Thursday, August 16, 2012

An interview with Annie Haslam,enchanting songstress of Renaissance

By Ray Shasho

Annie Haslam Interview

Since the bands earliest incarnation, the progressive rock ingenuity of Renaissance has been artistically mesmerizing audiences with experimental rock infused by a classical motif. And since 1971, the haunting five-octave range vocalizations for Renaissance have been alluringly characterized by Bolton, Lancashire’s Annie Haslam.
Renaissance has performed on the most distinguished stages around the world including Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Royal Albert Hall in London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
The group originated in 1969 with former Yardbirds bandmates Jim McCarty and Keith Relf. In an interview I did with McCarty last year, he talked about the evolution of the band. McCarty said,
“We started Renaissance and did a couple of albums with Keith and his sister Jane, John Hawken, and Louis Cennamo. In Renaissance, we sort of put in bits of Beethoven. We put an awful lot of work into it and set it all up in my house when I lived in Surrey. We rehearsed every day and just planned on getting this hour set together. We’d go and play without stopping and finally had a whole set. Then we played it around London and people just loved it. We were one of the first prog-rock bands.”
Read the entire interview with Jim McCarty here …

The first incarnation released the self-titled debut album Renaissance (1969) and Illusion (1971). Renaissance became colonists for the genre and catalyst for subsequent progressive rock music artists.

By 1971, Jim McCarty and Keith Relf had left the band to begin other projects. McCarty formed a classically provoked progressive rock band called ‘Illusion’ with former Renaissance-mates, Jane Relf, John Hawken, and Louis Cennamo. Keith Relf formed ‘Armageddon’ in 1974 with Renaissance bassist Cennamo, Bobby Caldwell (Captain Beyond, Johnny Winter) and Martin Pugh (Steamhammer). Keith Relf died in 1976 at his home by electrocution, he was 33 years old.

Also in ’71, Jane Relf was replaced with folk singer Anne-Marie “Binky” Cullum. John Tout replaced Hawken on keyboards; Michael Dunford became their guitarist, Jon Camp the bassist, and Terence Sullivan the drummer. Cullum’s vocals would prove to be short-lived; she left the band and was replaced with the awe-inspiring voice of Annie Haslam.

In 1972, the debut album for the new Renaissance lineup entitled, Prologue was released. The album’s lyrics were written by Jim McCarty, Michael Dunford, and lyricists Betty Thatcher during a transitional period for the band. Mick Parsons was to be their guitarist but sadly died in a car accident. Rob Hendry replaced him on the album. Hendry was replaced for the Prologue tour by Peter Finberg. After Finberg left, Dunford returned and became their guitarist permanently.

The classic line-up of Haslam, Dunford, Tout, Camp, and Sullivan would prove to be the quintessence of Renaissance.

In 1973, Renaissance released, Ashes are Burning. Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash played electric guitar on the title cut. The album featured musical collaborations with an orchestra, which the band embraced on many of their future classics. The album featured several celebrated compositions, “Carpet of the Sun,” the intricate but surreal, “Ashes are Burning,” and the profound, “Can You Understand?”

The band released Turn of the Cards in 1974. The album spotlighted “Mother Russia,” a heartfelt tribute to Nobel Prize writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The lyrics penned by Michael Dunford and Betty Thatcher were based on Solzhenitsyn’s novel about Soviet repression, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

The following year, Scheherazade and Other Stories was released. The album was brilliantly arranged and considered by many to be their masterpiece. Side two entitled, “Song of Scheherazade” was based on stories from, One Thousand and One Nights (the Arabian Nights).

In 1976, Renaissance followed Scheherazade and Other Stories with a double live album, Live at Carnegie Hall. The live album was succeeded by their next release, Novella (1977).

In 1977, Annie Haslam released her first solo-effort the critically-acclaimed, Annie in Wonderland. The album was produced by her former fiancée and good friend Roy Wood (The Move, Electric Light Orchestra).
Renaissance charted their highest commercially successful single in 1978 with, “Northern Lights” (#10 in Britain) from the album, A Song for All Seasons (#58 in the U.S.).

The band changed their musical direction while transformations occurred within the music industry. Subsequent releases, Azure d’Or, Camera Camera, and their final album Time-Line, diverted the band from their progressive rock roots towards a pop music motif, in search of commercial success. The group disbanded in 1987.

Annie Haslam released her self-titled album in 1989 and began touring as The Annie Haslam Band. She also moved to North America that year.

In 1993, Annie Haslam was diagnosed with breast cancer, and music played a huge factor in the recovery process. Haslam says, "Surviving breast cancer became another milestone in my life, awakening my senses to my reality and showing me the true meaning of what I am here to do".....sing, paint and make people laugh!"

In 1995, Haslam recorded the album, Blessing in Disguise which grasped her emotions while being treated during a time of uncertainty and anguish.
With her health under control, Haslam collaborated with guitarist Steve Howe of YES on the song, “Turn of the Century.”

In 1998, Annie Haslam recorded, The Dawn of Ananda album.

In 2000, Annie released a Christmas CD entitled, It Snows in Heaven Too which received rave reviews.
Also in 2000, Renaissance partially reformed and recorded the album, Tuscany which led to a successful tour and the recording of a double “live” CD set entitled, In the Land of the Rising Sun: Live in Japan 2001.

In 2002, Annie Haslam released a “live” CD called, One Enchanted Evening.

In 2009, Renaissance triumphantly returned to celebrate their 40th anniversary. Successful tours of North America and Japan featuring Annie Haslam, Michael Dunford, and musicians from the 2001 incarnation would follow including a release of a three-track EP of new songs called, The Mystic and The Muse.

In 2012-2013, Renaissance is touring and performing their two-part concert featuring their masterpiece albums, Turn of the Cards and Scheherazade and Other Stories in their entirety.

The band headlined the sold-out North East Art Rock Festival in June of 2012.

Renaissance features the incredible duo of Annie Haslam –vocals and Michael Dunford –guitars, with Rave Tesar –keyboards and David J. Keyes –bass (Both former members of Renaissance and the Annie Haslam Band), also spotlighting Frank Pagano –drums and Jason Hart -keyboards.

Renaissance will be performing at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Fl on Saturday, October 6th. To purchase tickets visit or call 727-791-7400.

NOTE: This show has been rescheduled for April 25th 2013.

A limited edition live in concert DVD and (2) CD set of their 2011 tour was released on August 14th and available to purchase on
Today, Annie Haslam is not only an accomplished singer and songwriter, but also an artist and fashion designer. She hopes to introduce a line of clothing that illustrates her art. Many of her art works are for sale on her website at

Renaissance is currently working on a brand new studio album entitled, Grandine II Vento. Annie Haslam charmingly performed a live excerpt from the album over the phone for me. She performed a piece from a track they wrote in tribute to Leonardo Da Vinci. The piece was powerful, poetic, beautiful, inspiring, and almost reduced me to tears (good thing Annie stopped singing when she did). The early preview convinced me that the new album will be awe-inspiring. Watch for a release date sometime in January.

I had a wonderful opportunity to chat with Annie Haslam from her home in Pennsylvania last week. I found Annie to be extremely charming, profound, metaphysical … and hilarious!

Here’s my interview with legendary Renaissance songstress, songwriter, artist, fashion designer, and cancer survivor … ANNIE HASLAM.
Ray Shasho: Hello Annie! It’s been a very strange week for interviews … none of them have started as scheduled. (Laughing)
Annie Haslam: “Mercury is in Retrograde.”
Ray Shasho: I knew there had to be a logical explanation for all the befuddlement. You’re still living in Bucks County Pennsylvania, what persuaded you on settling down there?
Annie Haslam: “Bucks County is lovely … I love it here. I married a man from North Wales, Pennsylvania in 1991, and when we split up I really didn’t want to go back to England. I was the only member of Renaissance that said they didn’t want to live in America and I was the only one that ended up here. I just decided that there was nothing for me and I had my own band here at the time and so I stayed. It’s the best decision that I ever made. I believe my ex-husband came into my life to save it because I had breast cancer after we were married and was immediately taken care of so well. I don’t know whether I would have had such speedy medical attention in England to be quite honest.”
Ray Shasho: I’ve heard that healthcare is basically free in England but people may have to wait in line for lengthy periods at a time for surgery or any other kind of procedure. Is that true?
Annie Haslam: “Exactly. The dental situation over there is pretty horrific. I think the majority of dentists are private now and not as many take on national health patients, which is free or very-very cheap, and that’s difficult over there.”

“One day we’re not going to need these bodies anyway; we’re all going to be little light beings floating around.”
Ray Shasho: (Laughing) Very true.
Renaissance will be performing in Clearwater, Fl at the Capitol Theatre on October 6th and we’re all looking forward to a great show.
Annie Haslam: “I can’t wait to get to Florida. I really wish we’d have some time to stay there but we’re going to be traveling and playing and no time to look around or even see Disney World. But we’re looking forward to it very much.”
Ray Shasho: You’re an animal lover and an advocate for animal rights … as I am. What kind of furry friends share your household?
Annie Haslam: “All my pets are adopted, I’ve got three inside cats, a Himalayan (Joey) he’s seventeen, a short-haired black domestic that’s twenty, then I’ve got Lilly, she’s a gorgeous Siamese and about seventeen, I got her from Alison Steele the deejay. Outside, I’ve got seven feral cats; they’re all fixed, they’ve all got houses outside, and all have got names. Then I’ve got a couple of foxes and they leave the cats alone because they’re just interested in the food. I know I probably shouldn’t be feeding the foxes … but so, I don’t know.”

“It’s a very difficult situation with animals because we’ve taken away their homes with all these developments and people just can’t stand them and tell them to get off their property. And it’s really not their fault, especially with the Canadian Geese, its awful what they did to the Geese.”
Ray Shasho: The show that we are going to see on this tour is basically from your latest live 2-set CD and DVD. Renaissance will be performing Turn of the Cards and Scheherazade and Other Stories in their entirety.
Annie Haslam: “For all the places that we haven’t played we’ll be doing that show. The selections are just fantastic and we have a new band, Michael Dunford and two of the players that use to be in my band …and their just phenomenal. I think the sound and the mix on the new CD/DVD set is also really great.”
Ray Shasho: Annie, besides being an incredible vocalist and a gifted artist, you’re also a fashion designer?
Annie Haslam: “My dream is to wear my art. A local lady Pamela Ptak is a dress designer and is just fantastic, she’s local but was down in Virginia and saw us performing. We were performing the “Mystic and The Muse.” You know that was the first time ever in the history of Renaissance that we got a standing ovation for a new song, and we had it every night we played it. Anyway, after watching that song Pamela approached me and said I’d like to do a dress for you and then you can have it for the show. So I took it a step further and told her that what I’ve always wanted to do was to print one of my paintings on some silk and make it into a dress. She knew a lady in Philadelphia who is also a designer and she’s done that with her paintings and so that’s what we’ve organized. She got the woman to print out the Muse … a painting of the Muse, and she’s made a top for it. We have to remake the dress for the tour but it came out just brilliant. But I would like to have a clothing line with all my artwork.”
Ray Shasho: Being artistic opens the doors for so many possibilities.
Annie Haslam: “I find it difficult to paint at the same time when I’m singing … and not literally. (All laughing) Can you imagine me being on stage painting and singing?”

“But it would be very difficult for me to start painting tomorrow because I’ve got all these other things to do concerning finishing up the recording, so it’s very difficult to shift gears because they’re both so intense. But I’ll never say never again. I’ve said that I never wanted to be in the band again, but I think I’m doing it for more reasons now … I’m doing it because I think people need it, and need to hear this new music … the new album is phenomenal.”
Ray Shasho: How is the new album coming along by the way?
Annie Haslam: “It’s coming great, next Sunday I go back in; we have a few keyboard overdubs and then I’ve got three lead vocals to finish off next week, and on the 22nd we’re starting to mix. But we probably won’t be releasing it until January; the election is going to take up a lot of space on this planet and most people are going to be dealing with that and I think we’ll get lost in it. We need our own space.”
Ray Shasho: Progressive rock is intelligent music; I’ve always compared it to a religious experience.
Annie Haslam: “Although a lot of it I don’t understand. I loved Yes and the early Genesis, some of the newer bands I find difficult to grasp. Too many changes and not enough melody …I’m into strong melody. I like Magenta; they’re a Welsh progressive rock band and are just wonderful.”
Ray Shasho: So many British musicians have become famous after going to Art School. You also attended Art School?
Annie Haslam: “I went to Art School in the late 60s at Redruth in Cornwall to be a fashion designer. That was the first thing that I really wanted to do. I studied photography, typography, fabric design, fabric printing. I enrolled for a class on watercolors …I went to one class and tried one painting and thought …I don’t like this … because it dried before I’d done it (Laughing).”

“During my solo career … I traveled to Japan and Brazil with my own band but was getting to the point when it was too much without proper management. I couldn’t do it anymore, so I felt it was time to move on to something else. I was very scared and didn’t know what was going to happen, and then a voice in my head said its time to start oil painting now. So I went out and bought everything that I needed. I bought a book on oil painting and don’t know why because I don’t read. I read one page and thought … I can’t be bothered with this (Laughing).”

“So, I didn’t do anything for about three months and just kept looking at the easel. I had converted my sunroom into a studio. Then all of a sudden … I woke up! That was the day I picked a Tiger Lily and painted it. I didn’t read the book so I just made up my own style of painting. It felt like someone was holding my hand. After that, I started painting planets … not intentionally … and I painted five or six a day … it was like I left the floodgates open.”
Ray Shasho: Annie, your voice continues to amaze me, you sound remarkable. How do you keep your voice finely tuned the way you do?
Annie Haslam: “I don’t practice … don’t smoke … I do like wine and French Champagne. When I’m touring I try not to drink because it can affect your voice. My attitude is my state of mind. I’m a big believer in asking for help from your angels, and I’ve got no doubt about that whatsoever. I usually do a ritual before going on stage to give us all strength … and we just do it.”

“There are a few really big names out there whose voices are shot because they carried on working nonstop, and most of them sing from their throat and they don’t sing from their diaphragm. If you sing from your throat, your voice is going to go eventually … there’s no doubt. I sing from my diaphragm. I haven’t been singing constantly for the past few years, other people have carried on constantly … so their voices are shot.”
Ray Shasho: Renaissance has always projected somewhat of a mystical presence in the music and on stage. Are you much like your music, metaphysically speaking?
Annie Haslam: “I have a friend that worked at Windsor Castle, and I ended up having lunch at Windsor Castle with the Admiral, Sir Patrick Palmer and his wife, who was the Governor at the castle at that time, I was asked to put together a concert to raise money for St. George’s Chapel. It never happened but everything that was going on around it was quite amazing, particularly lunch at the Norman Tower which is haunted. I’ve always been drawn to Medieval England since I was a kid in school growing up; I just absolutely loved the middle ages. I always felt like I was at home when I was in the castle, and I got to go in areas around the castle where the public couldn’t go because my friend worked there … it was amazing. I had a past life analysis done on me and was told that in a previous lifetime, I was … Mary Queen of Scots, and in another lifetime … Anna of Bohemia, Richard II’s wife.”
Ray Shasho: The music scene can certainly use more of Renaissance these days.
Annie Haslam: “I think it’s a good time for us. The new album is really quite remarkable. There’s a piece that’s twelve minutes long about Leonardo Da Vinci. Michael Dunford and myself wrote it and it’s called, 
“Symphony of Life” and just gorgeous. I’m so thrilled; I can’t wait for people to hear it. It starts off with Leonardo getting up in the morning and he’s an old man, he goes to the window and pulls back the velvet curtains and the light comes in. It’s all about the light coming and he connected with the light.”
During this time … Annie searched diligently for a recorded excerpt of the new song, “Symphony of Life” to give me a sneak preview. She found the music but without her vocals. So she decided to sing me an excerpt from the track live. It was a rare and heartwarming treat nevertheless.
Annie Haslam singing, “Symphony of Life” over the phone to me from the new album Grandine II Vento.
Annie Haslam: “When I was in the studio the other day listening to this, I got all choked up. Leonardo came to me and said, thank you Annie. I just knew it was him …and I cried my eyes out.”
Ray Shasho: Annie, the song is magnificent!
Annie Haslam: “I’ve always loved Leonardo’s work … we have so many things in common, he was a vegetarian, he was a singer, a musician, an inventor, he bought caged animals and set them free and he was called the Renaissance man. And so they call me the Renaissance woman. It’s so obvious that we should have done this before but it wasn’t the right time.”

“When I went to see the movie The Da Vinci Code, the guy who did the music for the trailer … who also wrote it in Latin, contacted me and wanted to do an album with me and another singer. I did the demo but my voice was overpowering hers. He got back to me and said, “I’m sorry, but your voice is too strong for the other singer.” I was so devastated because it seemed like something was going to happen that was connected to Leonardo Da Vinci. I was very upset … but I had to let it go.”

“When I got home two days later, I was so inspired that I did a painting called Leonardo Da Vinci. After I painted it, I noticed this blob of white that turned into a dragonfly, and I didn’t do it on purpose. Apparently, Leonardo Da Vinci painted 65 different kinds of dragonflies … so I know that he’s with me.”
Ray Shasho: Annie, there’s no doubt that the new Renaissance album will be sensational, especially after receiving a very special sneak preview today. I can’t wait for the release sometime in January. Thank you so very much for spending time with me today, and especially for the awe-inspiring music that Renaissance has given to all of us over the years … and into the future.
Annie Haslam: “Thank you Ray, I’m sure we’ll be talking again soon. Bye-bye!”

Renaissance will be performing at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Fl on Saturday, October 6th. To purchase tickets visit or call 727-791-7400.

NOTE: This show has been rescheduled for April 25th 2013.

Renaissance official website (Concert tour schedule, music, and latest news)
Annie Haslam official website (New paintings by Annie and her animal rescue site)
Very special thanks to Howard Wuelfing of Howlin Wuelf Media.

Contact classic rock music reporter Ray Shasho at
Coming up ... interviews with Steve Hillage(Gong) and Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship)

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