Renaissance was a truly unique English band that had a rather strange history, achieved much success and left behind an extraordinary body of work loved by fans around the world. The band began in early 1969, when ex-Yardbirds guitarist/vocalist Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty augmented their acoustic group with ex-Nashville Teens keyboardist John Hawken, bassist Louis Cennamo and Relf's sister Jane on vocals to become Renaissance. Their self-titled debut album (produced by fellow ex-Yardbird Paul Samwell-Smith), introducing their new blend of classical/rock music, was released in the U.S. by Elektra in 1969, to only modest interest from the few FM radio stations then playing album- rock.
By 1971, after a second album called Illusion, all of the original members had left, gradually replaced by keyboardist John Tout, bassist Jon Camp, drummer Terence Sullivan, electric guitarist Rob Hendry and vocalist Annie Haslam, whose extraordinary five-octave voice would come to typify the trademark sound of Renaissance.
"When I first started singing I copied Joan Baez, but I wanted to find my own style," says Haslam. After six months in a West End cabaret, Haslam answered an ad in the Melody Maker to audition for Relf, McCarty and Dunford. "I went out and bought the first album, learned all of it, and was asked to sing "Island" at the audition. They thought my voice was exactly what they were looking for; they next day the job was mine. I was ecstatic and from that moment on my whole life changed," recalls Haslam. Looking back on the moment, Dunford says, "It was a very fortunate and lucky combination when Annie and I met. She has just got the most beautiful voice. There is not another one like it, and never will be, I don't think."
As a band, Relf and McCarty's original concept was to mix classical and rock, but, says Dunford, "as we progressed from 1972 onwards, we added other elements - the more folky side of things, Latin-American jazz, lots of different influences." 1975 saw the release of the band's most ambitious album to date, Scheherazade and Other Stories, featuring the side-long 25-minute suite "Song Of Scheherazade."
The full lineup went on to release two more LPs for Sire, A Song For All Seasons in 1978 and Azure D'Or in 1979. After the unfortunate departures of Tout and Sullivan, the core of Haslam, Camp and Dunford carried on for two more under-appreciated albums, 1981's Camera Camera and 1983's Time-Line, before finally calling it quits and going their separate ways in 1987. Now enthusiastically pursuing a varied solo career, and in better voice than ever, Haslam recalls, "It was an incredible experience to be part of such a unique band, but after sixteen years it was sad but inevitable - the time had come for the days of Renaissance to end, time to move on to new ventures."