Nevada Pictures In The Fire Cover Artwork

Northern Lights Exclusive

Album Review

Russell W Elliot 2000

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Last Updated: 20 July 2000
Images 2000 Mooncrest Records

Nevada Pictures In The Fire Cover Artwork

The last album of rarities from Michael Dunford, Annie Haslam and others at the time of its release in early 1997 was thought to be the definitive collection of unreleased material. Entitled Songs From Renaissance Days, the album contains rare tracks recorded either during or after the Camera Camera (1981) and Time-Line (1983) sessions. The ablum's releases by HTD (UK), Repertoire (Germany) and Mausoleum Classix/BMG (USA and Brazil) did quite well and with only several tracks surfacing that hadn't been heard before, led fans to believe that, aside from the two "Nevada Singles," there really might not be any more music in the archives. The latest release from Mooncrest Records by Nevada, Pictures In The Fire, reveals further previously unreleased work from the Dunford/Haslam collections.

The history of Renaissance is intimately linked to the musical careers of Michael Dunford and Annie Haslam. After Azure d'Or (1979) was released, John Tout (keyboards) and Terry Sullivan (Drums) left the band. Dunford and Haslam decided to take a break from Renaissance and the Nevada project was born as the duo were joined by Peter Gosling (keyboards). A variety of demos were recorded and two 7-inch singles emerged on Polydor.

Released for Christmas, "In The Bleak Midwinter" b/w "Pictures In The Fire" (Polydor (UK) POSP 203, 1980), contains a Nevada interpretation of the traditional hymn by Gustav Holtz with lyrics by Christina Rosetti while the b-side classic rock track is a Dunford/Gosling collaboration. "You Know I Like It" b/w "Once In A Lifetime" (Polydor (UK) POSP 229, 1981), featuring two Dunford/Gosling classic rock compositions, was released later. The two Nevada singles, until today, represent the entire recorded output of the group and, extremely rare, are among the 'Holy Grails' of Renaissance fans worldwide. Equally well-recorded and -produced, the singles were pressed on heavyweight vinyl suitable for extended radio airplay. If properly cared for, their quality is actually superior to that which could be achieved from the original master tapes today.

Michael Dunford reworked several Renaissance classics with singer Stephanie Adlington in February 1997 to produce Ocean Gypsy (1997) which exposed two previously unreleased tracks entitled "Star Of The Show" and "The Great Highway." The album received a mixed reaction from Renaissance fans. Discussion amongst fans raged in the months following the two releases centred on three questions:

(1) Were there more unreleased tracks by Dunford and Haslam?
(2) Would the "Nevada" singles be re-issued on CD?
(3) What factors contributed to the change in sound from Azure d'Or to Camera Camera and Time-Line?

Both Northern Lights editors had dinner with Mike and his wife in London in 1998. Mike confirmed that Nevada "had a whole album recorded," but "the tapes were lost in a flood." He didn't elaborate further but a moment of silence followed as we all realised that a piece of the artists' history wouldn't be shared with their fans. Without further tracks, it was unlikely that a label would go to the expense of producing a four-track CD of the Nevada singles likely to be purchased only by a limited group of die-hard Renaissance fans.

Dunford has been actively working on the Scheherazade musical for a number of years and many of his fans have made the connection between recordings released and the workshops leading to the Musical's showcase performance. Several recordings on The Other Woman, Songs From Renaissance Days and Ocean Gypsy are the likely byproducts of these workshops. Can the stylistic changes in Dunford's and Haslam's music be attributed to Jon Camp's influence on Renaissance's last two albums or were there other factors contributing? Perhaps there were.

Given the above background, fans of Dunford and Haslam will be pleased to see and hear their latest release under the band monniker 'Nevada.' Entitled Pictures In The Fire (Mooncrest Records (UK) CREST CD 054, 2000), the album contains ten Nevada tracks and four bonus Renaissance tracks. The recording seems to have answered the three questions posed above. It is the second album featuring the artists by Mooncrest this year. Day Of The Dreamer (Mooncrest Records (UK) CREST CD 053, 2000) is a compilation of ten live tracks from the classic Renaissance period. Interested fans should look out for a review coming soon to Northern Lights.

The Pictures In The Fire album is a collection from different periods of the artists' history. The four tracks from the two Nevada singles are included, but the mix and tempo are significantly different. Listeners familiar with both will find those on the new album to be slower and perhaps closer to demo quality in the lushness of their production and dynamic range. The most dramatic difference lies in "You Know I Like It." While the melody is identical, both vocals and instrumentals are vastly different between the two recordings; the Polydor single version has a clear piano part, very crisp percussion and Annie's vocals are more evocatively produced. The versions of the four pop-oriented classic rock tracks used on the album are pleasant to listen to, but the versions on the Polydor singles are substantially better. "Once In A Lifetime" features a lead vocal part by Peter Gosling with Annie providing backing vocals only. One can only assume that the Polydor vinyl singles weren't used to master the album due to limites of the licensing arrangements available to the artists and label.

The album's remaining tracks span both Nevada and post-Azure d'Or Renaissance periods with the distinction being the artists involved. Nevada tracks are penned by Dunford and Gosling and were recorded by the Dunford/Haslam/Gosling trio. The Renaissance material is written by Dunford/Newsinger (nee Betty Thatcher) and was performed by Dunford/Haslam with Raphael Rudd (keyboards) and Mark Lambert (guitars). Nevada-Renaissance crossover tracks are interesting from a historical perspective.

It turns out that "Fairies" was initially recorded by Nevada. The version on Renaissance's Camera Camera is very similar. Indeed, Gosling played keyboard with both groups and aside from a slightly different instrumental bridge, the two versions are almost identical. The Nevada version of the West End Musical-style ballad "Star Of The Show" shares the melody but with lighter Annie Haslam vocals has a gentler texture than the Stephanie Adlington version. Adlington's theatre music training and Dunford's piano-based arrangements put the later version more in line with show music than Renaissance or Nevada ever tried to create, especially in the closing crescendo.

The four additional previously unreleased by Nevada tracks range from at-the-time pop to progressive. The accessibility of "Lady Of The Sea" combined with the art rock keyboard arrangement would make it equally at home on a late classic era Renaissance album. Interviews with the artists after Nevada had been disbanded revealed that the group had done a cover of "Mr Spaceman." The track certainly demonstrates the stylistic versatility of the artists. Lead vocals alternate between Peter Gosling and Annie Haslam in the pop tune "Motorway Madness." The keyboard parts on both tracks are reminiscent of popular music at the time.

Since 1956 the Eurovision Song Contest has been a focal point for popular music in the region. Dunford and Gosling wrote and recorded "Tokyo" with Annie's vocals, submitting it as a potential UK entry in the early 1980s. With a slight similarity to "Motorway Madness" and "Mr Spaceman," it is a gentler 80s pop tune sharing shares melody, harmony and rhythmic elements with "Okichi-San" from Camera Camera.

The three previously un-released Renaissance tracks are vocally intense and bear little resemblence to anything that the group released elsewhere. "Love Is A State Of Mind" features a Carribean texture instrumental arrangement and a stunning Annie Haslam lead vocal part. The style of the track firmly places it in the post-Time-Line era. "I Am A Stranger" is a soft vocally-layered ballad with light keyboard arrangements and, based on its style, could have been an early creation for the Scheherazade Musical. It is easy to imagine Scheherazade singing "I Am A Stranger" to the Sultan. Similarly, despite the thick guitar and keyboard arrangements of the torch ballad "On And On," the general theme, style and lyrics would make "On And On" equally comfortable in the musical as on a classic rock album. The two remaining tracks are a previously unreleased mix of "No Beginning No End" and an alternate live version of the classic Renaissance epic "Mother Russia."

As the years go on, further facets of Renaissance's still incompletely documented history emerge. Pictures In The Fire certainly provides another glimpse into Michael Dunford's and Annie Haslam's recordings and answers questions about their work in the period between Azure d'Or and Camera Camera as well as between Time-Line and Annie Haslam (1989). Could Peter Gosling have contributed to changing Renaissance's direction in Camera Camera? After hearing this album, we think it's possible. Could Mike Dunford's writing for the Musical have been another influence? It certainly could have been, but those tracks likely never saw their way to the band's last two albums. There is clearly little stylistic similarity between these albums and "Star Of The Show" and the previously unreleased Renaissance tracks included on this new album.

Likely due to the condition of the source material, the recording quality on the CD is somewhat inconsistent, yet several of the of the tracks have been reproduced very well. The cover includes two newly published photos featuring all three artists. The thoughtful liner notes introduce the songs but unfortunately don't reveal where the recordings actually came from, when they were actually made and who performed on all of the tracks. A notable addition to any serious fan's collection, Pictures In The Fire must clearly be heard and studied, like Songs From Renaissance Days, to fully appreciate the history and development of these extremely talented artists.

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