When Keith Relf and Jim McCarty left The Yardbirds in 1968, they added Keith’s sister Jane, bassist Louis Cennamo and ace pianist John Hawken from The Nashville Teens.
The first result of their endeavours was their self-titled 1969 album, containing five psychy songs punctuated with lengthy classical passages. On paper, it sounds like a nightmare, but tracks like Innocence and Wanderer have a definite first-time freshness.
Subsequently, there was a period of high turnover of musicians until the “classic” line-up of Annie Haslam, John Tout, Michael Dunford, Jon Camp, and Terry Sullivan was established.
The first album from this lineup, Prologue (1972), was considerably more ambitious than the original band’s work, with extended instrumental passages and soaring vocals by Haslam, who had operatic training and a three-octave range.
Their breakthrough came with their next record, Ashes Are Burning (1973), which introduced guitarist Michael Dunford to the lineup. Their next record, Turn of the Cards, had a more ornate songwriting style and was awash in lyrics that alternated between the topical and the mystical.
Scheherazade (1975) was built around a 20-minute extended suite for band and orchestra that dazzled their fans but made no new converts, and the band’s next two albums – Novella and A Song for All Seasons – also failed to find new listeners.
As the 1970s drew to a close, Renaissance ran headlong into the punk and new wave booms that made them seem increasingly anachronistic and doomed to cult status. Their ’80s albums were released with very little fanfare and the group eventually split up amid reported personality conflicts between members.
In 1995, both Haslam and Dunford made attempts to revive the Renaissance name in different incarnations, and Jane Relf and the other surviving members of the original band were reportedly planning to launch their own Renaissance revival.
In March 2001, a full band tour was organised with a line-up of Haslam, Dunford, Sullivan, Simmonds, Rave Tesar (keyboards) and David J. Keyes (bass), who played one London concert and three dates in Japan – but the band’s short third incarnation was soon over.
Michael Dunford died on 20 November 2012 from a cerebral haemorrhage at his home in Surrey, England. John Tout died of lung failure on 1 May 2015 at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, London.