DREAMS & OMENS: Live At The Tower Theatre – the full story
Renaissance has been at the forefront of progressive rock for an incredible four decades and they are still weaving their magic in the year 2011. The story all began in the early 1970s, when the band that specialises in creating melodic classical rock themes began touring and recording a series of fine albums. Many of these have been reissued by Repertoire and among the latest is the much sought after ‘live album ‘Dreams & Omens: Live At The Tower Theatre, Philadelphia 1978.’
‘Dreams & Omens’ captures the band in action during one of its many U.S. tours and they are heard performing at their vibrant best for those enthusiastic Philadelphians who have long supported British prog rock. The CD comprises six tracks including ‘Can You Hear Me’, ‘Carpet Of The Sun’, ‘Day Of The Dreamer’, ‘Midas Man’, ‘Northern Lights’ and ‘Things I Don’t Understand’ all recorded at the Tower Theatre and rescued from the archives.
The band’s classic line up at this time comprised singer Annie Haslam together with Michael Dunford (guitar), Jon Camp (bass), John Tout (piano) and Terry Sullivan (drums). Since the CD liner notes were first compiled with Michael’s assistance, we have now been able to update them with more information and comments from Annie. Here is the essay in full to complement your future enjoyment of the music.
RENAISSANCE ‘Dreams & Omens: Live at the Tower Theatre 1978 Philadelphia’
Dreams and omens can turn into realities, especially when the dream-like world of recorded music can help us see into the past and the future. It’s strange to think that the ideas, moods, ambitions and even dreams captured on record can provide a time capsule to be replayed and enjoyed at anytime we choose.
Such is the case with this glimpse into the past provided by ‘Dreams & Omens’, a superb album that showcases the British progressive group Renaissance, performing at their best during one of their happiest times together.
Renaissance came to fame in the Seventies with an appealing blend of classical and rock themes mixed with overtones of folk. The band has undergone a welcome revival in recent years and is still performing with original members Annie Haslam and Michael Dunford. They are reaching out to young audiences, who are probably unaware of their long history. Their new fans will surely be pleased to hear this performance recorded in 1978 at the height of their first brush with fame, and now digitally restored.
The group began life way back in 1969, formed by former Yardbirds, Keith Relf and Jim McCarty. They released their debut ‘Renaissance’ on the Island label in 1969. A trip to Europe and the States followed, but despite an encouraging start, Jim and Keith realised they didn’t enjoy touring after so many years on the road and decided to quit.
A second album ‘Illusion’ wasn’t released in the UK, although it appeared in Germany in 1972. During this period, Renaissance underwent a change of personnel. After Keith and Jim left, guitarist Michael Dunford replaced Keith Relf, Terry Slade replaced Jim. Neil Korner replaced Louis Cenamo; John Hawken was then replaced by John Tout and in came singers Terry Crowe and Binky Cullom who replaced Jane Relf. Then in 1971 saw another change with Annie Haslam joining the band replacing Binky.
Annie was from Bolton, Lancashire and began her singing career in 1969. Then in 1971 she answered an ad in Melody Maker for Renaissance. Annie auditioned and was given the job the next day, January 1st 1971.
With her vocal range and pure tone Renaissance became the perfect setting for her talents.
During these changes, Jim McCarty carried on writing a few songs for the new line up and collaborated with a poet, Betty Thatcher, who provided imaginative lyrics. Betty subsequently worked with Michael Dunford for the next few years.
There were to be several more personnel changes before the revised Renaissance recorded its debut album ‘Prologue’ with John Tout (keyboards), Annie Haslam (vocals), Rob Hendry (lead guitar) Jon Camp (bass) and Terry Sullivan (drums).
Michael Dunford left the band and decided at this point to concentrate on the writing.
Michael Dunford, still working in a writing capacity, re-joined the band on acoustic guitar replacing Rob Hendry. Says Michael: “I went to visit the band and played them a few songs on my acoustic guitar. After a few rehearsals I became a full time member. In fact, the piano was the lead instrument and the band had an orchestral feel to the music.”
They went to America in 1973 to promote the ‘Prologue’ album and its follow up ‘Ashes Are Burning’. The title track became one of their most popular stage numbers.
Renaissance released many more albums over the years, notably ‘Turn Of The Cards’ (1974), ‘Scheherazade And Other Stories’ (1976), ‘Novella’ (1977), ‘A Song For All Seasons’ (1978), ‘Azure D’Or’ (1979), ‘Camera Camera’ (1981) and ‘Time Line’ (1983).
With manager Miles Copeland at the helm, Renaissance toured Europe and the States, and went down a storm at the Royal Albert Hall with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Carnegie Hall with The New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
Although primarily an album band, Renaissance enjoyed a hit single with ‘Northern Lights’, taken from ‘A Song For All Seasons’. BBC DJ Dave Lee Travis made ‘Northern Lights’ his ‘Single Of The Week’ and, with Dave’s help, it became a Top Twenty hit. It got to Number 7 in the UK charts in July 1978 and boosted their album sales.
EXCITEMENT AT THE TOWER
1978 was the year ‘Dreams & Omens’ was recorded at the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia, and Michael Dunford remembers the exciting atmosphere at the concert, and the songs they recorded now happily restored for this CD.
“The band was doing really well in America at that time. The Tower Theatre was a great venue for us – we’d played there a number of times. They really liked progressive rock in Philadelphia and still do, as proven by the tumultuous reception that Annie and I received with the new Renaissance line up on our 2009 Anniversary tour. The North East of the States was always our strongest market.”
Michael confesses he doesn’t remember quite how the concert was recorded, but says they tended to record all shows whenever they played together. I know we received one of our strongest audience reactions at this show, and when that happens, it makes you feel great. The two best cities for us in the States right from the early Seventies were always New York and Philadelphia.
“The recording quality is very good and captures the original Renaissance in action with myself and Annie. The rest of the band were Jon Camp on bass, John Tout on piano and Terry Sullivan on drums. 1978 was a very good year for us, because we also played at the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. And we had our hit single ‘Northern Lights’.
“This all happened towards the end of the Seventies, just before the music scene changed and punk rock took over. After that, there was less money to spend on bands like us, and there was no more champagne or lavish dinners! The record companies cut back quite a bit. But until then, it was a really good time for us.”
However, Renaissance was never a superstar band with their own private jet. Michael: “We did do a lot of flying early on and also travelled to gigs by station wagon and even RV’s. Touring can be very expensive and you really have to make it work for you.”
The concert at the Tower Theatre kicked off with ‘Can You Hear Me’, a 15 minute epic. The piece was originally featured on the studio album ‘Novella’ (1977). “We devised a set that included our most popular numbers and one or two newer songs.”
ASHES ARE BURNING
“What we hear on the CD is just as it was performed at the concert, with the same running order. Thus ‘Carpet Of The Sun’ is the second item that Michael says has always been a Renaissance favourite. “It’s a very uplifting, catchy tune and it always goes down well. It came from our second album ‘Ashes Are Burning’, which was the first time we’d used an orchestra in the studio. Of course, we couldn’t take an orchestra on tour and, nowadays, keyboards are so advanced that you can use ‘samples’. We couldn’t reproduce strings so well back then, but John Tout made up for that in other ways.” Annie would also sing vocalise parts where flutes etc were missing and couldn’t be duplicated by JT.
The next track ‘Day Of The Dreamer’ was first heard on the 1977 album ‘A Song For All Seasons’. ‘Midas Man’ is another perennial favourite, still played by Renaissance and originally featured on ‘Novella’.
“Who was the ‘Midas Man’? I don’t know. I wish we all had the magic touch and the ability to turn base metal into gold. It was lyric idea from my writing partner Betty Thatcher, so she came up with that one. ‘Northern Lights’ was our big hit in the U.K., but surprisingly, although it got played on radio, it never really happened in any big way in the States.”
The last track ‘Things I Don’t Understand’ has recently been revived by Renaissance. Michael: “It’s a great up tempo song, which comes from our album ‘Turn Of The Cards’ and is quite a lengthy performance. The concert brings back lots of memories and the audience reaction was really quite something. The album title Dreams and Omens was something that Annie dreamed up!”
Maybe, back in 1978, Renaissance never dreamt how their future would unfold. But looking back, they are glad they are still making music – in the present.