Here’s a strange beginning: in 1968, ex-Yardbirds Keith Relf and Jim McCarty formed a band with Relf’s sister Jane, pre-Strawbs keyboard man John Hawken, and bassist Louis Cennamo. Their first album maxed out at 60 in the UK charts, and their second album went unreleased in England and America. By the time the band finally began attracting major attention with their 1972 album, Prologue, it had an entirely different lineup. It was guitarist Mike Dunford, keyboardist John Tout, bass player Jon Camp, drummer Terence Sullivan, and (most notably) the crystalline soprano vocals of Annie Haslam that proved to be the magic combination that made them one of the most memorable and influential progressive rock bands ever.
The band explored the same synthesis of rock and classical music that Keith Emerson had popularized with his bands The Nice and ELP, but whereas Emerson would perform renditions of Bach, Mussourgsky, et al, Renaissance took Albinoni and Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakoff and wove their themes and motifs into the very fabric of their songs, to the
extent that it was often hard to tell where the classics left off and the band’s composition began.
Renaissance delighted prog-rock fans the world over with a series of increasingly ambitious albums featuring their imaginative songcraft, masterful instrumentation (eventually involving a full symphony orchestra), and an approach to vocal interpretation that involved Haslam using her achingly pure voice as a musical instrument. The band released eight albums with the same line-up, including a recording of their incredible Carnegie Hall performance with the New York Philharmonic.
The 1980s brought two more recordings, with progressive personnel changes. Then, after tangental explorations on their own throughout the 90s, the creative core of Renaissance (Haslam and Dunford, with drummer Sullivan) reassembled in 2000, with new material for an ever-widening audience that had waited patiently for their glad return.