Saturday, 10th April 2015
Cultuurpodium Boerderij, Zoetermeer, the Netherlands
Somewhere in my home I keep an interview with John Lees of Barclay James Harvest from a Dutch music magazine from 1975,
one of my first encounters with that band that would turn out to be my all-time favourite.
On the backside of that interview there’s a raving review of the concert that had taken place somewhere
in Amsterdam by a band I had never heard of by that time: Renaissance.
Because of that review I became interested in their music.
Somehow I got hold of a copy of Live at the Carnegie Hall from 1974 and it instantly blew me away,
the beauty of the music, the intricate arrangements with the orchestra, the incredible length of the songs,
the bass solo in Ashes are burning, the unbelievable lovely voice, it was all wonderful.
Oh, I wished I had been there! And I still think that this is one of the best live albums ever made.
Since that time there was always the longing to attend a Renaissance gig.
There are easier ambitions to fulfil because the band managed to stay away from The Netherlands for .. 40 years!
While I could understand that in the 80-ties and 90-ties in which their sparse albums were quite dreadful,
they could have paid us a visit during the Tuscany tour or, earlier, when touring the Song for all seasons album.
It was not to be. With the tragic sudden death of co-founder Michael Dunford in 2012 the chances of
ever seeing them live became even more slim.
Yet it happened, and we owed that to Arie Verstegen who succeeded to invite Renaissance for a one-off gig in his splendid venue,
De Boerderij in Zoetermeer.
The weather was extremely mild, the expectations high, so everything was there to make it an unforgettable evening.
But when you have waited for so many years for a special gig to happen, there is that uneasy feeling,
that uncertainty if it will be as good as you hope. Well, it was even better than expected.
Exactly on time the band took the stage in the fully packed De Boerderij (almost sold out I think,
with many middle aged people and beyond..) and started off with a revised version of Prologue.
A thunderous applause welcomed Annie Haslam to the stage,
the only remaining member of the second and most successful version of Renaissance.
She took the microphone, was annoyed by the far too bright light in her face and started to sing …flawlessly,
clear on tone, strong and with an ease as if she was thirty again (she’s slightly older…).
What an incredible good voice she still has, how good she can still reach those many high notes.
And high they are, in classic songs like Mother Russia, Ashes are burning and Carpet of the sun but also in the new ones
Grandine il vento, Symphony of light and Mystic and the muse, all taken from their latest rendition Symphony of light.
It took her by surprise that the audience was so receptive and so enthusiastic,
paying tribute to these legendary songs by being really silent during the songs and applauding fiercely after each one.
Apparently she had had some doubts… And the enthusiasm was not just for the old ones but also for the
three new ones which hopefully is another stimulus for this version of the band to continue recording new music.
Of course Renaissance is not only Annie Haslam, irrespective of how important she is now with Dunford gone.
Rave Tesar, playing keyboards (with a tie) on the left side of the stage, is now the musical leader,
conducting the live band when necessary through songs with difficult time signatures like The mystic and the muse.
He’s fully focussed on his instruments during the show, hardly reacting to the audience but taking the band to high levels.
The rest of the band played as well as Haslam sang: Mark Lambert on acoustic guitar and vocals
(it’s a hard job to replace Dunford but he did an excellent job), Frank Pagano on drums,
Tom Brislin (of Yes-fame) on keyboards and Leo Traversa on bass.
They are a bunch of very talented musicians who know that it’s all about the music and not about a spectacular,
multi-media performance. And that music was magical, intricate, classical, bombastic, just superb.
If there has to be any criticism then it should be that the setlist was a bit short, lasting for 1 hour and 50 minutes.
Of course many classic favourites like Scheherezade, Can you understand or Song for all seasons could therefore not be played.
But taking into account that all songs that were performed, were played extremely well made this gig not just another gig but an EVENT.
40 years absence in The Netherlands was a far too long and therefore embarrassing
long wait but this historical evening marked a triumphant return we’ll not forget soon!
Thank you Annie, thank you Renaissance, thank you Arie Verstegen!
Carpet of the sun
Grandine il vento
Symphony of light
The mystic and the muse
Ashes are burning
Renaissance Official Website