Gary James' Interview With Annie Haslam Of
They were the first British band to sell out, not one, not two, but three, count 'em three consecutive nights at Carnegie Hal! With a lead singer that has a five octave vocal range, it's no wonder that audiences would turn out to see the band. We are speaking of course about Renaissance, a band that will be touring the U.K. and Europe in April, 2015. Their lead singer, Annie Haslam, has just released her classic performance video on DVD of a live studio concert she did in Philadelphia in 1997 for the Prism TV Network. Annie's new DVD has been released on her own label, White Dove Records. Annie Haslam spoke with us about all things Renaissance and so much more!
Q - Annie, of all the places you could live in the world, you chose Central Bucks County in Pennsylvania. Why?
A - I got married to a man from North Wales, Pennsylvania, not North Wales in the U.K. (laughs) And that's where he lived. That's how I got used to the area. Then when we split up, I just didn't want to go back to England. There was no way in a million years I was going back and live in England. I was always meant to be here (the United States). So, I just wanted to stay in the area and that's what I did. I love it here. It's quite English. Parts of the countryside look English. There are quite a few people from England that live in the area.
Q - I actually saw you and Renaissance in concert at The Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, New York back in 1978.
A - I remember the name.
Q - I can't remember any of the songs you did, but I remember you wearing a Renaissance type dress.
A - Yeah. (laughs)
Q - Renaissance enjoyed quite a following in the Northeastern part of the United States, especially New York and Pennsylvania. Why do you suppose that is?
A - Because that's where we were focused on. That's where all the tours were, which in a way was a good thing, but bad in other ways because we didn't get to tour the rest of the world and the rest of America because we did concentrate too much on the East Coast.
Q - Did you have the wrong agent?
A - No. I just think because we were so popular they just wanted us to keep coming back. Within four years of me joining the band, we were playing a Carnegie Hall. It was really a fast rise. Because the demand was there we kept coming back and doing bigger places. We did Canada as well. We didn't spend enough time in the mid-West and California and the South. We did well in England. We had a hit single with Northern Lights. We got very big in Germany. There are other places we could've gone like Scandinavia and Australia. Places like that. But that's why. We were bigger in New York than anywhere else, then all of a sudden it switches to Philadelphia as being the biggest city for us in the '70s.
Q - I didn't realize Renaissance was the first British band to sell out three consecutive nights at Carnegie Hall. That's quite an accomplishment, isn't it?
A - It was. Weren't we the first Rock band to play there?
Q - I know The Beatles played there in 1964.
A - Oh, okay.
Q - Technically speaking I guess you could say The Beatles were a Rock 'n' Roll act.
A - Yeah. Well, people call us a Prog. (Progressive) band. If you look up all these Prog. charts and who's the best singer, very rarely do you see anything about Renaissance. I really don't think we were considered as a Prog. band. We called ourselves a Classical Rock band. Now, other people call it a Symphonic band, which fits very well. It fits the music very well I think. There's still nobody doing anything like it. We didn't have a lead guitar. Prog. Bands usually have screaming guitars in there and we didn't. We never had that. It was twelve string acoustic guitars that were the main instrument and acoustic piano and my voice. So we were quite unique and we still are of course. That was never changed. Except the band we have now we have the technical advances which we didn't have in the 1970s. Jason Hart gets to sound like an orchestra with one piano and a CSAT and me singing the flute parts. That's how that started with me doing my vocalese because there were so many things missing. I needed to use my voice and that's how it started off with me doing the vocalese parts.
Q - When you were growing up, did you ever see any of The British Invasion groups walking down the street? Did you ever see The Beatles or The Stones? I don't even know what part of England you're from.
A - Well, I'm from Lancashire. I'm from Bolton in Lancashire. My brother was the singer in the family. His voice was a cross between Elvis and Roy Orbison. I didn't know what I wanted to do for awhile except being a dress designer. He was "discovered" by a housewife in Lancashire in the pub singing and wrote to a guy in England called Godfrey Wynn who had a column in the newspaper where you could write in and ask questions or inform them about different things. She wrote in about Michael (Haslam, Annie Haslam's brother) and on the strength of that letter, he went to his friend Brian Epstein.
Q - Oh, boy.
A - Yeah. And they went up to see him in Bolton at the pub and signed him up. George Martin produced him. Burt Bacharach wrote a song for him. He was a ballad singer. His voice was phenomenal. Huge voice. I don't know how long he was with him, maybe one or two years. Brian was building this stable of artists, more than he could chew really. The Beatles of course were getting ginormous and Brian couldn't deal with everything. So, Michael was one of the few people he let go because he just couldn't deal with everything. He couldn't deal with all the artists. It broke my brother's heart. Robert Stigwood approached my brother when he found out and said, "Michael, I'd like to manage you." And Michael said, "No. I'm just going to go back up North." You know who Robert Stigwood is, don't you?
Q - Sure. The Bee Gees. RSO Records.
A - Yeah. He wanted my brother Michael and Michael turned him down. That would've changed his life. He didn't have people around him to support him and say, "Michael, you ought to talk about it." Times were different then. But anyway, he went back North to where he'd been and carried on doing clubs and things like that.
Q - Did you ever meet anyone in Brian Epstein's stable of groups?
A - I actually did. Michael was on a tour with The Beatles. He did the Christmas shows with them and I think there were maybe four or five of those. He was on that bill. He did some other shows with them. They came to Plymouth and we'd already moved from Lancashire to Cornwall for my mother's health. So, we went over the border into Devon to see the concert. We met Michael at the stage door and he came out and said; there was me, my mum and dad, and said, "Why don't you come in. The Beatles are just doing a sound check and then I'll introduce you." I said, "Oh, no. I can't go in. I'm too nervous." So my mum went in and dad stayed outside with me. (laughs)
Q - Too nervous? Annie, that was an opportunity of a lifetime!
A - Well, I got another opportunity, but it wasn't to do with him, which was years later when I was living with Roy Wood, with The Move and ELO. I was engaged to Roy. I was with Roy for about four years. We went to Trader Vic's in Park Lane for dinner. The table wasn't ready so they put us in the bar. In the bar was Ringo Starr and Harry Nilsson. So we sat down with them and had a few drinks. So, that was very interesting, meeting Ringo that way, and Harry Nilsson, what a nice guy. I love that song "Without You".
Q - What did your mother say after meeting The Beatles?
A - She said, "They're very nice boys!" (laughs)
Q - How old were you at that time?
A - I was like seventeen, eighteen.
Q - Your friends would have loved to have had that chance to meet The Beatles!
A - Absolutely. I did my solo album, "Annie In Wonderland" with Roy producing it in 1977. One of the things we recorded was "If I Loved You". My father was an amateur comedian singer as well. He had a magnificent voice. He's another one. He had an unusual voice, but Michael's voice was unique as well. Mine's got a different tone. My father was the same. If he had had somebody to say, "Gosh George." He was a tenor. I heard him when I was a little girl. I didn't realize until I was older how different it was. If he had had the encouragement of someone else, but he was just a dad up North doing a day job. He didn't have my aspirations of doing anything else. He was a dad, a family man. Anyway, we recorded "If I Loved You". It sounded amazing because Roy did all the orchestrations. It's so gorgeous. Anyway, we were playing it back. I had just finished my vocal and Paul McCartney, Linda (McCartney) and Denny Laine were in Studio One and they were mixing "Wings At The Speed Of Sound" in the big studio. So anyway, I just finished my vocal and sat down in the control room. We played it back. After it played back, Paul McCartney walked in and said, "That voice, who is that voice?" I said, "It's mine." (laughs) And he said, "Your voice just sent shivers down my spine."
Q - What a compliment!
A - Yeah. He said, "It was so beautiful."
Q - So, we know you met Paul and Ringo. Did you meet John Lennon>
A - No. I didn't meet John and I didn't meet George. And Paul stayed in the studio for about a half an hour. Everything halted. He was talking about all kinds of things. I brought up my brother Michael. "Do you remember Michael Haslam?" He was very nice. Gosh, he's definitely got charisma. An interesting man. So that was very exciting to do that. The first time I got up to sing in front of an audience was in Toronto in a place called The Brunswick Tavern. I was on holiday with my mum and dad. I'd been singing in talent competitions, but not seriously. I'd be singing along to Joan Baez. I'd drunk a couple of larger lagers which everybody drank there at that time for whatever reason. I got a bit tiddley. My mum and dad said, "Why don't you get up and sing?" They gave me a big piece of cardboard and the song was "Those Were The Days", Mary Hopkin, produced by Tony Visconti. So, in 1989 when I got my deal with Epic Records they wanted me to find an artist that I admired and see if we could get a song written for me. I decided I wanted to contact Justin Hayward and so I did that by calling Tony Visconti in London. He was very friendly. I met him later on at a Moody Blues concert in New York and he got Justin and I together. That's when I did "The Angels Cry", which is on my self-titled "Annie Haslam" album on Epic Records. Then after that, in 1990 my ex-husband and I decided to do an album, a solo album. We contacted several people and one of the people I contacted was Tony Visconti. I said, "Tony, I'm going to be recording an album. Would you be interested in producing it?" He wrote back immediately and said, "Yeah. Can I co-write some of the songs with you?" The funny thing is, Tony Visconti was married to Mary Hopkin and that was the first song I sang in public, that he produced. It's interesting. A lot of things by synchronicity, isn't it?
Q - You have a five octave range. You're the kind of singer some of these talent shows today are looking for. I'm talking American Idol and The Voice. Had those shows been around when you were beginning in the business, would it have made for an easier ascent for you in the music business?
A - I wouldn't have done anything like that. I did go for a couple of talent competitions and kept winning them. It's an interesting question. I do watch The Voice, not religiously. If I was given that to do now, I couldn't do that. I'm not going to go in front of an audience and do all that stuff. I'm not that kind of a singer anyway. It wouldn't work for me. It's all geared towards the Pop music, record sales rather than nurturing a band from the start like we used to do in the '70s. They'd sign a band up and then they'd nurture you. They'd put money into you.
Q - That's exactly what's missing today. In order to become a singer you almost have to do a show like American Idol.
A - Well, yeah. I know. But the only thing they do is copy their favorite artist. So they sound like everybody else. The worst for sounding the same is the Country singers. I like Country music. It's not my favorite. I wouldn't buy any of it. It's okay. It hasn't got the melodies that I like, the unusual melodies. I like eclectic things and I like eclectic music. I like different things that really make you think rather than all the same things all the time, every song. Love and sadness and losing people. It's all the same thing. The voices are all the same in Country music. Very rarely do I hear a voice and go, "Oh, that's so-and-so." I can't tell who's who.
Q - In the old days you could. You could tell if a a song came on the radio by Johnny Cash.
A - Yeah, or Patsy Cline. Absolutely. And Dolly Parton. I love Dolly Parton. I did a painting for Dolly Parton. She has it hanging in her office in California I think. I met her because a friend of mine was working for her. You know, I'm a painter as well. I know it's Dolly immediately. The others I don't get. This sounds awful, but they always have to have a sad, sob story. It's to get people to watch. It's all about to get ratings, which is kind of sad. You've got to have a real good sob story to get on there also. You just don't get on there and somebody wants to be a singer. You're an orphan. It's very sad that they use that. Same as a lot of people. It's ratings isn't it? All these reality shows, which is what television is all about. It's crazy.
Q - You didn't necessarily want to be singer. You wanted to be more like Mary Quant.
A - Yes. In fact, I had the haircut at one point as well. When I was a little, little girl I wanted to be a ballet dancer. I was about five then. Then after that I wanted to be a nurse. My mother was a nurse actually when she was younger. That didn't last long. (laughs) As I got older I liked art but my mum and dad could see that I was gifted at drawing. They were brilliant. They really encouraged me. You know, we were a working class family and didn't have much money at all. My dad worked for every penny and there wasn't much left over for holidays and things like that. Very rarely. They sent me, when I was about ten years old, for elocution lessons to learn how to speak correctly because I had a very broad Lancashire accent, which we all did in Lancashire. (laughs) Why did they do that? They must've known something to do that because they really didn't have the money. They sent me and I really didn't want to go. Also, they encouraged me to go to a Secondary Modern Art School in Bolton instead of me going out to work. They could see that I had talent so they encouraged me to go there. Then we moved to Cornwall for my mother's health and same thing down there. They encouraged me to go to another art school
Q - Why did you answer this ad in Melody Maker for a singer for Renaissance?
A - Well, up until that point I'd been working at The Strand, which is a cabaret group. I was in a group called The Gentle People. We played while people were eating dinner. Then they had this variety show on afterwards with all kinds of acts. It was fabulous. Actually great memories. After that we'd play while people danced. We did that for about six months. That was my first professional singing job. I loved it, but the guitarist in the band said, "Annie, you're wasted here. Your voice is special. I saw this ad in Melody Maker. I really think you should go for this. It was 'Girl Singer Wanted For Internationally Known Pop Group'." So, I called up and it was Renaissance. I found out they had an album out and I bought it the album, the one with "Kings And Queens" on it. I learned it back to front. I went down to Weybridge in Surrey to a church hall I think it was for an audition on New Year's Eve, 1970. John Tout was there. Michael Dunford was there. Keith Relf and Jim McCarty were there from The Yardbirds. They're the ones who started Renaissance. They wanted to be at the auditions. They were still involved a little bit. I sang "Island". That's the one I chose. Well, that's the one they asked me to sing. That was my favorite. I sang it note for note, perfect. I knew it so well and I loved it, which made it easier for me to sing. They called me the next day and I got the job. And we were in Germany within three weeks, touring. Very first actually. The thing with me is when anything happens in my life that's really good, it happens very quickly, which is good. It only took us four years to get to Carnegie Hall. That's amazing!
Q - And how do you get to Carnegie Hall?
A - Practice. Practice. Practice. Then we did the Albert Hall in '78 with a choir as well. Unbelievable. Then I did my solo album with the Royal Harmonic Orchestra. God, I'll never forget that as long as I live.
Q - You have a new distribution deal with Red River Entertainment that allows your music to be heard world-wide.
A - Yes.
Q - Does that mean your former record company didn't release your records world-wide?
A - Well, no. This is the first album we've done in thirteen years. The old record labels, most of them don't exist any more. They've signed up with each other and combined with other labels. We're a Heritage band now. We resurrected the band with a new touring band, Michael Dunford and I, in 2009. Fantastic musicians. Some of them from my own solo band. I had a solo band from '87 'til 2003. John Scher was managing us the first year. It was very difficult for him 'cause he's a promoter, a well-known promoter. He couldn't get any agency to take us on. Nobody was interested. So he booked that first tour for us on his own. That was the catalyst that started it all off again. Then we looked to try and get a deal and nobody was interested. Nobody at all. We didn't have the money ourselves and that's when we decided to do a Kick Starter campaign. It was very successful and we raised the money to record a new album. It was called "Grandine il Vento" and we recorded it over here in Rave Tesur's studio. We put it out ourselves on Amazon and then in the meantime we tried to get a distribution deal which we got with Red River as you know. They took us on, which afforded us to be heard more widely than what we could do ourselves. In order for them to take us on they wanted new packaging, three bonus tracks and new artwork and a new title. That's when we called it "Symphony Of Light", which is the first track on the album which is about Leonardo Da Vinci. Then Rave and I wrote a song about Michael (Dunford) dedicated to Michael and we called it "Renaissance Man". We ended the album with that. So it starts off with the "Renaissance Man", Leonardo Da Vinci and ends with the "Renaissance Man", Michael Dunford.
Q - You call yourself "an intuitive visionary painter." You say, "I channel other dimensions, places of existence, deep into space. I can turn into people, animals, situations, places, tangible and intangible, all from a simple thought and intention." What does that mean? What are you saying? Are you a medium? Are you clairvoyant?
A - I'm not a medium, no. I don't see into the future or anything, but I can turn into people. There's a thing called synthesis where people can smell color and see sounds. See music. The opposite of what you might think it is. A professor wrote to me on Facebook and said what I have is a kind of that. But, what I'm able to do is turn into the earth basically. With pets, I do pet portraits. I just get a picture of the pet and I just turn into them. Everybody says, "Oh, my God! You've got the spirit of the animal!"