The band Renaissance I would have to say has been one of my biggest musical influences. I still binge listen to their recording non stop days at a time. I was thrilled to be able to speak with Annie Haslam. This interview is from 2014.
Philadelphia composer Andrea Clearfield has stated about Renaissance ,”They had a very big influence on me in my young years -the classical/rock cross-over, which I’m still drawing from in my own compositions”.
This conversation picks up right after I introduced myself.
Annie Haslam: Did you ever get to see Renaissance in concert?
David Cohen: I saw them on the Song for All Seasons tour. I was upset when I missed the Camera Camera tour.
Annie: Camera Camera is one of my least favorite albums.
Annie: Unfortunately by doing that we really screwed ourselves up. Instead of progressing with the music that we made that was so unique, we went in a completely different direction and we lost our style. That was the downfall of the band.
DC: Did the record company put pressure on you?
Annie: A little bit. Jon wanted to take the band direction in a different way. We all followed. I am such a strong person now. That would never happen now! It was meant to be. If everything didn’t happen I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing and I am very happy doing what I’m doing.
DC: Do you think that the band was growing? If you kept doing the same stuff as Renaissance..
Annie: We could have carried on doing the same thing but we needed to take it into the future. We needn’t have gone so radical. We took away all the classical feel of that lovely lush orchestral feel. It was gone. The five of us in the band at the time had a way of making magic doing that kind of thing. Once we changed it we sounded like anybody. They were ok songs but they weren’t great like the old stuff. Anybody could have sung those songs.
DC: When Jon sang the song Only Angels Have Wings was there a lot of arguing in the band about having it on the record?
Annie:I was suppose to sing that but I was ill and couldn’t get to the studio. I had the flu so Jon did it. I though it was dreadful. As much as Jon was a great bass player he wasn’t a singer. I was very upset, I wish I wasn’t sick but there was nothing I do about it.
DC: Were you on that tight of a schedule?
Annie: Yes, but it was something that was going to take weeks to get my voice back.
DC: I was surprised to learn that you started singing at twenty-two. How did you develop your voice?
Annie: I think it was always there. My brother was a brilliant singer. He was a cross between Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley. There’s a song on this new album with him. It is the only song we ever recorded together. I had a boyfriend who realized I could sing because I would sing at parties after I had a few ciders. Then I went to voice lessons with an opera trainer and that is when I learned I had five octaves.
DC: Did you consider a classical career?
Annie: My teacher wanted me to. I didn’t know what I wanted at the time.
PCM: Who are some of the singers you listed too?
Annie: I listed to Anna Moffo and Maria Callas. I use to listen to Barbra Streisand, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell.
DC: Have you met Joni?
Annie: No, but I have met Joan Baez and I was shaking when I met her. She knew who I was. I was thrilled.
DC: How about Joan Armatrading?
Annie: I like her. We were managed by Miles Copeland at the same time. We did a European tour together in 1973, early days as a band.
DC: Did you expect to make a career with music?
Annie: I was hoping to. The first job I had was in a cabaret group in a dinner theater in London for six months. The guitarist said, “Annie you’re wasted here”. We were a cover band. He saw an ad in Melody Maker for a girl singer for an international rock band. They didn’t say the name but when I called them I found out it was Renaissance so I went out and bought the album and learned the songs. I went for the audition.
DC: Were you still taking vocal lesson at the time?
DC: Did you have concerns about damaging your voice?
Annie: No, because it wasn’t rock. My voice isn’t delicate. It’s not like I felt it was a delicate instrument. It is a strong powerful instrument that I developed by going to a proper trainer and learning how to breath correctly. I think you can damage your voice if you don’t know proper training.
DC: Are there any singers that make you cringe when you hear them because their technique is so bad?
Annie: There’s a lot out. Do you remember Paul Young?
DC: Yes, I liked him.
Annie: He has a fantastic voice. From what I was told he sang from his throat and strained his voice. Rod Steward sounds like somebody who completely abused his voice to me. That’s not my kind of voice. I like voice with melody in them.
DC: Who do you listen to now?
Annie: I haven’t bought any cd’s for a long time. I love Mary Fahl she was in a band called October Project. She has the most incredible voice. You should pick up their first album its fabulous. Kate Bush was always a big favorite of mine. Tori Amos is a copy of her, I don’t listen to her.
DC: I don’t get the Tori Amos thing either. Weren’t you also a fashion designer?
Annie: I did fashion sketching. I wanted to be a designer. I went to a company in London called *******. I was taken on temporarily and I was there for a couple of weeks. The man who owned the company was there and saw my work. They gave me a sketch book and asked me to sketch outfits they brought into the room. The guy who owned the company said,” I like your style. I look forward to seeing you when I get back from my holiday”. Basically saying I got the job on a permanent basis. He went away and his girlfriend was left in charge. They gave me a book and said we want you to come up with as many ideas/ designs as you can in your style. So I came up with whole wad of ideas and then they took the book from me for two hours and then they fired me.
What they wanted was new ideas and they stole my ideas and then got rid of me. That absolutely broke my heart. I’d already done many thing to work my way up to be a designer, I worked for Saville Row Taylor, Jeager Clothing who is a big company in England and then I got the job at ******** . I remember I called my parents and they said, “As you know we are going to Canada for a month, we will take you with us”. I went with them and while we were there we went to a pub in Toronto and they were having a talent competition and I got up and sang Those Were the Days who Mary Hopkins made famous. Her husband is Tony Visconti who later went on to produce some of my albums. Then I started to go into more competitions and then I got my job with the show boat.
DC: So you never had starving days as an artist.
Annie: I didn’t. I have been very very fortunate. I’ve had a lot of upsets, a lot of tragedy in a short space of time. Renaissance was already touring they didn’t have a record deal. We had a sort of manager but then we got an agent with the John Sherry Agency. The band changed, different members came in and out then Miles Copeland came on the scene. That’s when we got the record deal with Sire Records and Seymour Stein and the rest is history.
DC: That was such a different time and it was all new. Do you think that exists now for artists?
Annie: I’d like to think it was. It’s very different now. The music business is very different now. There’s very few record labels. The ones that there are, are big. There are many brilliant musicians out there, where do they get played? It’s not the same anymore. It’s wonderful having (((XM))) radio. (((XM))) still plays Renaissance. It’s not the same, that’s for sure.
Who knows how much longer they will be around they stick with the big artist who they know will sell. And with the advent of bootlegs which is another thing that is so heart breaking, its so wrong. It make a lot of artist feel why should we bother, somebody is going to steal it.
DC: I remember in one of your newsletter’s you wrote about a bootleg DVD. That was on ebay from one of your shows.
Annie: It’s not there’s to sell. Its poor quality, people are ripped off and they take the money and run. I don’t know about you but I am a heavy believer in karma. In this life time!
DC: Are you familiar with yahoo group and the CD tree’s?
Annie: The yahoo groups?
DC: They are absolutely dedicated fan clubs. Somebody will have a recording from a concert or radio program and they will send it to one person who will make copies and then send it on to the next on the list. There is no money is involved.
Annie: They do it within themselves? I have heard about them but how do you know they’re not selling it down the road.
DC: I have a lot of stuff from the tree’s. These are dedicated fans who share your feeling. I think there is a difference with that and ebay.
Annie: I guess I am jaded. People will send me emails about stuff and there is nothing I can do. There’s a bootleg out of Still Life. It has a white cover. I don’t know why but I was searching the other day and I though why should I look there’s nothing I can do. It would cost me a lot of money.
DC: I had read one that you would never over dub your voice. What made you change your mind?
Annie: When I started to live with Roy Wood who is a musical genius. I learned a lot from him musically. When I did my album Annie in Wonderland. He was the one who talked me into doing over dubs for the album. Song for All Seasons was already written and Northern Lights, I remember the guys coming into the studio one day, why don’t we try putting three voices I know they recorded more than one voice why don’t we put them together to see what it would sound like in the verse. That’s where you have the triple tracking. That’s what made it special, why it was such a hit. So it was Roy Wood, he turned me around. He was a brilliant man.
DC: Do you think it was your classical training that initially prevented you from over dubbing?
Annie: Possibly yes, I was also one of those people that was a little afraid of change. The older I get the easier it is to change. It a hard thing to do, change something you know.
DC: Was it easy getting Annie in Wonderland out?
Annie: It was wonderful. It didn’t get enough publicity.
DC: Do you think it was because of your voice and people didn’t know how to market it?
Annie: I don’t think so. Seymour Stein was really behind us. Maybe, I don’t. Know. I’m not sure . A lot of the details I have forgotten or put behind me. The thing is with my music I’m trying to let it go and just don’t remember things because I don’t want to. I’m a different person now. When I do interviews I don’t want to go on about my past because everybody knows it. I don’t mean that against you. I was just making a point about why I didn’t remember things.
DC: I didn’t take it that way. When I called you I did have a different idea for this interview. I wanted to talk you and classical music and your painting. I figured you must be tired of talking about Renaissance. But we have gone in a different direction.
I read that you used a different technique when working with David Sancious on the last tour.
Annie: Yes, David probably is in the top five session musician on this planet for keyboard and guitar. I was asked to do a benefit last year and it was to much time and money to get a band together for five shows so I asked David. He improvises everything. He doesn’t play a song the same way twice. I really had to have my wits about it. I had to watch him, have eye contact. I didn’t get it together until the third show. It was completely alien to me. I had to face him. On stage I couldn’t stand like I normally do facing the audience. I had to do it side on facing him. It was brilliant once we got the eye contact. We did a couple pieces we wrote together. We didn’t record it for cd. Nothing is going to happen with that.
DC: I did see you a few times and I was at the show at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Do you remember that show?
Annie: Yes. Most of my solo career I didn’t have a proper manager or agent.
DC: Is it hard marketing you?
Annie: Yes, definitely, it’s unique music. It’s not commercial. I’m not that kind of commercial entity. I guess if somebody like a really brilliant manager came said OK, right let do this. Like what they did with Enya. Enya’s music puts me to sleep. I don’t want to be judgmental. I’m making a comment. It’s amazing what they did with her. They’ve made her a huge star. It’s what you can do with money.
DC: I think they put the same album in a different sleeve for soap stores.
Annie: I shouldn’t say that, she has a wonderful voice.
DC: You don’t sing anymore?
Annie: I did the thing with David Sancious I did a guest song on an EP with a band called Magenta from Wales, I worked with Jon Wetton and Jeff Downs last year. I did demo work for a film called Roger in California. I needed to move on from music. I doesn’t give me pleasure anymore. It’s to stressful, the business is different now. I do have something in the back of my mind that I won’t get into now.
DC: You have a CDWoman Transcending coming out soon?
Anne: I felt time is going by so quickly and with the state of the world now, If I get any ideas I just want to go with it. We have to seize the day everyday. I was going to leave this album a few years down the road. One reason is the publishing end of this is so vast to get it all together but I thought, you know I’m going to do it now. So I got all the songs together that I had on cassette and DAT for several years, since the seventies from my solo career that were recorded as just really great demos that never saw the light of day. Songs that never made an album because there were to commercial, like the Bee Gee’s song. There’s a Mike Rutherford song a Carl Perkins song, two Perkins songs. One by Carl and Family and one by his son and daughter. Two country songs! And then I sing with my brother Michael, and a song Reaching Out that was with the Intergalactic Touring Band, that’s the last song on the cd with the London Symphony Orchestra. It’s just gorgeous. There’s also a song I wrote with Steve Howell called Lily’s in the Field that we wrote for a benefit concert I put together in 1995 that for kids of Bosnia.
DC: It’s think this is a good time for it, not in a couple of years.
Annie: That what I felt. Why wait? I’m gad I did it. The art work is a painting I did the Essence of Leonardo de Vinci. It came to me at the end of the day. I had these paints left over and something took me over and I ended up with this painting with this white dragonfly in it. I don’t know where it came from. I had no intention of putting anything in it. I feel a strong connection to him. He was a good man, he was a vegetarian and a singer. They also called him the Renaissance Man.
DC: Would you ever write a book?
Annie:I get asked that a lot. No, I would have to live my past again why do that. I have already made my money from my past. Why go through all that again. I don’t have the time anyway I am busy painting now. I love it with a passion as much as music if not more.
DC: Do you still practice your voice?
Annie:I never did. We practiced as a band before a show or tour. I didn’t have the patience to practice. I’m singing at the Sellersville Theater on January 26th. It’s a show called Wine, Woman & Song. I will be performing with guitarist Bob Miles. I will only sing three songs and it will feature some of my art work. It will be fun. What I will do is put on some cd’s a couple of days before the show and sing along to get my breathing back because I haven’t sung for a while now.
DC: Can I ask some really dumb questions that only a fan can ask?
Annie: Go on.
DC: You recently sold your tambourine on ebay, why?
Annie:I didn’t want it in my house anymore. I don’t need it anymore. I’ve a pair of maracas I might be selling too. The ones I used in Prologue.
DC: What did you think of the Michael Dunford’s cd The Other Woman? Did you know it wouldn’t work?
Annie: I thought the title would doom it. It was that and it said Renaissance. People were expecting to hear me and were disappointed when they didn’t . Many people complained to me about that.
Did you think it was bad?
DC: Yes, the title was bad. I would have listened to it differently if it was called Dunford-Adlington or something.
Do you still have the Annie necklace?
Annie: Yes, I have two now. I had one made for my mum whose name was also Annie. When she passed away I inherited it. They’re rather big and bulky but I guess that’s what the rappers wear now. Look at that, I started a trend.
DC: That should be your new line of jewelry, “Annie Bling“
(Annie laughs at that. It is the great five octave laugh that all Renaissance fans are familiar with.)