Michael Dunford (1944 -2012) guitarist and principle composer for Renaissance passed away on November 20, 2012 from a cerebral hemorrhage. 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.
Saturday August 3, 2013
Susquehanna Bank Center Camden NJ
Annie Haslam is a singer-songwriter with credits worthy of some of the most well known entertainers in the world. Primarily known for her role as the lead singer with the English classical rock band ‘Renaissance’ she later became equally heralded as a solo artist. Annie has traveled the world delighting audiences, most recently as far off as Japan and Brazil with her five octave voice and warm personality. Despite such a busy and varied life in music, Annie recently has been bestowed with an entirely new gift; she has embarked on a whole new journey in the form of oil painting. This came as a complete surprise and wondrous discovery, both to her and her fans. On somewhat of a mission, Annie has been painting fervently for since 2002, with colors and movement that make you want to walk right into the canvas. She has been described as a ‘Dream Expressionist’. Her art is organic, yet with a dream-like feel, it is contemporary but does not seem to be influenced by anything other than her own feelings and thoughts.
David Cohen: The first time we spoke you said “I was also one of those people that was a little afraid of change. The older I get the easier it is to change. It’s a hard thing to do, change something you know.” that has always stuck in my head.
Annie Haslam: If you can’t confront those things you can never change and move on.
David: When we first spoke you stopped singing and had no intention of singing again. What changed your mind?
Annie: Well, I woke up one morning and decided that I wanted do more singing.
David: What brought Renaissance back together for this CD?
Annie: In 2000 we recorded Tuscany and a short tour of Japan in 2001. I called Micky on that one to see if he wanted to do something but not with all the original band. We just wanted to work with John Tout and Terry Sullivan. Roy Wood filled in on bass and some backing vocals. After we did that album we didn’t intend to go any further with it. Micky and I kept in touch because we were friends and also in charge of re-releases and such. A few times after that he called me to see if I was interested in getting the band back together and I didn’t want to do it. Then in 2009 he called me and said, “Listen I know what you’re going to say”, and I said I didn’t want to do it. But then I said yes but only if he got John Scher involved (former band manager). So we started getting all the arrangements together and then there was a conflict with the dates with Jon Camp. So he pulled out and then Terry and John followed. At that point we didn’t know if we could pull it off with just MD and myself, but John Scher had the confidence and so the rest is history. John knew I had kept the band name alive over the years and also had a fairly strong fan base, whilst touring and recording with my own solo band. It was decided to go forward, but we didn’t make that decision lightly, but this was our only chance or it wasn’t going to happen at all.
I contacted Rave Tesar and David J Keyes who were in my band and then we contacted Frank Pagano and then found Tom Brislin who was on the Yes Symphonic Tour. We did the tour – it was named our 40th anniversary tour.
David: The first show without Michael must have been difficult.
Annie: The first show was very difficult for us, we were almost all in tears. It was very difficult for me. I knew Micky for forty-one years. Micky was right next to me onstage and I felt that gap. What we did was put Ryche (who was now playing guitar) next to Jason with Dave in the middle. This worked better for me and for Dave as we sang together and the closeness helped the healing process we all needed. That’s how it has always been anyway, bass in the middle.
I was consumed by a lot of emotion, sadness and doubt that I may be doing the wrong thing carrying on without Micky.
Having someone else on stage playing his parts was quite unreal, but Ryche did a good job.
David: There’s so much interaction with fans now with the Internet and Facebook. How did the fans react that you were going on with Renaissance?
Annie: Very positive – supportive. There were a few people who wrote and said it’s time to let it go, without Micky it’s not Renaissance. That’s ridiculous because Renaissance is the songs and my voice as well. It was very powerful with the both of us. I was thinking of not doing it. But then I thought of the fans and the music that needed to be heard. The songs were so powerful and emotional, how could you not go on? It’s the joy of going out and singing and making people happy that is the most important thing to me.
Annie Haslam Part II
Interview with classical guitarist David Cohen
David: You mentioned on stage that you don’t like Vultures Fly High because it’s a negative song. The lyrics written for the band have always been spiritual in a sense. How come you never wrote songs like, you broke my heart now I’m gonna drag your name through the mud?
Annie: ‘Vultures’ is my least favorite of Betty Thatcher’s lyrics. I’ve never liked it because it’s negative. It’s not so hopeful. I was concerned about performing Cold is Being ‘live’ on this past tour because it alludes to death. Particularly with Micky not being there, “The dying has begun” that was difficult singing that. I don’t know why people would want to write about negative subjects, I could not do that myself. Why would you need to spread negativity around? People need to be uplifted, especially now. We need to be healed- taken care of. People need to go away from a show feeling contented and happy.
Music is very powerful as you know. The older material – Betty’s work, is phenomenal. I wouldn’t say I am a songwriter, I can do it but it’s not my number one thing by any stretch of the imagination. But I am proud of the words on this album. I think I did a good job, especially Symphony of Light, it’s my favorite and The Mystic and the Muse I love as well.
David: Where did Grandine il Vento come from?
Annie: It was called Hail the Wind originally, and then I said to Micky let’s translate the title to Italian and also the whole chorus. I did the wrong thing, I looked online and found the tranlastion for Hail the Wind, which was Grandine il Vento. After we put the lead vocals on the song we get to Grandine il Vento and Jason a couple weeks before we were going to mix said, “Annie I think you’re pronouncing some words wrong. I don’t think your pronunciation Grandine il Vento is correct and your singing mi instead of ma in the chorus”. We found a friend of Raves who is Italian and he spent time helping me to get it right. The fact is Grandine il Vento means hailstones in the wind but it was too late we already had the album cover printed. However I do sing about a storm in the song so it really does fit.
David: Does a song like that come from creation or are you infusing parts of yourself in it? Like the line the sheltering sky caressing me somehow I turned around and lost my way.
Annie: This song is basically about me. There’s the line that the mirror becomes a door. I have a large mirror in my bedroom that I believe is a portal. Also when I am painting I feel I am plugged into two worlds – I have no idea where I go. I never have preconceived ideas when I paint – the images just flow through me.
David: The line Skin like Porcelain is just in itself a great line. Where did that song come from?
Annie: It’s really weird, Micky and I were shopping one day and he was looking for gifts to take home to his wife. He was looking at a piece of clothing when another lady who was looking at clothes got talking to me and mentioned the word ‘Porcelain’. I really liked it and wrote it down. Then it was in my memory and when Micky wrote the rough draft of the song he used it as the working title.
I was also inspired by a video of Africa, and the guys were playing in the other room and I said this really has an African feel, can we change the arrangement and instrumentation to something of that nature. Seeing the video of the African village really inspired me. The ideas came from two different places. The words came very quickly. It poured out like a painting on an easel.
David: You have two duets on this album. There is Blood Silver Like Moonlight with John Wetton. That is a very powerful lilting duet about being in an angels choir. You also have the duet Cry to the World with Ian Anderson playing flute. You sing, “There is a plan to call all true men to make a stand, now’s the time, now is the time”.
Is Annie calling for a revolution?
Annie: That song is for everyone to come together. I get upset about racism and borders.
David: Has your painting changed since you started singing again?
Annie: I think my painting is developing all the time, but no, they are two separate places in my heart.
Annie Haslam Part III
Interview with classical guitarist David Cohen
David: Does Renaissance have regular rehearsal time?
Annie: No because the other members have other bands they play in and sessions etc, they work all the time. In the 1970’s we did because we were working all the time together.
David: Even though you have the new album are there any new songs?
Annie: No, we don’t have anything new right now.
David: When we spoke last you said you never practice and that your voice is not a fragile instrument.
Annie: To get my lungs in shape I’ve been swimming. I do scales and sing along to opera and fave singers. I was in the back brace for so long, it was debilitating. What I do if I have shows or a tour coming up is I stay away from people because I don’t want to pick up a bug. It’s a shame because I’ve missed a lot of good things.
David: You also don’t have air conditioning in your house.
Annie: No I don’t. I had air in the past but I’ve noticed it affects my voice. I have fans screaming in the house now, I mean FANS!
David: The YESTIVAL is coming up. How did you get that gig?
Annie: We got a call from our agent out of the blue. What an opportunity! Of course we said yes. When we were first told about this I immediately thought about how Micky would have loved this, especially after all the work we put into the last four years.
David: The band just finished a tour. Does it get harder to tour as you get older?
Annie: We did the tour in April making up for the shows we lost last fall because of my back, and we added more to the mix. We ended the tour in Florida, which was nice because I got to spend time with some friends. It wasn’t difficult, but because of having the brace on for so long it was debilitating, I couldn’t bend over or exercise. I had to be so careful. I had this brace on for twenty-four hours a day for eight months. Weaning off it I had to be careful with that also. Now I want to get myself in shape by the time we tour again.
Somebody asked me if I thought I’d be doing this at this time in my life. I didn’t even think about it when I was younger. I lived from day to day. As long as my voice and the body are willing and the audience wants to see us in concert I will carry on.
David: It’s like Ian Anderson said, “I’ll die with my boots on”.
Annie: “Yeah and I’ll have my shoes off”.