Ridgefield Playhouse Orchestrating Renaissance Symphonic Tour Return
RIDGEFIELD — Annie Haslam, the ethereal lead vocalist of the progressive rock act Renaissance, was so thrilled and gleeful to bring her band and accompanying chamber orchestra to the Ridgefield Playhouse a couple of years ago, she decided to try it again.
This time around, she told The Newtown Bee in an exclusive interview that fans will hear even more classic Renaissance music backed for the first time in decades by a small but mighty orchestral ensemble. They return to The Ridgefield Playhouse with their "Ashes are Burning 50th Anniversary Tour" on Wednesday, October 16 at 8pm.
Haslam could not mask the excited anticipation of reuniting with original Renaissance band mate and Yardbirds co-founder Jim McCarty for a New York show at the Town Hall, and in Glenside, Penn., where the band will record the show thanks to a successful, fan-fueled Indiegogo fundraising campaign.
“I can’t thank the fans and supporters enough for helping us underwrite this latest project,” Haslam said, “we could not have done this new recording without them.”
In an advance, Haslam reminded concertgoers and fans that she “joined the band New Years day 1971, and now, 48 years later, we are still performing and bringing our unique style of music to more and more fans all over the world. This very special anniversary tour will be a retrospective celebration of Renaissance classics.”
Besides Haslam on vocals, Tesar on keyboards and Lambert on guitar and vocals, the rest of the core band includes Geoffrey Langley on keyboard and vocals, Leo Traversa on bass guitar and vocals, and longtime collaborator Frank Pagano on drums, percussion, and vocals.
Renaissance, which rose from the ashes of the seminal UK rock band The Yardbirds, was one of the first bands to uniquely blend progressive rock with classical influences and symphonic arrangements. Their career has spanned 50 years, spearheaded by Haslam’s five-octave voice and the masterful songwriting skills of the late Michael Dunford.
After the band initially broke up, freeing Haslam to pursue a successful solo career, she and Dunford decided to reunite in 2009 in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the original founding of Renaissance. Five years and several tours later, Renaissance released their first album in 13 years, entitled Symphony of Light.
The album is a testament to the unforgettable melodies that Michael Dunford infused into his work before his untimely passing in 2012. The album’s music bathes the listener in sonic flavors from far-off countries, lush orchestral arrangements, and unusual lyrical content, with guest appearances from Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) and the late John Wetton (Asia/King Crimson/UK).
After reconnecting with Haslam and a few pleasantries, she was anxious to talk about some of the newest and never before heard arrangements of Renaissance numbers Ridgefield Playhouse fans will hear with the accompanying chamber orchestra.
The Newtown Bee: It's no secret that the band is going to perform 'symphonic' arrangements of songs never played before with the Renaissance Chamber Orchestra. What are some of those new and improved orchestra pieces?
Annie Haslam: We’ve added orchestral arrangements of ‘Midas Man,’ ‘Ashes Are Burning,’ ‘Running Hard,’ which we hadn’t played with an orchestra since the Albert Hall show [in 1977], and one of our newer songs, ‘The Mystic and the Muse.’ Rave Tesar, who is my brilliant right-hand man, did most of these new arrangements, and our Brazilian guitarist Mark Lambert did ‘Running Hard.’ We’ll start rehearsals in a couple of days and begin working with the orchestra next week ahead of the tour start in Maryland on October 10.
The Bee: Your second album with the band, Ashes Are Burning includes arguably your biggest commercial 'hit' - 'Carpet of the Sun' - which you've been performing very early in your sets over the past decade. Is there something about that song that makes it fit better at the beginning of your shows?
Haslam: Yes, as a matter of fact, we open with "Prologue," and then typically go right into "Carpet of the Sun." Besides the appropriateness of opening our shows with the song "Prologue," is because it breaks my voice in nicely. The first song is always important for a singer - and it's important to me to start stretching my voice, which I can begin to do slowly with that song. Singing the high notes has always been easier for me, but slipping into the set with that song has always been good for me to work the lower register of my voice as well. Then, going right into "Carpet of the Sun" gives me more opportunity to work a different vocal register. Those songs also sit well at the beginning of the set because they are picked from our first and second albums. And I think we're going to be going into "Ocean Gypsy," as the third song on this tour, and as you know that song is simply drop dead gorgeous.
The Bee: Do you use any type of reinforcement in the form of vocal exercises or supplements like tea or throat spray to keep your beautiful voice in such great condition — especially when you're out on tour?
Haslam: Not really, I don't do a great deal more than exercises for my voice. Maybe I'll gargle with a bit of warm water and salt, but what I don't do on show days is equally important. I don't usually eat anything after breakfast because I find eating later causes mucous in my throat. On this tour I'm also planning to be even more careful about putting my voice at risk. It's difficult because you may like to have a bit of wine before the show. But that's acidic and I find it clamps onto my vocal chords and it's not good. If I have any tea, it's always decaffeinated. And now when I'm going out, I'm starting to wear a mask so I don't spread germs, or expose myself to anyone else's. Sometimes I get some terrible looks around here in the states, but if you go to Japan, everyone is wearing masks to protect their health. It's become culturally accepted there - over here, I think vanity plays a role in people not wanting to wear masks if they're sick, or to protect them if they are well. This is what you should do if you don't want to get sick.
The Bee: Can you give us a glimpse into your early recording sessions? Was it the producer who mainly called the shots in studio, or did the band?
Haslam: It was just the band and nobody else telling us what to do. It was just the five of us applying our creative energies working together. At that point I wasn't writing anything but I was contributing to the arrangements and suggesting vocal ideas. Michael [Dunford] did most of the writing, but everyone else contributed as well. Sometimes that detail doesn't get out there, but that's the way it was — five of us working as one. For Ashes Are Burning, we mainly used Delaney studios, and we had a terrific producer and engineer. I know Paul McCartney did some work there while we were around, and I think David Bowie and Bing Crosby recorded their Christmas song there, as well. I do remember the first day the classical musicians came in to record with us. That was amazing. When we heard the orchestra begin to play our arrangement of "Carpet of the Sun," we started jumping and holding on to each other, and I remember Michael and I looked at each other and started crying. But it's just perfect - today's classical music, really.
The Bee: The title track on Ashes Are Burning comes in at 11 and a half minutes, and 'Can you understand' at almost 10 minutes as well as 'At the Harbor' almost seven minutes. Had other progressive and rock acts of that era like Yes, Genesis, and Iron Butterfly already paved the way giving others like Renaissance confidence to write and record the more expansive songs that so endear you to your fans?
Haslam: Well, "Carpet of the Sun" was the right length for a conventional single at the time, but nobody ever sat us down and said 'you have to write a single.' We were not a singles kind of band and we never set out to write anything with that specific intention. As far as taking any leads, we were listening to other bands but we wrote what we wanted to write. We didn't do it because other bands were doing it. From the start, each album was a natural progression of our songwriting. It's just the way it was. It's funny, when Mickey [Dunford] got the band back together in 2009, we had so much material to draw from to fit into a concert set. We were so lucky that we weren't one of those bands with three or four good pieces and the rest are jut like filler in between. We had so much material that was just fantastic, and we had such great energy among the five of us back then, it just came naturally.
For tickets ($57.50), call or visit the box office, 203-438-5795 or ridgefieldplayhouse.org. The Ridgefield Playhouse is a nonprofit performing arts center located at 80 East Ridge in Ridgefield, parallel to Main Street (Route 35).
Learn more about Renaissance by CLICKING HERE
Check out the lush sound of Renaissance performing "Carpet of the Sun" — one of their most popular originals — with the Renaissance Chamber Orchestra.