By Warren Kurtz
Goldmine's been supplied with copies of the latest releases by the progressive rock acts Renaissance, Curved Air and Focus. Renaissance’s Annie Haslam talks about their new live DVD / 2 CD package, classic album reissues and her upcoming live guest performance with the band Strawbs.
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GOLDMINE:Congratulations on this wonderful 2 CD and DVD package and your artwork is so beautiful, too.
ANNIE HASLAM: Thank you. We accomplished two giant wish list items. One was to play with an orchestra again and at the same time I thought this was the opportunity to do something that I wanted to do in my art, which was to do a painting for each song. Every song had its own painting as the backdrop which came up behind the orchestra and that was like another dream come true.
GM:Please tell me about the ten piece Renaissance Chamber Orchestra playing with the six of you.
AH: Rave Tesar, who is now Renaissance’s musical director and keyboard player and had been in my solo band since 1988, and I had a meeting with Ian Maclay, who was the managing director for The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. We had been invited to England by Ian in 2010, just after we had gotten back together again, to play with the orchestra. Well, of course, the answer is yes, but who is going to pay for it? Without a major record company and the band is based in America now, that would make it tough, but it is something we hoped could be a possibility. I had been in touch with Ian over the years, and we set up a meeting to work out a budget. Ian was a huge fan of the band and what an honor it would be to play with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. To be invited by them and hear that they wanted to work with us again was special. I am sure there is a line of people miles long who would want to work with them. They are very much in demand. The band that we have now is phenomenal. We set a tentative date of March 2017. Rave and I got back to America, reviewed the budget, and it was just too costly. Rave suggested, to test the waters, that we would make up our own orchestra of musicians that we know. Rave is a very talented piano player, synthesizer player and writer. He lives in New York State right now and knows people there and in New Jersey, members of The New York Philharmonic Orchestra and The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. He has worked with many of these people in jazz and classical situations and rock, a bit, and put together ten musicians on violins, viola, cello, percussion, woodwinds and brass. We decided to call them The Renaissance Chamber Orchestra, which made sense. We called our agent, Wayne Forte, and told him that we wanted to do four shows and film the one at the Kenswick Theatre in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and put it out as a DVD and double CD set. I didn’t think of the painting idea until after that and then it was clear as day, that this should be part of it as a visual experience. The guys in the orchestra are fantastic. It is just like being with a small group on stage. There are sixteen of us, but everybody is so in tune with each other. We all love the music so much and you can tell. We have played at the Kenswick many times, one of our favorite places to play going back to the ‘70s and ‘80s as well. Our guitarist, Matt Lambert, who now lives in Brazil, and Rave scored the music for the orchestra. Some of the scores we already had but others needed to be written out by Rave and Matt.
GM:There are some songs celebrating a 40th anniversary. “Kalynda” is beautiful. “A Song for All Seasons,” from the album of the same name, is one of three recent expanded reissues. That song is so powerful, sounding like a movie soundtrack to me and near the end, the song “Sunrise, Sunset,” from the musical A Fiddler on the Roof, is what I am reminded of in the melody.
AH: Oh really? “Sunrise, Sunset.” Songs like “A Song for All Seasons” are showstoppers with people sitting with their mouths open. It is just phenomenal. It is so amazing and exciting and so sad that Michael Dunford, who co-wrote it and sadly passed in 2012, couldn’t have seen this.
GM:In the liner notes there is an emphasis on The Yardbirds. Most people in the U.S. know that Jimmy Page on went and formed Led Zeppelin, with a harder sound, but not as many remember that Keith Relf and Jim McCarty went on and formed Renaissance, with a softer sound. From that early era, you include their composition “Island,” which is so pretty with the piano, acoustic guitar and violin.
AH: At the end of “Island,” the piece of music is from Beethoven and I kick myself for forgetting to put that in the liner notes. It is just the end part where Rave plays that amazing piano piece and the orchestra comes in again. “Island” is the song that got me the job with the band. This was the perfect opportunity to put “Island” back in our set.
GM:Your high notes, pitch and holding of the notes on songs like “A Song for All Seasons” is amazing. It is like the listener is waiting and root you on to shout, “She did it!”
AH: I can feel the band behind me going, “Wow! She got it again!” I love it so much. I can’t believe I am still doing it. If anybody asked me what I would be doing when I’m in my 70s I would not have guessed this, but I’m not done yet.
GM:No, you’re not, in fact later this month you will be performing with the band Strawbs. Their song “Autumn,” with its three parts, was my favorite song of 1974.
AH: Last year I remember it was still snowing and I played Sandy Denny’s version of “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” which is so beautiful. I put it up on Facebook too. She was with Strawbs in the late ‘60s before Fairport Convention. Then a couple of weird things happened. It was just turning to dusk. I looked out on my garden and there was a red fox on a stump of a maple tree that I had someone cut down and to the left of that was a big holly tree. I looked at the fox and I looked away for a second and I took a picture of the fox. Then when I looked at the photo, between the fox and the holly tree, you know that cheesecloth type thing that you can buy and see in horror movies, floating like a ghost, and that is what I saw, about fifteen to twenty feet away. It took my breath away. My photo captured it just as it was dissipating. I was so elated. I thought, this is a sign. Then a week later I get an email that Dave Cousins from Strawbs was trying to get ahold of me and that he wanted me to be part of the Strawbs’ 50th anniversary celebrating Sandy Denny as well and he wanted me to sing “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” with a 35 piece orchestra conducted by Tony Visconti. I think I screamed. We had done a Strawbs and Renaissance concert in New York with an orchestra many years ago. I met Sandy in the early ‘70s when she was a member of Fairport Convention. She was so wonderful and was so real. It was so sad when we lost her in 1978. This opportunity is amazing. It is a song I have always wanted to sing, and I look forward to doing that one on Friday, the 26th. Also, with the orchestra, I will be performing “Reaching Out” from the Intergalactic Touring Band 1977 album that Dave Cousins and I were a part of and he will be joining me on this song. Then the next day, on Saturday the 27th, I will be joining The Acoustic Strawbs for two Sandy Denny songs, “Tell Me What You See in Me” and “On My Way.” Also, the final song of the night will be “We Have the Power” with Dave Cousins and The United Nations Singers. Also, yes, there’s more, I am donating a 3’x2’ painting for the event to be auctioned off for charity and it will aptly be named, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” what else! It will be good to be in New Jersey for this, not too far from my home in Pennsylvania. You know every country has their faults, but I love living here. I don’t think I would be doing all of this if I were still in England.
GM:It is wonderful having you here in America. Another country that you sing about is, “Mother Russia,” which is such a powerful performance on the new recording. The flute and oboe stand out.
AH: Absolutely. Well, we are going to be doing our 50th anniversary tour this fall, and we will be doing some orchestra shows, maybe four again and we are planning to record.
GM:I will keep my eyes open. Our daughter Brianna plays trumpet and I think she would love it. I love how that instrument comes through on “Carpet of the Sun,” one of two songs on the new package, which we first heard on the Ashes are Burning album in 1973, which has also been part of the new expanded reissues of Renaissance albums.
AH: Yes, and “At the Harbour” too from that album, which I originally sang in a stairwell of the recording studio to capture the right echo. We had people guarding the doors at the top and bottom of the stairwell to not disturb the recording. What did you think of some of our new stuff? Did you like “Symphony of Light?”
GM:Yes. You hit some very operatic high notes. The orchestra is great, and this is another one that sounds like it could be a movie soundtrack, making for a perfect ending of the first CD in the set.
AH: It is about Leonardo da Vinci and it is very special to me. When we were first writing that for our Grandine Il Vento studio album, I said to Michael Dunford that I wanted to do a song about Leonardo da Vinci and he said, no, that it was too literal. Then I began singing the Don McLean line, “Starry, starry night,” and I asked him if he knew that the song “Vincent” was about Vincent Van Gogh and he still said no. I wouldn’t take no for answer. He came up with this amazing piece of music, which is the slow piece in the beginning and that got me, and I wrote the words for that. The King of France gave Leonardo da Vinci an apartment, a chateau, in his castle for two years before he died and treated him like his own father and that immediately came to mind with the music that Michael wrote, and it ended up being one of his favorite songs.
GM:On that album from this decade, the title tune “Grandine Il Vento,” which is also on the new live collection, is powerful and has this eeriness to it which I really enjoy. It is very atmospheric.
AH: I have this giant mirror in my bedroom and they say that mirrors are a doorway to another place and I always felt that something was going on with this mirror, so I wrote that the mirror becomes a door and going off to this place and a man would come to me. This came true, after being alone for twenty years, I met someone, and he and I have been together for four years now. That was the beginning of the promise of our relationship, writing this song. I hope to see you and other Goldmine readers at our concerts. Thank you for this very enjoyable interview.
In addition to the new expanded reissues of the Ashes are Burning and A Song for All Seasons albums discussed in this interview, Renaissance’s 1972 album Prologue has also just been reissued with a bonus track. You can see Annie Haslam at the end of April as part of Strawbs 50 Years On celebration concert. Catch Renaissance’s 50th anniversary tour this fall, with shows to be announced on their website.
CURVED AIR LIVE AT THE 2nd BRITISH ROCK MEETING is a collection of live songs, drawn mainly from Curved Air’s first three albums, at the two day 1972 festival concert in Germany. Key members of the quintet at that time included Sonja Kristina on vocals and acoustic guitar, Darryl Way on violin and Francis Monkman on guitar and synthesizer.
Songs include Sonja’s beautiful “Melinda (More or Less)” and a medley beginning with their flip side “Everdance” and ending with the violin driven “Vivaldi,” which draws from the classical composer’s Four Seasons. The entire Curved Air set is captured on this new live CD.
SONJA KRISTINA - 2018 Goldmine interview excerpt: Francis Monkman wrote the lyrics to “Everdance” about the supernatural. The devil has all the best tunes. The inn is haunted, and you have to dance until you die.
DARRYL WAY - 2018 Goldmine interview excerpt: In London in ’67 and ’68, I heard the bands Nice, with Keith Emerson, and Spooky Tooth, with Gary Wright and Mike Harrison, and I wanted to be part of that scene. I tried to figure out how my violin could be heard among that music. I went to the Orange shop on Denmark Street and put metal strings on my violin. I asked if they could amplify it. They succeeded doing that with a pick-up, and then I could play as loud as the rock electric guitars. Years before that, in the ‘50s, my brother, who is also a violinist, played me Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. It still gives me chills.
FOCUS 11 includes “How Many Miles?” as the only non-instrumental on 11 song album, with the group’s founding leader Thijs Van Leer asking, “How many stars have seen us weep and cry, with tears of joy that mean us, man and wife?” His flute is prominent with a touch of his keyboards on this song which is dedicated to Thijs’ wife Rosalie, who he married in the mid-‘70s, after “Hocus Pocus” and “Sylvia” became hits for the Dutch group. Drummer Pierre van der Linden is up front and solid on drums.
While the song title “Mazzel,” might bring to mind a memorial to Lorin Mazzel, who famously led the Cleveland Orchestra, beginning in 1972, and has passed away in recent years, Focus’ song “Mazzel” sounds more like 1972 ELP, with Udo Pannekeet filling the bottom notes on bass, recalling Greg Lake, while Thijs certainly captures the essence of Keith Emmerson on keyboards. Musically, this serves as a wonderful tribute to the relatively recent passing of 2/3 of ELP.
Menno Gootjes brings Santana-like fiery guitar power to the song “Winnie.”
THIJS VAN LEER - 2018 Goldmine interview excerpt: Menno is a wonderful guitarist who can bring so many facets to a song. I was taught flute by my father, who emphasized getting a beautiful tone first and technique later. We all still enjoy playing music so much. The band is really good.
To win all three progressive rock recordings, all you have to do is put your email and address in the boxes below by April 15, 11:59 p.m. You will immediately be entered in the Giveaway and as a bonus you will receive our informative eNewsletter from Goldmine (collecting news/tips and exclusive articles and interviews with your favorite classic artists). We will randomly draw winners from the entrants. Glass Onyon PR has supplied us with two copies of Renaissance’s A SymphonicJourney DVD / 2-CD package, two copies of Curved Air’s Live at the 2nd British Rock Meeting CD, and two copies of Focus 11 CD to give away, so your chances are doubled.