Interview by Robin Cook, Part 2
After a 3600-word chat (see Part 1 of this interview), you'd think that we had gotten every piece of information from Renaissance singer Annie Haslam about her storied life and multi-decade career in music and painting but it turns out that there was a bit more to chat about. We found out about Haslam's discovery of her remarkable singing ability, reviving the band with a new line-up and her advice for young musicians.
PSF: At what point did you realize "I can really sing"?
AH: You know, it's funny because I joined the band on New Year's Day 1971 and I wasn't really quite sure about it at first. I was actually only a backing singer and I only got one song to sing since it was a six-piece band originally. It changed a lot over the next few years. But we had a sound man named Mickey Stewart, lovely guy from up north, and one day after a show, he said to me "Annie, that show was wonderful. Did you have any idea that your voice was different?" And I said "no" because nobody ever told me. You don't really hear your own voice unless it's on a recording and even so, nobody in the band ever said "Oh God Annie, that was amazing!" I never got any of that so I didn't know. It was just like I felt like I was another musician. I knew the band was good but having said that, I joined the band in '71. And in '75, we were performing at Carnegie Hall, which was quite amazing.
PSF: And the band's history was unusual in that after the first few years, the original members had left. Did you feel like you had to prove yourself there?
AH: No. Not at all. I don't think like that. And I think the band progressed naturally as different people came in and out. And I think we all learned from each other until the band came together in '73 when Miles Copeland, he was managing us at the time, and he fired everyone in the band except for me and John Tout, and kept Michael Dunford on as a writer. And he said "Right, we're going to build a new band around you." And that's what we did. And that was the band from '73 to '79. In 1977, We performed at the Royal Albert Hall. In those 6 years, some of our best music was written! And of course Betty Thatcher wrote the lyrics which took the music to a whole new level!
I think in the back of my mind, I was a little concerned that when we got together in 2009, people would say "Well, why not the original band?" That was our original intention but the other guys had different commitments that couldn’t be worked out and so it just didn't work out time-wise. So the new Renaissance was formed around Michael Dunford and myself and Rave Tesar who was in my solo band, and David J.Keyes, who was in my solo band. Now Mark Lambert's in the band and he was in Renaissance in the later years and my solo band. These musicians are quite incredible and more importantly, they love the music! We also have Tom Brislin and Frank Pagano. We're very fortunate.
We don't work a huge amount because there's six people in the band, and the sound man, so it's not cheap to go further afield. And I wish people would realize that we want so much to travel all over the world. We went to England but we barely broke even because of the cost. But now the band is really amazing and we've got these shows with the orchestra coming up and we're very excited. And you know, we lost Michael Dunford in 2012. He had a cerebral hemorrhage completely out of the blue- it was so shocking. I decided to carry on with the band because we had just finished a new album. He would have wanted that and he would have wanted the fans to hear the new album. And that's what we did and that's what I'm doing now, carrying on.
You know, we've done some amazing things in the last couple of years and been to England twice and Europe, Israel, Portugal, Japan and South Korea, Brazil, Argentina. It's been amazing really, what we've done.
PSF: What advice would you give to young musicians starting out?
AH: Well, I think you know inside if you've got a special calling and if the desire is strong and it never weakens, you should pursue your dreams... never give up!
But as I've said earlier, particularly if you're a singer, you need to find your own voice because you'll just be wasting a lot of time otherwise. It's important you find a classical teacher, which would be better than a pop teacher, to be honest. It might cost you a little bit more and be harder to find but once you start singing from your diaphragm, the world's yours! (laughs) You WILL find your own voice. And once you learn to sing correctly, you can sing anything. The same with musical instruments. I wish I had learned to play a musical instrument. I never did and that's a bit of advice as well- if you're a singer and you can learn an instrument as well, that can help you later on. Like if they ask "can you come and bring your guitar?" and you say "I don't play guitar." I possibly could have done some nice little acoustic renditions of these gorgeous songs but I'm not a musician. I think if you have a dream and the desire, then stick to it.
The other bit of advice is to put your intention out there in the universe because I seem to do that and it seems to work for me, for what I would like to do. I remember saying to the drummer, "we're going to England, we're going next year" and we did. It's different things I keep doing. So I think that when you believe in something that much, just think about it, put it out to the universe and let it go. And don't give up.
But also, with the money aspect and the state of everything these days, if you are brilliant and a great band and someone comes along and says they want to manage you, you must find a lawyer or even better a friend who is a lawyer to make sure you are not signing your life away and make sure you get a fair deal. So you've got to be very careful.
You also need to brush up on the music industry. Regarding merchandise and selling through places other than your Facebook page, you need to know how to do it and not get ripped off. There will always be bootlegs like there will always be people stealing my artwork and my music. But again there is karma and anyone misdealing will have to deal with that. But if we thought about things like that, we wouldn't do anything, would we? I've never hesitated before because my mission in life is to go and make people happy with the music of Renaissance.
For more about Annie Haslam, see:
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