Renaissance is a very appropriate name for the band in a couple of ways, not only as far as the PR-type blurb about the 'rebirth of the feeling that was classical music' is concerned, but also in the way this band has been reincarnated almost totally.
The name originates with Keith Relf and Jim McCarty, it says here in our trusty copy of the NME Encyclopedia of Rock, and I remember the first (Island) album the band produced. I also just about recall their second album, for Sovereign, Prologue, made in 1972, by which time everyone originally in the band (including ace keyboardist John Hawken) had vanished, to be replaced by the present lineup.
The concert itself contained songs from as far back as the third album, Ashes Are Burning, namely the beautiful Carpet of the Sun, and a fair number of tracks from the current LP, A Song For All Seasons (I just wish they could have thought up a more imaginative title: cliches don't suit them), including the inevitable current hit, Northern Lights. Not that I dislike the track or anything, just that it was, of course, unlikely to be missed out of the set. Northern Lights, is, incidentally, one of the few records about which you can say that it would have sold (and got higher in the charts, therefore) had it been pressed properly. Usually, I'm sure, it's the song that sells, however bad the recording or pressing. But with a track like Northern Lights (all long notes and sustained thingummies) the appalling wow caused by every last single being eccentric, including all broadcasting copies, must have put thousands of people off the record. Do musicians realise how their work can be totally ruined by people who can't aim straight at the factory? The only time I ever heard Northern Lights in its true wondrousness was — horror of horrors — on Top Of The Pops. And, of course, at the gig.
Highlight of the concert, for me, was Annie Haslam's voice; she consistently made my hair stand on end with perfect pitching on ridiculous notes. The rest of the band were great too; particularly Michael Dunford's 12-string guitar work (although it seemed to underlie every other number, and made things a little samey at times) and John Tout's keyboard expertise, characterised by excellent technique and good dynamics. Good use of string synth, ARP Soloist and piano there. Then there were Jon Camp's bass lines, particularly the tasty bit in Northern Lights but unfortunately they tended to be lost in the sound.
The PA in general was pretty good; we were badly placed, off in front of the left stack (which makes it a bit hard to think about the sound: I prefer to buy tickets just in front of the mixer, meself!), but I found the overall level rather too high. Fairfield Halls is acoustically good, so I expect this was the case throughout the auditorium - which was a pity; there was also too much high top, adding excessive sibilance, but this may well have been due to having the tweeters firing directly at us from the left PA. The only aspect of the sound that did rather annoy me was the apparent lack of bass: the aforementioned bass lines in Lights seemed to be coming from the stage monitors and the bass amp rather than from yer'actual PA; a further pity, that. And, of course, you couldn't always pick out the vocals; but that's not a PA problem, it's just a physical impossibility almost anywhere unless you're an acoustic guitarist playing solo and singing words of less than two syllables, which was definitely not the case here. Poet Betty Thatcher (no relation?) writes the lyrics, and they are singularly amazing (although occasionally a bit too much, methinks), and as such they're difficult to get across through a sound system. Programmes with a lyric sheet, perhaps?
A substantially full house gave the band much deserved applause, and got a couple of encores, again deserved. Then they ruined it by going out with the best-known bit of Carmina Burana, which with an attack of TV-commercial overexposure is too much of a cliche. It should have been left Orff. And with that grotty pun, thank you and good night. A good gig.
Sound Reports & Views
Music Review by Richard Elen
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