Michael Dunford - guitar, vocals; Annie Haslam - vocals; John Tout - keyboards; Terence Sullivan - drums, percussion; Jon Camp - bass, vocals
Renaissance was a truly unique English band that had a rather strange history, achieved much success and left behind an extraordinary body of work loved by fans around the world. The band began in early 1969, when ex-Yardbirds guitarist/vocalist Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty augmented their acoustic group with ex-Nashville Teens keyboardist John Hawken, bassist Louis Cennamo and Relf's sister Jane on vocals to become Renaissance. Their self-titled debut album (produced by fellow ex-Yardbird Paul Samwell-Smith), introducing their new blend of classical/rock music, was released in the U.S. by Elektra in 1969, to only modest interest from the few FM radio stations then playing album- rock.
By 1971, after a second album called Illusion, all of the original members had left, gradually replaced by keyboardist John Tout, bassist Jon Camp, drummer Terence Sullivan, electric guitarist Rob Hendry and vocalist Annie Haslam, whose extraordinary five-octave voice would come to typify the trademark sound of Renaissance. "When I first started singing I copied Joan Baez, but I wanted to find my own style," says Haslam. After six months in a West End cabaret, Haslam answered an ad in the Melody Maker to audition for Relf, McCarty and Dunford. "I went out and bought the first album, learned all of it, and was asked to sing "Island" at the audition. They thought my voice was exactly what they were looking for; they next day the job was mine. I was ecstatic and from that moment on my whole life changed," recalls Haslam. Looking back on the moment, Dunford says, "It was a very fortunate and lucky combination when Annie and I met. She has just got the most beautiful voice. There is not another one like it, and never will be, I don't think."
As a band, Relf and McCarty's original concept was to mix classical and rock, but, says Dunford, "as we progressed from 1972 onwards, we added other elements - the more folky side of things, Latin-American jazz, lots of different influences." 1975 saw the release of the band's most ambitious album to date, Scheherazade and Other Stories, featuring the side-long 25-minute suite "Song Of Scheherazade." Renaissance's June performances at Carnegie Hall with members of the New York Philharmonic were issued as the double-album Live at Carnegie Hall in 1976, their only previous live release.
Following the release of their next studio album, Novella, in 1977, the band embarked on a brief three-city English tour with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, under the direction of Harry Rabinowitz. After performances in Birmingham and Manchester, this final show (at London's prestigious Royal Albert Hall) took place on October 14, 1977, and was recorded for the King Biscuit Flower Hour. Interestingly, the performance of the older songs sound different than the Carnegie Hall versions from two years earlier, and the three new songs from Novella have never seen a prior live release. "Playing the Royal Albert Hall was a dream come true for all of us," says Haslam. "All of our families were there in special private boxes to see us perform with the Royal Philharmonic, one of the best orchestras in the world."
The full lineup went on to release two more LPs for Sire, A Song For All Seasons in 1978 and Azure D'Or in 1979. After the unfortunate departures of Tout and Sullivan, the core of Haslam, Camp and Dunford carried on for two more under-appreciated albums, 1981's Camera Camera and 1983's Time-Line, before finally calling it quits and going their separate ways in 1987. Now enthusiastically pursuing a varied solo career, and in better voice than ever, Haslam recalls, "It was an incredible experience to be part of such a unique band, but after sixteen years it was sad but inevitable - the time had come for the days of Renaissance to end, time to move on to new ventures."
This part one recording begins with a unique orchestral performance of "Prologue" by the Royal Philharmonic. "We got Louis Clark, who did the orchestrations for the A Song For All Seasons album, and also did nearly all of ELO's orchestrations, to orchestrate 'Prologue'; we were doing it as a Renaissance overture," says Dunford. The band then takes the stage to perform "Can You Understand" and "Carpet Of The Sun" (from Ashes Are Burning), "Can You Hear Me?" (from Novella) and "Song Of Scheherazade" (from Scheherazade and Other Stories). With this King Biscuit Flower Hour recording, thirty years later, we can finally experience the joy and power of a memorable night in the career of a great group of musicians.