Image © Cherry Red Records Ltd 2009
Annie Haslam (lead vocals)
Image © Sire Records 1976
Dreams & Omens (2008)
Live at the Mean Fiddler (2001)
BBC Sessions (1999)
(13 June 2009) Renaissance remain today the premier classically influenced progressive rock band from the 1970s and early 1980s. The mainstream lineup fronted by stunning lead vocalist Annie Haslam was comprised of Jon Camp (bass and vocals), Michael Dunford (guitar and backing vocals), John Tout (keyboards), Terry Sullivan (drums, percussion and backing vocals). The original band actually formed in the late 1960s and went through numerous lineup changes before gelling in 1972 and again after their 1979 album Azure d'Or. Several soldiered on in various lineup combinations to release further albums through the 1980s and 1990s until finally calling it a day after the 2001 Tuscany album and live recording commemorating their final tour in the same year.
Annie Haslam continues to release solo albums, although at a slower rate than in the 1980s and 1990s. Today she is the prominent driving force behind the latest round of live recording releases that include Dreams & Omens (review) and the band's first official DVD, Song of Scheherazade - Renaissance Live. An all new remaster of the 1976 Renaissance Live at Carnegie Hall album and a new live release entitled [Renaissance] Acoustic In America, both on the Friday Music (USA) label, are also planned for 2009. Annie's paintings adorn the 2008 and 2009 live releases.
The first Renaissance DVD Song of Scheherazade - Renaissance Live (Cherry Red Records (UK) CRDVD0174, 2009) was originally frought with production problems. Waited for with eager anticipations by the bands fans worldwide, it was originally rumored to be both short running and of lackluster visual quality. The initial shipments left diehard enthusiasts even more disappointed with a production error in the audio track. To their credit, the label promptly recalled the product and committed to provide all customers with a proper replacement. While the months passed, anticipation grew. The final result is a 125 minute DVD containing significant portions of two of the band's live shows and improved cover artwork designed by Annie Haslam and Krista Wallhagen (website). The DVD, filmed in black and white, is available today worldwide in both NTSC and PAL formats.
The first portion of the DVD is comprised of eight live tracks recorded at the Capital Theater, Passiac, NJ (USA) on 21 May 1976. The gig captures the band in their Live at Carnegie Hall era, but before the live album of the same name was released. The show includes selections from Prologue, Turn Of The Cards and Scheherazade and Other Stories. With reasonable film and audio quality, the progressive roots of the band are especially well illustrated their performances of "Prologue," "Running Hard" and "Mother Russia."
While the Renaissance sound grew across their their albums from 1972 to 1979, this development is especially evident when viewing this first portion of the DVD. Always fronted by Annie Haslam's stunning voice, John Tout's superb classically influenced keyboard work and Terry Sullivan's crisp drum work, the 1976 video work clearly shows the instrumental forefront taken by bass player Jon Camp versus the back seat taken by songwriter and acoustic guitar player Michael Dunford. The bass is dominent, moreso than the albums would indicate. Camp plays his Rickenbaker bass like an electric guitar, in a style similar to Chris Squire. Those that saw the band in this era will likely find this prominence as remarkable as we did.
The band's live performance of the three main segments of "Scheherazade" brought back many fond memories. Just as one becomes accustomed to the black and white video and the reasonable audio quality, this first segment actually provides only the appetizer for the main course that follows. Annie's rendition of "The Young Prince and Princess" is tremendously delivered atop the gentlest arrangement while the crescendo in "The Festival" is dramtically performed to wild audience acclaim. The film captures Annie in one of the flowing gowns that she became known for. Those familiar with the artist's biography will note that she is wearling her the Roy Wood pendant throughout the performance.
The second portion of the DVD has nine live tracks recorded at The Convention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ (USA) on 28 July 1979. The show is the last performance of a seven week American tour that year. While stalwart tracks "Can you Understand" and "Mother Russia" are from the band's earlier albums, the selection of live tracks better illustrate the band's direction following Scheherazade, with only the upbeat "Vultures Fly High" from that album. The remainder of tracks show significant the significant growth of the band in only three years; selections from A Song For All Seasons and Azure d'Or are marvelously performed.
With both improved audio and video quality as compared to the 1976 recordings, the second portion of the DVD from 1979 not only illustrates the growth of the band's music but also presents a more balanced view of the individual band members working individually and together as a well honed unit. Michael Dunford comes more to the fore with acoustic, electric and twelve-string guitars and is animated working alongside Jon Camp fronting a Fender bass, acoustic guitar and double Rickenbaker in this show. Note that Camp's bass, while still outstanding, is less prominent in the upbeat 1979-era tracks from Azure d'Or. Annie's vocal work is stunning. Only three years following the 1976 gig, her vocal maturity is clearly illustrated in the second appearance of "Mother Russia," the stunning "A Song For All Seasons," and closer "Flood at Lyons."
Enthusiasts will be delighted that the second portion of the DVD includes the Terry Sullivan-penned track "Forever Changing" and the Dunford/Thatcher classic "Jeckyl and Hyde," most likely the first of the tracks that showed a change in the band's direction after A Song For All Seaons. The band are again dressed in the contemporary style of the day, Annie barefoot in an off the shoulder long folky dress with her famous gold "Annie" pendant prominently displayed.
When looking back on the 125 minutes of the DVD recorded in 1976 and 1979 respecitively, the growth of the band's material, live performance and recording quality in this short period is astounding. This is a fantastic commemorative of one of the greatest bands of all times.