Renaissance + Blackheart + Big World Blue

Venues: The Union Chapel + The Maltings
Towns: Islington + Farnham
Dates: 16/4/15 + 18/4/15

Okay. I admit that at first sight, it might seem that seeing Renaissance twice in three days might be seen to be somewhat greedy. However, the way I look at it, Renaissance haven't played in Europe for thirty years, so statistically, on average I've only seen them once every fifteen years!

As soon as I saw that they were playing in the UK, I booked tickets for the first gig that they announced: Farnham Maltings. A couple of days later, I saw that they were booked to play at the Union Chapel, my favourite venue in the country, so I simply had to book tickets for that as well.

I am a big fan of the original line up of Renaissance, though I wasn't aware of them at the time. The line up comprised Jim McCarty and Keith Relf from the Yardbirds, Keith's sister, Jane on vocals, bassist Louis Cennamo and one of the nicest men in rock, John Hawken on keyboards. Most of the original members had left by early 1970. There was a brief period when Jane Relf and John Hawken carried on with several former members of John's band The Nashville Teens, including Micheal Dunford. Jane then left and was replaced briefly by American folk singer "Binky" Cullom, who was replaced in January 1971 by Annie Haslem. Although there have been many line up changes since, Michael Dunford and Annie Haslem remained as the core of the band.

They disbanded in 2002. In 2009, Michael suggested to Annie that they reform the band, and they began writing and touring again. In 2012, after recording an album, "Grandine Il Vento" sadly Michael died, but Annie, determined to keep his memory alive, released the album (now re-issued with bonus tracks as "Symphony Of Light"), and has dedicated this tour to Michael and his family.

Support at the Union Chapel was Blackheart. My wife and I had seen them a couple of times previously, once supporting the Strawbs and once supporting Hazel O'Connor. Whether it was the magic of the venue, although we'd really enjoyed them before, this time they seemed to us to be even better than before.

They comprise Chrissy Moyston and Rick Pilkington, both of whom play a variety of instruments, and both of whom sing, though Chrissy normally takes the lead vocals. Was quite disappointed to discover that they were not going to be supporting Renaissance at Farnham.

Their professionalism was demonstrated when Chrissy started a song, Rick picked up a guitar and found there was no sound from it. Chrissy didn't flinch and carried on with the song, solo. Roadies scuttled out of the woodwork swapping leads, to no avail, and so Rick finished the song on keyboards.

My disappointment that Blackheart were not playing at Farnham was blown out the water as soon as I heard Big World Blue play. As soon as Martyn Barker picked up his guitar and tinkled out a few notes to check that it was plugged in, I knew that I was going to love them. Their first song left me breathless, and I loved them even more when Martyn announced that this was their first ever theatre gig.

They, like Blackheart are a male/ female duo, and comprise Jo Beth Young and Martyn Barker. The similarities between the two support acts was more than the fact that they are both duos. They both write and perform their own material. They are both billed as a "folk duo" but are far more than that. Their songs are ethereal, intricately complex and with the help of beautiful harmonies, echo, and pure musicianship they both produce a full sound that many full bands fail to achieve. Back in the 1970's I saw Jimmy Page play his guitar with a violin bow, but as far as I can remember, I had not ever seen anyone else do that till now. Both Rick from Blackheart and Jo Beth from Big World Blue both use a violin bow!

Two very good support acts, (one already becoming established - a Blackheart song has been used in a commercial - the other definitely destined for great heights) either of which would have been well worth the entrance fee just to see them alone, both of whom set the bar extraordinarily high for the main act to follow.

Renaissance have been on my bucket list of bands to see almost as long as I can remember. Sad that I never got to see them with Michael, but the current touring line-up are brilliant. To see them at The Union Chapel, with its stunning lighting, and wonderful acoustics, is such a treat for an old hippy like me. And to then see them again just two days later, well, I can die happy.

During the late seventies, the commercial success of their single "Northern Lights" sent them slightly off message, but they have made a conscious effort to return to their classical/ progressive roots and are now every bit as good as they were when I first heard them. Always a bit of a risk though to see a band forty years after you first heard them, but they did not let me down. They even played two tracks, "Running Hard" and ""Mother Russia", from my favourite album, "Turn Of The Cards".

They are characterised by their orchestral sounding keyboards and Annie Haslem's operatic voice. She has the ability to sing a note higher than you'd believe it possible, then go higher, then higher again, and she can hold a note for ages without seeming to exert any effort. I was very impressed with the other band members as well, Rave Tesar and Tom Brislin on keyboards, Frank Pagano on drums, Leo Traversa on bass, and Mark Lambert on guitars. Very intrigued to see that Frank Pagano, was drumming to a score on sheet music.

Same set list on both nights. Particular highlight for me was the encore, "Ashes Are Burning". A full twenty minute piece, which included a three minute solo from Leo on his five string bass guitar!

Renaissance filmed their performance at The Union Chapel with the intention of releasing it as a DVD. They are crowdfunding it via: It was a brilliant concert and will make a brilliant DVD.

Set List

Carpet Of The Sun
Ocean Gypsy
Running Hard
Grandine Il Vento
Symphony Of Light
Northern Lights
The Mystic And The Muse
Mother Russia

Ashes Are Burning

Pete Bradley

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Carpet Of The Sun- Renaissance

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