Interview by Danny Coleman
“It never stops, it’s crazy because I manage the band right now I’m wearing 10 hats; it’s the only way to do it really because too many things have gone wrong in the past because of people who didn’t have the same vision. So we’re doing things now though, it’s amazing.”
So says the incomparable Annie Haslam of the legendary progressive rock band Renaissance as she prepares for the launch of their seven shows, “Day of the Dreamer Tour” which makes stops November 16 at the Newton Theatre in Newton, NJ and November 17 at The Scottish Rite Auditorium in Collingwood, NJ. The Scottish Rite is also the only one of the seven where the band will once again be joined by an orchestra onstage.
“The reason we could do it with the orchestra last time was because we had done that, “Indiegogo” project and all of our fans came forward and helped make that happen,” said Haslam when asked why only one show with the full compliment. “I wish we could because that’s the way it should be really; it’s just perfect music for the orchestra, it always has been but it’s expensive. Times have changed with the music business and of course we’re now a, “Heritage band;” I’m proud of it but there’s so much competition for the shows because there’s so many bands performing live now. We’re hoping to go further afield next summer to Germany and Italy and we’re talking about and dealing with that right now; possibly England but we are concentrating on further afield.”
No strangers to touring at great length over their 49 year history, this storied group which formed from the remnants of The Yardbirds has begun to scale life on the road back a bit; not because of a waning desire but due to financial and logistical reasons.
“It’s seven shows in November; unfortunately it’s the same old story,” she said with a sigh. “The money that the promoters would give us is not enough to cover our expenses. It’s heartbreaking really and they would probably be small club dates and we just can’t do it. We haven’t been to the west coast in such a long time and they’d (the promoters) have to take a chance on it and a lot of the promoters are different than they were; they’re younger and there’s lots of other bands out there now and new prog bands. Not that we’re a prog band; we’re a symphonic rock band,” she said as she giggled at the term.
“We used to be so huge in Denver but we just can’t get there. We did Red Rocks twice in the 70’s but we just cant get there. Somebody asked me recently; what else would you like to do? I was thinking well, we’ve done everything that you can ever dream of; we did Albert Hall, three nights at Carnegie Hall, we’ve played with orchestras, we’ve been all over the world but I think one of the mistakes that we made in the 70’s is that we concentrated way too much time on the east coast of America instead of going out to the rest of the world and the west coast. We did go out to the west coast but not all that much and I think that might have changed things around at the time had we tried to spread our wings and gone to other countries; it’s amazing what we’ve done. We’ve done everything, I’m not popping off yet but; what else is there to do? I’d like to go to Iceland, that’s one thing I’d like to do. I’d like to see the northern lights for sure but I want to carry on singing and as long as I look good and have my five octaves; I can’t sing those songs if I haven’t got my five octaves and I’m not going to do that to the people as well as myself if I haven’t got those five octaves.”
With the release of a new DVD titled, “A Symphonic Journey,” the band’s third; these November shows are a great way to promote its unveiling and allow the world to see the group up close and personal. Filmed in October 2017 at The Keswick Theater in Pennsylvania, this DVD shows the multi-faceted talents of not only the individual members of the unit but showcases Haslam’s artwork as well.
“The show at the Keswick with the orchestra was a dream of Mick’s and it was a dream that he never saw and that was to play with an orchestra again. Theother dream was one that I had and I made it happen as well; you know that I’m a painter now obviously and I painted 11 paintings to go with the 11 songs that we did and we enlarged them to 24 foot by 12 foot and they were on the screen behind the orchestra and oh gosh that was amazing. So that was two giant bucket list things and when I look back at it now because of the package that we have out and I feel very proud of it and the band.”
So why not return to the site of the filming? How and why did they arrive at the Scottish Rite Auditorium for the lone show with the orchestra?
“Bill Rogers who is fantastic and has promoted us for many years and even back in the 70’s helped arrange it and we had already done the Keswick last fall and we usually don’t do the same place every year because there’s other bands for people to see. The last time we played the Scottish Rite was Michael Dunford‘s last show in 2012 and I was wearing a back brace because I’ve got a dislocated vertebrae and that is also the last time that I saw Michael alive; when he left he got the last British Airways flight out of Philadelphia before Hurricane Sandy hit. We were supposed to play the next night at The Strand Theater in Lakewood, NJ and our drummer Joe Goldberger and I were staying in Fort Washington, PA and we were in the elevator and this guy came in and asked; “Where are you guys going? Are you in a band?” He then asked where we were playing and we said, Lakewood and he said, “You must cancel it because they’re closing down all the roads tonight; you’re not going to be able to get out of Lakewood, you’ll get stuck there.” So we didn’t do it and I actually called the promoter and said that we weren’t doing it and I made the decision because it was going to be very dangerous; so I made the call and the decision to cancel it and thank God we did because it would’ve been a mess plus we would’ve been endangering other people who also could’ve gotten stuck.”
Haslam has been in love with being an artist ever since her childhood; a dream which was fostered along by supportive parents, “When I was 10 years old my parents sent me for allocution lessons to get rid of my northern accent and I thought; what the hell are they doing to me? They couldn’t really afford that but they must have known that something was coming to me when I was older and that I would need a well-spoken voice. When I was 10 it didn’t work straight away but it started to work as I got older and I moved to London and started mixing with people who use Queen’s English and that’s where I got right into it. That’s why when I sing, people say that they can understand every word I say and that’s why they did that for me. They also let me go to art school because they could see that I was artistic and they let me go to a secondary art school when I was 13 and then a full art school when we moved and instead of me going to work like all of my friends, I went to art school because they could see that I had something there and now I’m a painter. My parents were nurturers and they were amazing. I love when after a tour I’ve got a little bit of time to relax and get on with more painting. I just love it with such passion but it’s a bit difficult right now because I’m getting this tour together and I have so many things to deal with but I’m getting requests for pet portraits and then I’ve got these hand written lyrics and they’ve got to look really good on a page and then I have to work out how they’ll look when transferred onto the page because they’re hand written; so I’ve got lots of projects to keep me busy.”
Frustrated at times like many others by today’s business side of the industry, Annie sometimes frets over the role that technology can play in undermining an artist’s bottom line.
“We went to Japan for two shows in September for four days and managed to get an album out through Cherry Red Records before the bootlegs came out and so through them it was out in England and Europe and we decided that we had to put it out in Japan before we got there to support the shows that we did there. So sad is the business now because so many people are ripping you off with bootlegs these days and it breaks your heart. I know people who have walked away from the business because they recorded for months and then somebody buys it from their website and then they copy it and put it out selling it for less money and they make a fortune. That happened to us when we went to Japan in 2001 and we recorded, “The Land of the Rising Sun” which was a brilliant live album and by the time that we got the tapes from the people in Japan and worked on it and we mixed it the bootleg had been out and we only sold a few thousand copies.”
So what does Annie love to do with her time and possibly post Renaissance?
“I’d love to do philanthropy work if I had the money, that’s what I would like to do. There’s so many things that I’d like to change on this planet with people, children and animals. I feel that when I’m doing things that it’s part of a healing process and with my art and the band’s music I’m doing exactly that. The band’s music and the tones, the notes and feelings, not particularly the words or the notes but there’s something in there with the music that is really special and so unique and there’s nothing like it and never will be again I think.”
To discover more about Renaissance, the current tour or the new DVD, please visit www.renaissancetouring.com.
Danny Coleman (Danny Coleman is a veteran musician and writer from central New Jersey. He hosts a weekly radio program entitled “Rock On Radio” airing Sunday evenings at 10 p.m. EST on multiple internet radio outlets where he features indie/original bands and solo artists.)