shores of time
Of oceans mountains deep
Part of the world that you live in
You are the part that you’re giving

The juxtaposition of the fire of the sun creating life on Earth and the water of the sea was too perfect not to do; Sounds Of The Sea from Prologue (1972) is a more gentle affair, very profound. Betty Thatcher thought she might have revealed too much of herself in the wonderful lyric which Annie Haslam takes to a sublime level with an immaculate backing by the band. You are there with the waves, in the winter, in the summer can this music get any better?

A change of voice and back to the second album, Illusion. Walking Away is a bonus track on the CD. Following Keith Relf’s death, the four surviving members of this band reformed under the name Illusion. Back again to the very beginning and a song that could have been recorded by the classic line up, one that showcases Jane Relf’s vocal, Island is another song that takes you on a journey. Perhaps it has a feeling of its time (1969) and there are multiple influences apparent in the song. It’s interesting to note that despite its feel and arrangement none of this band played on Prologue only two years later. At this time, Michael Dunford was a songwriter to the band and not a performing member.

A gradual change of tempo and we travel in time to 1977 and the Novella album with one of those songs that heavily features Jon Camp’s bass; Can You Hear Me? with its evocative lyrics wrapped in an arrangement that perfectly draws the musical pictures to add to the words. In another one of those ‘either or’ moments, I had to choose between Can You Hear Me? and Ocean Gypsy from Scheherazade and Other Stories (1975) – the vote went in favour of the later song.

Between the releases of Ashes Are Burning and Scheherazade came Turn Of The Cards and six first class tracks. So either Mother Russia, inspired by the work of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, or the fantasy of Running Hard. I went for the fantasy and a lighter, less dense arrangement. Now, we return to Ashes Are Burning and the opening track Can You Understand? for its plea, do you really get what we’re all about. From the opening gong crash and tinkling piano, through the urgency of the music to the vocal that kicks in after fully 3 minutes, this really is Renaissance at their best. The band was never afraid to engage an orchestra in the studio or, indeed, on tour.

Here’s a surprise – a track of 2001’s offering Tuscany, and an even bigger surprise; Jon Camp was unavailable so the bass was played by Annie Haslam’s then fiancé Roy Wood (yes, he of The Move and Wizzard) playing the role of sideman with no hand on the writing or production tiller. As ever, the album is a showcase for Haslam’s pure voice that has lost none of its range or power or subtlety when needed. This is a Renaissance album, no mistaking, but one that takes their style across ten relatively short tracks which, nonetheless, sit well with the earlier material. One Thousand Roses closes the album and has everything you want from Renaissance; soaring vocal, musical colour, contrast.

And so we come to the penultimate track and Renaissance’s greatest hit Top 10 in the UK in 1978, Northern Lights has to be in the list at the expense of A Song For All Seasons, the title track of the album, and Back Home Once Again, used as the theme song for a 1977 British TV series, The Paper Lads.

And so my friends the final track, which ones are missing that you’d have in your ten? I had one final ‘either or’ decision. Song Of Scheherazade missed out and, sadly, there is no room for a track from that album. It is worth noting that the opening track, Trip To The Fair, is about Haslam and Wood’s first date.

Ashes Are Burning closed side two of the 1973 album of the same name. In 1976, Renaissance released a double album, Live At Carnegie Hall – they had played the New York venue the previous summer – and it is from this collection that a version of the song that took up side four of the live album, complete with bass guitar solo, closes this topper-ten.

I’m sure I’ve omitted something you would have included, and some of you might select a completely different ten from this one that could include the tracks I omitted, but named. Tell me and our other friends on this site.

 

Renaissance official website

Renaissance Fanfare – for fans of the band and Annie Haslam

Northern Lights – Renaissance archive

Annie Haslam website

Renaissance biography (iTunes)

The entire Renaissance show from 1977’s BBC Sight & Sound In Concert can be seen here. The hour-long broadcast contains Carpet Of The Sun, Can You Hear Me? and Running Hard from Ian’s toppermost, and showcases Annie Haslam’s extraordinary vocal range, and if anyone would like to let us have a toppermost from her solo output we’d be thoroughly thrilled!

TopperPost #331

1 Comment

  1. Merric Davidson
    Aug 3, 2014

    Ian knows that I’d want to include the opening track of side one of A Song For All Seasons, in fact I’d probably want the entire side one, but anyhow here’s a clip of Annie and the band performing that first track Opening Out. Love it.

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