I can still remember it vividly. My sister and I, both huge fans of Renaissance, had seen them perform in smaller venues. Now we were going to see them on a warm summer night in June 1975 at Carnegie Hall, with an orchestra! We got all dressed up for the occasion, like it was something special happening somewhere special. We were right on both accounts. Our balcony seats overlooked the stage, giving us a perfect view of the band members, the New York Philharmonic, and the choir. Over the years, even though I’ve seen Renaissance many times since, I have almost come to mythologise that perfect night in my own mind. So, I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a temptation to compare that magic night with the Legacy Tour celebrating 75 years of Annie Haslam. But to do so would not be fair to anyone. Nearly fifty years have passed, but my love for the band has remained enduring and steadfast. When the opportunity to hear the band’s latest live release came up, I jumped at it, the nineteen-year-old inside me peering down from my frontal lobe like I did from that balcony seat so many years ago.
Credited to Renaissance, The Legacy Tour 2022 is really a career overview for the band’s vocalist, Annie Haslam. Several of her solo tracks are incorporated into the set, including at least one very pleasant surprise. The show opens with the band classic Carpet of the Sun, and right from the first note you can tell that a lot of care went into the production and engineering. Every note played by the band and the accompanying Renaissance Chamber Orchestra is pristine and crystal clear. Mark Lambert’s acoustic guitar is crisp and bright. Annie Haslam’s five octave voice is a bit quavery at first, but she never fudges any of the notes. When four of the five other members of the band add their harmony vocals, as they do on Black Flame, the results are downright awe-inducing. Haslam’s vocal timbre may not be what it was in 1973, but it is to her credit that she uses no studio trickery to enhance her voice, accepting and embracing the changes wrought by time. A stunningly beautiful example of the power of all the voices in play is The Sisters, a track from the sumptuous Novella album. Haslam is particularly strong on this track. Horns are the leading orchestral instrument until about halfway through the song when the full ensemble kicks in. Lambert performs passionately on his classical guitar interlude, one of several Spanish influences, including castanets, that take the song into transcendent mode.
The first of several Haslam solo career tunes is Ananda. The solo material tends to be shorter and poppier than the band pieces, but she has chosen wisely so that each song fits comfortably in the band setting. Ananda relies on a Middle Eastern vibe built upon the strings and percussion instruments, as well as a sympathetic horn and drone accompaniment. There is even a sitar-sounding instrument adding to the world music flavour of the tune. Haslam’s voice, having noticeably warmed up, moves from strength to strength. By the time we arrive at The Captive Heart, Rave Tesar’s simple piano part at the centre of the song allows Haslam to soar. When the harmonies finally kick in, echoes of the old band are palpable and proof that this is not a group of hired hands. This is a real band, many of whom have played together for years now. Their confidence peaking, the band launches into Symphony of Light, the epic from their last studio album. The band is on fire and they know it. Leo Traversa’s bass is forward in the mix and deserves to be; his runs are as melodic as his backing vocals. Geoffrey Langley’s keyboards add a touch of modernity to this heavily orchestrated tune. At about eight-and-a-half minutes in, the band struts its stuff, each member having the opportunity to show what they can do, impressive for their restraint as well as their talent.
The second set begins with four more of Haslam’s solo pieces. Blessing in Disguise (the original recording of which was technically credited to Annie Haslam’s Renaissance) is a highlight as synthesisers create a pillow for the band to lay their multi-layered harmonies upon. Celestine, a demonstration of Haslam’s upper register, is a co-write with synth wizard Larry Fast. While the song is not one of her best, the performance is spectacular. Simple keys and subtle orchestral flourishes leave Haslam’s voice front and centre, where it belongs. The biggest surprise of the set is also one of my favourites. In 1977, Haslam was one of many prog luminaries who contributed to a project known as The Intergalactic Touring Band. From that album is the sweeping and goose-bump inducing orchestral ballad Reaching Out. This is one of her strongest vocal turns, and the band and the brass instruments embrace her voice like a warm hug. A favourite then, and a favourite now. The final solo piece is The Angels Cry, a Justin Hayward contribution with his distinct Moodies imprint. It is romantic and maybe a bit overwrought; even the orchestra seems suffocating on this one.
Thankfully, it is back to a couple Renaissance classics to close the show. Day of the Dreamer was a highlight of the Song For All Seasons album and is no less impressive in this reading. The interplay between the band and the strings displays an integration that most such pairings never seem to achieve. Maybe that’s because much of composer Michael Dunford’s music was based on quotes from classical pieces. Haslam’s voice rises to the occasion, hitting all the notes and holding them with apparent ease. The final piece of this all too short performance is Running Hard, still full of the magic it first exhibited in 1974. This is another opportunity for the musicians to shine, particularly drummer Frank Pagano. Tesar covers John Tout’s sublime piano parts magnificently, a wonderful tribute to the underrated late keyboardist. The last minute, where the strings and vocalists raise the roof, is a worthy crescendo to an exemplary career, and the audience apparently agrees.
Short as this concert is, fans will invariably wonder why one song or another was not included. However, with a track record as stellar as that of Renaissance, the show could have lasted four hours, and someone’s favourite would not have made the setlist. Fifty years on from the first Haslam-fronted album, Prologue, the musicians surrounding her might have changed, but that singular voice is still a treasure deserving of being heard. Married to the brilliance of late composer/guitarist Dunford, Haslam’s voice has been the yardstick for all female prog vocalists since, and this set provides ample evidence for why that is still true.
01. Carpet of the Sun (03.43)
02. Black Flame (06:39)
03. The Sisters (06:39)
04. Ananda (04:26)
05. The Captive Heart (04:46)
06. Symphony of Light (13:08)
Time – 39:21
01. Blessing in Disguise (03:42)
02. Celestine (04:41)
03. Reaching Out (03:57)
04. The Angels Cry (04:33)
05. Day of the Dreamer (10:07)
06. Running Hard (10:26)
Time – 37:26
Total Time – 76:47
Annie Haslam – Vocals
Rave Tesar – Keyboards
Frank Pagano – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Mark Lambert – Guitar, Vocals
Leo Traversa – Bass, Vocals
Geoffrey Langley – Keyboards, Vocals
Record Label: Symphonic Rock Recordings
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 15th August 2023