Renaissance – Illusion (1971)

FrontCover1Renaissance are an English progressive rock band, best known for their 1978 UK top 10 hit “Northern Lights” and progressive rock classics like “Carpet of the Sun”, “Mother Russia”, and “Ashes Are Burning”. They developed a unique sound, combining a female lead vocal with a fusion of classical, folk, rock, and jazz influences. Characteristic elements of the Renaissance sound are Annie Haslam’s wide vocal range, prominent piano accompaniment, orchestral arrangements, vocal harmonies, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, synthesiser, and versatile drum work. The band created a significant following in the northeast United States in the 1970s, and that region remains their strongest fan base.

The original line-up included two former members of The Yardbirds, Keith Relf and Jim McCarty, along with John Hawken, Louis Cennamo and Relf’s sister Jane Relf. They intended to put “something together with more of a classical influence”. Renaissance was born, and the band released a studio album in 1969, and another in 1971. Subsequently, John Tout replaced Hawken on keyboards, followed by a period of high turnover of musicians until the “classic line-up” of Annie Haslam, John Tout, Michael Dunford, Jon Camp, and Terry Sullivan was established, although none of them were in the original band. They were assisted with lyrics on many songs from Cornish poet Betty Thatcher-Newsinger. From 1972 to 1979 Renaissance released seven successful studio albums, toured extensively, and sold out three nights in a row at Carnegie Hall with Tony Cox conducting the New York Philharmonic.

The 1980s were a lean time for them, with personnel changes, and two relatively unsuccessful studio albums, leading to disbandment in 1987. Two different offshoots of Renaissance existed at the same time at one stage in the mid-1990s. The band re-formed in 1998 to record Tuscany, which was eventually released in 2001; however, they disbanded again the next year.


2009 heralded a new line-up for Renaissance, led by Haslam and Dunford, and since then the band has continued to record and tour. They were shocked and saddened by the sudden death of Dunford in November 2012. Later, Haslam stated that the band would continue touring. The current line-up is not as English as the band’s early period, with five U.S.-born members and one English-born member who lives in the United States. In April 2014, Renaissance released the studio album Symphony of Light.

Illusion is the second studio album by the English progressive rock band Renaissance, released in 1971. It was originally released only in Germany and did not receive a wider release until 1973. It was first released in the UK in 1977, with a cover that had the original front and rear cover artwork swapped.

The original Renaissance line-up fell apart during the recording of this, their second album. Jim McCarty was the first to leave in 1970, when the band was about to start a European tour, because he hated to fly. Keith Relf and Louis Cennamo left next, subsequently forming the new group Armageddon. McCarty continued to be associated with Renaissance as a songwriter, however, receiving writing credits on the new band’s first, second and third albums.


John Hawken kept the band going by recruiting new members, including Michael Dunford and Terry Crowe, former bandmates of his from The Nashville Teens. New bassist Neil Korner had previously been part of The New Vaudeville Band (though he did not appear on their big hit, “Winchester Cathedral”.) This new line-up, which recorded “Mr. Pine”, was one of several short-lived transitional line-ups that existed between the original one and the classic one featuring Annie Haslam.

“Mr. Pine” is the only track on a Renaissance album where members of the original line-up (Hawken, Jane Relf) are heard together with a member of the classic line-up (Dunford). It includes a theme that was later used in the far better-known Renaissance song “Running Hard” (from Turn of the Cards, 1974).

To complete the album, the (already disbanded) original line-up got back together, minus Hawken and plus guest keyboardist Don Shinn, to record “Past Orbits of Dust”.

One track recorded during the Illusion sessions, a fairly short song called “Statues”, was not used on the album. It was eventually released in 2002 on the album Live + Direct.[5] The original album was re-issued on CD in 1995 by Repertoire Records.

Illusion was the first Renaissance album to feature lyrics by Betty Thatcher, who would work with the band throughout its entire “classic” period (1972–79) and beyond. Thatcher was brought to the band by her friend Jane Relf.


When the four surviving members of the original Renaissance reunited in 1976, after the death of Keith Relf, the Renaissance name was already being retained in use by their successors in the band. Henceforth they named their new reunion band as “Illusion”, alluding to the album they had recorded as the previous group. Their first album under this bandname, entitled Out of the Mist, included a reworking of the song “Face of Yesterday”; while their second album was eponymously titled Illusion. (by wikipedia)


The second Renaissance album is the least-known in the group’s entire output, having originally failed to get released anywhere except Germany. Although it is a much less bold, more smoothly commercial album, Illusion was also the work of at least three distinctly different lineups representing the group, Jim McCarty dropping out from playing after an illness, and Keith Relf and Louis Cennamo exiting the performing lineup soon after, while Jane Relf played some gigs with John Hawken acting as leader of a new ensemble. It was around this time that the words of lyricist Betty Thatcher started turning up in the group’s work and on this album, and guitarist Michael Dunford started writing as well. The results here aren’t quite as hard rocking as the previous album — acoustic guitars supplant electric and Jane Relf’s vocals are hooked around a mix of art rock and art pop melodies, without any trace of the psychedelic or freakbeat echoes of the previous album’s work. One song, “Mr. Pine,” contains an instrumental bridge that Dunford later folded into “Running Hard” in a more developed guise. The lighter textures anticipate the sound of the later lineup of the group, while some of the pop-oriented material harkens back to what Relf and McCarty had in mind for a sound in 1969. (by Bruce Eder)


Louis Cennamo (bass)
John Hawken (keyboards)
Jim McCarty (drums, vocals on 02., background vocals)
Jane Relf (vocals on 01., 05 and 06., percussion)
Keith Relf (guitar, vocals on 03., background vocals)
Terry Crowe (vocals on 04.)
Michael Dunford (guitars on 04.)
Neil Korner (bass on 04.)
Terry Slade (drums on 04.)
Don Shinn (keyboards on 06.)


01. Love Goes On (K.Relf) 2.42
02. Golden Thread (McCarty) 8.07
03. Love Is All (McCarty/Thatcher) 3.35
04. Mr. Pine (Dunford) 6.57
05. Face Of Yesterday (McCarty) 6.00
06. Past Orbits Of Dust (McCarty/Relf/Thatcher) 14.37