Initially formed in the late 1960s by two former members of The Yardbirds, the band now known as Renaissance was originally named Together. Vocalist Annie Haslam joined up in early 1971 and just a few years later, Renaissance had its first charting album in the U.S. with Ashes Are Burning. In 1976, Renaissance had an even-higher charting album with Live At Carnegie Hall, which documented three consecutive sold-out nights at Carnegie Hall alongside the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Success on the other side of the Atlantic — where Renaissance hailed from — would follow with “Northern Lights,” a Top 10 U.K. hit in the summer of 1978, which also fared well in the States. Unfortunately, the classic lineup of Renaissance came apart in the 1980s.
While Renaissance was on break for most of the 1980s and 1990s, Annie Haslam never stopped touring or making music. Her solo career had started with 1977’s Annie In Wonderland, as produced by Roy Wood of The Move and Electric Light Orchestra, and she has released close to a dozen solo efforts. Renaissance partially reformed in 1998, in addition to Haslam performing an annual Christmas show since 1999. Haslam has also succeeded within the visual arts, which dates back to her early Renaissance days, as some of her paintings have doubled used as Renaissance album covers.
2017 has not been a slow year for Annie Haslam or Renaissance, as the band will be embarking on a Northeastern U.S. tour starting on October 26. The first four shows on the tour — which take place at Ridgefield, Connecticut’s Ridgefield Playhouse, Glenside, Pennsylvania’s Keswick Theater, New York City’s Town Hall, and Albany, New York’s The Egg — will be performed alongside a 10-piece chamber orchestra. These will be the first live performances by Renaissance with an orchestra in 40 years; the Keswick gig will be taped for an upcoming DVD release. Following these four orchestral outings, Renaissance will also play intimate shows at Boston’s City Winery, Maryland’s Rams Head On Stage, and Oakmont, Pennsylvania’s The Oaks Theater.
To learn more about the past, present, and future of Renaissance, I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Annie Haslam. More of Haslam’s musical and visual art careers can be found at www.renaissancetouring.com.
Renaissance has often been tagged as a “prog rock band.” How do you feel about that labeling?
Annie Haslam: I’ve always felt the label “prog band” wasn’t representative of the music that we create.
Our music is lighter and symphonic, prog bands are heavier.
The band started in England, but you have since relocated to Buck County, Pennsylvania. What inspired your move to Pennsylvania?
Annie Haslam: I have been traveling back and forth from England, touring with Renaissance since 1973. Although I loved to perform here, loved the country and people, I was the only one in the band that had no interest in moving here! Ironically in 1991 I moved here to marry a man from Pennsylvania. We split up in 1996 and I decided I wanted to stay in this country and loved the area so much that is where I put down my roots, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
Your voice has held up remarkably well over the years. Do you have techniques for taking care of your voice?
Annie Haslam: I don’t smoke, I have no interest in drugs, I like good wine and French champagne — but in moderation. Before a tour or recording, I wear a mask when out in public to protect myself against colds and bacteria!
Are there any particular Renaissance songs that you really have to warm up your vocal cords for?
Annie Haslam: No, not really. I exercise before I go on-stage, we all do vocals warm-ups in the dressing room pre-show!
Do you have a favorite song to perform live?
Annie Haslam: I have many, but right now my favorite is “Symphony Of Light” from our most recent album Grandine il Vento. Classics that I like are “Mother Russia,” “Midas Man,” “Song for all Seasons,” “Prologue”…
Where did the idea come from to do a show of symphonic shows? You are recording a DVD of show in Glenside, yes?
Annie Haslam: Yes, we are recording the Keswick show for a new DVD. We love that venue and have played there many times. The idea for the chamber orchestra shows goes way back to 2010 when I received an email from the director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra requesting that we perform with them again. This was VERY thrilling as the last time we played with them was 1977 at The Royal Albert Hall, and this year would have been our 40th anniversary if we had decided to do it.
We seriously pondered the idea and in 2016, after our U.K. tour, I arranged a meeting with Ian McClay, the director of the orchestra in London. We were joined by Rave Tesar, who is my right-hand man in Renaissance, MD, musician and writer extraordinaire and band producer. We went through the budget and even came up with a date which would have been this March. However after some deliberation the vast amount of preparations and cost for 35 musicians and filming where a lot to take on at that time, so we decided to put it on hold and do something similar over here in the U.S. with a 10-piece orchestra and see how that worked out. So here we are and we shall see!
For someone coming to see you live next month, what should be expected? Are you playing any solo material or is it Renaissance material only?
Annie Haslam: It will be all Renaissance, starting with “Prologue” then “Trip To The Fair,” then… the orchestra joins us for the rest of the show. A little daunting, but I am excited to think I will be able to turn around on-stage and see classical musicians once again. Nothing like it! We are performing some classics and some newer pieces — dramatic and orchestral!
Just Announced: Glenside, PA – Oct 27 at Keswick Theatre https://t.co/SlXD89bmnZ
— Renaissance Touring (@MysticAndMuse) June 5, 2017
Who else will be on-stage with you for these Northeastern U.S. shows?
Annie Haslam: Rave Tesar – keyboards, Mark Lambert – acoustic guitar, electric guitar/vocals, Geoffrey Langley – keyboards/vocals, Leo Travers – bass guitar/vocals, and Charles Descarfino – drums/percussion/vocals. And a 10-piece chamber orchestra at the Ridgefield Theatre in Connecticut, the Keswick Theatre in Pennsylvania, Town Hall in New York City and The Egg in Albany NY. They are Joe Deninzon – 1st violin, Eddie Venegas – 2nd violin, Orlando Wells – viola, Leo Grinhauz – cello, Allen Won – clarinets and flutes, Bob Magnison – double reeds and flutes, Vinnie Cutro – trumpet, Bob Ferrel – trombone, Bill Hughes – french horn, and Jum Musto – percussion.
You recorded with Jann Klose earlier this year. Any other recordings or collaborations planned?
Annie Haslam: Not at this time, but I am hoping to tour with my solo recordings next year.
When not busy with music, how do you like to spend your free time?
Annie Haslam: My parallel career is painting, which I love as much as my music. I have been painting since 2002! Hard to explain my style, take a look and check it out. Hardly any free time as I run the band, too. My work can be seen at www.anniehaslam.com and www.facebook.com/
Finally, Annie, any last words for the kids?
Annie Haslam: Gosh! Well, I am a firm believer in following your dreams, making affirmations, while asking for it to be for your highest good, being true to yourself. In the case of following a career in music, find your own voice. I found mine by being trained by an opera singer, learning to sing from my diaphragm therefore finding my own voice and style of singing. I sounded like Joan Baez when I started to sing, there was already a Joan Baez another wasn’t needed. With my art, I don’t copy anything and just let the art flow through me.
[Featured Image by Carol Klenfner]