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Friars Interviews

Annie Haslam
Renaissance

friars appearances 10/01/76

 

Through bad luck Renaissance only played Friars once (although Keith Relf's version did play twice in 1969), but that came about in part through a concerted local campaign by three diehards including photographer Geoff Tyrrell. Their persistence paid off as Friars put Renaissance on and hundreds were turned away on the night. The hugely talented Annie Haslam, also an amazing painter still fronts Renaissance today. We caught up with her at her home in Pennsylvania where we discuss the new Renaissance DVD, her artwork and the pitfalls of sharing a tour bus with men....and I'll also forgive Annie for laughing at my appalling attempts to pronounce Scheherazade, but that's another story.....!!! 

Thank you Annie for talking to the Friars Aylesbury website!

It's taken a while to get together!

It has, but well worth the wait and to be fair that's down to issues at this end, but we're there now! How's life in America?

I'm in Pennsylvania, north east of Philadelphia. It's a fantastic country and still the place to be. It's the land of opportunity no matter what anyone says. I love it here and I was the only one in the band who said they'd never move here and I'm the only one that did! I'm just down the road from where Oscar Hammerstein lived, it's an interesting area. It looks English especially when it rains! (laughs)

Annie at Friars 10th January 1976 (Geoff Tyrrell)

It must remind you of home! When we last spoke in late summer, I know I caught you as were literally moving to higher ground with Hurricane Irene threatening...

It was awful actually. I live at the bottom of a hill next to two flood plains. When the weather's bad, I certainly get it. I put sandbags round my house and stayed with a neighbor. I was concerned what I might find the following morning but it was OK. But after that, we had what came behind it (the hurricane). Awful torrential rain for days and days. That really worried me especially where my house is situated. We had been rehearsing in New Jersey (for Renaissance) and Michael Dunford had come over from England and was staying with me. After the seven days rehearsal, we got back here to unbelievable thunder and lightning, like something out of a movie. The following morning when I looked out, my back garden was a lake. There was some water in the basement but it's not a completed basement with furniture like many others have so I escaped quite lightly. I have sump pumps in the basement too to get the water out and thankfully I didn't lose power. And then at the end of October we had the snow storm! There was a 36 hour power loss where I am which was interesting....and cold. I think I had it pretty good as some people in Connecticut especially lost power for weeks.

It's hard to fathom that, I know we've had severe localised flooding in the UK over the last few years and snow....but I can't get my head round that.

Looking at where you are at now in your career, you are just about the bring out the DVD and double CD of the US gigs this year which I know you have been very hands on with the creativity of it and the mixing and the like. I know that Scheherazade and Other Stories is seen as the classic Renaissance album but why did you decide to play this and Turn of The Cards, its predecessor, in its entirety?

They were the most popular albums, particularly in America. It was always our biggest market.

I agree and besides there's more to Renaissance than Northern Lights (which many people of course recognise you for), which incidentally is played regularly still on UK radio. I'm sure you're not too unhappy about that!

It keeps the name alive doesn't it? In the last couple of years, we have done three tours here in the US and also Korea and Japan and we get asked a lot why we aren't playing England.

And why aren't you?

We would play anywhere we could but it's the economy and it's (a reliance) on promoters taking a chance on a band who hasn't been around for 30 years. We were hoping to do some UK gigs this year but we couldn't co-ordinate it, but next year, I hope so.

With the geographical issues of the band and the planning......

We know how to plan it now as we know what's involved. Michael Dunford comes over here but the rest of the band come from New Jersey and there are also visa issues getting into the States as you can only get a visa for one month now. Last year, a working visa lasted a year. It's not cheap to go on the road but we are experts now of what is needed and we have a new manager which has helped greatly. We have an agent in New York and are talking to people in the UK, but who'd be an agent with trying to route gigs so they are financially viable? It's tricky!

In the 1970s we used to fly everywhere which is why we have no money now! We flew everywhere....ridiculous! And sometimes we flew our equipment too. Nobody had done this kind of touring before so there were no rules written down, so we and many other bands in the 60's and 70's learned the hard way, I guess we were pioneers! 

Well, that beats being on a tour bus!

We nearly did that, can you imagine it, oh my God! Can you imagine sitting sideways for hundreds of miles?  Michael and I tried one out, NOT for us. 

Looking back through your history, your Renaissance evolved out of the 'old' Renaissance and the music evolved too. I have been re-appraising some of the Renaissance albums from that time and some of the stuff is absolutely brilliant - 1973's Ashes Are Burning album, which precedes the two classics on the DVD is such a great record. When you listen to that, you think how on earth did that not become a huge album?

I think some bad decisions were made along the way that affected us. I do believe in karma and everything happening for a reason. If everything had been different, I wouldn't be painting which is really the number one love of my life now. You're right though, there's still nothing out there quite like our music. If you go http://renaissancetouring.com/music/ and scroll down, you'll see the new songs from The Mystic and the Muse. The track The Mystic and The Muse is based on two of my paintings and when we did it as an encore on the last tour it got a standing ovation wherever we played.  

In terms of the 'modern' Renaissance, the original five of us had planned to get back together, as much as I was not looking forward to it to be honest but I agreed to do it. Three of them backed out six weeks before the tour in 2009. We didn't think our manager would want to take it further which just two originals, myself and Michael Dunford, on board. He said he would take the chance. So we brought in two guys from my band, Rave Tesar on keyboards, David J. Keyes on bass,Tom Brislin on keyboards and Frank Pagano on drums. Tom left last year to pursue a solo career and Jason Hart slotted in really well. We have a full compliment now and we're all very happy with each other.

I know that there may have been just you and Michael as originals in the band, but you have one big advantage in that you have the face and the voice of the band still...

Yes, we've got the songwriter and we've got the singer.

That makes it authentic for me anyway.

It would have been different if it had been say me and Jon Camp, it just would not have worked. 

So, you are saying it wouldn't have been as creative?

We'd have killed each other (!)

Ah...you don't get on?

Not anymore.

I'm not going to delve any further, that's none of my business!

When they pulled out of the reformation, I was relieved in a way. Relieved and worried at the same time but it's all worked out for the best.

We got you to Friars Aylesbury in 1976 and you may not have been aware that this was very much in part to a concerted get Renaissance to Friars campaign spearheaded by three local diehards including Geoff Tyrell who took the photographs of you at Friars which I know you have seen. They were putting posters in shop windows and car stickers and all sorts.....

Really? (genuinely astonished - Ed) Fantastic!

Yes and when you came in January 1976 it was a complete sellout and hundreds turned away on the night!

What?!!!! How many did it hold?

It was 1250! We were unlucky after that as we nearly had you back in October 1976 but for illness and it nearly happened again in September 1977 but sadly that remained your only Friars appearance. It went down in folklore not only for the great gig but the campaign that ran with it....it was a much bigger gig than you remember!

Not long after that in 1977 you brought out your first solo album, Annie in Wonderland. What was the thinking of you bringing out a solo album at that time whilst the group was going?

What happened was John Tout was sick and couldn't work for a couple of months and if I remember correctly I may have instigated this....not him being sick (laughs)....I think I might have contacted our manager and said as we can't work can I do a solo album with Roy Wood producing (who I was living with at the time) it?

I think it's a great album, some really good stuff on it.

Thanks.. Annie in Wonderland was re-released last year with a new version of Flowers in the Rain (Roy's big hit for the Move) as a bonus track. Roy and I got back together to record it, it was fun working with him again.

Then in 1978 there was a biggie as the A Song For All Seasons album took off over here and obviously Northern Lights was a huge hit which must have made things interesting as you must have been playing bigger venues and of course a lot of press attention....

It was a really exciting time. I remember we were in America finishing a tour and at a sound check our tour manager said Northern Lights was being played on Radio One and it looks like you will be doing Top of The Pops when you get back. And I remember us all cheering! Dave Lee Travis is the one who started playing it and that's how it became a hit.

Me being me and remembering odd and random things....Northern Lights always reminds me of being in Devon on holiday as that was on the radio a lot and also it's worrying I actually remember this next bit as you probably won't....but on London's Capital Radio, you were a guest on Sunday afternoon's Maggie Norden show and perhaps uncharitably as I'm not sure she gave you any notice, played Northern Lights and turned it down and cajoled you to sing it live.

What did I do?

You sang it!

I don't remember that!

Renaissance came to end around 1987 didn't it?

 In 1980 we had been to tour in Israel and when we came back due to internal problems we decided to change around the band.. Gavin Harrison joined the band who is now in Porcupine Tree. He did a couple of tours with us. Unfortunately and you can't completely blame Jon Camp, but he wanted to make the band more commercial and we followed his lead. We were unique, there was nothing like us and we blew it.

Hence it really stopping after 1983's Time Line album.

It was awful. Anybody could sing that stuff. I didn't like it. There's a couple of nice songs, but it just isn't me and I don't know why we did it. I wasn't as strong a person as I am now. I speak my mind now and stand in my truth, back then I followed everybody's else's lead.

So you're saying that Camera Camera and Time Line, the later albums are the ones....

Azure d'Or (1979) was the beginning of it. That was the beginning of the change.

I know how much you love the Song For A Seasons album and with Northern Lights being such a hit, there were forces trying to push you more in that direction rather than being what Renaissance was all about.

When we were recording Northern Lights, I had learned a lot from Roy Wood from the Annie in Wonderland album about singing and stuff that was alien to me that I didn't really want to do. But the way Roy did it was great, the triple tracking of my voice for example was different and had Roy's mark on it. So when we recorded Northern Lights I suggested that triple tracking of my voice in the verses as well as the chorus's and it gave it an edge. When it became a hit the record company was trying to get us to write in a more commercial vein and that's when we started to lose our way....listening to other people.

So that was the beginning of the end of Renaissance as a band but you have a huge body of work in your solo career. It was quite a while ago that I discovered you had performed with Steve Howe, one of my all time favourite songs, Turn of The Century, for a Yes tribute. That's simply a beautiful piece of music and your version is amazing.

It is a fabulous song, gorgeous music and I got to perform with one of the most talented guitarists on the planet! What an experience it was too.

But in terms of your solo career, is there one of your albums that sticks out as a favourite?

It's like asking me what my favourite Renaissance song is. There's so many and I'm fortunate to be able to say that.

True. The reason I asked though is that some people can turn round and say that x or y is their favourite.

Except Camera Camera and Time Line, I love them all. Azure d'Or is OK. I really like A Song For All Seasons apart from the couple of songs Jon did on there which were lovely songs, but he was not a lead singer and it didn't make sense. But A Song For All Seasons....Day of The Dreamer from that album is phenomenal. The Novella album....I love all of them. Same with my solo albums. But I love The Dawn of Ananda and It Snows In Heaven too, my Christmas album. Also The Angels Cry was an amazing experience singing with Justin Hayward....I had to stand on a box when I sang along with him (laughs). Also working with Roy Wood on Annie in Wonderland was really so special, getting to sing beautiful standards and also with orchestra and choir.....living with Roy was one of the best periods of my life.!  I learned a lot from him.

He's an institution in the UK!

A legend in his own dinner hour!! He can't go anywhere without people coming up to him. He is a genius, even singing a hit in his sleep! I remember him waking me while he was singing in his sleep, but couldn't get to a tape recorder without waking him.. from then on we slept a tape machine by the bed. 

You did an acoustic version of Renaissance after the Time Line album  till about 1987 and then really launched your solo career?  

Michael, Jon Camp and myself did a few acoustic tours until Jon left in 1985, MD and myself carried on with some American musicians until 1987 when we called it a day. That was quite sad.

Yes my solo career started pretty soon after, and in 1989 I secured a record deal with EPIC Records.

I had a great band who were great players, we toured the US, Japan and Brazil.

You mentioned earlier your paintings. They are astonishing. I know you get as much out of this as you do singing. Is this something you've had a passion for all your life?

No - I went to college to become a dress designer and I only ever did one painting in my life (except when I scribbled as a child) and it was a watercolor and it dried before I put the brush down so I got impatient and never did that class again....ever.

So where did this talent come from?

It was 2002 and I was winding down my solo band as I couldn't get enough shows and I couldn't get an agent interested. I had a manager for five minutes who let me down and I decided I had to do something else and completely out of the blue a voice in my head said it was time to start oil painting. Where did that come from? So I went and bought an easel, paint and canvases. I bought a book on oil paintings, read one page and thought I can't be bothered with this (!), I don't read instructions, I have to do it wrong (to learn), I don't know why. A couple of months later, I had to start somewhere so picked a tiger lily from the garden and brought it in and thought, mmmmmm where do I start! as I hadn't read the book had I ! (laughs)

Well, the one advantage of that, especially when you are creative is that whatever you do will be your own style and original.

I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing and that first painting became 'Lily in The Field'. When I painted it felt like someone was holding my hand because something was going on in the textures I was doing. I knew there was something but I wasn't tuning in. My next painting, again felt like someone was holding my hand. Then from then on I was painting up to six a day. The flood gates had opened.

I would encourage anyone to go to your website and look at your artwork, it is stunning and colourful which I very much like. I know you do commissions, have you had any work exhibited?

Yes, and I have also painted guitars, and violins. If you look at the new Renaissance DVD trailer clip, you will see the drumhead I painted.. I was part of an art show at The Morrison Hotel Gallery, Soho, NYC last February and showed 5 of my painted guitars. I have also shown my work at The Florence Biennale in Florence, Italy. I love when people commission me as I never know what's coming. They give me a photograph and some information about themselves and then I tune in and I'm off.

You must wish you had discovered this earlier?

The time wasn't right, obviously. I love it with a passion. The artwork and design on the new live DVD is mine. I love not knowing what's coming it's always a surprise. I believe that my work is channeled, it's coming from somewhere else, and it's like turning on a tap. Two of my painted guitars are in the Hard Rock Cafes in Cleveland and San Diego and two more were in Biloxi but were lost in Hurricane Katrina.

You are so talented in many ways!

I just thank God for giving me another gift and one I love so much. It just pours out of me like water without effort.

So in terms of what you set out to do, which was the dress design, did you ever go on to do any design in the end?

I did but I ended up working for a company called Windsmoor who gave me a trial for two weeks. The owner said he loved my work and went away for a fortnight and whilst he was away, I think it was his daughter who asked me to come up with as many designs as I could. I did a whole book of ideas and they took me to the office and fired me and stole my ideas. That's the only reason they had me there. Isn't that awful? I was heartbroken. I called my parents and they were about to leave for a holiday in Canada to see my brother Keith and so said come on your coming with us! That helped me to heal and also that is where I got up on stage at the Brunswick Tavern in Toronto and sang Those Were The Days, it was a talent night!

And then all those years later I end up writing songs with record producer Tony Visconti who had been married to Mary Hopkin. Strange how life turns out. I also worked for a Savile Row tailor for about nine months until a recession hit and they had to let me go.

I enjoyed that and I have never seen suits made like that before or since. True perfection, impeccable tailoring. Whenever I see people in suits I always take a good look to see how they are made. Nothing compares to a Saville Row suit!

All of this was around the time The Beatles did the thing on the roof at the Apple headquarters - I didn't see it but I heard as it was just round the corner from where I was working.

Then I ended up in another cut throat business...the music business.

Not always the nicest place!

No it's not. I was given opportunities to sleep around with certain people when I was younger and I said 'no thank you very much'. I could have been a big overnight success. My voice was unique and it was noticed but approached by the wrong people. It's very upsetting that kind of thing happens, but it still does I'm sorry to say.

Some of things I have about the music business beggar belief, but you are a true survivor in this business.

Yes! and now I have chosen another creative medium that can also be competitive. There are some brilliant artists out there for sure. You don't realise until you start doing it yourself and you look at things differently.

You want to be unique at the end of the day....

Exactly. What's the point of copying someone else?

Which of course is why you didn't read the manual! You just did what you did. It's been a pure joy to talk to you, a hugely talented artist (in all its forms). Thank you so much for your time. With best wishes from everyone at Friars Aylesbury.

The new Renaissance DVD/2 CD set (Turn of the Cards and Scheherazade and Other Stories) filmed in the summer of 2011 in the US is available on the band website at: www.renaissancetouring.com

It is in NTSC format which can be viewed in the UK and most other European countries.

Official Annie Haslam website  Official Renaissance website

This interview and its content are 2011 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not be used in whole or in part without permission.

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