Anyone dig early Renaissance?

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I think they were a wonderful band, despite some of their overblown gestures. I generally find their less overblown songs more attractive, but for some gently rollicking music they can't be beat. Except for the wonderful eccentricity of Slapp Happy, of course.

James Slone (Freon Trotsky), Thursday, 24 June 2004 07:32 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

What do you mean by early Renaissance? The Relf-McCarthy years, or the first couple of albums with Annie Haslam (Prologue, Ashes are Burning, etc.)? Either way, classic.

Joe (Joe), Thursday, 24 June 2004 09:28 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

I pretty much mean everything before they reunited recently.

James Slone (Freon Trotsky), Thursday, 24 June 2004 21:42 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

My recap:

"Island" (the single version) from the debut album is one of my favorite songs, period. Second album Illusion has "Love Goes On" and "Face of Yesterday", both sung by the incomparable Jane Relf.

A new era begins with a literally completely revamped line-up. Prologue offers the stunning "Bound for Infinity". With the next album, Ashes are Burning, the group really found their voice; "Can You Understand?" (which brilliantly references Maurice Jarre's Doctor Zhivago in the middle) and the sappy-but-undeniably-gorgeous pop numbers "Carpet of the Sun" and "Let It Grow". My favorite album of theirs overall. Many fans consider the next, Turn of the Cards to be their best, and hard to argue with "Running Hard" (a 10.0 score for integrating orchestra with rock band), "Things I Don't Understand", and "Mother Russia". Next...the concept album, Scheherezade, with "A Trip to the Fair" and the epic title track (okay, so there's padding, but some parts of it..."The Young Prince and Princess" and Annie's hair-raising climax at the end...excellent).

From there, the band begins to descend the mountain. Novella doesn't really offer much of a new sound, and the material doesn't sound quite up to par with previous efforts (c'mon.."Midas Man"?).
A Song for All Seasons was the first to experiment with overdubbing vocals and electric guitar (they were almost exclusively acoustic guitar before that) yields their hit "Northern Lights" and the title track, which was probably their last hurrah, and at times I think their most powerful track. Azure D'Or has a few nice pop songs, such as "The Winter Tree", but they were clearly losing their edge. The last album with all five members.

Meanwhile, the Relf-McCarthy people reformed around the same time with Illusion. Fantastic tunes all around on the first album: "Isadora", "Road to Freedom", "Everywhere You Go", "Candles are Burning". The second album not quite as good, but still decent ("Madonna Blue" comes to mind). A third CD of demos, Enchanted Caress would turn up posthumously in the 1990s, revealing some additional good material: "As Long As We're Together", "Nights in Paris".

But back to end of the 70s. The Haslam Renaissance continued with three members, entering the 80s attempting to go new wave. Ironically, they were probably the most likely former prog rock group to pull off such a transition successfully, with a frontwoman like Annie Haslam. Still, they failed completely. Camera Camera is generally awful, and the best song on the album (okay, maybe "Ukraine Ways" too) is "Bonjour Swansong", a pretty shameless self-plagiarism of "Northern Lights". They made one more album, Time Line, which also tanked, then decided to call it a day.

Joe (Joe), Friday, 25 June 2004 02:24 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

The efforts with Annie Haslam at new wave are indeed awful.

That's a nice little summary actually.

James Slone (Freon Trotsky), Friday, 25 June 2004 03:11 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

eight years pass...

first off, wanted to say rest in peace, Michael Dunford. anyway I was listening to Ashes are Burning yesterday and I'm suprised that this eight year old thing is the only thread about them. that album is particularly wonderful. to answer the question I actually do find the first three Renaissance albums to be interesting but they're not really great. the first one is neat because you've got all these Reif/McCarthy tunes that just kinda get completely opened up by Hawken, who IIRC was the only pianist in those days willfully inserting classical quotes into the music outside of Keith Emerson, of course. the second album had some good tunes but felt utterly unfinished. it's weird how both those albums end on long pieces that just kind of go nowhere after a few minutes. Illusion is probably my favorite of the three thanks to Haslam whose voice always astounded me. I think I'm in love with her. Anyway I've always been interested in the "reformed" original Renaissance called Illusion. I've always found it odd how this band had a 100% turnover in band members after only a few albums (even King Crimson couldn't manage that!) but it's even odder how the original members eventually wound up imitating their replacements, who started out by imitating them!

frogbs, Wednesday, 13 February 2013 15:25 (six years ago) Permalink

Okay, I'll chime in, since this is bound to be a quiet thread. Loved them back in the day (and got a chance to interview Annie) and about six of the albums are still on my generally neglected prog shelf. Agree that the debut is interesting but not great; they definitely hadn't worked out their sound yet. My copy has a pasted-over cover, and I've never been able to determine what's underneath.

I used to love the Mark II version up through Live at Carnegie Hall - in fact, I think it was my playing of the extremely lengthy "Ashes Are Burning" that got me fired from an overnight shift at a radio station - and Novella, but last time I listened seemed quite dated. If only Annie had pursued some sort of Lisa Gerrard-type direction as prog died out and the new wave began.

If you've never heard Albinoni's "Adagio in G Minor" - the source for "Cold Is Being" - you should.

Interesting wiki note: In 2001 the four core members of Illusion issued an album of new material under the name Renaissance Illusion.

Nataly Dawn's echoey swamp sound (Dan Peterson), Wednesday, 13 February 2013 20:06 (six years ago) Permalink

four months pass...

Surprised anyone would call Turn Of The Cards the best one. It is my third (after Scheherezade and Ashes Are Burning) and although it has really stunning moments in every song, I dont think the bones of the songs are as strong.

Although I only have 3 albums, I'm sad that I'm getting the strong impression from reviews that they didnt manage the giant symphonic excitement outside these 3 albums much. I want the Live album but am afraid everything else will be a comedown.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Thursday, 27 June 2013 17:30 (five years ago) Permalink

five months pass...

my god Scheherazade and Other Stories is a gorgeous masterpiece with an astounding melodic sensibility. the missing link in the C******s creation legend?

VENIET IMBER (imago), Monday, 23 December 2013 16:29 (five years ago) Permalink

fuck me what an absolute tragedy Genesis are so ubiquitous in the progressive rock discussion while these guys are now virtually unknown

VENIET IMBER (imago), Monday, 23 December 2013 18:41 (five years ago) Permalink

I like them a lot, but I kinda think Haslam was often better than the material.

jmm, Monday, 23 December 2013 18:53 (five years ago) Permalink

I haven't heard that one yet but the three albums prior to it (Prologue, Ashes are Burning, and Turn of the Cards) are all very good. "Sounds of the Sea" is one of the most beautiful songs ever made if you ask me!

frogbs, Monday, 23 December 2013 18:57 (five years ago) Permalink

froggy you will flip your fucking nut over the opening track. rest is fucking beautiful too

listened to Ashes Are Burning too - again, opening track the highlight, overall quality a bit lower if anything - this one's sheer fucking lysergic insane gorgeousness the whole way through

VENIET IMBER (imago), Monday, 23 December 2013 19:02 (five years ago) Permalink

Scheherezade is an all time favorite album of mine; but I do have a complaint that the end of the opening track feels like a letdown after the incredible opening few minutes.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Wednesday, 25 December 2013 19:10 (five years ago) Permalink

nah man, that song is just destroying me from start to finish, the mounting organ in the fadeout is as fine a return to the crystalline ambience of the first vocal section (which I agree is one of the greatest things I've heard) as could be managed with the drums unlikely to back out again

it's becoming one of my favourite songs

VENIET IMBER (imago), Wednesday, 25 December 2013 19:20 (five years ago) Permalink

three weeks pass...

yeah, 'a trip to the fair' is genuinely magic in a way few songs are. up there in the pantheon.

lovely cuddly fluffy dope (imago), Sunday, 19 January 2014 23:58 (five years ago) Permalink

Forgotten to mention that Faith & Disease did a really great abridged cover of "Ashes Are Burning".

Did anyone hear their recent EP and album before Dunford died? I think the EP was only available on the website and tours.

Also, anyone heard Annie Haslam's solo stuff?

Robert Adam Gilmour, Wednesday, 22 January 2014 03:31 (five years ago) Permalink

Their discography gets quite confusing after the 70's. I'm still interested in hearing the band Illusion which is supposedly a reformed version of the original band that apes the Haslam-era band (as good a "snake eating its own tail" moment as you're likely to find). I've read some reviews of their latest album and it seems that people like it though Dunford's passing casts a shadow on it.

frogbs, Wednesday, 22 January 2014 15:31 (five years ago) Permalink

I heard that they needed kickstarter to fund it.

Yes, their discography goes all over the place later with live albums and stylistic gamble studio albums. To make things more complicated there is also three further bands called Michael Dunford's Renaissance, Renaissance Illusion and Renaissant. But I think all of them have one album each.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Wednesday, 22 January 2014 17:41 (five years ago) Permalink

froggy ffs listen to that album/song

pessimishaim (imago), Wednesday, 22 January 2014 17:51 (five years ago) Permalink

yeah I'll try to remember to load it up on the iPod. made myself a note but must've forgotten it. I recall hearing one album that I remember being very ambitious and neat but I think that was Turn of the Cards

frogbs, Wednesday, 22 January 2014 18:42 (five years ago) Permalink

two months pass...

sorry for the delay, you're right it totally rules. "trip to the fair" and of course the monster title track are definitely my favorites. I'm genuinely impressed by how gothic this band got.

frogbs, Tuesday, 1 April 2014 17:50 (four years ago) Permalink


yeah I listened to some of the stuff before this album and it didn't speak to me quite as much. think they discovered this particular intersection of pure psych bliss and melancholy that few have mined well

halber mensch halber keks (imago), Tuesday, 1 April 2014 17:56 (four years ago) Permalink

Turn of the Cards is similar, I'd give that one another shot. Ashes are Burning is also very good but it's a little more poppish and melodic, not really dark at all. Outside of that they have some individual tracks I really like - "Sounds of the Sea" on Prologue is just gorgeous, as is "Island" (from the debut, with Jane Reif). Dunno if any of their albums after Scheherezade are worth getting. I'm curious as to how the "New Wave" Renassiance sounded even if nobody has anything nice to say about it.

frogbs, Tuesday, 1 April 2014 18:03 (four years ago) Permalink

It's not quite as "new wave" and actually not quite as dire as I remember, not having heard it for 30 years.

A Perfect Ratio of Choogle to Jam (Dan Peterson), Tuesday, 1 April 2014 18:58 (four years ago) Permalink

two years pass...

I absolutely love this section of Scheherazade. It sounds good just as a standalone song too.

jmm, Monday, 11 April 2016 23:24 (two years ago) Permalink

yes, it's amazing. scheherazade is one of the great 1970s albums

And the cry rang out all o'er the town / Good Heavens! Tay is down (imago), Monday, 11 April 2016 23:28 (two years ago) Permalink

two years pass...


reggie (qualmsley), Saturday, 7 July 2018 21:26 (seven months ago) Permalink

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