Thursday, 5 January 2012

Renaissance Edinburgh 1979

Renaissance Edinburgh 1979
19th May 1979

Edinburgh Odeon

A school-friend introduced me to Renaissance sometime around 1977, loaning me the Live at Carnegie Hall double album.  I didn’t really expect too much from it – after all, this was what I regarded as a folk group playing along with an orchestra.  But one listen and I was entranced: Annie Haslam’s vocal pyrotechnics on Prologue, the heartbreakingly poignant Ocean Gypsy, and the small but perfectly formed Carpet of the Sun – one of those tunes which just puts a grin on your face after the first few bars.  A couple of the songs did drag a touch I felt, Mother Russia in particular, but this was clearly wonderful stuff.

The second disc of the album was given over to just two lengthy pieces: The Song of Scheherazade, where the band quite remarkably just about managed to capture the essence of Burton’s translation of the Persian epic in just 25 magical minutes.  The Young Prince and Princess section remains one of the beautiful pieces of music I think I have ever heard.

The other biggie on the album was the Yes-sounding Ashes Are Burning, and although perhaps Jon Camp’s bass solo has not worn well with time, the climax to the song is still breathtaking.

It puzzles me yet why I did not take the time to further explore the band’s back catalogue, and thus it was when this concert came around, the only other song I knew was their surprise 1978 hit Northern Lights.

This concert at the Edinburgh Odeon was the first I took Wife-to-Be along to, and I recall the place being freezing inside, for whatever reason, with WTB (as has been the case many times since) finding herself with if not quite insufficient clothing, then certainly inappropriate.  A problem she generally solved, as she did this particular evening, by the simple expedient of pinching mine.  Thus did I watch this concert with arms covered in goose-bumps, as Wife-to Be sat snug in my favourite chunky blue jumper.

The band opened with the twinkling arpeggio keyboard intro to Can You Understand, which moved swiftly into The Vultures Fly High.  Much of the rest of the set was unfamiliar to me, as the group were promoting their new album Azure D’or and played, I think, four of five tunes from that set.  I do recall another unfamiliar one entitled The Day of The Dreamer which seemed to go on and on and on.  Northern Lights put in an appearance early on – the song being described by Jon Camp as having been “released on one of those small records you can afford”.

When Annie introduced the last song of the set as “one of her favourites”, I think all of us who knew the Carnegie Hall album thought Carpet of the Sun was to follow, but the set was closed with Prologue – an odd choice I thought.  The encore was (inevitably) Ashes are Burning.  Unlike the Sultan, there was no be no Scheherazade for me tonight L    

It had nevertheless been a most enjoyable evening, in the relaxed company of four more than competent musicians, with Annie’s five-octave voice at times breathtaking.  My one (minor) gripe was that without the orchestra, the music did appear to lose a degree of grandeur.

The concert did, however, prompt me to investigate other Renaissance albums, and I picked up both Azure D’or and Novella second-hand soon after.  But both struck me just a touch dull, and Renaissance and I just sort of drifted apart thereafter, although the Carnegie Hall recording would still (and still does) occasionally receive an airing.  Carving out the time to indulge in the whole 100 minutes in one sitting remains an investment which rewards.

The next time our paths crossed occurred when I was browsing in a record shop and came across a copy of their album Time-Line, with the cover pic all soft focus and big hair.  Even as a callow youth I could tell this looked a Bad Career Move.


Can You Understand (Intro)/The Vultures Fly High
Jekyll And Hyde
The Day Of The Dreamer
Northern Lights
Forever Changing
Secret Mission
Mother Russia
The Flood Of Lyons

Ashes Are Burning

(from memory, so there may be omissions – possibly Kaylynda and/or A Song For All Seasons, although I have no recollection of either).

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