Welcome to the final part of Progulator.com’s interview with the amazing Annie Haslam of Renaissance. In this, the final chapter, of our interview you’ll hear Annie discuss the history of the band as well as the band’s more recent touring activity. Be prepared for some really fun stories! And while you’re at it, make sure to check out Renaissance’s fantastic new release, Symphony of Light. Don’t miss the USA tour this October/November! (http://renaissancetouring.com/tour/)
ANNIE: Well, the things that stand out in my mind… Just before I joined the band I was in a cabaret people called The Gentle People. The guitarist said, “Annie, you’re wasted here, your voice is not a cabaret voice. It’s something else.” And he said, “I just seen this ad in the Melody Maker and was for a girl singer in an international pop group or something like that.” He said, “Go, please go for the audition.” So, what I did was I called up and saw that it was Renaissance […] and I gave them my name and I got an audition together. And then I went and bought the album, which is called Kings and Queens (the first album) and I learned everything on it. And I went down there to Addlestone… he lived in Addlestone and it was a church hall in Weybridge, it was just down the road. And I went there for the audition on December 31st, 1970; it was on New Year’s Eve. And Keith Relph and Jim McCarty were there from the Yardbirds, because they were still involved in it, you know; they started Renaissance originally. So they were still involved, and actually there had been somebody else in the band before me, two singers. Keith Relph’s sister was in [it] for a short while and then she left and a girl called Binky came in […].
And so they wanted to be there to make sure that the person who got the job was going to have the right voice and everything. So, I went there and I’ve got long, brown hair, parted in the middle with a long, floor-length tapestry coat. So, I was the part, you know what I mean? And they asked me to sing a song called “Island.” So, we did that song and all of them just flipped. They just said immediately, “We’ll let you know tomorrow,” and they called me up first thing in the morning and said, “You’ve got the job.” That was extremely memorable.
There were a few changes in the band from then until 1973 which was when everyone was fired except me and John Tout, [and] Vicky Dunford was kept on as writer. And that’s when we brought in John Camp, Terry, and… the band changed, and again, you know, different people around that period. So, 73’ was the band, it became the band with John, John, Terry, Vicky, and myself. But the interesting thing is… I remember… things click now that I’m older, thinks that happened that I didn’t realize… I joined in 71’ and in 75,’ within 4 years, we were playing at Carnegie Hall.
MATT: That’s incredible.
ANNIE: [In an excited voice] Isn’t it really? All these different things come to me every now and again. I think, hang on a minute, it’s only four years, how’d we do that? And it was just the right time, the right place… the music business… you know? Mars Copeland at that time was our manager and then John Scher took over managing us (the well-known concert promoter in New Jersey) […]. So, everything was right once we got the band, the five people there; that was the band. My gosh, we did three nights in Carnegie Hall […]. I’m getting choked up inside just thinking about it. It was unbelievable. And all of our fans were dressed up. They all dressed up for it, you know, because it’s Carnegie Hall. Everyone was dressed up in ties and dickie bows and suits, oh my gosh it was incredible.
And there was a party for it at a club called Ashley’s in New York, quite a famous club. I’m not really a club person, I never have been, but I went because we were all together. Obviously when your in a band that’s what you do. But I remember dancing, I don’t know how many hours, with Terry Sullivan because he’s a great dancer; he’s a great jiver, just fantastic at jiving, and we just danced for hours! And people would bring over glasses of champagne and we were drinking champagne and dancing at the same time! [Annie laughs].
Oh it was wonderful; those kinds of things are priceless, priceless memories. And over the years the music was just fantastic. You know, Michael was really the main writer, but also the other guys did help write some of the pieces as well. Terry Sullivan wrote a beautiful song in memory of his father called “Forever Changing.” And that always stands [out] in my mind. I lost my father not too long before that. We both lost our fathers and he’d written this incredible piece of music. And then we did Scheherazade; oh my God, when we did Scheherazade that was unbelievable. That was just… oh my God… the experience [of] recording it. It was just a great album, but the piece itself! And when we got together in 2009, we… in 2011 we went on the road over here. We had been stuck on the east coast, unfortunately, because of finances. […] What we did on that tour was we played the whole of Turn of the Cards and the whole of Scheherazade live. And the band did a phenomenal job! I remember Mickey saying, “What do you think Rave and everybody will think if we ask them to do Scheherazade?” [I said], “Oh no, you’d better ask them!” You know, it was a real challenge. And Jason Hart was the other keyboard player and he was like, “Oh my,” but they were all up for it and they all did a magnificent job. So, that was another incredible experience, and just recording with the orchestra.
And we did the Albert Hall in 78’ and that was another incredible time. And we had a hit single with “Northern Lights.” After that there was a little bit of pressure on us from the record label to come up with something more commercial. So the next album, which was Azure d’Or was the change… that was when we started to change. David Henshaw came in to produce it (he had worked with Genesis). So, there were some things on Azure d’Or that I wasn’t all that happy with whereas all the other albums were phenomenal. [They were] easy to listen to, everything was perfect, they’d go perfectly from one song into another; they all fit beautifully. But this album… there were some nice songs but they were light songs. I think “Flood at Lyons” was on there and I thought “Secret Mission” was really good, but “Flood at Lyons” was fabulous but that wasn’t enough for me on the album. It did ok, [but] it did nothing like the other albums. Then we changed labels to IRS, and then we were led down a different path. I followed. At that point I wasn’t involved in the music business side of things. I just felt that [since] I didn’t write the songs, and I don’t play an instrument, so I just felt, “let them do it because they know what they’re doing.” And I really should have spoken up because I knew—I could feel inside—that something wasn’t going to be right; it wasn’t going the right way.
So, we did Camera Camera and then we did Timeline. There were some good songs, but they were just songs! They were nothing special and they were songs that anybody could sing. Whereas everything else was songs that nobody else could sing because they were written for a different reason. In fact, I don’t even know if there was a reason that they were writing those songs because I think they just came easily and it was just the natural progression from album to album. But I think from the newer ones it was like, “there is a reason now, we’ve got to come up with hit singles.” We had never thought that way, and that’s why it worked [before]; we just let all the creative stuff come out of it and it was beautiful. And then, you know, the business stuff came in, and the pressure, the hit singles… what’s that got to do with it? Well, it’s money, isn’t it? Once money starts coming into the picture then everything looks different.
And that’s what happened. It changed. It was no good anymore. It wasn’t right. And we changed the band around […] and after that it was just downhill, really.
MATT: Well, I’ll tell you what though, I was floored by the newest album, and I think that whether or not [the band] went through a commercial period… I mean, you guys are on it right now. I would say [that] some of the greatest songs of the [band’s] career have shown up on this last album and I’d like to congratulate you for that. It’s been phenomenal.
ANNIE: Aw, thank you. I’m really proud of it. The thing that was interesting, that was so different… the songs… as John Wetton said, it all works. Like “Porcelain,” we weren’t sure about that one… When they were working on the beginning of it in the studio, I was looking at something online (it was some African music) and I thought, oh wow. And I said, “hang on a minute guys, come listen to this. Why don’t we turn this into a song that…? I’ve got some ideas, I’ve got some ideas.” And the strangest thing… title came… this is really weird. Mickey and I were in a shop, funny enough, called Annie Says; I don’t know if it’s on the west coast, but it’s a dress shop. And we were in there and he wanted to buy a gift for his wife, Claire, and I was just looking around. We were in this shop and we started talking to this woman somehow. I think she heard Mickey and I talking and said to Mickey, “oh you’re English as well” and started talking. And then she said, “Oh, my daughter’s doing something and she’s written something…” and it had ‘porcelain’ in the title. It said something something “porcelain,” and I looked at Mickey and said, “Oh my God, what a beautiful word that is. And I wrote it down. That’s where the name [came from].
And then when they were playing in the studio and doing the rhythms in the beginning I thought, “Mickey, let’s not just do it as a song, let’s make it an African song.” And so we did! That’s how “Porcelain” was born [Annie starts laughing]. A very weird way of coming up with an idea because it was somebody else’s idea, really. And funny enough (well, it’s not funny at all), but I remember that before we put the African feel on it, that drum in the beginning (which in the beginning when they started doing it in the studio it was all drums, it was all a different thing), I didn’t like it. It just wasn’t right, it didn’t have a feel to it that was moving to me. But anyway, Mickey did a Garage Band thing of it earlier that he’d given me, and he just sang ‘porcelain’ in the background, and that’s all he did, “oooh oooh oooh, porcelain…,” or whatever. And when it came to doing the real vocals we said, “we’ll put real vocals on,” and one of things Mickey said was, “I want my vocals left on there.” Funny enough, they’re the only vocals he did on the album. He didn’t do any others; there were no other vocals… yeah. Because he went home a couple of times during that period to see his family when we did the vocals, so you know, he was ok with not being… you know, his voice wasn’t as strong as the others but it did have a timbre to it that you could tell it was Mickey and it was very good for blending in, and it was different. But he was ok with that, [and] he said, “just don’t take my vocals off ‘Porcelain,’” and that was the only one in the end that he was on. And a lot of people said, “We really love ‘Porcelain.’”
So that was interesting because I thought that people were really going to go for… well, they did really go for the others as well. And also “Mystic and the Muse,” that was another one. When we did it with Steve Hackett [there was a] standing ovation. I was like, “Wow!” We played it in Old Quebec City; we did a festival there. Roger Hodgson was on the night before. It was on the big stage apparently. And wow, the place was packed. That was the big stage. Our stage was like 5,000 people but still a great big stage, you know, a wonderful place. We went on before Steve Hackett. And I’ll never forget it; it was just an incredible experience. And when we finished “Mystic and the Muse” I was looking at them. People were kind of just staring. You could see that… I mean they’d never heard it before and they were just blown away by it. They couldn’t stop clapping, it was amazing.
And we went on another thing that just happened which was a great experience, recently… it was Cruise to the Edge that we did this year. Do you know what that was?
MATT: Yea, Yes was headlining it and there was quite a large lineup.
ANNIE: It was. I could write a book about it actually. It was fabulous. It was like a floating festival. And considering all the bands they had to deal with and all the people, you know, the fans… it ran soooo well. Everybody got on with each other. I wish that at the time I could see some of the other bands but I was more involved with getting ready for the next things I had to do.
We were supposed to go to Roatan in Honduras for the first stop. We boarded on a Monday, and on Tuesday… they changed everything around and we were going to be playing the first major show of ours inside, in the beautiful theater inside, on Tuesday. And about an hour before we went on stage there were all kinds of things going on. Like, UK was going to be doing a storytelling thing on the pool stage, and that was canceled because we started to go into a storm. But we didn’t know that; I mean we knew that the boat was going from side to side… So we go on stage and the place is packed, and we’re going from side to side… [laughter]. So I grab hold of the microphone stand. I had to hang onto it the whole time. And Dave Keyes looked like he was having a shit on the stage because he had to bend down, crouching, like he was in the toilet position, to hold himself in place with his bass! You know, it wasn’t scary, it was funny.
MATT: It sounds scary!
ANNIE: There was no way the boat was going down, but I just didn’t want to be sick. I had those wrist bands on that work; they’re phenomenal, I’ll tell you. So, the same thing happened with “The Mystic and the Muse” and “Symphony of Light.” They just went crazy. But I had to hold onto that mic. I let go of the microphone stand once and it nearly fell over. I can’t fall because of my back; I’ve still got this compression in my vertebrae. So we did that and everybody went crazy, and we got a message in the morning that we were not going to Honduras because the storm was worse. And we went away towards Cozumel and were going to spend two days there instead.
So we did that show and it was wonderful, wow, it was wonderful. Such a great feeling. Then I did a storytelling thing with Rave, Jason, and Dave. That was fun. Then I did a thing with my art and then we did a photo session thing. We had to keep thinking… everyday there was something to deal with.
We had two concerts to do. Both were only an hour and fifty minutes. Originally it was supposed to be two hours for each show, but we were cut down. Everybody’s show was cut down. But the pool stage […], it was a big stage but it wasn’t covered (it had no sides and no roof), and the day that we went on […] it was like 60 mile an hour winds, I would say. So, I went down to get ready for the show, and everything was run like clockwork (they did a great job at that). I went down to get on stage and I had a dress on, and the dress was going up over my head. And my hair was on the other side of the boat, you know. So I had to go back to my cabin and change into pants. Well, I did have black pants with me, I had a black top, [but] it wasn’t really anything for a show. No matter where I am, I like to dress up nice; I’m not a jeans person when I go on stage or anything like that. And I did have a painted cap that I was going to put in the auction and I hadn’t done it, and thank God I hadn’t. I tied my hair back and put this painted cap on my head. I pinned it down but I had to hold it as well because the wind was that bad that it was ripping off half of my head. So we go on and had to play. I had my hand on my head for an hour and a quarter, I had my hand over my microphone so that the wind wouldn’t go into my microphone, and was hoping that the wind wouldn’t also go into my mouth because it would’ve blown me up like a black balloon and I wouldn’t be talking to you now, I’d be halfway to Brazil! [laughter].
Do you know that advert for Memorex?
MATT: No, I don’t.
ANNIE: Well, there’s an ad, it’s been on television years ago. It shows this guy at a bar house and he’s sitting in this armchair and the wind’s blowing. It’s the noise from the speakers actually. It’s blowing his hair and everything. And everything, his hair and clothes and everything are being blown back. Well, that’s what Rave, the keyboard player, looked like. And the drummer, his cymbals were going up vertical, horizontal, and all over the place. Ryche, the guitarist, had music on the stand and that blew all over me [laughter]! And actually somebody shouts out… if you go to the Renaissance Facebook page (facebook.com/renaissancetouring), I put a little snippet of the video of me introducing “Symphony of Light,” and you’ll see the wind… it’s just hilarious. And somebody shouted out, and I said, “what was that? And this is the bit I put on Facebook… I said, what was that? “Do you need another sandbag Annie?” And then I said to the audience, “Do I need another sandbag? God, I haven’t been asked that in a long time, would you like another sand bag Annie?”
MATT: That’s pretty funny.
ANNIE: My microphone stand, all the stands, were surrounded by all these weights. And you know, I’m not all that big really, I’m only five-foot two, so it was a bit scary. It was a bit scary that I was going to be lifted off my feet. It was that strong, but we did a great show, and same thing with “Symphony of Light.” But we did “Ocean Gypsy,” and when we did “Ocean Gypsy” somebody pointed up and all the clouds parted and there was the moon shining down on us.
MATT: Very cool.
ANNIE: Oh, it was amazing. We had a fantastic time. I wish it could’ve gone on forever. It was one of the highlights, I think. It was great for the band. How amazing for fans of any kind of music, really. It was so reasonable, the pricing, to go spend five days on a boat and see 26 bands… to see all your favorite bands in one spot. There were people from Peru, China, all over the world, that have always loved Renaissance and could never get to see them… of course there are a lot more that can’t afford to go on a cruise, but it was so reasonable. You had to get to Miami though, that’s where it went from, but it was incredible. I’ll never forget it. I’ll never forget it as long as I live. It was great for that band. That’s one of the outstanding things recently that’s come about.
You know, when Michael died, which was such a shock—he was my friend for 41 years apart from anything else and he left a wife and two young sons—it was devastating and I wasn’t sure what to do. But I knew that I had to carry on, I knew I would, because we’d just done a new album; people needed to hear this new album live. I think it’s an album that people will start knowing about soon. They don’t know about it yet.
We’ve got this distribution deal, we’re trying to get to Europe. That’s what we’re aiming to do right now [and] to get to the west coast. Now, I know there’s the Baja Prog, isn’t there?
MATT: Yea, I’ve been for the last few years. It’s an incredible festival and I hope to see you guys there, actually.
ANNIE: You know, I was supposed to be doing an interview with Roberto. This was last week, but they were having flooding and terrible things going on with the weather, so we had to cancel it because he said they were just about to lose internet and power and everything. Well, yeah, if we could get to that then we’re already there and we could do some shows there. We’ll make it happen somehow. It’s just, with six people in the band [and] two crews, that’s eight people that we’ve got to fly. Either we fly or we get a sprinter, but it’s just so expensive. You know, the band hasn’t played in the west coast for so long [and] promoters are mostly younger now, you know? How are they going to take a chance on us? That’s the thing.
MATT: Well, I hope we can make it work, you know? I’d really love to see you guys out here in the west, either at the Baja or somewhere else. It would be great. We’ll see how things go, right?
ANNIE: Yea, yep. Well, I’m hoping that I get to do this interview with Roberto again. I’m just going to ask him outright, “Can you bring us out there?”
MATT: For sure.
ANNIE: So anyway, that’s what’s going on. Did I answer that question alright?
MATT: Yeah, you did. That’s fantastic, thank you, I really appreciate it. [laughter from Annie] Well, I know I’ve taken a lot of your time, but let me tell you, it’s been a joy and a pleasure talking with you. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you about the newest stuff, loved your artwork and the music on the new album, and I wish you well.
Check out Renaissance’s new album, tour, and more from the band at: