The Annie Haslam Interview
(2014)

Annie Haslam has one of the most distinctive and melodic voices in all of rock and roll. Four decades in the business, and she still boasts one of the strongest. With her band Renaissance, the lady burst onto the U.K. progressive rock scene, fronting a band of stalwart musicians set on lush orchestrations. Hits like “Carpet of The Sun” and perennial FM favorites like “Ashes Are Burning” — when you heard Annie Haslam’s vocals, you were not too soon to forget it.

In 2013, with some startling changes behind her — notably her battle with breast cancer and the passing of Renaissance guitarist and songwriter Michael Dunford — Annie Haslam and Renaissance released Grandine il Vento. Adding more songs, the album was reissued in 2014 with a new title: Symphony Of Light. The band (Haslam on vocals, Rave Tesar on keyboards, David J. Keyes on bass, Jason Hart on keyboards, Ryche Chlanda on guitar, and Frank Pagano on drums — will play dates behind the release in the Fall of 2014 (for exact dates and tickets, see Renaissance Touring).

Prior to the tour, Haslam will be exhibiting her unique art at Celt Iberia Traders in New Hope, Pennsylvania, from August 2nd through September 1st, 2014. I had the great honor of sitting down with the truly welcoming, down-to-earth creative woman with the angelic voice and chatting about it all.

~

First of all, congratulations on Symphony Of Light. It’s a wonderful CD with that classic Renaissance sound.

Thank you. Mickey (Michael Dunford) wrote the music and arrangements, and Rave and Jason had a hand in arranging too. I wrote all the lyrics and I contributed to arrangement ideas. Tom Brislin and Jann Klose who were friends and colleagues of ours had both had successful results with crowdfunding. This is what spurred us on to create our own campaign to raise funds for a new studio album. We released Grandine il Vento in 2013 (and) unfortunately not a lot of people knew about the release until we firmed up a deal with a worldwide distributor Red River Entertainment out of NYC. With this new drive behind the album, it will bring us closer to fans around the world. The album was re-titled Symphony Of Light with three added bonus tracks.

And unfortunately Michael Dunford died soon after completion.

We completed the album and did a short east coast tour. We had to cancel most of the tour because I had a compression fracture in my vertebrae; it was a painful few shows, having to wear a metal back brace. At the end of the tour, Mickey went home on October 31st. He got the last flight out of Philly prior to Hurricane Sandy hitting the east coast, then not so long after, on the 19th of November I received a phone call that he had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and had only hours to live. It was devastating news.

There are some A-list guests on the CD like John Wetton and Ian Anderson. Did you just make a phone call and have them come onboard?

Basically, yes! John and I are mates from way back.

Yes, I always forget that John Wetton was actually in Renaissance for a time, right?

Yes, though he played all but 3 or four shows with us and I also was on his Icon project way back when. But more recently we connected over some personal things, not romantic, but personal. Rave arranged "Blood Silver Like Moonlight" for solo piano and my voice, but when I heard it I thought this might be something John and I could do together, bring it full circle as it were with the beautiful musical timbre of his voice; his voice is so very special. I sent him a rough mix, and he loved it and said he would love to do it.

How about the Ian Anderson connection?

Ian was in Eastern Europe at the time when we were recording. A few years ago I had been invited to sing with Ian on his “Rubbing Elbows” tour, he is a big fan of “Northern Lights” so he had me come out and sing that song with him, then sit on the couch on stage...all that fun stuff he does live. So when Jason was recording his flute parts in the early part of recording “Cry to the World,” I said wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get Ian in to do the part. So I e-mailed him and he said absolutely, and to send the WAV files over to him via the Internet and he would work on it on his next day off.

You also had quite the full prog hang recently with John Wetton and quite a few others actually “on board,” so to speak.

Oh yes, back in April, on the “Cruise to the Edge.” Now that was wonderful.

I had heard what’s fun for the artists in those situations is that you get to see lots of bands and people you might know very well but have rarely got the chance to see live seeing as your band is touring all the time, too.

Yes, well that might have been the case for the other band members but I was busy dealing with the business side as well. I did manage to catch UK but I was part of a storyteller session, was showing my art, so there always seemed to be something to think about. Actually, the schedule changed a few days before we boarded the ship, which is ok, it’s like a festival that way, you just expect things like that to happen and just do it. We boarded the ship on Monday and were told we were to play the next day; we were prepared so that wasn’t the problem. For the first gig we were in the big indoor theatre, 1200 people packed in with the ship rolling into a storm! We were on stage swaying from side to side like the audience. Dave the bass player was rooted to the stage to keep his balance, I had to hold on to the microphone stand, but even so the show went down a storm. Actually, we received a tremendous standing ovation.

And the second show?

For that one, we were booked to play the pool stage. We were an hour out of Cozumel and there were gale-force winds, 50, 60 miles per hour that’s what it felt like. I had to walk back to my cabin, which on a boat on that size feels like a 10-mile walk to change into black pants and a top — not really meant for stage wear — as my dress was blowing over my head. I had painted a cap for the auction and ended up having to wear that to stop my hair from flying all over so I put that on as well. I had one hand holding the cap for one hour and 15 minutes on my head, the other hand cupping my mouth and microphone to keep the heavy winds from going into my mouth because of the relentless wind. When we started to play “Ocean Gypsy,” the wind let up a little and the clouds parted above the ship to show the moon, it really was quite something.

Will you get out to tour in a more traditional sense this time around?

Yes, but sticking close to home (the U.S.). We are touring the east coast in October and November and looking forward to it very much. We would love to do shows further afield, but it’s just not cost effective. The costs from airfares, hotels, visas, travel expenses, PDs, wages, equipment hire and insurance make it very difficult. We want so much to play other parts of the US and internationally, we would be there in a heartbeat if we could make it work financially. We have interest in several countries but we need more shows to tie it altogether to make it all work and there lies the problem. The cruise worked very well for us, because we had fans that came literally from all over the world.

I was just thinking that with the way technology is these days you can have your two keyboardists deliver all the lushness of the band’s signature sound, but at the same time you still have to take the full band out on tour to recreate that.

Yes, in order to hear the entire Renaissance experience we have the two keyboardists recreating the strings and cellos, basically a full orchestra. We travel with 8 people in all, a tech guy and sound man plus the band. This band wouldn’t sound the same if we decided to pare it down to cut down on expenses. I would feel like I would be cheating the fans. It needs to be the whole experience with Renaissance.

So generally, technology with all the advancements is always the quintessential double-edged sword?

As far as recreating the music, yes I think technology is phenomenal for a band like us. When I listen to what we did with just those five people, without an orchestra it was fantastic; Jon Camp playing so much with his foot pedals as well as his hands, John, Terry, Mickey, they did an incredible job, I was given flute parts to sing to fill in the spaces. But now in this new era of Renaissance we can use technology to recreate the full lavish sound that put us on the map. The sad reality is the fact that people can come to a show and record it then upload it online or turn into a CD. People don’t realize that’s killing music; soul destroying for musicians and it is simply stealing. I wish there was a way to stop all that, or for people to realize how harmful it is to the musicians.

Then there is all the business you have to do now, very complicated elements, following the downloads, dealing with the publishing in the digital age.

Yes, my answer to that is it’s a pain-in-the-you-know-what, but it has to be kept on top of for sure.

And your voice, how do you think it has changed — if it has — over your 40 plus career?

I think if anything it is stronger. I did have an issue recently with a dry cough and I went to a specialist to find my vocal chords were swollen. So I have stopped drinking alcohol, not that I drank all that much to begin with, and I stopped eating spicy foods and cut out caffeine.

What’s happening with your painting?

I have an art show happening on August 2nd at Celt Iberia Traders in New Hope, Pennsylvania.

When it comes to your artwork, you consider yourself an...

...Abstract Intuitive Expressionist. My work is channeled, I feel I can tune into mostly anything and put it into a painting. I love it so much...

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