Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Blast from the Past

I saw some friends from my college days tonight.

The band Renaissance came to Buffalo on the third stop of its current tour. The picture here is of the group taking a bow at that show. My camera-phone wasn't up to the task of getting this good of a picture, so it was nice to see this one posted on Facebook.

Renaissance has a rather odd history that does indeed go back to the 1970's, when my hair was all the same color and I first became a fan. The English band was an interesting combination of rock, classical music and progressive rock -- somewhere along the lines of the Moody Blues crossed with Yes, although a friend at the show thought Pink Floyd sort of floated in there at times too. The band is mostly known for lead singer Annie Haslam, who in turn is mostly known for her five-octave range. Based on tonight, she can still hit all of the notes.

Renaissance was something of a cult band in the 1970's. I think its live album from Carnegie Hall of picked as the album of the year by a New York radio station in 1977, a year after its release. Wikipedia says the high cost of musicians shortly after that cost the band its orchestral sound; I'd also guess that the rise of the punk movement wasn't good for its bottom line either. In any event, the band more or less fell apart only to re-form somewhat and go through a variety of lineups every so often for the past 30 years or so. Haslam also has done some solo work; one of her songs will be on my annual holiday mix CD in December, which should do wonders for sales (hers, not mine).

We'll have to see how this latest incarnation works. Haslam and fellow original member Michael Dunford are giving it a shot with four new faces, and the band sounds as good as ever. Come to think of it, the sound was much better than the first time I heard the music played tonight -- which was on eight-track. I also have to say that it's fun to have followed their path to Buffalo this week on Facebook; a keyboard player posted updates on how the drive here was going.

The obvious problem for a band like this is trying to get heard. No conventional radio station would play the music today, sadly. It's not like SiriusXM would play more than the odd song or two once a month either. How do you get past that glass ceiling? Renaissance is trying, through social media, e-mail and good old-fashioned mailing lists at shows.

But despite those obstacles, fans can still enjoy good music performed live if they are lucky enough to catch the band on tour. As I listened, I thought back to the friends in college who opened my eyes, and ears, up to groups like this. For a moment, it was like being back in a dorm. It was fun to get exposed to new music back in the Seventies; there's less opportunity for that right now, it seems.

And it is nice to think that acts are still more or less performing now, just like they did 35 years ago. Back then, I always thought of bands as rather disposable. They came together for a while and then fell apart for one reason or another; the Rolling Stones and the Who come to mind as rare exceptions. I never would have guessed that some bands would still be at it this far down the road.

Good luck, Renaissance, on your latest journey, and thanks for stopping by.

1 comment:

Bruce Garfield said...

Thank you for this wonderful piece of journalism.

We need more like you! Please contact me.

Bruce Garfield

Manager of Renaissance