Renaissance - Live at The London Astoria
09 March 2001
Concert Review

Astoria Ticket

Review and HTML © Russell W Elliot 2001
Formatted for 800 x 600 or larger windows
Last updated: 01 April 2001

The London Astoria, just feet from London Underground's Tottenham Road tube station, was the venue for the return of Renaissance featuring Mike Dunford, Annie Haslam and Terry Sullivan from the band's classic period lineup. The Astoria switches its identity to nightclub during the evening to maximise revenue, principally derived from its numerous bars, and this unfortunately limits the lengths of live performances but it does keep things on schedule. The show is the first following the band's two weeks of rehearsal in preparation for a week long tour in Japan to promote their new album Tuscany. Live performances there will be recorded and a DVD commemorating the tour is already a very popular topic of conversation.

Our anticipation of the show was certainly equalled by the others from all corners of the globe that packed into the venue as the doors opened. The balcony section was reserved for a limited number of guests but the main floor was packed with enthusiastic fans from all over the United Kingdom, America, Norway, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Spain, Japan and even the Middle East. This was our sixth Renaissance concert, having seen the band in Ithaca, Syracuse and Binghamton a total of five times during the 1970s. Our trip to the show from our upstate New York--and now Portsmouth, England--headquarters was worth every inch of the trans-Atlantic journey.

Claire Hammill opened the show singing and playing guitar herself. A young man also accompanied her on acoustic guitar. Claire has a prolific discography and she drew a bunch of tracks from her folk rock and blues repertoire to create this opening act. Claire delivered her performance with heartfelt emotion and completely captured the audience during her half hour set as evidenced by widespread applause following each song as well as at the conclusion of the set.

An incredible buzz developed in the audience as the orchestral version of "Prologue" from the Live at the Royal Albert Hall (King Biscuit) album was played by the house. As the track concluded, the band came to the stage. In addition to Annie Haslam (vocals), Mike Dunford (acoustic guitars), Terry Sullivan (drums), the band were comprised of two keyboard players--Rave Tesar from Annie's band and Mickey Simmonds who contributed significantly to the band's new album Tuscany. David Keyes, also from Annie's band, completed the lineup on five string bass. Wild applause calmed when the opening number "Carpet Of The Sun" began.

Terry Sullivan came to the stage wearing the commemorative Renaissance t-shirt from the 1996 Northern Lights website project. John Tout was in the audience and remained afterwards for chats in the dressing room. While it's a shame that he didn't perform, we're sure he won't mind us repeating that he also thought the show was "excellent." And although some fans clearly missed Jon Camp, David Keyes' outstanding bass and backing vocal performance impressed everyone. Influenced by both the band's original bass player and Yes' Chris Squire, Keyes playing and stagecraft contributed significantly to the band's live performance. The two keyboards worked extremely well, creating more robust orchestral arrangements.

Introductions were provided by Annie and Mike in turn through the set, but the chat was subdued primarily to maximise the time available for music performance. The set balanced new with old tracks and spanned the majority of the band's discography. "Midas Man," recently released as a live version, was played next, and Annie's vocalise performance made it clear to all that Annie was absolutely in top vocal form, further underscored throughout the performance reaching a full crescendo in "Ashes Are Burning," performed as the band's encore.

"Lady From Tuscany," a track that blend's the old sound with newer keyboard textures, worked well in the live setting. Another upbeat and accessible track from the new album, "Dear Landseer," followed and the audience, many of whom had not heard the new material, reacted very positively. The band's hit, "Northern Lights," was played to wild acclaim as many from the audience joined in the chorus singing along with the band.

Annie introduced her recent solo album Dawn Of Ananda co-written largely with Rave Tesar and the band then played "Ananda," a song with obvious Asian influence, much in the style of "What He Seeks" from Blessing In Disguise. The combination of musicians on stage led to an excellent arrangement of this number with Tesar and Keyes being from Annie's own band and Dunford, Sullivan and Simmonds adding the Renaissance element. Terry Sullivan's dynamic performance on drums was certainly one of the highlights of the evening.

From the new album the band played "One Thousand Roses," which again blends the classic Renaissance sound with live contributions by Rave Tesar, with more modern keyboard textures provided principally by Mickey Simmonds. Mike Dunford's acoustic guitars worked perfectly and it is interesting to note that no electric guitars were used within the performance.

Two classic tracks concluded the main set. A new arrangement of "Trip To The Fair," was played for the first time to great effect primarily due to the two keyboard lineup. While Annie has performed the song with her band, this is the first time it was played by Renaissance per se. While the initial laughter was omitted, Annie made it clear to the audience where it was meant to be! An outstanding epic performance of "Mother Russia" followed and concluded the brief main set.

The band returned to play an oustanding rendition of "Ashes Are Burning," complete with mirror ball as performed years before. The individual band members' solos were each outstanding beginning with Rave's keyboard improvisation, Dave's revised bass solo which unfortunately misses the infamous pedal part and then Mickey's over the shoulder keyboard conclusion to that segment of the track. Terry Sullivan's dynamic drum playing stood out. And Annie's incredibly captivating vocalisations throughout the final movement brought tears to many eyes as the song reached its dramatic conclusion.

Although many cameras were confiscated by the venue's security patrol, several images from the show and further comments are available within Ian Oakley's online review.

We understand that the promoter was quite satisfied with the response to the show, especially given the modest advertising and publicity for the event. Perhaps a more widespread tour will follow the band's trip to Japan in anticipation of a European and American release of the band's new album Tuscany.

This revised lineup is certainly working well together. Like many of the band's enthusiasts, we're keen to see them return to the stage in Europe and America soon. Yes, this is Renaissance--whilst many might have believed they wouldn't--they have returned!

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