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The late sixties and the golden years of the seventies produced artists who were able to create a special and unique musical approach, this was a gift from those bands to true music lovers all over the world. Instead of writing commercial radio-friendly three-minute songs, they were able to widen the scope into more elaborate, longer musical pieces. The British band, Renaissance is one who should be mentioned among the biggest acts. Their classic albums, for instance, ‘Ashes are Burning’, ‘Turn of the Cards’ and ‘Scheherazade and Other Stories’ show what key factors made the band special among the art rock community. The influences of classical and folk music, an operatic five-octave voice, the crisp clear acoustic guitar and piano, the strong melodic bass sound and orchestral sounding drums all work well within the lush, grand arrangements, and are the main factors which have made the sound of Renaissance so unique. The cherry on the top was Annie Haslam’s five-octave vocal range, whose clean bell-like tones were similar to Joan Baez and the early Joni Mitchell. The lyricist, Betty Thatcher was able to create a special art form of poetry that captured the essence of this kind of music perfectly. Many of the songs were written about Annie in some form or another, which fitted the band very well.

The ’Golden Line-up’ of Renaissance in the seventies • Photo by ©Hipgnosis


Although they changed their musical directions in the early 1980s and disbanded some years later, their legacy is undisputed. Nowadays, the reformed band is very active, releasing new albums and DVDs, Annie is the one who represents the original line-up among the very talented new musicians. Annie’s voice still shines and moreover, in spite of the big success she gained, she remains a kind, honest and talkative woman as she was before her musical career. 

Annie then and now • unknown photographer and ©Brian Tirpak


How are you Annie on these hot summer days?


I am fine, thanks. As you know, it’s very hot here right now, I have no air conditioning in my house because I found that it was not good for my vocal chords. Fortunately, I have a pool and it helps me to cool off in the summertime... right now weather patterns all over the globe are unnerving so I am concerned about this for all humanity and in particular the helpless animals!


By the way, I am happy that you are fine and the Renaissance is very active nowadays. Are you planning to release something this year?


Yes, we are very active these days, of course! In the fall of 2017, we toured the US East Coast and we performed four of the shows with a chamber orchestra. We recorded the show at The Keswick Theatre, Glenside, PA and it was recorded in both film and audio. Rave Tesar, our musical director and pianist created the orchestra from classical musicians he knew, and we named it ’The Renaissance Chamber Orchestra’. These orchestra shows were to be the first time in 40 years that we had performed ’live’ with an orchestra. The last time was at The Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. These recent concerts with the chamber orchestra were an out of this world experience, very emotional and proved to us all and the great audiences that came, this was how we should be performing at this time in the band’s career... all 16 of us! ‘A Symphonic Journey (Live in Concert)’ will have its official worldwide release on September 14th 2018 and with the help of our Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign and our wonderful fans this giant dream came true!

In addition to it, we have another album release this year, as well. Thanks to the label, Cherry Red Records in the UK, ‘Prologue’ will be reissued as an extended version on 28th September. It is the first part of the Renaissance reissue series that Cherry Red now have in their catalogue, and I hope there will be more in the future.


Back to your new release, performing with the orchestra I guess you would like it to be an ongoing practice.


Yes, we would like that! On most Renaissance albums we recorded with different orchestras and we were fortunate enough to play ’live’ with some of them. This collaboration works perfectly with our music! The Royal Albert Hall show with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Choral Society; it was a night to remember forever. Of course, this was possible back then because we had a big record label behind us paying the huge expenses that a show like that costs. There were five in the band, 35 in the orchestra, plus a substantial size choir, too.

The recent line-up of Renaissance ’live’ in Brazil, 2017. • ©RenaissanceTouring


It can’t have been cheap, I bet...


You’re right, playing with such a large orchestra is very costly! So at this moment in time, the band will continue to work with smaller orchestras. The overall sound is still very full and luxurious. I like this kind of collaboration because this sound has always played a huge role in our musical approach. Renaissance were pioneers in the early days of progressive and symphonic rock due to the unique sound. I am very proud of what we have accomplished over the years and of course thankful to Keith Relf and Jim McCarty (ex-Yardbirds) who were the founding members of the band back in 1969. Rave Tesar, our keyboard player, producer and musical director, plays a huge role in Renaissance. He was in my solo band in the early 90’s and has been playing our music since that time, he was the perfect choice when we decided to add a second keyboard player in 2009.


I saw the trailer for the new DVD and really liked the way the imagery on the backdrop behind the orchestra blended so well with the music.


Well, the show at the Keswick was a wonderful collaboration in many ways. As you know, I am also a painter, and for this tour, I wanted to give the audience something really special, as well as fulfilling a personal dream, so I painted eleven paintings, one for each song. They were enlarged to 24 feet x 12 feet and were displayed on a huge screen behind the orchestra. The feeling of standing on stage with my fellow musicians, performing Renaissance music, ’live’ with an orchestra and also my paintings in the background was so unreal and emotional! So my dream came true. Such a sight to behold and to see so many smiling joyful faces of our wonderful fans, it was priceless! It was visually and musically uplifting and almost unreal. The fans adored it, so did we!

Renaissance at the Victoria Theater, NJPAC Newark, NJ, 2018. • ©RenaissanceTouring


You mentioned you have created projects with the help of crowd-funding. How do you define your place among the many changes in the music business because of this?


The record industry has changed drastically. It would be nice if we had a big record label, like ’Sire Records’ in the seventies, probably the best of all the companies we worked with. As this is not possible these days so we created our own record label ’Symphonic Rock Recordings’ to release our own musical projects. With the birth of social media, music can be shared and promoted again and again, but in a different way. The internet far reaches fans worldwide so really works well getting the word out. Sadly there is still the problem of people ’stealing’ music and selling under the guise of some label or other when they really are bootlegs. Some kids these days seem to think they can share and download music for free which is wrong, but that stems from the parents not teaching them right from wrong. This practice destroys a musician’s livelihood and has far-reaching consequences as that unfolds. Several friends of mine in the music business have just given up music, fed up with spending months recording new music only to have it stolen as soon as it came out.


But you are very active on the digital platform you mentioned.


As much as I was not a fan of social media, to begin with, I knew that it would be foolish if we didn’t utilize the advantages. We use these platforms to promote our releases, as well as keeping fans updated on Facebook on a daily basis. Fortunately, we have an excellent music agency in NYC, who books our shows in the USA and other places such as Brazil in 2017. This year we will be performing in Tokyo, Japan in mid-September, it will be special because our last tour there was in 2010.


How do you feel about touring? Do you like being on stage?


Performing with Renaissance is incredible, and it just seems to get better, the shows, the tours and recordings, travelling to far off places, hopefully, it will never end,  and after all this music IS timeless! I have promised myself I will carry on touring and recording as long as I am healthy and still in strong voice.


Have you got memorable concerts you like thinking back?


Yes! There are many but the most memorable are the three nights we sold out at Carnegie Hall in 1975 with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, it was very special. Another important concert memory is another sold-out show, that concert was at The Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1977. It was just outstanding! Moreover, there is another special one when we performed in Brazil in 2017, the fans there had waited over 40 years to see the band ’live’! I had been several times, solo and with my solo band. It was emotional and we had wonderful successful sold out shows! We are making new memories now with a fantastic band of musicians!


You will be touring in Japan in September. What memories can you recall about this country?


The last time we were in Japan in 2010 to perform in Tokyo, it was so hot, it was around 35 Celsius degrees and humid and I was worried about how we would perform outside in such heat... as we looked out into this outside auditorium the very first Tokyo Progressive Rock Festival, the fans were also holding FANS, which was quite amusing to see, but how I wished I had one on stage to get some kind of air movement around me! It was a great concert - even though it was uncomfortable for the band.


Are you planning to come for some shows to Europe in the near future?


We are in the planning stages of some shows in the UK and Europe in the Spring and Summer of 2019, which coincidentally will be the bands’ 50th anniversary. Some of our older catalogue will be released on Cherry Red Records to coincide with the touring along with new DVD/2CD set ’A Symphonic Journey w/chamber orchestra’. We have never performed in Hungary, I heard it was a very beautiful country with wonderful people, also I hear that progressive music is popular out there too, so I hope we can fit a ’Budapest’ show into our summer schedule next year. Then in the Fall next year I visualize we will be performing with our orchestra again.


When you perform and meet different people, can concerts differ from each other?


I think every concert depends on many factors, for example, the audience is the most important. While in Japan they are nice and polite, Brazilians are very excitable and emotional and they show it! And Israel, emotional too...I remember when we played in Israel in 2015, it was a special and a moving experience because the natural surroundings were so beautiful - we played in an open amphitheaterYou can imagine how wonderful the smell of the magnolia trees was surrounding the stage area, and the sounds of exotic birds fitted so well with our music and added a magical touch to the mood of the show. By the way, we all like to be on the road and have some fun together. in the grounds of a zoo.


Your last studio album, ‘Symphony of Light’ came out in 2015, dedicated to Michael Dunford, who had passed away.

In fact, it’s the extended version of ‘Grandine il Vento’, and it was dedicated to Michael. It was very hard to decide what we should do after his death. I am quite sure he would be very happy with the way I have handled the band and carried on his legacy. He was such a nice man, I really enjoyed working with him. When we reformed the band in 2009, we had some great ideas on how we would return to our classical roots from the 70’s as soon as we could record a new album... The new songs we wrote together are so wonderful, it was the first time we had written a whole album together. After Michael passed away, we got a distribution deal for the album ‘Grandine il Vento’, which meant the album could be sold all over the world, but we had to change the title of the album and add 3 bonus tracks and new artwork (I did a new painting for this) so that it would be more appealing for the fans who were collectors. The album also got a new title, ’Symphony of Light’, and my personal favorites on this album are ’Symphony of Light’ and ’Mystic and the Muse.’


I really like its special mood and the way you added a more modern sound to your classical approach.


I think it is a very intuitive record, a very special one. We dedicated it also to Leonardo da Vinci, the track ‘Symphony of Light’ is about him. During the recording process of the album, I told Michael Dunford that I wanted to write a song about Leonardo da Vinci. When I wrote the words I saw Leonardo in his later life, as if he were in front of my eyes. The apartment where he lived in the King of France’schateau, the studio and his masterpieces he worked on! He was a genius, I believe that he was a seer and a chaneller as he worked on his genius paintings and inventions. He was highly intellectual, a leading artist and the leading light of the Italian Renaissance!

’Leonardo da Vinci’ • © Annie Haslam


How can you summarize the factors of the band which made you unique?


I think, all of us added our personalities as well as talent into Renaissance and still do with the newer musicians that have joined... In the early days, I was responsible for the vocal arrangements, while Michael Dunford wrote wonderful music as well as Jon Camp, John Tout and Terence Sullivan, too. We had a marvelous lyricist, Betty Thatcher, whose poetic world was beautiful and perfectly matched to the music of Renaissance. Some of Betty’s lyrics were inspired by my life experiences.


It means that teamwork is essential if you want to take a step ahead.


Teamwork is essential if you are in a successful band because you are constantly working to create something that will be new but also a natural progression. For example, when we were rehearsing ‘Mother Russia’, I really liked the song although I felt the key was too high. Michael convinced me that I could do it and that I just needed to keep rehearsing and getting used to it, and of course, I got it, and it became one of our signature numbers.


While in the original band your tasks were the vocal harmonies and singing, with your recent group you are responsible for more things.


I am now the manager of the band, which has many facets and takes a lot of time plus many responsibilities... I am also involved in the songwriting and the recording, and production of our musical projects, I have also created the crowd-funding campaigns as well, but along with Esa Ahola manages our social network. Renaissance has some very talented musicians who respect the original line-up very much, and they are able to recreate the original music faithfully and perfectly. I am now the only English member of the group, something I didn't see coming, but I am very proud of this band.

A Symphonic Journey – ’Live’ in Concert with The Renaissance Chamber Orchestra

Worldwide release September 14th 2018

UK and Europe: Symphonic Rock Recordings/Cherry Red Records

Japan: Symphonic Rock Recordings/Disk Union

USA, Canada and rest of the world excluding above: Symphonic Rock Recordings