The career paths of bands with long and rich histories are akin to fingerprints and no two are identical. No such statement could be more appropriate and applicable than to the forty-plus year career of British symphonic rock pioneers Renaissance.
The band, acclaimed for their unique blending of progressive rock with classical and symphonic influences, can trace its origins back to 1969 when the Yardbirds disbanded, and founding members Keith Relf and Jim McCarty began to organize a new group devoted to the experimentation between rock, folk, and classical forms.
This quintet – Relf on guitar & vocals, McCarty on drums, plus bassist Louis Cennamo, pianist John Hawken, and Relf’s sister Jane as an additional vocalist – released a pair of ground breaking albums on Elektra and Island, but when touring began to grind on them, the band gradually dissolved one by one.
Renaissance underwent several incarnations until 1971 when vocalist Annie Haslam joined guitarist/composer Michael Dunford and John Tout, Neil Korner, Terry Crowe and Terry Slade. Several line-ups followed until in 1973 Terence Sullivan and Jon Camp joined, propelling the band into the realm of successful world-class recording and touring status.
After extensively touring with critical acclaim in the UK, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Holland, France, Belgium, Portugal and Israel, a number of influential FM radio stations in the U.S. picked up on the band’s unique sound and introduced them to welcoming American audiences.
The band spent years touring, and recorded fifteen albums while gracing many prestigious venues and stages. These were to include Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as the Royal Albert Hall in London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Royal Chorale Society. Despite explorations into solo careers, and changes in the line-up over the years, the five octave voice of Annie Haslam and brilliant songwriting/musicianship of Michael Dunford remained as the core of Renaissance.
In 2009 Haslam and Dunford reunited for a special 40th Anniversary concert tour which would not only serve to reconnect them to their long time fans, but also served to introduce a younger generation of progressive music fans to the lush, orchestral favorites that made Renaissance one of the pioneers of the 1970’s progressive rock music scene. This new incarnation of Renaissance was well received by eager fans with standing ovations at every performance, and sealed with certainty, a rebirth of the band’s destiny.
Ms. Haslam recently commented that “The ‘live’ concert experience is true to the original albums, and with the amazing technological advances in instrumentation, and our very talented new band members, we have been able to faithfully recreate the sounds and true musical atmosphere of our original recordings.”
The band continued to directly reconnect with their fans via touring and the use of social media. With the ability to create a direct-to-fan connection, this added a new dimension to the band’s very existence and created a new path with Haslam, Dunford, and internet specialist Esa Ahola spearheading this social media initiative.
To give the fans a very special concert experience, it was decided that the North American Tour of 2011 would feature performances of the two most popular Renaissance albums, ‘Turn of the Cards’ and ‘Scheherazade and Other Stories,’ in their entirety.
The massive musical undertaking was well worth the effort as tickets for the tour quickly sold out. To expand the band’s global reach outside of touring markets, the decision was made to film and record the show at the prestigious Keswick Theater in Glenside/Philadelphia. A two CD/DVD box set was designed by the multi-talented Ms. Haslam, with the assistance of Ms. Laura Gardner, to be sold only through the band’s website. The package was released prior to Christmas 2011 and was a tremendous success after which Annie and Michael began to compose material for their first studio album in over a decade.
In January of 2012 it was decided that the band would proceed along a completely new path, forming their own independent record label, ‘Symphonic Rock Recordings.’
Additionally, by implementing a new Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign in order to raise money for a new studio album, and by offering special incentive items to contributors, (such as signed sheet music, VIP concert tickets, framed prints of the new album artwork, vintage memorabilia, etc) they were able to finance the recording of Grandine il Vento, which would be the first Renaissance studio album in more than a decade.
After this successful campaign, Dunford and Haslam worked for months composing before entering the studio to record. The album took more time to complete than anticipated and with a North American tour booked for Autumn 2012, the band was facing additional pressures and time constraints. As the first tour dates approached, Ms. Haslam was stricken with a collapsed vertebrae, which required cancellation of all but five of the shows. Ms. Haslam continued however, to perform with the aid of a metal, specially-constructed spinal brace.
Tragically and in addition, while Ms. Haslam was recuperating, Michael Dunford suffered a major cerebral hemorrhage in mid-November, only days after his return home to the UK after the U.S. tour. Michael never regained consciousness, and passed away leaving behind his wife Clare and his two young sons, William and Oliver.
The loss of Michael Dunford was devastating for his family as well as for Annie Haslam, the band and many life-long dedicated fans. Knowing that Michael would have wanted the band to carry on and in true British fashion, Annie made the bold decision to move forward with the timeless legacy of Renaissance, as a tribute to Michael’s life and his work.
Annie Haslam – Lead Vocalist
Rave Tesar – Keyboards
Tom Brislin – Keyboards & vocals
Mark Lambert – Guitar & vocals
Frank Pagano – Drums, percussion & vocals
Leo Traversa – Bass & vocals
* Band photo by Brian Tirpak