“Wrong Way Wicks,” Annie Haslam says to me.
I had just joined the Renaissance tour in the fall of 1974 that was already in progress. I was the replacement road manager and I was asking about my predecessor. “Okay,” I said, “why did you call him that?” Annie gives me an insider’s smile and tells me he had no sense of direction. The problem was when they were driving and would stop for food or gas. Upon exiting the rest stop, there were times when Wicks would head back in the direction they had just come from. Annie continued, “one time we drove for an hour before he realized he was going the wrong way.” So, there it is, Wrong Way Wicks. I should mention that Annie was incredibly funny. She could do Cockney imitations that would have us laughing so hard our sides would hurt. She was no diva, although an incredible singer with a clear voice and an amazingly wide five-octave vocal range.
Renaissance is an English progressive rock band. At the time they included Annie Haslam (lead singer), Terry Sullivan (drums), Michael Dunford (guitar), Jon Camp (bass), and John Tout (keys). They had a very special sound with haunting elements achieved by the blending of rock, folk, and classical music, and Annie’s distinctive vocals. Albums from their peak period include Prologue (1972), Ashes are Burning (1973, Turn of the Cards (1974), Scheherazade and other Stories (1975), Live at Carnegie Hall (1976), Novella (1977) and A Song for All Seasons (1978).
Nektar’s first American tour, which I had been the tour manager for [See Ken’s articles in Issue 115 and Issue 116] was finished when Miles Copeland of BTM (British Talent Managers) called me and offered me the Renaissance gig. The band was already in the early stages of their North American tour. BTM shared an office with music business attorney Allen Grubman at 65 East 55th Street in Manhattan. I went up to his office to get the touring materials – gig contracts, travel itineraries, rental car reservations and various other related papers.
I met up with the group in New Jersey where they were headlining a bunch of college dates with audiences of 3,000 to 6,000 seats. These were good dates and after that leg of the tour was done, in retrospect, I realized that they had played over thirty college gigs in 35 days or so, all in the state of New Jersey. This was utterly unique. I had never heard of a group having done so many successful headlining dates in a row in such a small geographic area. The danger of this kind of geographic concentration (not realized in this instance) was that an overabundance of tickets would hurt each individual concert by spreading them out over a limited audience. That was not the case, as Renaissance’s audience in New Jersey was quite large and in fact, every show was sold out. In a business that would rather err on the side of caution, this was quite remarkable.
The next gig was the day after the last New Jersey show, and it was all the way across the country in Portland, Oregon. Renaissance would be opening for Chick Corea. I had to get all our equipment and personnel across the country in one day. The only way for the band’s equipment to make the trip was to have it fly as cargo on the same plane as us. This was fraught with danger as no airline would commit to a specific airplane to send the freight. They would try but no guarantees. And to make matters worse I would not know till after the flight landed in Portland if the band’s equipment was on board. Timing and luck is what we needed and I could only hope.
On the plane, I sat next to this well-dressed tall guy and I assumed he had to be an NBA player. “Do you play ball?” I asked him. He said “no, I am a musician, a bassist.” “Really,” I ask, “with who?” “I play with Chick Corea.” “No kidding,” I reply. “Yeah, I am Stanley Clarke.” “Get outta here! We are opening for you guys tonight. That is, if our equipment makes it.” He laughs and says he has been through that himself. We talk about touring and like most musicians, he loves the road. He tells me Chick Corea is a very spiritual guy and everyone in the group is working on personal enlightenment.
We get to the concert hall and the road crew calls and tells me the equipment has landed but it is taking time to get it processed and released from the airline freight office. They have already rented a truck, but the gear still has to be loaded and driven to the hall. The pressure is still on.
Renaissance is slated to go on at 8 pm and at 8 our equipment is still not there. At 8:20 the promoter is getting antsy and he is trying to get us on stage with what we have on hand. “Impossible,” I say to him. “You have to give us more time,” and he says, “no, you guys are the opening act and cannot delay the show.” I tell him that even though we are an opening act here on the West coast we are big headliners back East, and that he needs to treat us with a higher regard because someday this band could be headlining for him. “Please, I say, “give us a little more time before we have to make that decision.” He agreed. Luckily, Chick Corea seemingly was not upset and did not complain about our delay.
At 8:45 the equipment shows up and Chick Corea’s road crew pitches in and helps with the load in. Everything is set up in record time and Renaissance goes on at 9 o’clock. Phew, and they had a good show too. Unbeknownst to me, Terry Sullivan and John Tout were in the room when I was speaking with the promoter and they told the other three band members what happened. Terry later told me the band was pleased.
We had a few more dates opening for Chick Corea in the Northwest and then we traveled south to California. We had a headlining date at a college in Santa Barbara right on the Pacific Ocean. It was just beautiful and the breeze off the ocean smelled great.
My good friend, the late Barry Byrens came up from Los Angeles to meet me. Barry was Beverly Hills born and raised (he actually went to Beverly Hills High School). When I lived in Hollywood everyone I met was from somewhere else. Meeting a Beverly Hills or Hollywood born and raised native was rare. Barry was practically blind in one eye but he was well off so he could afford to be driven around in a stretch limousine. Not to mention that he liked the status it gave him. Beverly Hills is extremely competitive and can be somewhat petty when it comes to status, real or perceived. It has been said that living in Beverly Hills is like being in high school, but with money.
After the show, it was on to Los Angeles, about an hour and a half drive, and Barry says, “ride with me in the limo.” I asked one of the guys in the band (I think it was Jon Camp) to drive the rental car with the rest of the band and to follow us. The band was grumbling, saying, “we are the band, we should be in the limo.” I replied, “this is my friend’s limousine; can I not ride with him?” They agreed but did not like the fact that their road manager, their employee, was riding in a limo and not them. I understood their point but this was not about them.
The caravan made its way down the Pacific Coast Highway, me in the limo and them following and probably bad-rapping me. Once the drive was over it was forgotten.
That night we stayed in the Ramada Inn in West Hollywood, my then-favorite hotel in Los Angeles because it reminded me of the inside of a cruise ship with its varying different levels on the same floor. It was about 1,000 feet east from where Tower Records would later be built, and across from the Old World restaurant (where one could see people like Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison eating there) and west of Sunset Plaza.
Annie had this bungee cord- type elastic workout kit. She would attach it to the door handle for stretching and tension exercises. Now, this was a time when no one worked out so the band would make up scenarios where she would get tangled up and would hear her yelling for help through her hotel room door. Jon or John said Micky Dunford would have to go untangle her. I never saw or heard this myself but it certainly was funny imagery.
It was coming to the end of the tour and Miles Copeland flew out to join the band for various meetings – and a private talk with Annie. Yeah that was personal; I don’t want to get more specific. There were a few more dates and then the tour was over, and they all flew back to England. Renaissance came back to America many more times. From the stage, she often would thank the audiences for the popularity the band had in America, acknowledging their fans’ support.
The mid-1970s was the period when they were the most successful. On June 20, 21 and 22, 1975, Renaissance sold out Carnegie Hall for three nights in a row with the New York Philharmonic joining them on stage. This was captured in the album Live at Carnegie Hall.
Renaissance continued to perform with Annie Haslam and different lineups until 1987, then from 1998 to 2002 and from 2009 until the present day. The band was slated for a 2020 tour with The Renaissance Chamber Orchestra before the pandemic hit. They have always been most popular in the Northeastern US, though they had a top 10 UK hit with “Northern Lights” in 1978. Their blend of classical, folk, progressive and other elements and Halsam’s remarkable voice remains distinctive to this day.
One of my personal favorite songs is “Mother Russia” from Turn of the Cards. It’s one of the band’s longer tracks, a tribute to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn that was inspired by his novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. I find it both soothing, while haunting.
Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Richard Barnes.