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A 21st Century Renaissance

Steve Houk
By Steve Houk
Posted on Oct 08,2009
Filed Under Entertainment , Local Style,

Courtesy photo/Renaissance <br />Michael Dunford and Annie Haslam circa their 70’s heyday with Renaissance.
Courtesy photo/Renaissance
Michael Dunford and Annie Haslam circa their
70’s heyday with Renaissance.

Alexandria, Virginia - The term can strike fear in the minds of true fans of bands whose best days are long since past.

Sometimes, reunion tours work. The bands still have the chops, and the songs take fans back to their youth and remind them of why they followed the band in the first place. It can even rejuvenate faded careers.

But sometimes, it can be a miserably embarrassing last gasp for a group of old musicians who are trying to hang on to glory days that simply can’t be conjured up, no matter how good they used to be. It can even ruin what’s left of a good thing.

For the folk-classical-prog-rock band Renaissance, whose heyday coincided with the 70’s heyday of FM radio, and whose original lineup included members of the famed Yardbirds, this “reunion tour” day of reckoning has arrived.

Two of the band’s earliest members, lead singer Annie Haslam and guitarist/songwriter Michael Dunford, have decided to regroup and take their almost 30 year-old music out on the road for a nine-city tour of theaters, all to try and recapture the magic of the days when “Carpet Of The Sun” and “Northern Lights” were regular staples on the FM dial, and performed on Saturday night episodes of “Midnight Special” (who remembers that age old live music TV gem?).

Courtesy photo/Annie Haslam<br />Renaissance’s Annie Haslam thanks the crowd during her 2005 solo tour with jazz pianist David Sancious.<br />
Courtesy photo/Annie Haslam
Renaissance’s Annie Haslam thanks the
crowd during her 2005 solo tour with jazz
pianist David Sancious.

Deciding to do their shows in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic where legendary FM stations like WHFS in Bethesda, WMMR in Philly and WNEW in New York played them endlessly and helped them make their name, “Renassiance 2009” gets underway at the Rams Head Live in Annapolis on October 6th, and makes a stop at the Birchmere in Del Mar on October 12th.

Can they truly harness the magic of yesteryear with this 40th anniversary revisit? Guitarist Dunford thinks they are off to a very good start. “We’re coming up to the end of the first week of rehearsals and it’s going brilliantly,” Dunford told me this week from a hotel near the band’s rehearsal studio. “I must admit, it’s much better than expected. And judging by what we’re seeing on Facebook and myspace, the word’s really getting around, which is really nice.”

Check out the seventies British rocker and his social networking acumen.

After it’s best successes in the 70’s, Camera Camera was the band's final album to chart in the US, where it reached a paltry #196 in late 1981. There were a few brief Renaissance machinations including an acoustic version of the band in the mid 80’s, a partial reformation in 1998, and a short full band tour in 2001, but there hasn’t really been a real Renaissance out there since then.

So why do this now, when you run the risk of not being able to recapture the right sound and feel and possibly alienating whatever fan base they have left?

“Annie and I have always been in touch, we’ve spoken at various stages about ‘should we get Renassiance together,’’ says Dunford, “and it didn’t seem appropriate. I called Annie about year ago, and said hey look, you know, let’s see what we can do. She said she’d be OK with that, as long as we can get our former management company involved (led by the legendary music impresario John Scher) and they seemed responsive, so they did a bit of research, and said yeah, OK, let’s go for it. I think the timing now is right.”

Haslam and Dunford contacted some players that backed them on their brief 2001 tour in Japan, those guys contacted some players they knew who they thought would fit in nicely with the current lineup, and “Renaissance 2009” was born. According to Dunford, “it’s just going great.”

And what are they really trying to accomplish with this tour?

“What we’re trying to do is simply play some of the most popular songs that we did,” Dunford continues. “Hopefully the audiences are out there, and they like what we’re doing. It’ll obviously be a slightly different interpretation because there are some different players, but we’ll mostly be sticking to the original arrangements. And hopefully, the fans of the band will flock to see us.”

For a band trying to see if the ashes of a career from way back in the day are still burning, Renaissance has to be given credit for being gutsy enough to give it a shot.

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