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Original incarnation (1969–70)In January 1969, former Yardbirds members Keith Relf and Jim McCarty organised a new group devoted to experimentation between rock, folk, and classical forms.
This quintet—Relf on guitar and vocals, McCarty on drums, plus bassist Cennamo, pianist Hawken, and Relf's sister Jane as an additional vocalist—released a pair of albums on Elektra (US) and Island (UK-ILPS 9112), the first one, titled simply Renaissance, being produced by fellow ex-Yardbird Paul Samwell-Smith.The band had begun performing in May 1969, before recording had begun for the debut LP, mostly in the UK, but with occasional forays abroad, including festivals in Belgium (Amougies, October 1969) and France (Operation 666 at the Olympia in January 1970, and Le Bourget in March 1970, both in Paris).
In February 1970 they embarked on a North American tour, but that month-long trek proved only marginally successful as, because of their Yardbirds credentials, they found themselves paired with bands such as The Kinks and their new classically-orientated direction did not always go down well with audiences.Beginning in the late spring of 1970, as touring began to grind on them, the original band gradually dissolved.
Relf and McCarty decided to quit performing, and Cennamo joined Colosseum.
Hawken organised a new line-up to fulfil contractual obligations and complete the band's second album, Illusion, which was left unfinished.Transition (1970–71)Apart from Jane Relf, the new band consisted mostly of former members of Hawken's previous band, The Nashville Teens – guitarist Michael Dunford, bassist Neil Korner and singer Terry Crowe, plus drummer Terry Slade.
This line-up recorded one track, "Mr Pine", a Dunford composition, and played a few gigs during the summer of 1970.
Meanwhile a final recording session brought together the original line-up minus Hawken, with Don Shin sitting in on keyboards, and produced the album's closing track "Past Orbits of Dust".
The now completed Illusion was released in Germany in 1971, although not released in the UK until 1976 (Island HELP 27).
The album marked the beginning of Renaissance's long-standing collaboration with poet Betty Thatcher-Newsinger as lyricist when she co-wrote two songs with Relf and McCarty.The two remaining original members left in the autumn of 1970; Jane Relf was replaced by American folk singer Anne-Marie "Binky" Cullum, then John Hawken left to join Spooky Tooth and pianist John Tout replaced him.
There is an extant video (released on the DVD "Kings & Queens" in 2010) of that line-up performing five songs on a German TV program (Muzik-Kanal).
The plan at the time was that Keith Relf and Jim McCarty would remain involved as non-performing members – Relf as a producer and McCarty as a songwriter.
Both were present when singer Annie Haslam successfully auditioned in January 1971 to replace the departing Cullum (who would later marry drummer Terry Slade and is currently a massage therapist in the UK).
While McCarty would go on to write songs for the new band, Relf's involvement would be short-lived.
Dunford soon emerged as a prolific composer, and continued the writing partnership with Thatcher, who would go on to write most of the lyrics for the band's 1970s albums.Second Incarnation (1971–80)Sometime in 1971, new manager Miles Copeland III decided to re-organise the band, focussing on what he felt were Renaissance's strong points – Annie Haslam's voice and John Tout's piano.
Until then Haslam had shared vocals with Terry Crowe, who was in effect the band's chief vocalist.
Crowe and Korner went, the former unreplaced, the latter replaced by a succession of bass players, including John Wetton (later of King Crimson and Asia), Frank Farrell (later in Supertramp) and Danny McCulloch (formerly of The Animals and a former bandmate of Dunford and Crowe in The Plebs), until the position settled with the inclusion of Jon Camp.
It was also decided that Dunford would now concentrate on composing, and a new guitar player, Mick Parsons, was brought in for live work.
In 1972, shortly before recording sessions for the new band's debut LP, drummer Terence Sullivan joined after Slade's initial replacement, Ginger Dixon, was deemed unsuitable following a European tour.
Parsons died in a car accident and was replaced at short notice by Rob Hendry.
The resulting line-up entered the studio having played only a dozen gigs together.Prologue was released later in 1972 on EMI-Sovereign Records in the UK and on Capitol-Sovereign in North America.
Prologue's music was, except for two songs by McCarty, composed by Dunford, with all lyrics by Thatcher.
Rock radio stations (particularly in the northeast US and Cleveland) gave the song Spare Some Love significant airplay for a few months after the album's release, and fans of Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer in particular, took notice of the band.
Francis Monkman, of the group Curved Air (another group managed by Copeland), was a guest on synthesiser on the final track "Rajah Khan".Hendry was replaced for the Prologue tour by Peter Finberg, who in turn left the group shortly before the sessions for the next album.
Michael Dunford then returned as (acoustic) guitarist, completing what most fans regard as the classic five-piece line-up, which would remain together through six studio albums.
Ashes are Burning was released in 1973.
Andy Powell, of the group Wishbone Ash, was brought in for a blistering electric guitar solo on the final track "Ashes are Burning", which became the band's anthem piece, extended to almost twenty minutes with a long bass solo and other instrumental workouts.
(John Tout returned Powell's favour by playing organ on Wishbone Ash's 1972 album Argus.) The album became the band's first to chart in the US, where it reached No. 171 on the Billboard 200.
The band played their first US concerts during that period, enjoying success on the East Coast in particular, which soon resulted in a special orchestral concert at New York's Academy of Music in May 1974.
Soon Renaissance would choose to concentrate on the US market, as the UK press virtually ignored them, seeing the original band as the only legitimate Renaissance.The band left Sovereign Records and joined Miles Copeland's new prog rock stable and label BTM (for British Talent Management).
The label's first release was Turn of the Cards in 1974.
With a larger budget, the album went from folk-flavoured to a more dark, lush, orchestral rock sound.
One of the album's songs, "Things I Don't Understand", which clocked in at 9:30, was Jim McCarty's last co-writing credit with the group (although it was actually in the band's live repertoire for years).
A lengthy tribute to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, called "Mother Russia", closed out the album, with lyrics inspired by his autobiographical novel, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich".
The LP was first issued in the United States on Sire Records in August 1974, where it reached No. 94, some months before an official UK release.
Although the band's fan base was relatively small, its following was heavily concentrated in the large cities of the northeast US.
The album was eventually released in the UK in March 1975.It was soon followed by Scheherazade and Other Stories, released on both sides of the Atlantic in September 1975.
The album, whose second side was taken up with the epic tone-poem "Song of Scheherazade" based on stories from One Thousand and One Nights, peaked at No. 48 in the United States.A double live album, Live at Carnegie Hall, followed in 1976.
Despite criticisms that much of the album was little more than a note for note reproduction of highlights from their previous four studio albums the album reached No. 55 in the US.
While introducing the song "Ashes Are Burning", Haslam refers to it as the title track from the group's second album, rather than their fourth, suggesting that the Haslam-led lineup by this point considered themselves a distinct band from Keith Relf's incarnation of the group.
(This point is further underscored by the band's including an album discography in the gatefold of LP copies of Live at Carnegie Hall, which lists only the four albums from Prologue forward.)Live at Carnegie Hall's follow-up, Novella, also saw a modest chart success in the US, peaking at No. 46 in 1977, although its UK release was delayed by yet another label change.In the 1970s, Renaissance defined their work with folk rock and classical fusions.
Their songs include quotations from and allusions to such composers as Alain, Bach, Chopin, Debussy, Giazotto, Jarre, Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakov, Prokofiev and Shostakovich.
Renaissance records, especially Ashes Are Burning, were frequently played on American progressive rock radio stations such as WNEW-FM, WHFS-FM, WMMR-FM, KSHE 95 and WVBR.Although commercial success was limited during this period, Renaissance scored a hit single in Britain with "Northern Lights", which reached No. 10 during the summer of 1978.
The single was taken from the album A Song for All Seasons (a No. 58 album in the US), and received significant airplay on both AOR and on radio stations adapting to a new format known as "soft rock", now known as adult contemporary rock through the spring and summer of 1978.
The band performed on a modestly successful tour of the US east of the Mississippi and drew significant crowds in State College, Pennsylvania and Cleveland during the late spring and early summer of 1979, promoting both A Song For All Seasons and a mix of old and new tracks.Renaissance floundered following 1979's Azure d'Or, as many fans could not relate to a largely synthesizer-oriented sound.
As a result the band's fan base began to lose interest and the album only reached No. 125.
Dunford and Camp assumed most of the band's songwriting.Later daysAfter the Azure d'Or tour, Tout left the group for personal reasons, quickly followed by Sullivan.
Subsequent albums Camera Camera (1981) and Time-Line (1983) brought Renaissance more into the contemporary synthpop and New Wave genre, but neither garnered enough commercial interest to make a viable future for the band (Camera Camera was the band's final album to chart in the US where it reached No. 196 in late 1981).
In 1985 Camp left, and Haslam and Dunford led an acoustic version of the band and performed occasional shows (the last being in Georgetown, DC, until splitting up in August 1987).In 1988, Sire issued a two-part compilation, Tales of 1001 Nights, focusing on the band's 1972–79 period.
In the 1990s most of their catalogue appeared on CD from reissue record labels such as Repertoire Records (Germany).
In 2006 Repertoire issued remastered versions of Ashes are Burning, Turn of the Cards and Scheherezade; however, they have been criticised for having a heavily compressed sound.In the mid 1990s both Haslam (who had released a self-titled solo album in 1989) and Dunford (who had been working on a proposed musical based on the Scheherazade storyline) formed their own bands using the name Renaissance and released albums with different line-ups.Renaissance partially re-formed in 1998 around a nucleus of Haslam, Dunford and Sullivan, plus Tout and several new musicians, most notably Roy Wood and Mickey Simmonds, to record the CD Tuscany.
In 1999, Haslam, Dunford and Simmonds played a one-off trio concert at London's Astoria supporting Caravan.In March 2001, following the delayed release of Tuscany, a full band tour was organised, with a line-up of Haslam, Dunford, Sullivan, Simmonds, Rave Tesar (keyboards) and David J.
Keyes (bass/voc), who played one London concert on 9th (again at the Astoria) and three dates in Japan – Osaka on 13th, Nagoya on 14th and Tokyo on 16th.
The Tokyo concert was recorded and released as In the Land of the Rising Sun: Live in Japan 2001.
(Tout, although in the audience at the Astoria, did not perform on this tour).
Annie Haslam, who had become the band's spokesperson, said that several factors made further touring and recording impractical.
The band's short third incarnation was soon over.Terry Sullivan has since recorded an album called South of Winter with a studio group he named Renaissant.
It is evocative of Renaissance's music, with lyrics by Betty Thatcher and keyboard contributions by John Tout.On 20 September 2008, John Tout made his first public appearance in the US in over 25 years, with Annie Haslam and the Jann Klose band, at the Sellersville Theatre 1984 in Sellersville, Pennsylvania.Sometime before the summer of 2009, John Tout suffered a heart attack.In August 2009, Annie Haslam announced that she and Michael Dunford were commemorating the 40th anniversary of Renaissance with a re-formed band, called Renaissance 2009 (including no other members of the "classic" line-up, but with musicians from the 2001 incarnation of the band), and a concert tour.A tour in Eastern North America and Japan was undertaken in 2010, together with a three song EP release and a new official website.Renaissance headlined the sold out final edition of the North East Art Rock Festival, entitled NEARfest Apocalypse, on 23 June 2012.On 20 November 2012, Michael Dunford (born 8 July 1944) died from a cerebral hemorrhage.
One month later, Annie Haslam stated that the band will continue touring in the future, despite losing "our 'guiding light' Michael Dunford".
In February 2013, it was announced that Ryche Chlanda would be the guitarist on their 2013 tour.In Spring 2013 the most recent Renaissance album, Grandine il Vento, was released.
It was dedicated on the inside sleeve to Michael Dunford.Renaissance will be performing at the Cruise to the Edge April 7–12, 2014.