Annie Haslam is the vocalist extraordinaire (with a five-octave range!) for the progressive / classical rock band Renaissance. The band’s classic albums include 1974’s Turn of the Cards and 1975’s Scheherazade and Other Stories, both of which they recently covered in full on tour. Renaissance’s songs include “Mother Russia”, “Carpet of the Sun”, “Song of Scheherazade”, and “Northern Lights” which was a Top 10 single in the UK in 1978. Renaissance will soon be releasing a new album called Grandine il Vento.
Annie Haslam has also released several solo albums, starting with 1977’s aptly named Annie in Wonderland. And she is an accomplished painter! She responded to the following questions by email, with her answers received on 11/19/12. Sadly, her bandmate, Renaissance guitarist and songwriter Michael Dunford, passed away suddenly on 11/20/12 of a massive Instantaneous Cerebral Hemorrhage.
Jeff Moehlis: How was your part of the world affected by the recent hurricane?
Annie Haslam: Well, I live in Bucks county, PA. There were many trees down in the area, I lost 7. It was a scary experience, the hurricane sounded like a freight train going through my house. But of course the folks in NJ got the brunt of it all. Very sad, but people are pulling together over here to help the victims. As of yesterday parts of Staten Island were still without power.
JM: You’ve recently had problems with your back. How is your recovery coming along?
AH: Thank you for asking. Unfortunately we had to cancel most of Fall tour, it was very disappointing for me because I knew how many people were excited to see us again. We did however do the last 5 (the 6th had to be canceled because of the hurricane). I am in a metal back brace for 3 more months so had to wear that on stage too… a little cumbersome but as I painted it black to go with my stage outfits it ‘sort’ of blended in. I had to tell the fans what was happening as it was necessary for me to hold on to the microphone stand to keep steady and from falling over. In spite of this, my voice was very strong though and I believe I had a huge amount of Angelic help!
JM: On a lighter note, what can we look forward to on the new Renaissance album?
AH: From the first piece of music that Michael Dunford sent to me to add lyrics to, I knew this new album was going to be very special. The music is powerful, yet in some places calm and hypnotic. Rave Tesar (keys), Jason Hart (keys/vocals), David J Keyes (bass/vocals) and Frank Pagano (drums/percussion/vocals) had their opportunity to put their own stamp on this new brand new music. Each song has its own identity and stands out on its own. ‘Grandine il Vento’ is the title track of the album and is a powerful ballad. We also have two songs with guest artists on that I cannot divulge yet, but very exciting! Also a song which is a fave of us all called ‘Symphony of Light’, a 12 minute epic about the life of Leonardo da Vinci. This is our first studio album in over 12 years, we are all very proud of it.
AH: Our agent Wayne Forte at Entourage Talent was the one who suggested the idea. Apparently several other bands had started to do this and it was very popular. It was a little daunting at the beginning particularly asking the band to learn Song of Scheherazade, which alone is 25 minutes long and also not one of our easier pieces to learn. They all came through with flying colors. The shows were greeted with enthusiasm and ecstatic response. The timing was perfect!
JM: How would you compare the experiences of performing live versus recording in the studio?
AH: Totally different of course. I always wished we could have spent more time on vocals in the past, but am a believer in things happening for a reason, so with that in mind the albums we released came out pretty darn good! I love performing ‘live’ and think it is important for performers to tour and have that interaction with their fans. If any music is positive, then it is also priceless when that energy is given out to the audience. We have great fans!
JM: How do you view Renaissance’s place in the progressive rock music genre?
AH: I am not sure if that is where we belong, or if we belong in any genre. Whenever asked what would I label the band as, I have always said ‘classical rock band’. Maybe that’s just what we are?
AH: One of the best experiences of my life. I was engaged to Roy Wood at the time when Seymour Stein over at Sire Records in NYC suggested I record a solo album and that Roy produce it. I was thrilled. We recorded at De Lane Lea studios where we had recorded the Renaissance albums. I learned a lot about singing from Roy, ways to use my voice I had never thought of etc… plus he was so funny we laughed a lot too, he’s a GENIUS, I was blessed to know him and to work alongside him too! A major highlight of my life!
JM: Did you have any vocal training, and how do you keep your voice sounding so divine?
Well thank you, I am blushing. I did have 9 months training with an opera singer called Sybil Knight when I first started singing, pre-Renaissance. That was integral in finding my own voice and vocal range. Up until that point I sounded like Joan Baez, who I loved and got to meet in 1992 here in Philadelphia. What a thrill and even more thrilling she knew who I was, a thrilling moment I shan’t forget. I guess my voice is still strong because I don’t abuse it, I don’t smoke and only occasionally have a glass of wine or two. I am also a vegetarian which helps me in all aspects of my life.
JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?
AH: Stay true to your dreams, never falter, keep that desire burning. If your intentions are for your highest good you will achieve your goal. Personally : Please take care of your mind as well as your body, and ‘other’ people, friends and strangers.
JM: What are your plans, musical or otherwise, for the near future?
AH: My next project is working on the new album design. I am also a painter now and love it with a passion as much as singing. People can see some of my art at : www.anniehaslam.com and www.facebook.com/anniehaslamart. I also designed the band’s website which is: www.renaissancetouring.com and www.facebook.com/renaissancetouring.
JM: Are there any plans for Renaissance to tour in California (where I live)?
AH: I do hope so, I think the release of the new album in the Spring will allow us to tour further afield.
JM: Do you want to set the record straight on anything about yourself or Renaissance?
AH: Michael and I founded the new Renaissance in 2009 and we are very proud of our band members: Rave Tesar, Jason Hart, David J. Keyes and Frank Pagano.
JM: Where are you responding from?
AH: I live in Bucks County, PA, USA.
RIP Michael Dunford
Here is the press release announcing the passing away of Michael Dunford:
Michael Dunford, musical composer and guitarist of the progressive rock band Renaissance passed away on Tuesday, November 20, 2012. He had just returned home from the first leg of the band’s North American tour and suffered a massive Instantaneous Cerebral Hemorrhage while dining at his home in Surrey, England Monday night. He was rushed to hospital where doctors declared his condition irreversible and terminal. He passed away at 11:06 pm GMT, surrounded by his family without having regained consciousness.
The fairly reclusive and soft-spoken composer, a mainstay in the world of progressive rock, was born, raised and educated in Surrey. His first job was selling clothing in a local shop followed by a stint as an airside driver at Heathrow Airport which enabled him to form a “skiffle” group which lead to his first rock band called Nashville Teens in the early 1960s. Nashville Teens reached #6 on U.K. singles charts with their version of Tobacco Road. On leaving them, he formed several other bands including The Pentad and The Plebes. One night he went to see the original band Renaissance perform locally and ended up joining them in the early 1970s. The original band members were Jim McCarty, Louis Cennamo, John Hawken, Keith Relf and Jane Relf.
Dunford and vocalist Annie Haslam took over Renaissance’s reins in 1971 and soon had established the group as a world class recording and touring act, selling out venues like New York’s Carnegie Hall and The Royal Albert Hall in London. They would go on to release over a dozen albums before eventually parting ways in the mid-1980s. However, they would continue to write new material together and in 2001 reunited the band to record a new studio album, tour the following year, and release a live album. After another sabbatical, the refreshed line-up was introduced to the world and captured for posterity on Turn of the Cards and Scheherazade and Other Stories Live 2011.
Earlier this fall, Dunford and the band completed recording their first new studio album in twelve years. Grandine il Vento was recorded at Studio X in Ridgewood NJ, USA. All the music on the new album except for one track was composed and arranged by Dunford and features him on acoustic guitars and backing vocals.
Michael Dunford is survived by his wife Clare, two sons William (13) and Oliver (10), and sister Judy Kendall. Services will be held at Woking Crematorium at a date to be announced.