Renaissance are an English rock band that released eleven studio albums between 1969 and 1983. The original concept behind the name — a fusion of multi-century folksiness and ivory-laden classicism — was expanded and modernized over the years, culminating with the neon-powered, precision-fueled trio lineup of the early 1980s.
They formed from the ashes of The Yardbirds, fronted by singer Keith Relf and his sister Jane. After a self-titled album on Island, they disintegrated midway through the sessions for their second album, Illusion, completed with three different lineups.
In 1972, composer Michael Dunford oversaw a new Renaissance lineup with singer Annie Haslam and bassist Jon Camp. They issued Prologue on Capitol/Sovereign, then Dunford started performing with the band on the 1973 release Ashes Are Burning. Three albums followed in the symphonic-rock vein: Turn of the Cards, Scheherazade and Other Stories, and Novella.
Their 1978 release A Song for All Seasons spawned the UK Top 10 hit “Northern Lights.” After conquering new styles on their 1979 album Azure d’Or, pianist John Tout and drummer Terrence Sullivan left the band. Renaissance continued as an augmented trio with two 1981–83 albums on IRS: the edgy, modernistic Camera Camera and the slick, upbeat Time-Line.
Renaissance folded in the late 1980s but reunited for the 2000 CD Tuscany.
Members: Jim McCarty (drums, 1969-70), Keith Relf (vocals, guitar, 1969-70), John Hawken (piano, keyboards, 1969-70), Louis Cennamo (bass, 1969-70), Jane Relf (vocals, 1969-70), Terry Crowe (vocals, 1970-71), Terry Slade (drums, 1970-72), Neil Korner (bass, 1970-71), Michael Dunford (guitar, 1970-72, 1973-87, 1998-2002, 2009-12), Anne-Marie “Binky” Cullom (vocals, 1970-71), John Tout (piano, keyboards, 1970-80, 1998-99), Annie Haslam (vocals, 1971-87, 1998-2002, 2009-present), Danny McCulloch (bass, 1971), Frank Farrell (bass, 1971), John Wetton (bass, 1971-72), Jon Camp (vocals, bass, 1972-85), Mick Parsons (guitar, 1972), Ginger Dixon (drums, percussion, 1972), Terence Sullivan (drums, 1972-80, 1998-2002), Rob Hendry (guitar, 1972-73), Peter Finberg (guitar, 1973), Peter Gosling (keyboards, 1980-83), Peter Baron (drums, 1980-83), Gavin Harrison (drums, 1983-84), Mike Taylor (keyboards, 1983-84), Greg Carter (drums, percussion, 1984-85)
Renaissance were one of two spinoffs of R&B/beat legends The Yardbirds. In mid-1968, singer Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty left that band in the hands of its late-period guitarist Jimmy Page, who promptly assembled a new lineup (“The New Yardbirds”) that would ultimately become Led Zeppelin. Meanwhile, Relf and McCarty formed the folk-psych duo Together and issued one single, “Henry’s Coming Home” (b/w “Love Mum and Dad”), on Columbia in November 1968.
For the new project, they envisioned a fusion of rock, folk, and classical music. They enlisted Keith’s sister Jane Relf on vocals, plus keyboardist John Hawken and bassist Louis Cennamo.
Hawken was the long-time pianist–organist of R&B/beatsters The Nashville Teens, which scored the 1964 British Invasion hit “Tobacco Road.” Cennamo played in a string of bands, including Jimmy Powell and the Five Dimensions (which backed Jamaican singer Millie Small on her 1964 transatlantic No. 2 hit “My Boy Lollipop”), The Herd, and Patto’s People (Mike Patto’s midway band between The Bo Street Runners and Timebox).
In homage to their 15th and 16th century influences, they named the new band Renaissance. They signed with Island Records, a prominent champion of the post-psych underground (Traffic, Spooky Tooth, Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention).
On July 9, 1969, Renaissance performed at London’s Lyceum Theatre as part of the Midnight Court Concert with The Nice and fellow newcomers Peter Hammill and Yes. Between August and November, Renaissance played seven shows at the Marquee Club on Oxford Street, where they headlined over Man (7/11/69), Breakthru’ (7/18/69), and Grail (three occasions). Meanwhile, Cennamo served as an auxiliary bassist for the organ-rock trio Jody Grind on their late-1969 release One Step On.
Renaissance issued their self-titled debut album in October 1969 on Island Records. It features five numbers, bookended by two epics: “Kings and Queens” (10:56) and “Bullet” (11:21). Relf and McCarty composed both numbers plus the medium-length “Innocence” and “Island,” which quotes Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata. Hawken and McCarty co-wrote the short side-two cut “Wanderer.”
“Kings and Queens” begins with a fast piano–bass figure that scales and modulates in G minor. It subsides for a stormy, free-form band entrance that ushers the song proper. The verses (in F#) reside on a loose, shaky rhythmic pattern of booming drums and ride cymbal with tight piano. “Kings and Queens” has two verses, each with a two-couplet stanza that chronicles the dying days of royalty (“Lords and Ladies hoard their riches fearful for tomorrow”), suffixed with the chorus line “Fantasies turning into truth.” The song undergoes multiple midsections: a stately vocable passage in 6/8; a menacing tritone sequence (Am…. E♭…); a piano etude; and an odd-meter figure in F# that leads to the second verse. The song concludes with a compound meter (3+3+2) in A minor.
“Innocence” opens with a compound hi-hat pattern over dark, watery bass and remote piano. Each verse has faint rhythmic accents as Keith sings of childlike questions about the basic facts of existence (“If you want the reasons for the changing of the seasons”). The mid-section has three passages: a frenzied jam (in D minor) with nervous piano and droning guitar; a fast, arching figure in 6/8; and a somber piano etude that, once quickened, triggers the final vocal passage.
“Island” is a medium-slow, ivory-laden harmony number with lyrics that describe an unusual island setting (“Where it should never be, surrounded by suburban sea”), followed by the oft-repeated chorus line “I wanna be there.” Hawken leads the final sequence, where a winding piano cadenza welcomes a vocable passage, then tightens for an outro in C minor.
“Wanderer” is a harpsichord-laden number with up-scaling piano runs (in D minor) and three stanzas (in G minor), sung by Jane in an airy high register with angelic, elongated vocals.
“Bullet” opens with the echoing boom of timpani. The song takes shape with a bluesy piano-driven pattern in F, where the band chant “Hey Lady Sodom Ramanah.” One-third in (3:44), Keith introduces harmonica, rendered with faint distortion. Midway, the song stalls on a choppy diminished chord, followed by a sequence of faint, deep bass that fights away piano for a dark, lengthy spotlight. Later (9:00) the bass gives way to a choral passage of looped, wordless vocal layers. This fades to a sound collage of wind and droning bells that carry out the piece.
Renaissance was recorded at London’s Olympic Sound Studios and produced by fellow ex-Yardbird Paul Samwell-Smith. Relf handles guitar and harmonica in addition to co-vocals with his sister.
This was an early non-Yardbird credit for Samwell-Smith, who produced 1970/71 recordings by Amazing Blondel, Cat Stevens, and Carly Simon. Renaissance was engineered by Blodwyn Pig producer Andy Johns, the nineteen-year-old soundman on concurrent albums by Circus, Free, Jack Bruce (Songs for a Tailor), Jethro Tull (Stand Up), Led Zeppelin (II), and Spooky Tooth (Spooky Two).
An alternate recording of “Island” appeared on 7″, backed with the non-album track “The Sea,” a mid-tempo piano–cymbal waltz sung by Jane.
Island Records issued Renaissance in the UK, Italy, France, Brazil, Israel, and South Africa. Later pressings appeared in Germany, Spain, and Austria. All Island copies have a gatefold sleeve with a scenic hillside village under a cloudy sky (front) and a group photo (inner-gates). Elektra issued the album in North America and Japan in a single sleeve with a tinted group pic on a rose bouquet on a striped ground, designed by Paul Whitehead (The Idle Race, T.I.M.E.).
Renaissance performed “Island,” “Innocence,” and an unrecorded track, “Ballet,” on the October 18, 1969, broadcast of Top Gear, a BBC Radio One music program hosted by John Peel.
1970: Live Events
In January 1970, Renaissance played the Underground Music Festival at L’Olympia in Paris. The six-day event featured sets by Colosseum, East of Eden, Family, Keef Hartley Band, The Moody Blues, Terry Reid, Trapeze, Yes (promoting their first album), and the French bands Martin Circus, Triangle, and Zoo. Renaissance played during the first two days (Tuesday the 6th, Wednesday the 7th) along with Manfred Mann Chapter Three and Taste.
Renaissance taped two songs for season five of the German music program Beat-Club: “Island” (aired 1/31/70) and “Kings and Queens” (aired 5/30/70).
Between February 6 and March 15, Renaissance promoted their album in the United States, starting with two shows at Philadelphia’s Electric Factory. The tour included two nights at New Orleans’ Warehouse and three at the Boston Tea Party (with The Kinks). They also did two-night stands at Manhattan’s Fillmore East and Detroit’s East Town Theatre. In California, they played four straight nights at San Francisco’s Fillmore West (with Savoy Brown) and five at LA’s Whiskey A Go-Go.
In late March, Renaissance played the Hamburger Pop & Blues Festival, a three-day event at the Ernst Merck Halle in Hamburg, Germany, with sets by Amon Düül II, Chicken Shack, Day of Phoenix, Groundhogs, Hardin and York, Killing Floor, Marsupilami, Missus Beastly, The Nice (their penultimate appearance), and Tomorrow’s Gift. Renaissance played on the third day (Monday the 30th) with Black Sabbath, Flaming Youth, The Greatest Show on Earth, Krokodil, Steamhammer, Warm Dust, and Xhol Caravan.
That spring, Renaissance taped four new songs, including “Love Goes On,” “Golden Thread,” and the ballad “Face of Yesterday.” Another new number, “Love Is All,” was their first song with lyrics by Betty Thatcher, who Jane introduced to the band. Relf hired her as their lyricist based on Betty’s letters to Jane.
In late April, Renaissance played the International Essen Blues & Pop Festival, the second of three such events (the first of two in 1970) at Grugahalle in Essen, Germany. The two-day event featured sets by Burnin Red Ivanhoe, Ekseption, The Flock, It’s a Beautiful Day, Ten Wheel Drive, Third Ear Band, and multiple acts from the Hamburg festival. Renaissance played on day two (the 25th) along with the Edgar Broughton Band, Little Free Rock, Marsha Hunt, and Organisation, a precursor to Kraftwerk.
In June, Renaissance played the Big Gig Open Air Festival at the Derby Platz Klein Flottbeck in Hamburg. The two-day event featured sets by Humble Pie, Juicy Lucy, Keith Emerson (just prior to finalizing ELP), Pete Brown & Piblokto!, and Uriah Heep. Renaissance played on the second day (the 21st) along with Gentle Giant, Rare Bird, and several acts from earlier festival lineups (Sabbath, Colosseum, Eden, Family).
In September, Renaissance played the Fehmarn Festival on the German Isle of Fehmarn. The three-day event featured sets by Aardvark, Faces, Fat Mattress, Ginger Baker’s Air Force, Sly & the Family Stone, and the German bands Cluster, Frumpy, Thrice Mice, and Witthüser & Westrupp. Renaissance played on the opening day (Friday the 4th) along with Cactus, Cravinkel, Fotheringay, and the John Surman Trio. Several slated acts (Colosseum, Taste, Ten Years After) where no-shows. The festival’s third day (Sunday the 6th) marked the final formal live appearance of Jimi Hendrix, who died 12 days later in London.
In mid-1970, Relf and McCarty stepped down from Renaissance to work as offstage musical directors for the band. They also went into production, starting with If 2, the second of two 1970 albums by brass-rockers If.
Hawken called in two colleagues from the pre-“Tobacco Road” Nashville Teens: singer Terry Crowe and guitarist Michael Dunford, both of the 1964 Decca one-off The Plebs.
Cennamo jumped ship to Colosseum in time for their third studio album, Daughters of Time. Drummer Terry Slade (The Diamonds, The Warren J.5) and bassist Neil Korner (another ex-Nashville Teen) became the new Renaissance rhythm section.
The lineup of Crowe, Dunford, Hawken, Jane, Korner, and Slade recorded the Dunford composition “Mr. Pine.” The mid-section features an orchestrated piano motif that Dunford would reuse in the later Renaissance number “Running Hard.”
Soon after, Hawken left the band to work as a sessionist on albums by Claire Hamill, the Sutherland Brothers, and (ex-Spooky Tooth guitarist) Luther Grosvenor. He cut one album with Third World War and joined Strawbs for their 1974 albums Hero and Heroine and Ghosts.
As Relf assembled the second Renaissance album, he realized they were short on material. He reassembled the Renaissance lineup (minus Hawken) to cut the 14-minute jam “Past Orbits of Dust,” which features keyboardist Don Shinn (recently of Dada) on electric piano.
In 1971, the second Renaissance album appeared as Illusion, released in Germany, France, and the Netherlands on Island. It features the four spring 1970 songs from the original lineup, plus “Mr. Pine” and “Past Orbits of Dust.” The album was produced by Relf and engineered by Johns and Phil Ault, who later worked on albums by Hanson, Heads Hands & Feet, Nasty Pop, and String Driven Thing.
Illusion features a lead vocal apiece by Relf (“Love Is All”) and McCarty (“Golden Thread”). Jane sings lead on the rest apart from “Mr. Pine,” where she harmonizes with Crowe.
Keith’s “Love Goes On” is a harmony folk-pop tune with strummed acoustic guitar and a buoyant rhythmic pattern. The song is bookened by the chorus, where Jane holds soft notes amid the vocable syllables that enhance the title (“lalala..lalala..lala.. love goes on”). She carries the sole verse: a brisk passage in D minor.
“Golden Thread” starts with a simple piano figure that unfolds to a classical etude. One-hundred seconds into the piece, a metronomic rhythm ushers a brisk, windy Jane vocable passage. The main theme takes hold with a slow, harmonized hum that carries over to the brief lyrical sequence.
Keith sings lead on “Love Is All,” a medium-slow harmony ballad with compressed sonic layers (strummed guitar, sustained bass notes) and light piano.
Dunford’s “Mr. Pine” is a slow, harpsichord-laden harmony ballad in D minor. Ninety second in, the song cuts to a revved-up instrumental jam (in D major) where an organ theme takes shape (A–B–C–D–CB–GA…), followed by a descending passage in 7/8. The lyrics — inspired by the character by American children’s author Leonard Kessler — talk of Mr. Pine who “doesn’t wait till after nine” and “spends his summers drinking wine.” This is the only song in the Renaissance repertoire to feature members of the original lineup (Jane, Hawken) with a member of the “mainstream” lineup: Dunford (who later repurposed the organ midsection in the 1974 Renaissance epic “Running Hard”).
“Face of Yesterday” opens side two with a piano etude over faint bass. The song takes shape as a slow, flowing ballad with light cymbals, cascading ivory, and lithe, angelic vocals. Each verse is overlaid with misty textures on soft major-sevenths. The song crests with an arching, angular vocable bridge that resolves in C major.
“Past Orbits of Dust” starts with a syncopated, compound meter (3+3+3+3+4), primarily in F#. After a sequence of modulations, it settles into a jam in F# with faint vocals over a ‘jazzy’ (misty ride cymbal) rhythmic pattern.
Illusion is housed in a gatefold that shows an ancient roamer walking an intergalactic trail (front) and a wise old man on top of the moon (back). The inner-gates depict the wise old man on a cloudy space deck, opposite a skeleton fiddler. The artist, Whitehead, also did 1970/71 album covers for Genesis (Trespass, Nursery Cryme), Peter Hammill (Fool’s Mate), and Van Der Graaf Generator (H to He, Pawn Hearts).
In 1973, Illusion appeared in Israel and Australia. It wasn’t released in the UK or Japan until 1977, when the album appeared in both markets with the front and back covers flipped.
Jane was the last original member to leave Renaissance, which was left in the hands of Dunford.
In November 1970, the “Mr. Pine” lineup (minus Jane) taped five clips for Belgian television with a new singer, Anne-Marie “Binky” Cullom. The clips — released on the 2010 Voiceprint CD Kings & Queens — intersperse sound-stage performances with grainy Super 8 footage of the group cavorting on a hillside in hippie regalia. The “Mr. Pine” clip is an extended jam of the song’s middle section, not the full song proper. The final track, “Widdicombe Fair,” is a live recording of a trad standard that the Nashville Teens included in their setlist.
Crowe, Korner, and Slade left Renaissance during the final weeks of 1970. In February 1971, Binky cleared out for singer Annie Haslam, a former fashion student who recently studied opera under Sybil Knight. For several years prior, she sang in the cabaret–folk act Gentle People.
Renaissance also hired keyboardist John Tout, who played earlier with Rupert’s People, a psychedelic side-project of Les Fleur De Lys best known for the 1967 Procol Harum-soundalike single “Reflections of Charles Brown.” He recently played on two tracks (“Crippled Inside,” “How Do You Sleep?”) on Imagine, the second post-Beatles solo album by John Lennon. For the next year, the Renaissance rhythm section remained in a constant state of flux.
Meanwhile, McCarty and the Relf’s assembled as Holy Smoke for the 1971 Capitol Records single “If You’ve Got a Little Love to Give” (b/w “It’s All In the Camera”). McCarty wrote and produced the single, which also features Scottish singer Danny Street, plus Samwell-Smith and fellow ex-Yardbird Jeff Beck. Also that year, McCarty produced Jane’s solo single “Without a Song from You” (b/w “Make My Time Pass By”), released on Decca.
After that, the original members of Renaissance dispersed into other projects.
Jane worked for a time on commercial jingles. She is one of several vocalists — along with Hammill, Alan Hull, Jon Anderson, Linda Hoyle, Peter Gabriel, Peter Hammill, and Phil Collins — behind singer–songwriter Colin Scot on his 1971 self-titled debut album, which also features Robert Fripp and members of Brinsley Schwarz.
McCarty formed Shoot with ex-Raw Material guitarist Dave Green. Their album On the Frontier appeared in 1973 on EMI. The title track is a McCarty–Thatcher co-write that the mainstream Renaissance lineup would record on their second album.
In 1974, Relf and formed the hard-rock band with Steamhammer guitarist Martin Pugh and .
Renaissance released Prologue in October 1972 on Sovereign. It features three songs per side; four within the medium-length (5–7 minute) range. Dunford composed the bookend numbers: the exuberant “Prologue” and the 11-minute acid–exotica jam “Rajah Kahn,” both instrumentals apart from some wordless vocalizing.
He co-authored two songs with lyricist Thatcher: “Spare Some Love,” marked by angular verses and a swelling, lithely sung chorus; and “Sounds of the Sea,” a quiet, rhythmless oceanside ballad that closes side one. Two numbers date from the McCarty–Thatcher partnership: “Bound to Infinity” and “Kiev,” a classical piano etude that breaks to a Camp-sung ballad.
“Spare Some Love” opens with crisp acoustic strum (in C), overlaid with Annie’s lithe, elongated vowels (“Strangers, people passing constant strangers”). In the lyrics, she urges random passerbyes to be more loving to their fellow man, woman, and child. After the second instance of the grand, harmonized chorus, the song tightens around Hendry, whose strident, staccato break conjures select Banks passages on Flash.
Prologue was produced by Copeland, arranged by Dunford, and engineered by Mike Weighell and Mick Glossop. Weighell had prior tech-credits on 1960s Brit jazz releases, including titles by Joe Harriott and the Don Rendell–Ian Carr Quintet. Recently, he engineered albums by Galliard (New Dawn), Hungry Wolf, Still Life, Wooden Horse, and Who bassist John Entwistle.
This was a starting credit for newcomer Glossop, who also produced Fumble and the 1972 Vertigo release Last Autumn’s Dream, the third album by Jade Warrior. Glossop later became a studio heavyweight at Virgin Records (Clearlight, City Boy, Magazine, Penetration, Skids, Supercharge).
Hendry plays mandolin and chimes on select passages, in addition to electric and acoustic guitars. Camp plays the tampoura, an Indian string instrument, on “Rajah Khan,” which also features a VCS3 synthesizer solo by Francis Monkman, who recently left Curved Air after their third album Phantasmagoria, released earlier in 1972.
The design firms Hipgnosis and Ronchetti & Day are co-credited on the Prologue gatefold cover, which shows two vertical board clusters hovering mid-air above arctic waters. Copeland took the b&w performance and member pics on the inner-gates. Ronchetti & Day are also credited on the UK release of ELO 2, the second album by Electric Light Orchestra.
Sovereign issued “Spare Some Love” as a single in multiple markets, backed with “Prologue.” The a-side got considerable airplay at the time of release in the Northeast US. French pressings of the 7″ have the sides reversed.
Though technically the third Renaissance album, Prologue has none of the same members as the 1969 Island release Renaissance or the 1971 followup Illusion, recorded by three different lineups. The only individual with any involvement on Illusion, Mike Dunford (writer and performer on “Mr. Pine”), takes a writer–producer role on Prologue with guitar duties delegated to sessionist Hendry.
While technically the first album of the “mainstream” era, the permanent lineup wouldn’t settle until Dunford himself rejoined as a guitarist and performer during sessions for the next album. He wouldn’t be a full-fledged member until the third Annie-fronted release.
Soon after Prologue hit shelves, Hendry cleared out for guitarist Pete Finberg. Hendry later played behind Sandy Denny and Alan Price. Finberg served out the Prologue tour, then joined boogie-rockers Slack Alice and played on their 1974 album.
1973: Ashes Are Burning
Renaissance opened 1973 with a string of stateside dates, including a Feb. 18 show at the Old Rivoli Theater in Buffalo with Blue Oyster Cult and NYC psych-rockers Bethlem Steele. That April, work commenced on their next album at De Lane Lea Studios, Wembley, with producer Dick Plant. As the five-month sessions wrapped, Renaissance played an Aug. 1 show at London’s Paris Theatre with Dunford on acoustic guitar.
The resulting Ashes Are Burning appeared in October 1973 on Sovereign/Capitol. It features five numbers credited to Dunford and Thatcher, who engaged in a mailborne collaboration whereby he’d send a taped melody to her home in Cornwall and she’d send finished lyrics back to London. The album also contains an earlier composition, “On the Frontier,” that Betty wrote with McCarty. His version, recorded with Shoot, appeared months earlier as the title track to their lone album.
Ashes Are Burning begins and ends with epic numbers. “Can You Understand?” (9:51) opens to a floodgate ivory motif composed by Tout and Camp (uncredited). “Ashes Are Burning” (11:20) is a melodramatic opus with a crisp, lengthy mid-section ostinato that served as Camp’s early showcase.
The side two opener, “Carpet of the Sun,” is a melodic folk-pop tune with a soaring chorus that exhibits Annie’s high range. Each side houses an inner-ballad: “Let It Grow,” a mid-tempo piano–vocal number; and “At the Harbour,” a classical piano sketch, bisected with acoustic–vocal verses.
Ashes Are Burning was an early credit for producer–engineer Plant, who earned his first tech credit a year beforehand on Shades of a Blue Orphanage, the 1972 second album by Irish rockers Thin Lizzy. Plant also worked on 1973 albums by ELO (On the Third Day), Sovereign labelmates Public Foot the Roman (self titled), and Dutch rockers Alquin (The Mountain Queen). Impressed with his work on Ashes, Dunford retained Plant for the next Renaissance album.
Dunford — still resigned to his writer–arranger status at the time of recording — plays acoustic guitar in an auxiliary role. Further guitar parts (acoustic and electric) are played by Camp, who shares lead vocals with Annie on “On the Frontier.” Wishbone Ash co-guitarist Andy Powell returned Tout’s favor with a solo on “Ashes Are Burning.” Conductor Richard Hewson (Aubrey Small, Clifford T. Ward, Jigsaw, Lesley Duncan) arranged strings on “Can You Understand?” and “Carpet of the Sun.”
The Hipgnosis cover art to Ashes Are Burning, which shows grainy Super 8 medium shots of Annie and Sullivan (front) and Camp and Tout (back), differs slightly between UK and US pressings. UK copies (saturated) show Annie with a Mona Lisa expression (smiling eyes, flat mouth) and Sullivan looking off to the side. US copies (darker) show both looking into the lens with judgemental expressions.
Capitol issued “Carpet of the Sun” as a single in the US, backed with “Bound for Infinity.” The a-side appears on A Sampler for Singles Only, a 1973 label comp with cuts by Alex Harvey, Lori Lieberman, Pink Floyd, Raspberries, Skylark, Sutherland Brothers & Quiver, and Tavares. An earlier demo of the song with Jane Relf on vocals contains an extra verse not used in Annie’s version.
By the time Ashes Are Burning hit shelves, Dunford had officially rejoined Renaissance, completing the classic five-piece lineup that held for the next five studio albums. On December 22, Renaissance opened for Wishbone Ash at London’s Alexandra Palace. The event also featured sets by Al Stewart (plugging Past, Present and Future) and Vinegar Joe (just before singer Robert Palmer launched his solo career).
Sovereign folded after the label’s Dec. ’73 release Lady Killer by Mouse. Copeland signed Renaissance to his newly formed British Talent Management (BTM) label.
1974: Turn of the Cards
After sessions wrapped on their next album, Renaissance flew to New York City for a March 23, 1974, showcase at the Academy of Music along with Larry Coryell and Soft Machine. On April 6, they played the Westbury Music Fair with ELO.
Renaissance released their first album of the classic lineup, Turn of the Cards, in May 1974 on BTM (UK), Sire (North America), and RCA Victor (Europe, Japan, Oceania). Like its predecessor, it features three songs per side: five credited to Dunford–Thatcher and one (“Things I Don’t Understand”) a Dunford–McCarty leftover from the Illusion era. That song and the bookend epics “Running Hard” and “Mother Russia” all exceed nine minutes.
“Running Hard” opens the album with a piano etude lifted from “Litanies” by French modernist composer Jehan Alain. The racing mid-section reuses the middle of “Mr. Pine,” this time rendered with crisp clarity by producer–engineer Plant and arranger Jimmy Horowitz, whose lavish orchestration (cellos, xylophone, timpani) impart a windy, epic feel. Tout plays piano and harpsichord on this piece.
Thatcher wrote the lyrics to “Mother Russia,” inspired by the 1962 Soviet prisoners novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In a reverse of his modus operandi, Dunford composed the music around her words with (uncredited) input from Camp. It has a slow buildup to an interwoven theme (in A minor) that mutates into a grand chorus (in B minor) and a martial climactic section. The subject’s plight is illuminated in the bridge:
Punished for his written thoughts
Starving for his fame
Working blindly, building blocks
Number for a name, his blood flows frozen to the snow
“Things I Don’t Understand” starts as a jazzy piece with ride cymbal and fluid bass, then switches to a quiet piano instrumental with a wordless vocal melody. “Black Flame,” the dark ballad that opens side two, is an Annie vocal showcase with plucked acoustic verses (in D minor) and a sweeping chorus. The interior of each side contains a shorter number: “I Think of You,” a simple folk ballad; and “Cold Is Being,” a haunting gothic hymnal (in C minor) comprised of voice and church organ.
Turn of the Cards was co-engineered by newcomers , who variably assisted Plant on his concurrent work with ELO ( Eldorado), McGuinness Flint, Principal Edwards Magic Theatre, and Wizzard. Horowitz also did arrangements on mid-’70s albums by Thin Lizzy (Nightlife), Lesley Duncan (Moon Bathing), and Rod Stewart‘s 1976 megaseller A Night On the Town (“Tonight’s the Night,” “The Killing of Georgie”).
Hipgnosis illustrators visited De Lane while sessions were in progress to get a sense of the music, then designed the cover based on their impressions. Renaissance, in turn, based the album title on the cover image, which depicts a hand holding five cards (each with cosmic–demonic imagery) before a woodsy lake that leads to a dark, secluded castle. The back cover shows the same illustration with the card images replaced by pics of the five members.
Sire issued an edit of “Mother Russia” (3:24) as a single in the US, backed with “I Think of You.”
Renaissance hit the road behind Turn of the Cards, starting with a string of Southern US dates with Dave Mason and headliners Procol Harum, who were promoting their 1974 release Exotic Birds and Fruit. In late August, Renaissance played two nights at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds with Isis, Heartsfield, bluesman Freddie King, and rising Canadian rockers Rush.
On November 30, Renaissance played the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey, with Camel, then riding high on their second album, Mirage, produced by David Hitchcock, who Renaissance hired for their next sessions.
1975: Scheherazade and Other Stories
In May 1975, Renaissance entered Abbey Road Studios to record a side-long suite inspired by the Islamic Golden Age tale One Thousand and One Nights. The story involves a Sassanid Empire sultan (Shahryār) who executes his wife for adultery and deems all women unfaithful. Assisted by the vizier (Wazir), Shahryār takes a new bride each day and has her executed at dawn. When the city runs out of virgins, Wazir’s daughter (Scheherazade) offers herself as the next bride. Drawing on her knowledge of poetry and legends, she enthralls Shahryār with a harrowing story but leaves it paused on a cliffhanger. Intrigued, Shahryār halts Scheherazade’s execution. The next evening, Scheherazade finishes the story and starts another, then pauses with another cliffhanger. This pattern continues for 1001 nights until Shahryār — now in love with Scheherazade and having fathered her children — calls off the sacrifice and takes her as his wife.
After sessions wrapped, Renaissance headed stateside for a round of dates, including June 14–15 shows at Michigan Palace with Spirit and Michael Quatro. During June 20–22, they did an exclusive, three-night engagement at Manhattan’s Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic. The shows were taped with the Record Plant Remote mobile studio.
Scheherazade and Other Stories — the sixth Renaissance album and the fourth with Annie Haslam — appeared in September 1975 on BTM–Sire–RCA. It’s the first album in their catalog to credit the writing contributions of Camp and Tout and the first with no stockpiled co-writes from the McCarty era.
Tout co-wrote “Trip to the Fair” (10:50) with Dunford–Thatcher. The song — purportedly about Annie’s first date with Roy Wood (the two became an item after Wood’s relationship with singer Lynsey De Paul) — features desolate verses where a childlike Annie takes “a trip to the fair, but nobody was there” as a music-box celesta underscores her predicament. As the unmanned rides take on an eerie sentience, Annie’s wonderment turns to fright amid the orchestral upsweep of conductor Tony Cox.
Side one also contains two Dunford–Thatcher numbers: “The Vultures Fly High” and “Ocean Gypsy.” The former is a frenetic cabaret torch song with choppy piano, sliding bass, rapidfire snare, and sparkling harpsichord. The fan favorite “Ocean Gypsy” is a dark, foggy ballad with a rising chorus.
The titular “Song of Scheherazade” (24:38) consumes all of side two. It begins with a brassy fanfare that summons “The Betrayal”: a brisk, windy orchestral movement with flowering strings and glockenspiel overlays. Part C, “The Sultan,” commences at 2:44 with a somber bass-driven movement in A minor. At 3.27, Camp sings the first vocal passage, which gives a rundown of the vengeful despot. Jon and Annie harmonize on the rising bridges and the slow, swelling chorus:
Scheherazade bewitched him
With songs of jeweled keys
Princes and of heroes
And eastern fantasies
At 7:30, Tout performs a quiet piano etude (“Love Theme,” credited to Camp), soon overlaid with sweet orchestration. Part E, “The Young Prince and Princess as told by Scheherazade,” is a slow, quiet, harp-laden Annie spotlight. At 12:40, the suite goes silent for twenty seconds. One-hundred seconds of faint, droning echo heralds “Festival Preparations,” where rising vocables summon a lively 3/4 passage of strings and glockenspiel over a circular bassline (in F#). Another quiet passage precedes Part G, “Fugue for the Sultan,” a stately sequence of piano, oboe, and strings. Thematic elements of “The Betrayal” herald “The Festival,” a strummed Annie-vocal passage (in A minor) with xylophone accents and lyrics that chronicle Scheherazade’s triumph. Part I (“Finale”) recaps the chorus from Part C.
Hitchcock produced Scheherazade in succession with 1975 releases by Caravan (Cunning Stunts) and Camel (The Snow Goose). His earlier credits include 1970–72 Deram titles by Caravan (In The Land of Grey and Pink), Jan Dukes de Grey, Mellow Candle (Swaddling Songs), Satisfaction, and Walrus. He also produced albums by Capability Brown, Fuchsia, Nazareth, and the 1972 release Foxtrot, the breakthrough album by Genesis that contains an earlier symphonic-rock suite, “Supper’s Ready.”
Scheherazade was engineered by
Scheherazade is housed in a Hipgnosis-designed single sleeve with a cover illustration by Colin Elgie. On the back cover, mirroring vultures surround a credit leaf with a summary of the titular tale about the bloodthirsty Arabic Sultan, who sacrifices a new bride each dawn until the latest, Scheherazade, mesmerizes him with an ongoing story for 1001 nights.
Elgie’s illustration depicts various activities in the ancient Persian Empire, including the execution of a Sultan’s bride (upper right). Elgie also did visuals for 1975/76 albums by Strife, Headstone, Al Stewart (Year of the Cat), the Alan Parsons Project (Tales of Mystery and Imagination), and Genesis (A Trick of the Tail, Wind and Wuthering).
“The Vultures Fly High” appears on a BTM 7″ EP with a song apiece from labelmates Climax Blues Band and Curved Air (“The Fool” from their 1975 release Midnight Wire).
Live Events, Carnegie Hall
Renaissance partook in Startruckin’ ’75, a BTM package tour of Scandinavia, Benelux, Spain, and Germany with Caravan, Climax Blues Band, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Soft Machine, Wishbone Ash, and Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel. Midway through the tour, Ike & Tina Turner joined the package in place of Lou Reed, who failed to honor the scheduled dates.
Startruckin’ comprised day three (8/17/75) of the 1975 Orange Festival at the Roman Theatre of Orange in Orange, France. The event featured sets over the prior two days by Bad Company, Dr. Feelgood, Fairport Convention, John Cale & Nico, John Martyn, Tangerine Dream, and Zzebra. Startruckin’ also dominated day one (8/15/75) of Jazz-Bilzen 1975, a three-day event at Dell in Bilzen, Belgium, with sets by Earth and Fire, Kandahar, Pell Mell, and Sailor.
On October 25, 1975, Renaissance performed at the University of Connecticut as the opening act for Fleetwood Mac, which had just entered its Buckingham–Nicks era with that year’s popular release Fleetwood Mac (the band’s tenth album).
In 1976, the June 20–22 shows with Cox were released as Live at Carnegie Hall, a double-album issued on BTM–Sire–RCA. The first record contains one number from Prologue (“Prologue”), and two apiece from Ashes Are Burning (“Can You Understand?”, “Carpet of the Sun”) and Turn of the Cards (“Running Hard,” “Mother Russia”).
Side four consists of a double-length “Ashes Are Burning” (23:50), extended by an experimental bass solo. Two songs that were unreleased at the time of the Carnegie show, “Ocean Gypsy” and “Song of Scheherazade,” also appear. The suit consumes side three (28:50).
Live at Carnegie is housed in a gatefold sleeve designed by
Vultures Fly High” for the BBC2 music program The Old Grey Whistle Test (aired 5/4/76). On August 1, Renaissance supported Yes at the Aladdin Theatre for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas.
In November 1976, Renaissance entered De Lane to begin work on their next studio album. Plant co-produced and engineered the recording in succession with titles by ELO (A New World Record) and Big Jim Sullivan’s Tiger (Goin’ Down Laughing).
Copeland’s BTM label collapsed months after the release of Carnegie Hall and 1976 albums by Caravan (Blind Dog at St. Dunstans) and the Climax Blues Band (Gold Plated, featuring “Couldn’t Get It Right”).
Renaissance released their seventh studio album, Novella, in 1977 on Sire (North America) and Warner (abroad). Side one features “Can You Hear Me?”, a symphonic choral epic by Dunford–Camp that segues into “The Sisters,” a classical Dunford–Tout ballad that features Michael on Spanish guitar. Thatcher penned both pieces and “Midas Man,” a dark, spacious number that opens side two. Camp wrote lyrics to two additional Dunford co-compositions: the quiet piano ballad “The Captive Heart” and the swelling, multi-sectional “Touching Once (Is So Hard to Keep),” a grand epic in the vein of “Mother Russia.”
“Can You Hear Me?” (13:41) opens with echoing sounds that herald a sprightly piano figure, which trigger an “Ohh Ohh Ohh Ahhhh” vocable refrain. The piece congeals as a mid-tempo orchestral number (in E minor) with a descending string theme (D…B–G–F#…). Three-minutes in, the strings subside for a brisk acoustic passage where Annie enters with lyrics about “A paper window on a world” (as gleamed through the news) and metaphors about being lost in the anonymity of city life. At 5:55, Annie’s utterance of “Can you hear me call?” fades to a dark, quiet instrumental passage of finger-picked guitar and glockenspiel; twice jolted by the vocable refrain.
The orchestral outro of “Can You Hear Me?” blend into the opening sequence of “The Sisters,” where Annie enters with elongated vowels over a descending piano motif (in A minor). The lyrics concern a despondent pair of missionaries in an impoverished Spanish village.
“Midas Man” is a dark, medium-slow folk ballad (in F#) with prominent acoustic strum; echoing classical percussion (gong, timpani); faint, running piano; and lyrics about a man who turns gold into wealth with nefarious intentions. The song opens and closes with a slow-resolving, eighteen-note plucked-guitar melody.
Annie and Tout carry “The Captive Heart,” a piano etude with angelic vocals about faded dreams and lingering feelings of a subject who “has lost and won a thousand lovers.” She double-tracks her vocals as the song unfolds, joined by Camp and Dunford on the refrain “Finding out the hard way again.”
“Touching Once (Is So Hard to Keep)” (9:25) opens with a compound meter (3+2+8) orchestral up-sweep, followed by a stately piano march (in B minor). The verses modulate with crisp strum and snare-drum rolls over modulating key patterns and lyrics about reunited souls, as illustrated in the brisk, harmonized chorus:
The sound of emptiness
A light has shown deep in each others soul
Keeps them apart, a love now makes them whole
Fractured memories tearing at all their dreams
Made life and living a faded scene
After two stanzas, a tight vocable descent (in D major) frames a galloping vocable passage (in D minor). Four minutes in, a dark instrumental section unfolds with faint, misty keyboards and light piano–guitar textures, which give way to an interlocking plucked dual-guitar sequence. This heralds a brisk windy symphonic passage (in E minor), soon overlaid with harmonized vocables and faint, billowing saxophone. A recap of the intro heralds a reinvention of the chorus, which slows the vocal melody over a flowing cadence before tightening under the final utterance of “keep,” where Annie holds the vowel note for thirteen seconds.
Hewson did the orchestral arrangements on Novella between work with Cliff Richard on I’m Nearly Famous and Every Face Tells a Story, the first two albums of the singer’s second coming. Hewson also conducted strings on 1977 albums by Diana Ross (Baby It’s Me) and Leo Sayer (Thunder In My Heart).
Novella first appeared in the US and Canada in February 1977 on Sire. The original gatefold cover, by Sire in-house artist Pamela Brown, shows a woman in a Roman Catholic veil reading with two brown-haired children with floral surroundings in a grey–mauve setting. The name and title are in curved, slanted serif font. The back shows a small painting of Renaissance surrounded with shrubbery. The inner-sleeve has the lyrics in cursive, laid out like ancient scriptures.
The album’s release was delayed in the UK and Oceania due to BTM’s collapse. UK CBS signed Renaissance and made a test-press of Novella, but then handed the group to Warner, which released the album in Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand in September 1977. At the band’s request, Brown supplied a new cover painting with the same basic theme. It shows a young blond renaissance woman with two blond children at her side against an olive–grey backdrop with a hilltop castle in the distance. The back shows an enlarged version of the group painting from the earlier Sire issue.
Warner’s Novella is the first of three consecutive Renaissance albums to appropriate the under-loop logo from Ashes. Sire reissued Novella in late 1977 with the new cover art.
Novella Tour, Annie In Wonderland
Renaissance embarked on a 12-city US tour with Gentle Giant, then promoting their just-released live album Playing the Fool. The Feb.–March ’77 tour included triple-bills with Mr. Big (3/5/77: Civic Theatre, Akron) and Sea Level (3/11: Fox Theater, Atlanta). Renaissance headlined all nights apart from two late-March dates in California, where Gallagher and Lyle joined the bill at The Shrine in Los Angeles.
Renaissance returned stateside for a round of July–August dates, including multiple shows with Jean Luc-Ponty (promoting Enigmatic Ocean) and a 7/23 date at the Convention Hall, Asbury Park, with singer–songwriter Dean Friedman, then hitting radio with the novelty “Ariel.”
Camp and Dunford wrote and recorded the theme song to the Tynside children’s drama The Paper Lads, which aired on ITV for two seasons. They extended the theme into an actual song, “Back Home Once Again,” for the next Renaissance album. Renaissance were also approached to write music for a film adaptation of the 1968 Peter S. Beagle novel The Last Unicorn, but the project stalled. (It would ultimately appear in 1982 with music by Jimmy Webb and America.)
Meanwhile, Annie re-entered De Lane Lea with her then-fiancee Roy Wood, who produced her debut solo album Annie In Wonderland, released in late 1977 on Sire (North America) and Warner (UK). Wood performed the music with his collection of reeds, keyboards, percussion, and string instruments. He wrote three of the eight songs: “I Never Believed In Love” (a strummed mid-tempo ballad with angelic vocals), “Hunioco” (a slow rustic ballad with chorus harmonies), and “Rockalise” (a harp-minuet-turned-jazz-rock-instrumental with lilting vocalise).
Annie In Wonderland also features four tracks with bass work by Camp, who wrote two numbers: the twangy mid-tempo strumalong “If I Were Made of Music” and the free-wheeling “Inside My Life,” which shifts through angular key changes, a pointed sax refrain, and a bossa-tinged coda with legato guitar licks. The album also contains covers of Rogers & Hammerstein (“If I Loved You”), Dvorak (“Going Home”), and the eden ahbez standard “Nature Boy,” a song recorded by hundreds of artists, including Gandalf, Accolade, and Pee Wee Ellis. ELO orchestrator Louis Clark (then working on that band’s magnum opus Out of the Blue) arranged “Rockalise” and “Going Home.”
Wood illustrated the Annie In Wonderland outer-fold, which depicts Annie as Alice among fellow character’s from Lewis Carroll’s novel, including the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Queen of Hearts, the Cheshire Cat (all front), the Griffon, the Dodo (on back, along with Wood as the Caterpillar). The Knave of Hearts appears in Teddy Boy attire, a wardrobe choice among members of Wood’s former band Wizzard. Plant engineered Wonderland in succession with Super Active Wizzo, the singular album by Roy’s Wizzo Band.
Annie also partook in the Intergalactic Touring Band, an all-star project assembled by Passport Records with contributions by Anthony Phillips, Arthur Brown, Ben E. King, Dave Cousins (Strawbs), Larry Fast (Synergy), Marge Raymond (Flame), Meat Loaf, Rod Argent, and members of Fireballet. The project yielded Intergalactic Touring Band, a sci-fi concept album about space colonization between the 21st and 31st centuries. Annie sings the side one closer “Reaching Out,” an emotional ballad about a failing centuries-old spaceship and its tenth generation inhabitants.
1978: A Song for All Seasons
Renaissance released their eighth studio album, A Song for All Seasons, in March 1978 on Sire (North America) and Warner (everywhere else). Musically, it balances symphonic epics (“Day of the Dreamer,” the title-track) with folk (“Closer Now Than Yesterday”) and harmony pop (“Back Home Once Again,” “Northern Lights”).
Camp wrote two-thirds of the album, including his showcase “Kindness (at the End),” which cuts between galloping instrumental passages and slow, churchy vocal sections. He collaborated with Dunford on the opening trifecta, starting with “Opening Out,” a swelling number with staccato 12-string that segues into “Day of the Dreamer,” where Clark’s orchestration engulfs the band in fluttering strings, canon timpani, and flourishes of harpsichord and xylophone. “Closer Now Than Yesterday” spotlights Annie’s voice in a stripped setting of acoustic guitar with passing flute and violin.
“Back Home Once Again” blossoms from a humble melodic verse to a harmonized chorus, bursting tubular bells, and grand fade-out. Dunford collaborated with Thatcher on “She Is Love,” a rhythmless string ballad sung by Camp. On “Northern Lights,” Annie overlays Dunford’s brisk strumming and Camp’s trebly, fluid bass with scenic analogies to her long-distance loyalty to Wood. Tout jump-starts the group-written “A Song for All Seasons” with a frenetic piano riff that yields to a windy orchestral sequence, replete with fluttering strings, xylophone, and crisp bass. Minutes in, a flowing electric passage heralds a dark, misty vocal section with plucked guitars and beaconing strings.
Renaissance recorded A Song for All Seasons between November 1977 and January 1978 at three London studios: Advision, CTS, and Trident. David Hentschel produced and engineered the album concurrently with the March 1978 Genesis release …And Then There Were Three…, their first as a trio.
A Song for All Seasons features the Ambrosia, Bee Gees, Bryan Ferry, David Essex, Tina Turner, Wood, and Peter Gabriel (his debut solo appearance in advance of Peter Gabriel). with violinist and concertmaster . Clark arranged everything apart from “She Is Love,” which features orchestration by South African conductor Harry Rabinowitz, who also did arrangements on Intergalactic Touring Band and the soundtrack to All This and World War II, a 1976 docu-film of WWII footage set to Beatles covers by
Hipgnosis designed the Song for All Seasons cover art. It shows a medium shot of a somber-faced woman dressed for winter under clear-blue sky, overlaid with tinted slashes (signifying rain) and a saturated top panel (winter frost) that cuts over her hat like an umbrella. The same image appears on the back cover, overlaid with pics of the five members: three dressed for cold weather (Annie, Dunford, Sullivan). Tout sports a blue t-shirt emblazoned with the words “PROKOFIEV RULES.” Original copies come with a poster that shows four pictures of a farm tree, taken from the same angle during spring, summer, autumn, and winter.
Renaissance lifted “Northern Lights” as a single (b/w “Opening Out”). With its emotive vocals, brimming bassline, wind-laden bridge, harmonized chorus, descending hookline, and ABBA-esque feel (echoes of “Fernando”), “Northern Lights” reached No. 10 on the UK Singles Chart. The song appears on Boogie Fever, a 1978 UK Ronco comp with cuts by ABBA (“Take a Chance on Me”), Eruption, Foreigner, Gladys Knight, Linda Clifford, The Motors, Raydio, The Real Thing, and The Trammps. “Northern Lights” reappeared on the 1979 Ronco comp 20 Rock Legends with older cuts by Blood Sweat & Tears, Deep Purple, Earth Wind & Fire, Mott the Hoople, Status Quo, Small Faces, T. Rex, and The Who.
In the US, Renaissance performed “Northern Lights” on the Mike Douglas Show. The song appears on the American Warner comp Collectus Interruptus, a two-record set with cuts by , , Band, Gary Wright, Gordon Lightfoot, Prince, , The Sex Pistols, and
1979: Azure d’Or
Renaissance released their ninth studio album, Azure d’Or, in May 1979 on Sire and Warner. It contains four Dunford–Thatcher co-writes (“Jekyll and Hyde,” “The Winter Tree,” “Golden Key,” “Friends”) and four Camp compositions (“Only Angels Have Wings,” “Secret Mission,” “Kalynda (A Magical Isle),” “The Discovery”). Thatcher also lyricized “Forever Changing,” Sullivan’s singular songwriting contribution. Dunford lifted elements of “Running Hard” for the Camp-penned final track, “The Flood at Lyons.”
Musically, Azure d’Or contains numbers that streamline the band’s symphonic-rock ambitions (“The Winter Tree,” “The Flood at Lyons”) and fuse their penchant for folk and harmony pop (“Forever Changing,” “Friends”).
“Jekyll and Hyde” starts on alternating meters (7/8–6/8). Annie sings of split personality (“Duplicated man, inside, double tied”) over a windmill strum, followed by foggy synth strings. A punctual, descending bridge (“Deep down inside he hides a twist that we maybe missed”) summons the chorus (the intro riff). Tout takes the break: counteracting Yamaha CS80/CS30 and ARP String Ensemble, followed by a piano etude with glockenspiel.
“The Winter Tree” hears Annie describe scenic, rustic vignettes over a crisp, descending bassline that cuts to an airy, open-cadence bridge and exuberant chorus; all capped with theremin-like outro vocalise.
“Golden Key” starts (and caps each chorus) with ARP strings and toms over an open-cadence, four-chord pattern. The muted piano verses (in G minor) tell of a boy with a gifted voice plucked from obscurity for the machinations of stardom: the “golden key” is the ticket to wealth and fame. Annie laments his loss of self and innocence but marvels at his gift (“a new melody, he’s singing for freeeee”). Musically, the track builds as the boy takes off in the image of his star-makers, as told in bird-like metaphors (“the biggest star in the sky, see him fly, he’s flown away”) in the swelling chorus.
“Secret Mission” opens on a brisk, panned “Wipe Out” drumroll, overlaid with a picked, modulating guitar figure. A tight strum takes hold. Annie sings about a fleeting romance with a pseudonymous public figure over Camp’s trebly bass ostinato. The story unfolds over a jumpy, syncopated chorus and a slow, spacious bridge (“It’s so hard to miss you when I don’t even know your name”); capped with a staccato guitar break.
“The Flood at Lyons” commences with grand open chords that cut to a xylophone spotlight, followed by a flowing F# pattern lifted from “Running Hard.” The lyrics are spoken from the point of view of Lyons, France (the nation’s second-largest city) and how its inhabitants deal with the possibility of seasonal flooding from the Rhône. Annie’s vocals spill and flow over the brisk basslines that carry lines like “Fill your time with love and wine” in lead-up to the slow, spacious pre-chorus (“In the wind there’s changes, the rivers rise… the water grips the town, tears fill her eyes”) that heralds the grand chorus, elevated with choral Mellotron.
Hentschel produced Azure d’Or between November 1978 and February 1979 at Maison Rouge Studios, London. He co-engineered the album with budding soundman David Bascombe, who also assisted on A Curious Feeling, the 1979 debut solo album by Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks. Dick Plant, credited here with vocal engineering, also worked on (Per-spek-tiv) n., an instrumental rock–classical album by Louis Clark on ELO’s Jet Records label.
The title translates to “Azure Gold.” Richard Gray, the visual director on the recent second album by Kate Bush (Lionheart), designed the cover to Azure d’Or, where a mix of azure (blue) and gold fluid flows and splashes sideways. Photographer Gered Mankowitz took the blue-tinted, curtain-backed group photo: the source of the fluid, which stretches out of the curtains. Gered’s photography also appears on 1978/79 albums by Ana Oxa, Bruford (Feels Good to Me), Camel (I Can See Your House From Here), Cliff Richard (Green Light, Rock ‘n’ Roll Juvenile), Doctors of Madness (Sons of Survival), Generation X (self-titled), Kate Bush (The Kick Inside), Marshall Hain (Free Ride), and The Three Degrees.
On UK Warner, “The Winter Tree” appeared as the lead-off single, backed with the non-album “Islands of Avalon,” a folk number with crisp mandolin. In June, “Jekyll and Hyde” appeared as a global single (b/w “Forever Changing”). Renaissance filmed sound-stage clips for all sides (barring “Avalon”) and “Secret Mission.”
On July 5, 1979, Renaissance played the Beaumont Civic Center in Texas as part of a triple-bill with opening act Chris De Burgh and headliner Peter Frampton. They also did stateside shows with Pousette Dart Band, Steve Forbert, and the team of David Buskin and (onetime Appaloosa violinist) Robin Batteau (then both in Pierce Arrow).
Annie sings backing vocals on two songs (“Dancin’ at the Rainbow’s End,” “Way Beyond the Rain”) on Wood’s third solo album, the 1979 Warner release On the Road Again.
1980: Lineup Change, Nevada
The mainstream Renaissance lineup of Annie, Camp, Dunford, Sullivan, and Tout did a four-night stand in Tel Aviv, Israel, on September 24–27, 1980. Tout, troubled by the recent roadside death of his sister, messed up on a song and walked off stage mid-performance on the final night. Upon Tout’s termination, Sullivan exited in solidarity.
Annie and Dunford started a side-project with keyboardist Peter Gosling, once of sixties mods Moon’s Train and recently of pomp-rockers Chorale, who made an eponymous 1979 album on Arista. As Nevada, the trio issued the November 1980 Polydor single “In the Bleak Midwinter,” a slow, synthesized version of a 1906 hymnal by Gustav Holst set to an 1872 poem by romantic bard Christina Rossetti. The b-side, “Pictures in the Fire,” is a rhythmless ballad with soaring vocals, rising organ, and subtle strum.
In February 1981, Nevada issued “You Know I Like It,” a medium-tempo beat-box number with multi-octave vocals and enveloping synth. It’s flipped with “Once in a Lifetime,” a hopping 6/8 number with Gosling-sung verses and Annie chorus harmonies.
Nevada demoed further Dunford–Gosling originals, including “Star of the Show,” “Lady of the Sea,” “Mr. Spaceman,” “Tokyo,” and “Motorway Madness.” They explored new territory on “Faeries,” a tight, present track with thick, sliding bass, airy vocals and electro-layers reminiscent of Toyah Willcox: traits that carried over to a new Renaissance with Camp and drummer Peter Barron, formerly of the English country-folk band Tan.
Miles Copeland signed the new Renaissance to Illegal Records, which first launched his brother’s now-famous band The Police. Abroad, they signed with Illegal-affiliate IRS Records, an upstart label with a cross-section of new wave talent (Buzzcocks, Fashion, Monochrome Set, Oingo Boingo, Skafish, Wazmo Nariz). Sessions for their new album took place in June 1981 at Herne Place Studios in Sunningdale, Berkshire.
1981: Camera Camera
Renaissance released their tenth studio album, Camera Camera, in October 1981 on Illegal (UK) and IRS (abroad). It contains “Faeries (Living at the Bottom of the Garden)” and three Camp–Dunford numbers: “Tyrant-Tula,” “Ukraine Ways,” and the title-track. Dunford sourced Thatcher for lyrics to “Remember,” “Okichi-San,” and “Jigsaw.”
Musically, Camera Camera weds the streamlined complexity of Seasons and Azure with the newfangled sounds, rhythms, and vocal mannerisms of their IRS labelmates and the post-punk scene at large.
“Camera Camera” opens with camera clicks, followed with a hopping riff (in B) and a bobbing bassline, overlaid with rising neon synth tones. A frenetic piano riff takes hold (in A) amid circular bass and shifting beats. The intro resolves on a staccato guitar line (in E), joined by a medium-uptempo beat. At 1:00, Annie enters with newly mastered theremin-like pitch, hitting Yma Sumac-like notes on the lines “I’m sure that you will find me” and “Into my model existence.” Like the intro, the chorus goes through three movements that address the camera angle (jittery, rapidfire delivery), the mood of the subject (slow, seductive), and the captured image (nervy, kinetic):
Camera camera, take a picture of me
Look through your lens
Tell me what do you find within your view?
Speak to me while I’m looking at you!
Am I pleasant and kind
All in all just one perfect smile
Or the face of regret
For someone that you’ve never met?
A schizophrenic, photogenic model of time
A picture of health a real gold mine
Lovely to look at and lovely to hold
A spirit that’s broken and a heart that’s ice cold
On the word “cold,” Annie holds the vowel (in A) for 13 seconds. After the second verse–chorus go-around, the song breaks to a 100-second coda sequence of staccato guitar (in B), panning toms, glistening synth arpeggios, and high-pitched vocalise. An ivory freefall signals the grand outro.
“Fairies” appears with sparking, harpsichord-like synth chords (C… A…Dm…Em….F…), then tightens on a perky D major where Annie, in new wave soprano mode, sings about the legend of the rowan tree. A neon-synth refrain cuts between every third line. Annie gets airy and seductive on the pre-chorus (“Once like a child, I knew fear”) but perks up when her inner-child says “Don’t turn the light out, I’m afraid of the dark!” She carries the chorus (intro theme) in airy, angelic mode; cut by the cautionary “someone calling” refrain. Gosling’s pinging solo (stylophone tone) gives way to a throbbing bass lick.
“Remember” opens with ominous, echoey drums, followed with eerie harmonic sounds and a foreboding, nervy, matted riff (in Am). Annie wails upward amid desolate open-cadences while singing of remembrance between long-lost loved ones (possibly separated by the Great War: “tell the children of Flanders–remember”). The song unwinds over pensive rhythms, breathy sighs and blaring, trebly synths. Musically, this track invokes select recent numbers by Kate Bush (“Egypt”) and Toyah (“Pop Star”).
“Tyrant-Tula” enters with a twitchy, staccato guitar figure (in C minor), joined by rubbery, contrapuntal bass and fuzzy synth tones. Annie sings in earnest mid-range while telling of a tribe’s hopeful quest to rid itself of tyranny. She jumps octaves for the chorus (“We move against the tyrant, words fall from his lips… The fire inside their eyes is lit”), sung over unaccompanied staccato synths and rhythmic crescendos. After the second chorus, a battle of bass, synths, and drums ensues; cut by a rhythmic dropout and modulating free fall. The song fades out on a droning, drum-laden coda.
“Okichi-San” fades in with a trebly synth drone (in E minor), overlaid with stacatto guitar and Annie’s spiraling vocalise, intercut with chanted “Hey!” It’s a slow number paced with minimal hi-hat–bass-drum and accented with double-time electric piano. The lyrics concern Tojin Okichi, a 19th-century geisha immortalized in the 1930 Japanese silent film Okichi, Mistress of a Foreigner or Mistress of a Foreigner. The line “Unhappy Okichi-san lived a life forlorn” alludes to Tojin’s marginalized status after her association with a US Navyman.
“Jigsaw” opens with stately ivory and watery synth. A brisk acoustic strum (in G, then A), heralds the dark, bass-heavy verses (in D minor), where Annie (mezzo) grapples with uncertainties, challenges, and a fear of the unknown. She jumps octaves on the lilting chorus lines (“See-saw, you standing next to me… The edges of my days are all astray”), hitting her highest possible note on the final vowel. Camp’s Rickenbacker bass lines hold sway over Gosling’s majestic overlays. A tight octave bassline takes hold over rattling hi-hat as Annie assesses the predicament (“You’re upside down, it clutches you, it touches you”).
“Ukraine Ways” opens with a brisk upward piano run (in D minor) reminiscent of John Hawken’s passages on the 1969 Renaissance album. Gosling is intercepted with silvery plucked guitar and descending chords that herald the verses, where the narrator dreams of sunny Brazil from the ice and snow of the Ukraine. Arrangement-wise, the verses emphasize 2/4 upstrokes (ska-like) over trebly bass with rattling tambourine breaks. The middle-eight has two stanzas: a harmonized chordal detour (“I can feel your rhythm deep within me”) and a jovial moment with sparkling piano (“Colours that flash through my mind when I’m dreaming”). The basic elements (staccato guitar, nimble piano) take turns over the song’s locked rhythmic figure before a spiraling synth descent and an abrupt tritone (F#→C) triggers a sinewy, fuzzy guitar solo. Annie repeats the two middle-eight stanzas with commanding assurance (“Tropical days are the things that I live for, no more Ukraine ways”) before a mandolin strum ushers the final stretch, which recaps the tritone and fades to mist.
The cover depicts Renaissance through a zoom lens. Photographer Chris Dawes took the group pics, which show the veteran core of Annie, Camp, and Dunford with updated clothes and hairdos. On the back pic, Annie and Dunford sport colorful patterned jackets similar to Split Enz. As the photos indicate, Renaissance at this stage are technically the veteran trio with Gosling and Barron as studio auxiliaries. Dawes also photographed sleeves for Honey Bane, Kajagoogoo, and Lilac Time.
Illegal paired “Faeries (Living at the Bottom of the Garden)” and “Remember” in a picture sleeve with a pink-tinted trio shot. “Faeries” appears on The Great Lost Singles Album, a 1984 comp on the German Line label with cuts by Cold Chisel, Kursaal Flyers, Racing Cars, and Eric Hine, a onetime keyboardist in the pre-Gentle Giant R&B act Simon Dupree & the Big Sound. “Jigsaw” appears on the 1986 comp Line – Der Sampler 3 with cuts by Jon Lord, Man, Roger Glover, and Rupert Hine.
In January 1982, IRS (US) issued “Remember” as the b-side of another single, “Bonjour Swansong,” the final Dunford–Thatcher co-write that appears as an extra track on North American copies of Camera Camera. Musically, the song is a recreation of “Northern Lights.”
A promo poster for Camera Camera with the back-cover group photo is seen from across the street during a car seen in the 1982 teen film The Last American Virgin.
Renaissance embarked on a three-month North American tour with a 2/27/82 show at the University Convocation Hall in Toronto with Jane Siberry. That summer they recorded their next album.
Renaissance released their eleventh studio album, Time-Line, in 1983 on IRS. Camp steered the album’s style and tone, contributing half the tracks: “Missing Persons,” “Richard IX,” “Distant Horizons,” “Orient Express,” and “Auto-Tech.” Camp sings that last song and harmonizes on the Dunford co-writes “Flight,” “Chagrin Boulevard,” and “Electric Avenue.”
Musically, Time-Line takes an up-tempo modern rock approach with slick production and lean arrangements comprised of acoustic guitar, clean synthesizers, harmonized vocals, and danceable rhythm tracks.
“Flight” launches with a brisk four-chord chromatic strum (F→Dm); slows for another descent (Dm→Am) with lyrical guitar leads; then tenses up for the verses (in D minor), where Annie and Jon harmonize gasping lines about airport goodbyes. Annie commands the bridge with declarations of independence (“I need to breathe; need to see what this life’s got in store for me”) before concluding her adventure on the chorus (“And the days have come and gone while I have flown, I’m coming home”). A searing guitar refrain triggers a speed-up instrumental section with bars of synth string, piano and staccato guitar.
“Missing Persons” starts with a fade-in drone, overlaid with rising–falling sitar-like synth tone. The verses (in D minor) are tense and choppy with reggaefied chords and lyrics that possibly deal with a dissociative episode in the presence of a new suitor. On the outro, the bass–synth tempo tightens and accelerates with lightly sprinkled piano — an arrangement evocative of recent Associates.
“Chagrin Boulevard” opens with a slow, swelling three-chord ascent (Em→G), then climbs up to D before switching from major to minor modality for the slow, synth-laden verses, where Annie reminisces about lost love. The chorus (in G) is a strummed, buoyant passage where Annie delivers the sad lyrics (“In time I may forget you, or you may remember me; till then I’ll be living but lonely, each face a stranger to me”) in a paradoxically jovial tone. Jon has an impassioned moment on the middle-eight where he clarifies that she caused the separation.
“Richard IX” enters with a perky, picked guitar figure on a three-chord pattern, overlaid with sparkling synth. The verses — strummed and folksy yet hi-tech and danceable — discuss a boy of royal descent from the point of view of his mother. Annie stretches pre-chorus vowels “In his mind a king” before revealing that he’s illegitimate (“his mother wasn’t wearing a ring”). On the chorus, she ponders the problem (“To think he’ll ever sit upon the throne, a prince without a home”) amid harmonized vocalise and whip-cracking percussion.
“Electric Avenue” comes on with radio static that signals a crisp, syncopated bassline, flanked with odd chords over a dance beat. The song conjeals in G major with a combination of tight bass, strummed acoustic guitar and faint vintage organ tones. Annie, in a sly tone, portrays a bohemian girl in love with a cyborg (“Your heart is cold and you won’t grow old”). Jon, in a gritty tone, twice counters with “There’s so much left that I want to do, automatically I think of you,” which signals the harmonized chorus (in F). The middle-eight spotlights a street-corner sax solo, which intercuts with the modulated chorus.
“Distant Horizons” appears with a plucked acoustic figure (in Gmaj7) over a moderate beat. The lyrics concern political volatility in the East and how it rendered travel dangerous in once-beautiful regions — a possible reference to the Hippie Trail: a foot-route from Europe to the Middle East that fell into disuse after the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet–Afghan War. Annie admits that the West won’t be able to fix the situation (“Political intervention, is something we shouldn’t mention”). On the refrain, she sings of longing for the distant regions while watching the mayhem unfold on TV. The song slows with a lyrical, bending guitar figure as she holds the last vowel on the line “And it’s looking at me.” The words “distant horizon” also appear in the 1969 Renaissance song “The Sea.”
“Orient Express” sports a brassy riff over a throbbing post-disco beat (in E). Jon drives Annie along with a crisp, circular bassline, overlaid with funky guitar chords and sparkling synth interjections. In the lyrics, Annie embarks on an express tour of East Asia. Ecstatic with the sites and imagery, she soars sky high on the lines “There’s so much to see, and you set me free; Out here, feel near, to fear.” The last 100 seconds is a backing-track jam with sax, rattling metal, wobbly bass and pinging synth sounds.
Jon sings “Auto-Tech,” a hi-energy vignette of a speed racer prepping for the Grand Prix. The song revs up and onward with a running bass and marquee synths at 60 mph. Annie harmonizes on the chorus, where he assures “Of course I love you and I’ll be careful,” but insists that he must win and keep his five-star rating. In the roaming middle-eight, they acknowledge that “In control, speed kills, speed thrills.” An octane, neon-powered synth line careens into alternating piano bars (both choppy and sparkly) before spinning upward to a chanted vocable that reinstates the song proper for one final verse–chorus. Musically, this track echoes the uptempo numbers of the band New Musik.
Renaissance produced Time-Line during July–August 1982 at Herne Place with Acock, who worked on the album in succession with Hackett’s Highly Strung. Barron shares drum duties with Ian Mosley, a onetime member of Darryl Way’s Wolf and Trace who subsequently joined Marillion. Gosling shares the keyboard role with veteran Eddie Hardin (Spencer Davis Group, Hardin & York, Axis Point) and Nick Magnus, a member of Hackett’s backing band who later worked with China Crisis and Karel Fialka.
Select passages feature trumpeter David Thomson and saxophonist Peter “Bimbo” Acock (John’s brother), a veteran sessionist (Adrian Snell, Gordon Giltrap, Mike Oldfield) who also played on 1983/84 titles by Grand Alliance (a Nektar–Climax Blues spinoff), Invisible Men (aka the Anthony Phillips Band), Nine Ways to Win, and Rick Wakeman.
Time-Line is housed in a single-sleeve with graphics by Graham Humphreys, who later designed film posters for the Nightmare on Elm Street series. In keeping with the album’s technology theme, the title appears over a frequency line (two on back). The cover was photographed by Brian Aris, whose photography also appears on 1982/83 sleeves by Eurythmics, Judie Tzuke, Naked Eyes, Sheena Easton, Spandau Ballet, and Thin Lizzy (Thunder and Lightning, their final album). Here, the Renaissance members have fresh, contemporary makeovers with sharp haircuts.
IRS lifted “Richard IX” as a single in July 1983 (b/w “Flight”). Renaissance appeared on an MTV interview segment with VJ JJ Jackson. However, they didn’t make videos for any of the songs on Time-Line.
For the Time-Line tour, Renaissance hired keyboardist Mike Taylor and drummer Gavin Harrison. Taylor hailed from the lineup of Sniff ‘n’ the Tears that made the 1980–82 albums The Game’s Up, Love / Action, and Ride Blue Divide. Harrison (b. 1963) was a newcomer they found through an ad in Melody Maker. He was the last of about 18 drummers they audition for the seat.
The April–May 1983 tour featured a mix of new favorites (“Camera Camera,” “Tyrant-Tula,” “Missing Person,” “Auto-Tech”) and old (“Prologue,” “Black Flame,” “Northern Light,” “Can You Hear Me?”).
Their May 4 show at Park West in Chicago was taped for the program USA Hot Spots, which ran on the USA Network. The footage showcases Annie’s newfound vocal prowess on “Flight,” which she forwards with a crying wail during the open-cadence bars between the intro and verses; and “Ashes Are Burning,” where she soars like a theremin on the outro jam. The show contains a medley comprised of various song parts (“Opening Out, “Fanfare,” “Ocean Gypsy”) where Taylor’s nimble runs and Camp’s punctual Rickenbacker licks are brought in full view by the shifting camera angles. On the “Fanfare” excerpt (from Scheherazade), Dunford’s rhythm guitar assumes a trebly, scratchy quality akin to Talking Heads. At the climax of “Touching Once Is So Hard to Keep,” Annie holds an uninterrupted note (D5) for 13 seconds.
On October 7, Renaissance performed at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music, where they debuted a new number, “Dreamaker,” an ethereal ballad with plucked guitars, warm vocals, and glistening kalimba-like synth tones.
In April 1984, they embarked on another East Coast tour that including two dates with Dave Mason. On December 10, they appeared at the Music Fair in Valley Forge, Penn., with a set that included “In the Bleak Midwinter” and a cover of the Goffin–King chestnut “Will You Still Love Me, Tomorrow,” a 1960 Billboard No. 1 by The Shirelles.
During the 1984–85 period, Renaissance amassed an album’s worth of new material with titles like “The Body Machine” (a high-tech art pop number), “Writers Wronged” (a poignant track in D minor), “Only When I Laugh” (an emotive ballad), and “Africa” (a soaring harmonized anthem with a tribal intro). One track, the eight-minute epic “You,” evolves from a dreamy opening to a brisk set of instrumental passages, including a keyboard fanfare in 6/8. Unfortunately, the tracks were vaulted when the band went into contract limbo.
Jon Camp left Renaissance in 1985. The unreleased material appeared in 1997 on Songs From Renaissance Days. It features seven songs from a probable 1984/85-era album and three additional tracks: a synthesized remake of “Northern Lights,” a cover of the Simon & Garfunkel classic “America” (a staple of Yes concerts), and the 1979 rarity “Island of Avalon.”
In 1998, four-fifths of the classic Renaissance lineup (Annie, Dunford, Sullivan, Tout) reunited to make a new album. Tout soon dropped from the recording project, which took place in 1999 at Astra Studio in Monks Horton, Kent.
Renaissance released their reunion album, Tuscany, in October 2000 on EMI Music Japan. In 2001, prog-indie Giant Electric Pea Records issued the disc in the UK. It contains ten songs written by Annie and Dunford, including “Dear Landseer,” “One Thousand Roses,” “The Race,” “In the Sunshine,” and “In My Life.”
Tout plays synthesizer on “Dolphin’s Prayer” and piano and harpsichord on “Pearls of Wisdom.” The remaining keyboard parts are played by Mickey Simmonds, a sessionist on nineties albums by Camel, Fish, and Mike Oldfield. Bassist Alex Caird (of bôa) appears in an auxiliary role. Roy Wood plays percussion on “Life in Brazil” and bass on “Pearls of Wisdom” and “Eva’s Pond,” which also features his string arrangements.
- Renaissance (1969)
- Illusion (1971)
- Prologue (1972)
- Ashes Are Burning (1973)
- Turn of the Cards (1974)
- Scheherazade and Other Stories (1975)
- Novella (1977)
- A Song for All Seasons (1978)
- Azure d’Or (1979)
- Camera Camera (1981)
- Time-Line (1983)
- Songs for Renaissance Days (1997 — recorded 1984–85)
- Tuscany (2000)
- Discogs: Renaissance
- 45worlds: Renaissance
- English Albums: R (page 2)
- tvdb: Beat-Club (all seasons)
- Peel Wiki: Top Gear (October 18, 1969)
- Renaissance Concerts
- UK Rock Festivals: Reading 1971
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