Stegzy's Music Project

A commentary on Stegzy's album collection

Illusion – Illusion [#609]

Illusion_-_Same.jpgDuring the run-up to the next Music Project entry, I had to do a bit of research. Renaissance is one of those true prog bands whose line up has changed so much over the years, they’re unrecognisable to their original form. 

When Renaissance formed in 1969 it originally comprised of former Yardbirds Jim McCarty and Keith & Jane Relf together with John Hawken and Colosseum Bassist Louis Cennamo but when I first heard the band they were a quintet of none of the original members. The original line up released two albums then kind of went their separate ways in the early seventies. They then had a change of heart and reformed as a different band, Illusion. 

Of course I only kind of slightly knew this and to be honest, I was a little scared to listen to any Renaissance before Annie Haslam.  So when the next Music Project entry was Illusion by the McCarty/Relf lineup naturally I was a bit apprehensive. Then I dug about on Wikipedia and relearned the Renaissance story and how the McCarty/Relf Renaissance split and reformed as Illusion, confusingly later releasing the album Illusion. Curiosity got the better of me and I ended up Apple Musicing the album into my collection. 

So today, we’re looking at Illusion by Illusion. Jane Relf, together with Jim McCarty, John Hawken and Louis Cennamo (basically Renaissance pre-Dunford/Haslam) released this, their second Illusion album in 1978, Keith Relf having died tragically in 1976, is missing from this lineup.  It’s when you hear stuff like this, you begin to see the roots of Renaissance, the influence of other prog bands and how things could have been so-so different. 

Relf has a distinctive a voice as Haslam and there are clear embryonic audible melodic themes that would later resurface in Dunford/Haslam era Renaissance songs, likewise, one can hear the converse. Stylistically, they are subtly different yet the same; piano heavy, with an essence of floaty folk music vocals, airy poetic lyrics and a lick of Floydesque synth motifs here and there. I think my favourite track has got to be Madonna Blue which screams seventies folk rock so much it may as well grow long straight hair and wear a kaftan. Indeed, when listened to in its entirety, one might as well try listening back to back with Renaissance’s Illusion and see if you can tell the difference.

Just like I did.

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From the Dark Side of the Moon – Mary Fahl [#501]

Darksideofmoon_albumNo, I’d never heard of Mary Fahl until I came across this album either. Mary Fahl is an American singer song writer and in 2007 I obtained an unofficial advance of today’s album which is a song-for-song reimagining of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

Mrs Gnomepants Mk1 used to say that cover versions are only valid cover versions if the artist doing the covering makes the cover their own. It’s only really recently that I’ve began to appreciate this statement fully.

I’ve always been fond of cover versions, my love of tribute artists like Iron Horse, Beatallica, Polka Floyd and Weird Al proof of this, so when it came to my first listen of  Mary Fahl I was already full of expectations. Imagine my joy when Mrs Gnomepants Mk 1 came into the room where I was listening to it and said that she really enjoyed this version of her favourite Pink Floyd album. That kind of sealed it for me.

If you’re a big fan of Floyd’s Dark Side, then you might enjoy this too. Fahl has certainly put a lot of effort into producing the album and it’s remarkable how a female voice can change the dynamic of the sound  originally made by Roger Waters. Fahl’s Dark Side has garnered a little bit of a cult following amongst some nerdy types which only adds to the enjoyment.

Then as a kind of postscript to this entry, while searching Youtube for examples of Fahl’s work, I came across her collaboration/guest appearance with Renaissance’s Annie Haslam. Again, highlighting how the music and artists I like are all connected somehow.

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Camera Camera – Renaissance (#241)

Camera Camera - RenaissanceCamera Camera – Renaissance

Prog is a funny old thing. Lots of twiddly widdly. Lots of showing off. Long songs. Nice things like that. Punk came along and ruined it; turned music listeners into consumers of sweet saccarine junk with about as much artistic merit as a lump of tar.

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#129 – BBC Sessions 1975-1978 – Renaissance

Renaissance - BBC Sessions BBC Sessions 1975 – 1978 – Renaissance

The third and final BBC sessions album in my collection. This time, Renaissance step up to the microphone.

We’ve seen Annie Haslam and her pals on this project before. This album highlights how popular Renaissance were at their time. Which only adds to the confusion as to why I had never heard of them until I was in my 30s. It was as if they never received any radio airtime during the 80s and 90s to wipe them from collective consciousness.

This is possibly my second favourite Renaissance compilation album. It’s a good showcase of the wide range of talent and output of the band especially to new listeners.

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#114 – Azure d’Or – Renaissance

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 16.44.35Azure d’Or by Renaissance

Annie Haslam and her chums get together one more time before the 1980s comes and bites them all on the bum and sends them into a downward spiral of obscurity.

With the exception of Jekyll and Hyde and Winter Tree, much of the original “wow” of early Renaissance seems to be fading like the memory of Quatro before the approaching onslaught of the anti-Prog movement.

Punk has a lot to answer for musically. It did more damage to creativity and expression than dub step and music factories owned by Pete Waterman and his ilk. Talented musicians were forced to cut short their masterpieces and musical wankery to fit in with the growing hunger for 3 minute pop songs. A bit like how Facebook and Twitter have massacred the blogosphere by reducing the media consumers attention to 140 character text bites.

A shame.

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#101: At Royal Albert Hall With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Renaissance

Renaissance - Renaissance at the Royal Albert hall ''Live'' [part 1] (Front) renaissance16At Royal Albert Hall With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Renaissance

Earlier in the project I introduced readers to the artist, Renaissance; Annie Haslam, Michael Dunford et al.  Renaissance are one of those prog bands that have undergone many line-up changes and developed themselves into what they are today. Very much like Yes.

This is a live album spread over 2 discs. It was recorded at the Royal Albert Hall. Along with accompaniment from  The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Self explanatory really.

This line up has Annie, Michael and Orchestra joined by:

  • John Tout – keyboards
  • Jon Camp – vocals, bass
  • Terence Sullivan – drums, percussion

This is the best introduction to Renaissance as a band. It has all the “Classic” Renaissance favourites. Lots of twiddly and what sounds like a very enthusiastic audience. Again, I’m surprised I never encountered them until 2001. But, as you will read, there are many other albums to come.

Unfortunately I was unable to locate any Youtube footage of the actual Albert Hall concert, so instead, here is a broadcast recorded about the same time.



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Album #94 – Ashes Are Burning – Renaissance

Screen Shot 2014-07-20 at 11.00.07Ashes Are Burning – Renaissance

Sometime in the 1970s people with hair would gather and make music. Lovely music. Happy music. Nothing about killing policemen or getting your body parts ogled so you can become famous. Nor was there anything about “fucking the system” or being worthless. Music was a different place. A different time. A different meaning.

Out of the flotsam and jetsam of the musical ocean, a band washed upon my aural shore in the early noughties. A band I had no idea even existed and yet every song I heard seemed to slot into the crevices left by the ice age of Yes, Pink Floyd and Triumvirat. A band whose output left me feeling cosy in my jumpers, sated aurally and at one with the world. That band was Renaissance.

I would ask people if they had heard of them and most people would go “No” and yet they were massive in their time.  Like giants. But then something happened and no trace was seemingly left.

Like I said in the preamble of Sieben’s As They Should Sound, the mass theft of musical property did only good for bands like Sieben and Renaissance, introducing their works to whole new audiences who would then show their appreciation by going out and buying the albums they had heard. If it wasn’t for illegal downloads, I would never have heard of Renaissance and I would never have that Renaissance shaped gap in my auralscape plugged and I wouldn’t have spent lots of money on their music.

As with A Song for All Seasons, this is a typical collection of long haired folky tunes. The kind of stuff you might expect to hear on A Handful of Songs in the 1970s. Close harmonies, lots of piano and nothing overwhelming the acoustic craftsmanship that they make. Though not necessarily a good introduction to the band, Ashes are Burning is certainly one of Renaissance’s better  albums and contains fan favourites Let it Grow, Ashes are Burning and Carpet of the Sun. You can also find out more about Renaissance on Facebook and on their website because, yes, they have reformed recently and are touring again….


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