Terry Sullivan Interview

David Owen, Opening Out

June 1997

HTML Coding: Russ Elliot

Last Updated: 29 June 1997

The following interview is presented at Northern Lights with permission from the author and Opening Out publisher. The interview may not be distributed further either in electronic or printed form without permission from the author, publisher or authors of this web site. Fans interested in receiving the quarterly-printed Opening Out newsletter can obtain further details on how to do so in the Links section of this web site.

This interview is the result of many months of telephone conversations and letter writing with Terry who is delighted to fill in Renaissance fans on his career, past and present.

Opening Out: After you left the band in 1980, did you have a break from music?

Terry Sullivan: In 1981 I did session work with artists as diverse as Nicky Randall, a well known singer on the British folk scene and Billy Idol, who I helped put together demos at Surry Sound Studios. I then opened and ran my own sixteen-track studio in Surrey which in the end I used mainly for recording songs which I had written along with my favourite lyricist Betty (Thatcher) Newsinger. We have over one hundred songs written between us, but to be honest I guess we could use probably only sixty per cent of these.

I am now writing my own lyrics and gaining a lot of satisfaction doing it. I have had a long and interesting life now you know and had a lot of strange and wonderful experiences so I have plenty to write about, I guess the newer songs are a reflection of that and my forth-coming CD is going to be the end result of a lot of soul searching. I hope you [will] like it.

Going back to the Renaissance days, your style of drumming was perfectly suited to the unique sound of the band. Who were your influences?

When I first walked through the door for the audition, for the Renaissance drum throne, I knew their music was unique. With the driving bass of Jon, the wonderful voice of Annie, topped with that piano ... well I stood at the back of the queue, they had been auditioning drummers for three days and I guess I must have been the last one. I watched the other guys go through their paces, they all seemed to come from a purely rock perspective.

Now fortunately, at that period of my career, I was playing with one of the very early progressive rock bands on the then very small middle earth scene, that was the period Pink Floyd's Nick Mason was augmenting his kit with dustbins and their light show was a few oily slides and a projector. Soft Machine with Robert Wyatt on drums were around, as were a group called Tomorrow which featured in my view one of the best guitarists ever to come from that scene -- Steve Howe. So I understood where Renaissance were coming from. I had also been studying drums and percussion with Frank King, head of the Drummers Federation, who also, so I understand from an article I read by Bill Bruford, was teaching Bill at about the same time. Maybe Frank was my greatest influence.

I think at that period of my life, everything had rhythms that influenced me. I've been very interested in rhythms since I can remember. During my school days, I took a bus and rather stupidly sat on the top deck immediately above the driver, of course I couldn't help myself and started tapping my feet and hands to the rhythms of the street ... result, not a very happy bus driver, and did he let me know it.

In the late sixties my influences were crazy people, such as Keith Moon and Mitch Mitchell. I loved the way they could combine fluidity in their playing with explosive power. Now in the nineties I very much admire Steve Smith, Dennis Chambers and of course our very own Bill Bruford. Michael Giles also influenced my playing as did Hal Blaine. God there are so many great players, it's fantastic. My love for drumming will only grow as it has been growing throughout my life.

What for you were the hightlights of the years with Renaissance?

Well the first things obviously that spring to mind are our big concerts at The Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall, Red Rocks, etc. But on reflection there were other moments, such as a time in Austria, where we played in the Alps. The gig was in a disused church with the most beautiful stained glass window set behind the band, unfortunately or fortunately as it turned out, the lights didn't make it for show, so Nicky Showlem, our lighting tech, bought approximately 1000 candles and set them up as footlights, he then put the truck behind the church on ramps and shone the headlights through the stained glass window. It was absolutely magic. The band responded as did the audience, there were many moments like this and I cherish every one.

Which is your favourite album?

That is a difficult question as I like tracks from different albums for different reasons. But if I had to choose, I think it must be Ashes Are Burning, because it was then we found our direction and united as a band.

In the late 1970's you started playing tuned percussion on stage. Do you still use instruments like glockenspiels and tympani?

I don't have the opportunity to play tuned perc with the bands I play with at the moment, but when I'm at home in the studio I use the Gloc occasionally, although I must say it's easier to record the sound of the keyboard. I will be using live tuned percussion on the new CD.

How do you feel about the recent interest in Renaissance and all the CD releases old and new?

Well as for the interest, I feel honoured that people still have a fondness for the music we created with love for music and life. The CDs released are great and I think we mainly have Malcolm [Holmes] and his crew down at HTD to thank for them. Thanks mates!

What in your opinion made Renaissance so unique and so special?

People see different things in Renaissance, to some it's Annie's voice, to others it may be the piano, the bass, the song lyrics or rhythms. Personally It hink it was a combination of it all. The musicianship, the voice, the songs and the vision, as Miles Copeland said at the time, never break up a winning team, of course we had to ...

Did you realise at the time how special and different the band was from the other bands of the time?

Yes, and I was glad to be able to contribute towards it.

Why do you think it has taken so long for some members of Renaissance to start recording again?

Annie of course has been recording and playing and has [had] a wonderful career in the USA for years. As for the rest of us, well I can't talk for the other guys, but personally I've been preparing for this moment since I left Renaissance. Renaissance was a crazy time and a lot for a young man to take. I had a young family at home who I missed terribly and I made a decision to devote more of my life to them, yes crazy, but true. Now my sons are respected musicians in their own right. My wife and I are very settled and happy, I'm feeling so creative I could go BANG.

So now is the right time for me, I love music more now than I ever did.

What are your current plans? I believe you hope to record your album in the near future.

Yes I'm working on it right now, I've met many musicians of like mind over the last few years, such as Rubin Bolt the guitarist with Fish. Simon Bishop is somebody else who will be playing on the CD. I have many friends and we're all getting very excited about it.

Could you tell Renaissance fans more about your current project and what the music is like?

Well as I say, the current project is the CD and all that entails, such as first writing the songs, then keeping my eyes open for musicians that I would want to involve in the recording. I'm thinking about arrangements and all the general music side. I'll get that right first, then I will feel comfortable enough to face the other things. As for what the music is like, well I went through a period of writing where I tried to make every song sound like a Renaissance epic, but slowly and surely over the years I have managed to find a balance between my emotions and melodies with the subtlety of Renaissance. All I'm able to do is hope that the people who are interested will like what I've written. Either way it's all done with plenty of love.

Who do you listen to for inspiration and are there any bands you like from the 1990s?

For inspiration I listen to the classics, such as Simon and Garfunkel's Bookends all 27 minutes of it. The Beach Boys' Surf's Up or Debussy's La Mer, mostly things of a gentle nature. Then I'll sit with my guitar or keyboard and just work on a song, when inspiration is in the air I try to catch it. I like lots of bands from the 1990s, of course I do, my boys wouldn't let me get away with living in the past.

Finally, what are your hopes and plans for the future?

My hopes are for a peaceful world and my plans are to try to do something about it. Thank you David and God bless.

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