For many people the early days of the British progressive rock band Renaissance are rather obscure. Therefore a lesson in the band's history may be desirable for people watching their latest DVD Kings And Queens. On this release the line-ups of the early days are performing, but let me give you first some historical facts before focusing on the DVD. Early 1969, former Yardbirds-members Keith Relf and Jim McCarty got a new band together that played a blend of rock, folk and classical music. The line-up included Relf (guitar, vocals), McCarty (drums), Louis Cennamo (bass), John Hawken (piano) and Relf's sister Jane Relf (additional vocals). Their first eponymous release was produced by ex-Yardbird bassist Paul Samwell-Smith.
In the spring of 1970 the original line-up gradually disbanded. Relf and McCarty decided to quit performing with the band in order to write only music. Cennamo joined Colosseum and Hawken organized a new line-up to fulfill contractual obligations and to complete the band's second album Illusion that was left unfinished. Apart from Jane Relf, the new band consisted of guitarist Michael Dunford and singer Terry Crowe - both former members of Hawken's previous band The Nashville Teens - supplemented with bassist Neil Korner and drummer Terry Slade. This line-up recorded only one track: Mr. Pine. Meanwhile a final recording session brought the original line-up minus Hawken together. This time Don Shin played the keyboards and produced the album's closing track Past Orbits Of Dust. The album Illusion was first released in Germany in 1971, but it was not released in Britain until 1976. The last two remaining original members left in the autumn of 1970. Jane Relf was replaced by the American folk singer Marie-Louise'Binky' Cullom. The next musician who left was John Hawken; he was replaced by pianist John Tout. This line-up performed five songs for a Belgian TV-program that we'll discuss later on, because these songs are all included on Kings And Queens. Relf and McCarty were present when singer Annie Haslam successfully auditioned in January 1971 to replace Cullom. The rest is well-known history for people who followed the band during their successful periods in the seventies and eighties.
This short summary brings us to the footage of this release. You can enjoy two different line-ups of Renaissance. The first two songs, Kings And Queens and Island, played by the original line up and both taken from their eponymous debut album, hail from the German TV-program Beat Club shot in 1969. The images we see during this twelve-minute film are rare, because these are the only known performances recorded by the original line-up. You'll see a typical sixties band with a female lead singer who hasn't got the looks of becoming a rock star. Dressed in an orange dress Jane Relf looks very common and besides she has no stage presentation at all. However, her voice sounds pretty strong. After the release of Illusion Jane Relf left Renaissance, but curiously she returned later on in the music scene with the band Illusion that included several members of the first Renaissance line-up. Illusion recorded two albums: Out Of The Mist (1977) and Illusion (1978).
The second part of the DVD includes the above-mentioned Belgian TV-footage which is even rarer, although many people thought this 26-minute long film was lost. When you watch the whole film you realize that it forms the link between the initial line-up of Renaissance and the more successful line-up with Annie Haslam. This film also includes John Tout and Michael Dunford who were partly responsible for the band's achievements later on. None of the original members were present when the band recorded this TV-special in a Belgian studio. John Tout played the keyboards very well and you can already recognize his well-known style of playing that we could enjoy on the band's next album releases. Furthermore we see Michael Dunford play the guitar, the vocalists Terry Crowe and Binky Cullom, bassist Neil Korner and drummer Terry Slade. Together they perform not only Kings And Queens from the first Renaissance-album, but also Golden Threads, Mr. Pine and Face Of Yesterday from the second album Illusion that all s ound very well. The interaction between the female and male vocalists works perfect. However, the most enjoyable piece is the never officially recorded song Widdicombe Fair, a rearranged traditional. Other sources name it Tom Pierce. It's a song with a lot of blues and folk elements. During some of the performed songs we see the band outdoors walking in a field. A small interview in-between the songs, has been included as well.
Hopefully more Renaissance DVD's will be released in the near future containing great historical footage. I hope it will be footage of the band's most popular period in the seventies. It might include the recordings that were made for the Sight And Sound Concert, the Midnight Special or the Don Kirchner's Rock Concert. I guess those concerts will please many Renaissance-fans just as this release does!
*** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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