Thirteen Musical Biographies


Alison Steele


Transcribed by: Russ and Audrey Elliot

Last Updated: 11 August 1996

("Midas Man" is played as the show opens.)

Alison Steele: Biographies in contemporary music ... our subject: Renaisssance.

("Midas Man" continues and is interrupted when Alison Steele introduces the subject of the show.)

It is a foregone conclusion that when a rock group takes a name they indeed attempt to choose one that in some way manifest the character of the music they create or the personality of the players. I can not think of any contemporary group to paint a more graphic picture of their music with a name than Renaissance. Annie Haslam claims Renaissance is the perfect name. Of course the word is an emotional one that means rebirth. And the music the group plays is the rebirth of classical music translated into the contemporary idiom. The sound of Renaissance is fascinating, hardly one you might think the average rock fan would appreciate but rock fans have a well-honed sense of judgement, and their appreciation for this unorthodox music grows daily. We'll explore the history of Renaissance which is as unusual and fascinating as their sound after this word ... (commercial announcement)

("Midas Man" continues ...)

The history of Renaissance is most fascinating to me because it's the only group I know of which has a continuous history and yet features none of the original members of the band. The name remains but the personnel has undergone a complete metamorphosis. It appears after investigation that there was a link between the old personnel and the current members and that link is Michael Dunford.

Dunford: I joined the band in 1969 'cause I knew John Hawken, the original keyboard player. I had played with him in a band called The Nashville Teens many many years ago. And um, I was, I was just been started writing and he was helping out doing some, um, demos in the studio. Um, then he said that he had just gotten together with Keith Relf and Jim McCarty and they formed this band called, um, Renaissance. And um, I went along to see them. I really liked what they were doing, you know.

Renaissance did two albums with the original band: Keith Relf, Jane Relf, Jim McCarty, Louis Cennamo and John Hawken. [Ed. note: actually, a different lineup finished the second album.] And the oddity of the Renaissance story is that the present Renaissance fairly duplicate the sound of the original, despite the fact that no member of the original band remains. This is from the very first Renaissance album ...

(An excerpt from the song "Island" is played.)

That band eventually split up. They really didn't want to tour. They were content to do two or three shows a month which economically was not feasible. And then there was a further problem, not an uncommon one among musicians. Michael Dunford remembers it well.

Jim McCarty had this tremendous fear of flying and on a couple of occasions when they were going off to Europe, um, he just went bananas at the airport. And, uh, they had to cancel the tour, you know. So I was, uh, doing some demos with John Hawken and it was just he and Jane Relf left. And uh, that's when I came into the band, playing electric guitar. And Neil Korner the bass player and [Mr] Terry Crowe the singer. And um, a drummer, by the name of Terry Slade. I think we did a couple of festivals in Europe and then Jane decided she couldn't handle it anymore. Then there was Binky Cullom who was a folk singer; ah, she joined for a while then we did some more shows and that's when John Hawken had an offer to play with Spooky Tooth. So through a friend of our manager at that time knew somebody who knew John [Tout] and we had previously put an ad in the Melody Maker um, for a keyboard player; but John came down and that was it. You know, John was the man. (Interviewer: "Was Binky in the band then?) Oh yes, yes she was. It didn't really work out with her. She was a little bit too folky. Her voice just wasn't quite right. That's when we decided to put an ad in the paper and that's when Annie ... should now really pick the story up ...

Annie Haslam: It was in 1970, actually; end of the year. There was an advert in the Melody Maker for a folk soprano and I went along for the audition and I got the job actually on New Year's Day 1971.

Jon Camp strangely enough was also recruited through Melody Maker.

Jon Camp: I had sort of auditioned, the same as everybody else through the Melody Maker for ... I had a habit of putting in these, sort of like, very well-worded adverts which I have a suspicion that Tout wrote. They sort of like got you, got you along ever so interested, you know. We had a tour coming up and we were auditioning people and this guy [the drummer in between Terry Slade and Terry Sullivan] came along and we said, "fine, good, ba-boom" ... So off we went and did a three week tour of Europe and at the end of it, it was like, 'thanks for touring but you're not the right person, you know.' So we held auditions again. Terry, Terry came down and was one of about I think 60 or 70 drummers ... [He] got the job and about 14 days on, 11 gigs later we went straight into the studio and did, the first album Prologue.

(The track "Prologue" is played.)

We'll continue with this story of Renaissance after this .... (commercial announcement). There's lots more to the Renaissance story and we'll take it up after these words from some of the people that make the program possible ...

Renaissance didn't come to success easily. John Tout remembers it this way.

John Tout: You know we were travelling up and down the country not getting anywhere, particularly. Just prior to Ashes Are Burning we were almost thinking of, um, you know, folding up. But then we went into the studio, did Ashes Are Burning and some spark seemed to, uh, happen, Ashes Are Burning, I think "Can You Understand", I think, was the first thing Michael wrote that really was sort of classically orientated. And we really got our teeth into that number and "Ashes Are Burning" and I think we suddently found the direction. And also, of course, we forgot to mention up until that time, of course, on Prologue we'd had an electric guitarist called Rob Hendry. And I think that was, although he didn't know it at the time, was something that was jarring, something that wasn't quite right. And of course when Rob Hendry left, almost just before we went into do the next album, the Ashes Are Burning, album, and we were stuck for a guitarist and we asked Michael to come in seeing as Michael was still writing songs, to come in and play acoustic guitar on the tracks. And it was then that we realised that we didn't need an electric guitar and things sounded much, much nicer with just acoustic guitars. And we from then on, I think that was the turning point, when Micheal rejoined, and the [he pauses, then counts] one-two-three-four-the five of us were as we are now and we produced a nice album that we were pleased with and that was the album I think that really, uh, opened us over here.

(The song "Let It Grow" is played.)

We'll pause here for some words from our sponsors and then continue with the story of Renaissance.

It was Ashes Are Burning that introduced Renaissance to many people in America and that acceptance gave the members of the group a much more positive attitude.

Tout: Coming to America inspired us to, to carry on.

Camp: The faith in the music was the most important thing that's kept Renaissance going all these years, I think. You know, I mean, even when we weren't accepted and we were going down to Cornwall, you know, which is the end of England, and ah, a dozen people would turn up and clap us. We think it's worth it. Because somebody likes the music, you know.

Then Renaissance experienced a major change.

Camp: Miles went in over the top and he was declared bankrupt. Therefore the whole scene was liquidated. Everything was transferred over when we changed managers to John Scher. Everything was sort of transferred over; so what's ours is now ours. And we were really fighting for it for years. And all of a sudden it was like, 'there it is, it's yours.'

That's the voice of Jon Camp who generally echoes the feeling of the group members at then really being Renaissance -- no longer a remnant or hold-over from a group of other musicians with whom they felt no connection. The first album under the guidance of John Scher was with a new label and it was Turn Of The Cards.

(The song "I Think Of You" is played.)

Turn Of The Cards gained them more new friends in America. Strangely enough, although it is a story often repeated by British groups, their popularity here is much more widespread than on their home ground. However, it does seem to be growing in England. Terry Sullivan has analysed the situation.

Terry Sullivan: In England the audience we've got now, I think, has been influenced by our American sales and readin' that we are successful in America to a degree. And I think that's picked up, has made more people aware of us and more interested in us. Uh, the last English tour we did, well, that cost us money to do it. We thought we'd put on as good a show as we could, you know, so we obviously lost money. We had a really good response from everywhere. From all the radio stations, up north, we did a lot of interviews and, uh, the papers were pretty fair this time.

Of course the group also has to fight the battle of the English rock critics who seem to be a lot tougher on their own British bands. John Tout describes the feeling which seems to be prevalent among British musicians.

John Tout: It was the last day of tour, and um, we played in London, which was our largest sellout date which is about 3000 people on that tour. And uh, you know, the band, we know when we sort of like do a good performance and we did a great night. You know, that was, that was really good. Everybody came off saying, "yeah, that was good. You know, it really felt good." And the audience reaction was marvellous. Yeah, we had most awful review in the paper.

In 1975 Renaissance presented their most ambitious album to the world, Scheherazade And Other Stories. The title cut thrilled New York audiences when they performed it at Carnegie Hall with the help of a 26-piece orchestra and choir. This cut, which became very popular, also appears in Scheherazade .

(The song "Ocean Gypsy" is played.)

(Commercial announcements.)

Renaissance created such an impact with their Carnegie Hall concerts that a year later Sire released those concerts as an album -- Renaissance Live At Carnegie Hall -- which became one of the most popular and best-selling albums of 1976.

(The song "Carpet Of The Sun" from the Live At Carnegie Hall album is played.)

Renaissance flew to America at Christmas time last year specifically to do a benefit concert for cerebral palsy under the auspices of WNEW-FM in New York. The concert was sold out in a matter of hours after being announced. The popularity of the group seemed to be growing much more rapidly. They previewed the material from their forthcoming album Novella to thunderous acceptance. And the peak of their performance was demonstrated when they appeared at Radio City Music Hall - the perfect environment for Renaissance. They appeared complete with spectacular light show and medieval backdrop. Those ingredients, together with the picture created by Annie Haslam, her long hair flowing, and her medieval costumes and the romantic appearance and presentation of all the members of the group achieved for Renaissance a breathtaking spectacle. The dates were total sellouts and the critics raved. Novella is the most recent album and the group has again accomplished what seemed so impossible, top themselves. I asked whether they could continue to do this. Terry Sullivan speaks for the entire band.

Terry Sullivan: I take things as they come. I'm not, I don't really push, I don't have any projections. I want us do more film music. I want us to do better albums. And I want us to continue as a, as a unit. All pushing for ah, for what we want to do which is get our music across to more people and ah, make better music and fulfill ourselves more as musicians. I know I fulfilled myself tremendously since joining this band. I joined the band as a rock drummer and now I'm so into percussion and so into classical music thanks mainly to John Tout. Ah, that, it's, it's a good band to be with, yeah.

Success will never come easy to Renaissance. They've elected to present an unorthodox sound to a public once tuned only to guitars and drums and thumping beats. They've managed to combine the beauty of classical music written by Michael Dunford, lyrics of power and meaning written by Betty Thatcher, and yet they never lose the appeal of the rhythmic familiarity of the rock sound. But they are aware that, like other bands who find success, there will be no sitting back to just enjoy it.

Annie Haslam: I think it will always be a, uh, little bit of a struggle for bands like us for some reason.

(The song "The Captive Heart" is played.)

The musical biography of Renaissance was brought to you by ... til next time, I'm Alison Steele.

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