Picture sleeve for the Renaissance single "Prologue".
Renaissance was formed in January 1969 by former Yardbirds members Keith Relf (vocals, guitar, harmonica) and Jim McCarty (drums, vocals) as a new group devoted to experimentation between rock, folk and classical forms. To round out the lineup, they recruited Louis Cennamo (bass guitar), John Hawken (piano), and Relf’s sister Jane as an additional vocalist. The band began touring in May 1969, before recording for their first album had begun, and released their debut album, “Renaissance”, later that year on Island Records (former Yardbird bassist Paul Samwell-Smith produced the album). While the second album was being recorded, the original lineup split up; Jim McCarty was the first to leave the band, quitting just before a European tour because he hated to fly. Keith Relf and Louis Cennamo were next, leaving to form Armageddon. Hawken kept the band going by recruiting members of his former band, The Nashville Teens (guitarist Michael Dunford, bassist Neil Korner, singer Terry Crowe, and drummer Terry Slade). This lineup recorded one track (“Mr. Pine”) and played a few concerts in 1970; a final recording session reunited the original lineup minus Hawken, with Don Shin sitting in on keyboards. The resulting album, “Illusions” (1971), was released only in Germany initially (it was released in the U.K. in 1976). In the fall of 1970, Jane Relf left the band and was replaced by American folksinger Mary Louise “Binky” Collum. John Hawken, the last remaining member of the original lineup, also left and was replaced by John Tout.
At the time, the plan was for former members Relf and McCarty to continue work with the band as non-performing members (Relf as a producer and McCarty as a songwriter). Both were present when singer Annie Haslam auditioned for the band; she would replace the departing Collum. McCarty would write several songs for the band but Relf’s involvement would be short-lived. In the meantime, new manager Miles Copeland decided to reorganize the band by focusing on its strengths, which he saw as Haslam’s voice and John Tout’s piano. Michael Dunford was recruited once again, although he was replaced in short order by Mick Parsons, who died shortly thereafter in a car accident; he in turn was replaced by Rob Hendry. This lineup was eventually rounded out by bassist Jon Camp (who joined after a succession of bass players whose tenure was short-lived) and drummer Terence Sullivan. This lineup recorded the album “Prologue” (1972), which contained the single “Prologue” b/w “Share Some Love”. This is today’s featured single.
The A-side of this single, “Prologue”, demonstrates that while Renaissance’s transition from a folk rock band to a progressive rock outfit was well underway, the transition was well underway. It also demonstrates that Copeland’s perception that Haslam’s vocals and Tout’s piano playing were the band’s main strengths was essentially correct, as they are the most distinctive features of this track. The track starts out with a piano intro, soon accompanied by Haslam’s falsetto vocals. The song has no lyrics, but it is not really an instrumental track. And it may not be what you would expect from a rock band, but in 1972, when progressive rock was starting to spread its wings, with bands like Yes, Genesis and Focus finding receptive audiences, the time had come for a band like Renaissance. And while they did not reach the lofty heights of those bands, Renaissance did have a sizeable following.
The B-side of this single, “Spare Some Love”, is an acoustic ballad reminiscent of the material from the Relf-McCarty era of the band. Hendry’s acoustic guitar opens the track, followed in short order by Haslam’s vocals: “Shadows, darkness follow quiet/Shadows, you walk besides a shadow/Strangers, people passing by/Strangers, you walk beside a stranger”. The first half of the song sounds more like a soft rock track that a band like Bread would perform, but in the second half of the song, the song starts to sound more like a prog rock tune, with a funky bass line that sounds like it could have been lifted from Yes, some nice drum rolls courtesy of Sullivan, and, of course Tout’s piano, which is conspicuously absent in the first half of the track. We also hear some great a cappella singing by Haslam, before the last verse of the song, which concludes with Sullivan’s drumming, unaccompanied by other instruments, and a fade out. “Spare Some Love” is a worthy addition to the Renaissance catalog.
This single (catalog #: 3487) was released in the U.S. on Capitol Records in 1972, the American division of Sovereign-EMI (the band’s label in the U.K.). A picture sleeve was issued with this single (shown above). Hendry left the band shortly after the album was released, and was replaced by Peter Finberg for the subsequent tour, and on a more permanent basis by Michael Dunford. This lineup would remain intact for the next six years, starting with the next album, “Ashes Are Burning” (1973). This became their first album to chart in the U.S., peaking at #171 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. They left Sovereign-EMI for BTM in 1974 (with Sire as their U.S. distributor), and released “Turn of the Cards” (1974), an album with more lush, orchestral sounds. The band was starting to gain momentum in the U.S., their next album “Scheherazade and Other Stories” (1975), peaked at #48 in the U.S. “Live at Carnegie Hall” (1976), their first live album, contained highlights from the previous four albums; “Novella” (1977) came next, its release delayed in the U.K. by the bankruptcy of their label, BTM. “A Song for All Seasons” was released the following year, this album contained “Northern Lights”, which was a Top Ten hit in the U.K. With the unionization of professional orchestra musicians that followed, it was no longer possible for the band to continue with its orchestral sound, and for the next album, “Azure d’Or” (1979), they reinvented themselves as a synthesizer-based band, which did not go over well with their fan base; the album only reached #125 in the U.S. Shortly after the tour supporting this album, John Tout left the band, as did Terrence Sullivan shortly thereafter. Subsequent albums “Camera Camera” (1981) and “Time-Line” (1983) did not garner much commercial success, with “Candid Camera” their last album that charted in the U.S. (#197). In 1985, Camp left, and Dunford and Haslam fronted an acoustic version of the band before deciding to call it quits in 1987. In the mid 1990s, both Dunford and Haslam formed bands called Renaissance with different lineups and released albums under the Renaissance name. Renaissance reformed in 1998 with four of the five members from the “classic” era (1973-79): Dunford, Haslam, Sullivan and Tout. They also recruited musicians such as Roy Wood and Mickey Simmonds to help record the album “Tuscany” (2001). A supporting tour soon followed, but the band soon became inactive. Haslam and Dunford reformed the band to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the band (the newly reformed band was called Renaissance 2009. Haslam and Dunford were the only returning members from the 1970s incarnation of the band, although several members returned from the 2001 lineup. A tour of eastern North America and Japan and the release of a three song EP followed in 2010.