Great Awakening

Having resisted a reunion tour previously, Annie Haslam and Michael Dunford revive the brilliant sounds of Renaissance

By Ray Schweibert
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Oct. 14, 2009

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Annie Haslam

There’s a sort of calming affect to Annie Haslam’s speaking voice, intertwined in the British accent that’s still unmistakable after residing in southeastern Pennsylvania for nearly the last 20 years. It seems sort of fitting for a lady who was once on a career path to being a dress designer emerging out of working-class England, and whose passions today include oil painting, animal rights and environmental conservation.

It’s also a voice of extraordinary range and crystalline quality that, combined with ambition, helped her hit the heights of musical stardom with the band Renaissance, and experience a life thus far that few would immediately label as calm. She went on to enjoy abundant success with her own band, survived breast cancer and a serious car accident, and delved deeply into the other artistic pursuit that would help define her life, painting.

One thing Haslam seemed rather adamant about was remaining focused on future pursuits, and Renaissance — among the most prosperous, progressive-rock bands of the 1970s — was in her rear-view mirror.

“Many people kept asking [about a reunion tour], and the question would pop up now and again, but I have a career in painting now and kept saying, ‘no, no, no,’” says Haslam, in a recent phone conversation with Atlantic City Weekly. “One day Michael [Dunford] called and said, ‘I know you’re going to say no,’ and I said, ‘No.’ But then I told him, ‘Look, if you can get John Scher, who was one of our managers in the ’70s, to put it together, I’ll do it.’”

Admittedly, Haslam was gambling that Scher would be too busy to bother trying to revive interest in a British band that formed 40 years ago (originally established in 1969 by members of the disbanded Yardbirds), and last toured together nearly 30 years ago. That was a day she should be glad she did not try her luck in the casinos.

“I didn’t think there was a chance he’d be interested,” she says. “He’s a very busy man. But after Michael called him, [Scher] said, ‘You know, I was just thinking about your band last week. Let’s do it.’ And that’s where it all started off.”

Atlantic City is the final leg of Renaissance’s nine-city, 40th anniversary tour, taking place this Saturday, Oct. 17, at Trump Taj Mahal’s Xanadu Theater.

The northern New Jersey-based Scher’s reputation as a band manager is surpassed only by his status as one of the nation’s top concert promoters. If a Renaissance reunion tour was going to happen and have any chance of being successful, Scher was the man to have at the helm.

“He had to do research into whether there’d still be an audience and, if so, where were they, how do we get to them, how do we do a tour without any new material and without having toured in nearly 30 years?” says Haslam. “But as it unfolded, and now that it’s happening, I’m loving it. We’ve got the most incredible band that sounds better than it ever sounded in the ’70s, because we have all this modern technology and the ability to adapt the acoustics to the specific venues. The sound is incredible.”

Dunford plays guitar and is the band’s principal songwriter, having penned such classics at “Ocean Gypsy,” “Mother Russia,” “Ashes Are Burning” and “Running Hard.” Probably the band’s most recognizable hit is Dunford’s “Carpet of the Sun,” and it’s one of those hauntingly beautiful songs that, when it first began circulating the American airwaves in the 1970s, caused millions to pause and ask, “Who is this?”

Dunford and Haslam are the only Renaissance members with roots back to the band’s early incarnation, but they have surrounded themselves with musicians of similar pedigree. Among them are keyboardist Rave Tesar, bassist/vocalist David Keyes (both members of the Annie Haslam Band), drummer Frank Pagano and keyboardist/vocalist Tom Brislin. Opening the show will be German-born singer/songwriter/guitarist Jann Klose.

“I met Jann at a benefit concert in Bucks County [Pa.] and we became good friends,” says Haslam. “He’s a very talented performer.”

Where: Trump Taj Mahal’s Xanadu Theater, A.C.
When: Saturday, Oct. 17, 8pm (doors open 7pm)
How Much: $29, $39 and $49

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