RENAISSANCE De Lane Lea 1973Some music lives forever. Renaissance was a unique band, featuring classical piano and female vocals, yet still appealing powerfully to a '70s teenage prog audience – and its parents! These live performances show how exceptional they already were at an early stage.

Label: Purple Pyramid Records
Time: 7 tracks / 51 mins

There is a direct link from the Yardbirds, which had Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton in their ranks, to this entirely different band, where the guitarist never played electric lead and usually performed sitting down.

In July 1968, with Beck fired and Jimmy Page as guitarist, the Yardbirds were about to split. Leaving Page to continue with The New Yardbirds (which, of course, became led Zeppelin) singer Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty wanted something "a bit more poetic... more folky" and formed Renaissance.

By 1973, they had got through 22 members, and not one of this classic line-up had been in the original band. But such was the power of their performances and the strength of their material, this five would endure for several albums and never be bettered.

The sound was very much dominated by Annie Haslam's pure, five-octave range, and John Tout's piano. Swapping the normal roles, bass guitarist Jon Camp shared front-of-stage duties with Haslam, while acoustic guitarist Michael Dunford sat down at the right of the stage.

While this might make Dunford seem like a bit of an add-on, it was largely the power of his compositions that drove the band throughout the '70s. This set shows how well-formed this band was already. Of the seven tracks, four were to be indispensable works throughout the decade.

"Can You Understand" was often the opener and contained all their vital elements: soaring vocals; a Rickenbacker bass played like a lead instrument, drawing everything together; and tunes – lots of great tunes. This ten-minute piece has several themes (perhaps one of the main things that drew the Yes and ELP crowd). So melodic were their songs that listeners even find themselves singing along with the bass and keyboard instrumental lines.

Other classic tunes are the beautiful, brisk and brief "Carpet of the Sun," driven more by acoustic guitar; "Prologue" – a jazzy piano instrumental, which is the only piece to predate most members; and a young, compact form of "Ashes are Burning."

This set was performed for friends and industry colleagues in De Lane Lea studios (which you may have noticed on the liner credits of many a great album, such as Deep Purple's In Rock). For "Ashes are Burning," Al Stewart adds backing vocals and label-mate Wishbone Ash's Andy Powell joins the band for a rare electric lead solo.

The three songs that eventually got left behind are still strong and might be regulars in the sets of some bands, but they were soon pushed out by even more immediate tracks that would become staples. "Let it Grow" and "Sounds of the Sea" are both fairly short pieces, the latter marked out by Haslam's voice sliding up and down on the last note of the chorus. Bookended by a solo classical piano introduction (Debussy's 'La Cathedrale Engloutie') and a reflective postlude, "At the Harbour" is a song about women gathered after as storm, anxiously awaiting their men.

There is very little to keep this from the full marks. A three-second electronic noise in "Ashes are Burning" could surely have been cleaned up before release and a few of the harmonies in that piece are suspect. There are other versions of some of these tracks available with longer or even stronger tracklists. But other than these small gripes, this is a superb release that captures an exceptional band just as it is taking off. Superb stuff.


Derek Walker

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