It’s been nearly 50 years since Renaissance originally formed, combining the genres of classical, folk and jazz and melding them into the style of progressive rock that is Renaissance. From the Jane Relf-era, through the transitional line-up featuring Binky Cullom, and right into the classic line-up in 1972, Renaissance’s music is like opening up a storybook to bring new adventures to life. On A Song For All Seasons they took their music to a whole new level, with its orchestral beauty, synths, bass, acoustic guitars and the wonderful vocals of Annie Haslam.
I can remember first hearing Renaissance’s music back in 2006 on the Prog Archives website, on Anton Roolaart’s now defunct Prog Rock Radio shows – a life-affirming moment – so when I heard that Cherry Red Records had acquired the catalogue from Warner Music back in 2017, let’s just say I almost geeked out, and crossed my fingers that they would do the Annie Haslam-era of the band justice. And they have, so far reissuing Prologue and Ashes Are Burning, continuing this year with the band’s eighth studio album, A Song For All Seasons, originally released on the Warner Bros. label in the U.K., and on Seymour Stein and Richard Gottehrer’s Sire label in the States.
A Song For All Seasons is considered a major turning point for the band, marking the return of electric guitars into their sound. In one of the interviews with Terence Sullivan, he mentions that this was a natural thing to do, adding a bit more drama and weight to the music. Also bringing in David Hentschel (George Harrison, Harry Nilsson, Genesis, Elton John, Van Der Graaf Generator and Mott the Hoople) to work on the production, along with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Harry Rabinowitz with Louis Clark writing the arrangements, it was quite a journey that Renaissance embarked on.
Recorded at three different studios from November 1977 to January 1978, A Song For All Seasons is perhaps one of the band’s finest and most creative releases. It also marked Terence Sullivan’s first songwriting credit, on the title track, which was originally written on guitar back in 1970. The 11-minute title track feels at times like an animated mini rock-opera, with amazing energy flowing. You have the bass, synths, and drums opening up the first section to reveal bright sunlight with a piano concerto and orchestra plus tubular bells. Michael Dunford plays Gilmour-esque guitar, reminiscent of Floyd’s Is There Anybody Out There?, while Annie sings about the seasons changing from Spring to Summer, Autumn and Winter.
I just love the moment where she sings the line:
“These are our roots and it’s our way
We grow, we reap and sow
We reap and sow the seasons of our day.”
Another highlight is listening to Kindness (At the End) again, hearing those first sixteen seconds of the song (thanks to John Tout’s keyboards) reminded me of the 1990 Sega Genesis video game classic Columns, but then he opens the door to Dunford’s Italian Prog-like guitar structures between the electric and acoustic guitar. It changes the scenery to a magical forest-like beauty as Jon Camp sings about the loss of loved ones and remembering the good times they shared.
Northern Lights, with its sing-along chorus, Dunford’s acoustic guitar and Tout’s fanfare, sees Haslam singing about leaving the lights of her native north of England behind. It was a somewhat surprising hit single for the band, entered the U.K. charts at number 10 and staying on the list for 11 weeks. In my opinion, they were always more of an albums band than a singles band, but it gained them some attention, as Radio One’s ‘Record Of The Week’ and a subsequent Top Of The Pops performance.
Back Home Once Again would be used as the opening theme for the children’s TV series The Paper Lads, which aired between 1977 and 1979 on ITV. Set in the northern industrial city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne it told the story of delivery boys on a paper round. On the album it has a folky-symphonic beauty, while the TV version has a fast-paced drum section and a piano finale for the ending credits.
She Is Love was originally written for Annie Haslam to sing, but due to a personal crisis she was dealing with at the time, Jon Camp took over the vocal duties. It’s such a beautiful romantic composition, thanks to the arrangements by Harry Rabinowitz and Louis Clarke. On reflection, it’s one of those songs I wish Annie could have sung on the album, nothing against Camp’s vocals but for me, it just doesn’t click. I hope one day Renaissance revisits this song to give Annie the opportunity to sing it from start to finish.
Closer Than Yesterday is sung in the style of Electric Light Orchestra’s Strange Magic, with the band tipping their hats to the maestro himself, Jeff Lynne. I was pleasantly surprised listening to this again, knowing that Renaissance can honour ELO’s music in the era of the sessions for Face The Music.
The bonus tracks on the first disc contains both the single edit and the Top of the Pops versions of Northern Lights, along with a session they did for BBC Radio One recorded in August 1978. There’s an incredible haunting version of Midas Man which gives Dunford a chance to come centre stage, with Haslam’s spooky vocalisations in support. Camp’s bass parts on The Vultures Fly High soars into the clouds with Tout’s keyboards taking us towards the heavens.
The second and third discs feature rare live recordings from around the time Renaissance were promoting A Song for All Seasons. Taking a broad cross-section from these discs we have the booming intro by Sullivan on Things I Don’t Understand, which hints at the style of Curved Air’s Propositions. Camp and Haslam bring the audience to a classical landscape. Tout plays some incredible jazz piano, before switching into a concerto between him, Dunford and Sullivan. Tout’s fanfare on Can You Hear Me sets up the opening of the fair, before the band lend Annie a helping hand as she and Tout perform some melodic vocal arrangements, Dunford’s 12-string acoustic guitar setting up a mysterious waltz sequence.
Elsewhere, the live version of Touching Once (Is So Hard to Keep) from the Novella album is perhaps one of my favourite versions from this set, it gives Haslam a chance to spread her wings while the band members fly upwards through those difficult time signatures. All then floats down as the band channel Camel. Concluding Disc 3, Annie retorts to to an audience member who requests Prologue “No it’s not Prologue, Ashes Are Burning.” and the band promptly close the show with an epic version of that piece. It’s hard to describe why this song is so amazing and the perfect way to close the gig. In this live version of the incredible epic, you have the ominous piano melody, emotional vocals, Camp’s bass setting up the scenario for the band to go into a wonderful jam section, that continues to honour more of Camel’s music from the Mirage-era. You can tell that the audience are willing them to keep going, but Annie returns to finally bring the house down with her mournful finale, hitting those high notes as everything comes to a standstill.
For me, this is an incredible reissue from Esoteric Recordings. The clam-shell box contains a 36-page booklet with liner notes by Malcolm Dome and interviews with Terence Sullivan and Annie Haslam about the making of the album. The 1978 tour program, promo ad for A Song For All Seasons, the press release from Sire Records, and a touring ad for their North American Spring tour also feature, as do the lyrics and a reproduction of the original album poster.
With the recent announcement that there will be a May release of Live At Carnegie Hall, and in June Novella, I am looking forward to the next releases from Esoteric. I hope they continue through the Annie Haslam-era of Renaissance, including Turn Of The Cards, Scheherazade and Other Stories and Azure D’Or. Not wanting to seem greedy, but it would also be nice if they tackled Annie Haslam’s solo debut, Annie In Wonderland, produced by the legendary Roy Wood.
01. Opening Out (4:16)
02. Day Of The Dreamer (9:43)
03. Closer Than Yesterday (3:19)
04. Kindness (At The End) (4:48)
05. Back Home Once Again (3:16)
06. She Is Love (4:13)
07. Northern Lights (4:07)
08. A Song For All Seasons (11:00)
09. Northern Lights (Promo Single Edit) (3:31)
10. Day Of The Dreamer (BBC Radio One Session – August 19, 1978) (9:53)
11. Midas Man (BBC Radio One Session – August 19, 1978) (3:50)
12. The Vultures Fly High (BBC Radio One Session – August 19, 1978) (2:53)
13. Northern Lights (Top of the Pops Version) (4:23)
Time – 69:19
Disc Two – Live 1978
01. Can You Hear Me (14:53)
02. Carpet of the Sun (3:54)
03. Things I Don’t Understand (9:47)
04. Opening Out (4:21)
05. Day Of The Dreamer (10:23)
06. Midas Man (4:20)
Time – 47:42
Disc Three – Live 1978
01. Northern Lights (4:33)
02. A Song For All Seasons (11:02)
03. Touching Once (Is So Hard To Keep) (12:27)
04. Ashes Are Burning (27:27)
Time – 55:32
Total Time – 172:33
Annie Haslam – Lead Vocals
Jon Camp – Bass Guitar, Bass Pedals, Electric Guitar, Lead Vocals
Michael Dunford – 6 & 12-string Acoustic Guitars, Electric Guitars
John Tout – Keyboards
Terence Sullivan – Drums, Percussion