Like so many progressive/symphonic/classically-inspired rock groups who started out in the late ‘60s into the ‘70s, Renaissance built a massive fan base throughout Europe before eventually branching out into America, conquering Carnegie Hall and scoring the single “Northern Lights.” Along the way, lead singer Annie Haslam mesmerized the masses with her angelic five octave range, who alongside acclaimed songwriter Michael Dunford, are often regarded as some of the finest in their respective fields. Though the group initially called it a day in the late ‘80s with Haslam turning to solo life, the core pair reunited in 2009 to mark Renaissance’s 40th anniversary.
While Dunford passed away prematurely in 2012, Haslam and the current cast of Renaissance played on, releasing the album “Symphony Of Light” in 2014, embarking on their first tour of Europe in over 35 years and recently releasing the DVD “Live At The Union Chapel.” The leading lady (and frequent painter of the group’s gorgeous album covers) checked in with Chicago Concert Reviews for a run down on the latest chain of events prior to the group’s first Chicago area concert in six years.
Because we are unique, there is nothing out there like us. We did go astray in the ‘80s and that was a mistake. But now we have a great band of excellent musicians with high tech instrumentation so that we sound a lot more like an orchestra than in past years and we also have five excellent singers too!
What were some of your artistic goals in putting together the “Live at The Union Chapel” DVD?
Annie Haslam: Well, we hadn’t performed in London for many years and never with the new Renaissance, so we wanted to film a DVD in a beautiful setting that was befitting of our music. We included some of our new music into the show as well as the classic Renaissance pieces. The new music fits extremely well with the older songs, which made the show at the beautiful grand Union Chapel even more exciting and fulfilling!
How closely will this fall’s tour mirror the set list from that show?
Haslam: It’s quite close but we have added “Closer Now Than Yesterday” from “Song For All Seasons” and put back in a very popular newer song called “Mystic And The Muse,” plus we are putting back the electric guitar solo back into “Ashes Are Burning.”
You’ll be performing at the beautifully restored Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, IL. What are you looking forward to most about coming to the Chicago area?
Haslam: It’s been six years since we were there. I wish we had time off to visit the area and walk along the lakeside. I’m looking forward to seeing the fans and playing the new music that we have created since our last visit!
How have you managed to preserve your remarkable five octave range? Do you have any special routine or secrets to staying in shape?
Haslam: Actually no. I don’t smoke and drink little…I love singing more now than I did back in the day. I’m not sure why, but maybe the “wisdom” of life is making me appreciate everything about my career and the people and fans I have met along the way. I have more passion for it.Out of all the groups with progressive rock elements, Renaissance is frequently regarded right amongst the very best at incorporating classical and symphonic influences. Why has retaining that fusion of styles always been so important to the band?
Haslam: Because we are unique, there is nothing out there like us. We did go astray in the ‘80s and that was a mistake. But now we have a great band of excellent musicians with high tech instrumentation so that we sound a lot more like an orchestra than in past years and we also have five excellent singers too!
Describe the reaction you’ve seen since reconvening the band through today.
Haslam: When Michael Dunford, who sadly passed away in 2012, and I got the band together again in 2009, the fans were extremely receptive and we sold out that first tour! It was most exciting and touching that so many came to see and support us once again. It is getting stronger every time we play and the word just keeps spreading that we are back and sounding better than ever!
What’s left, if anything, that you’d like for Renaissance to still accomplish?
Haslam: I would like us to perform with an orchestra again with this new band and also record a new album.
And last but not least, what’s inspiring you these days as visual artist and painter?
Haslam: I get inspired by all that I see and hear and feel. I channel my work, I never know what’s coming and it’s very satisfying not knowing what will turn up on the canvas.