Renaissance and Annie Haslam – The Rebirth of Progressive Rock

July 13 2010
NY Rock Music Examiner
Suzanne Rothberg

Annie Haslam and her band Renaissance reunite on tour. Their last stop is Tarrytown Music Hall.

Singer and talented oil-painter Annie Haslam recently reunited with her band Renaissance in 2009; a band that formed originally in 1969 by two members of the Yardbirds, Jim McCarty and Keith Reif. Haslam joined the band in 1971 to replace the band’s original lead singer, Jane Reif who was Keith’s sister. Their original musical style was classical and they used actual classical pieces in some of their music in the early days of the band’s career. When they reformed at that point they stayed together for six years from 1973-1980 and everything changed literally overnight until they split in 1987; the same year Haslam began her solo career that lasted until 2002. The band’s final stop on the tour will be at Tarrytown Music Hall Friday July 16. It also marks their first gig there.

The band consists of two the original Renaissance members Annie Haslam (lead vocals), and Michael Dunford (lead guitar), and three members of Annie’s band; Rave Tesar and Tom Brislin (formerly of YES), (keyboards) David Keyes, (Bass) and Frank Pagano (Percussion/Drums).

I spoke to Annie by phone while she was on a tour stop in Quebec City, Canada where she was getting ready to perform at the Quebec International Summer Music Festival. She was very affable, charming and funny and had many insights to share about her career and reunion tour with her band Renaissance. She was enjoying her time there and said the city was fabulous.

“We’ve done 22 shows in five weeks–We started off with two shows with Procol Harum (they played at Tarrytown last month and are known for their famous hit, “Whiter Shade of Pale”) down in Pennsylvania and then with the Steve Hackett band. Both bands were fantastic.” Haslam said. “They were the perfect combination of musical styles; great set of people everyone does wonderfully it’s been really a great tour.”

Annie’s fabulous artwork can be seen on her website and also on the Renaissance website which isn’t quite finished yet. “I was trying to get it finished before we left for the tour and it’s just been impossible while I’m away–I’m going to be selling prints of the paintings that are featured on the (Renaissance) website and original paintings to sell at the shows and I do commissions on my own website. I was commissioned to paint two Martin guitars so it’s very interesting that I started painting in 2002.” She got the inspiration to paint in 2001 when she decided to switch gears because her solo career and touring at that point was becoming a struggle for her. “I decided at that time that I had to change but I was terrified because I thought what else would I do? so I realized it was a change needed and a voice in my head said, It’s time to start oil painting now ! completely out of the blue. And so I started and I haven’t stopped!” “I love it!” She enjoys music and artwork both equally. “They’re both me–one is musical in a different way; light and sound are the same thing so it makes sense.”

Haslam and Moody Blues lead vocalist-guitarist Justin Hayward teamed up several years ago for a duet entitled, The Angels Cry. She said she hasn’t worked with him since that time but if the opportunity rose again she would take it. She’s also an avid Moodies fan. “He’s been all over the world and when we did the Ottawa Blues Fest recently The Moody Blues were on a different stage the same time that we were on stage and we could hear them play! She said with a laugh. I didn’t have a chance to say hello to him because by the time the festival ended it just didn’t work out. It was wonderful to work with him and I actually ended up singing the vocal with him (on The Angels Cry) it was better to do it together so I was a little bit nervous but yeah he’s got a fantastic voice and what a gorgeous song as well. I would love to work with him again but never say never. I said I would never get the band back together again but I did.”

Renaissance has a three song EP out now that they sell at their shows (including Tarrytown) and their new CD that’s coming out soon is called, The Mystic and the Muse. “We’ll be doing the three songs off the EP live at our show amongst all the other classics but it’s getting a standing ovation everywhere we go. Everybody sings and technology is completely different than what it was in the 70s so we sound like a full orchestra now it’s wonderful and because everybody sings it’s more choral than it ever was.” Haslam said.

Tracks from their 1975 live album, Renaissance Live was recorded at New York’s Carnegie Hall and is available on the band’s MySpace page.

In the previous stage of Renaissance it was Michael Dunford and another writer who wrote many of the bands songs but now it’s Annie and Michael who write their own songs including the tracks from their forthcoming album, The Mystic and the Muse. ” We kind of got a half-reunion tour together and a CD called, Tuscany in 2001 where I first started writing with Michael and we just went to Japan and did three shows and we did a live album called, In the Land of the Rising Sun and now we’re carrying on with the writing with just the two of us and the band involved as well.” She said. “What we’re doing now is we’re keeping that sensibility within the songs and we’re writing our own classical music–I think the music of Renaissance is quite timeless it never seems to have dated because classical music doesn’t date that’s why it’s still as strong as it ever was and timeless.”

Annie said she can’t think of any particular artist that she would like to perform with but she wants the band to headline wherever they can. “We did a reunion tour in the fall which was very successful and we headlined but because we wanted to move further and start growing and getting to other people that we haven’t seen for 30 odd years or whatever; we couldn’t do this on our own because of the promoters, etc. so we had to go out with another band that would help each other sell tickets so we did several headlining spots but mainly we were special guests.” “It’s only the two of us me and Michael Dunford we originally invited the other band members but they declined which was fine. We’re back with our manager John Scher (who’s also a concert promoter) who looked after us in the 70s and that was the stipulation for me to go out on the road again.”

The next project for the band is they’re going to Japan in August and they will be doing some more shows that are in the works such as possibly Florida, Denver, the West Coast. “There’s so many places and so little time and then come September we’re going to start to put some songs together for a CD so we’ll have something to release in the spring and then I have two shows Christmas time at the Sellersville Theater in Pennsylvania a lovely theater. I did a Christmas show there last year and the year before with my band so I’m really excited about that–basically it’s my band without Michael Dunford!” She laughs. “In January I think we’ll go on tour again and we’ll see what happens. One never knows what’s going to happen from one day to the next.”

Posted July 13th, 2010 in Reviews.