Renaissance – Ashes Are Burning, Live In Concert: Album Review

In fact a 50th Anniversary, Ashes Are Burning – An Anthology, Live In Concert to give the new Renaissance release its full and much grander title.

Release date: 28th May 2021

Label: Esoteric Antenna

Format: 2CD/DVD/Bluray clamshell box

A live In Concert Anthology that’s a celebration of fifty years. Renaissance has created a body of music that’s been at the core of music tagged by the classical/symphonic/orchestral label and the show saw them construct a setlist with songs never or rarely performed with an orchestra in the past. Must be something in the air ‘up north’ with Annie hailing from Bolton while fellow purveyors of symphonic splendour, Barclay James Harvest share a similar home location.

And in any case, who could argue against letting a band that celebrates fifty years in existence the chance to present the show that they want. Their choice of songs, their arrangements and the only minor moan, it was recorded in America rather than on home turf.

The gentle fanfare opening of Carpet Of The Sun sees the iconic lead, Annie Haslam heading straight for some of the high notes within the first few moments of the show. With the “Music of the love that found you” -line ringing out, it’s an opening that’s entirely apt. The melodic phrases and engaging warmth open a set that genuinely celebrates fifty years. It’s a set that’s essentially rooted in the Seventies, a period which out the best of their heyday and with a few nods to their more recent output. Songs from their glory days and most creative period are complemented by a hefty twelve minutes of Symphony Of Light from 2014 and more poignantly the appearance of Jim McCarty. Now, many may not appreciate (and deeper fans will shake their heads in wonder) that ex-Yardbird McCarty was part of the original Renaissance lineup. Perhaps a quick nod in the direction of our Renaissance On Track book review (simply click here) might prove revealing.

Having warmed up with a clutch of mid-Seventies classics including one of Annie’s favourites, Midas Man, the relatively sprawling Symphony Of Light unfolds across twelve minutes as Haslam decorates the arrangement that flits in and out of Oldfield-like arrangements and more forthright orchestral bursts. Oh, and surely a lift from Genesis’ Dancing With The Moonlit Knight… The first appearance of Jim McCarty on 1969’s Islands results in a lovely reflective piece. Beautifully embellished by the orchestra and the piano part, in particular, is a joy; definitely a feel of the birth of Renaissance days.

The second part of the show focuses on more extended pieces. Making the most of the orchestra to add to the arrangement, If anything, the orchestral arrangements stand out even more. The Mystic And The Muse being particularly dramatic with Annie in frighteningly glass shattering form in the intro. Dogs everywhere will be pricking up their ears at the frequencies.

A massive A Song For All Seasons is an orchestral tour de force. One from ’78 when the likes of ELP were also toying with adding an orchestra to their core sound. Kicking off at a pace, the basslines stand proud and having laid the foundations, Annie joins in with the sweep of strings before the light and shade (read loud and quiet) dynamics really kick in. Really though, it proves an aperitif for the final McCarty appearance on a sixteen-minute Ashes Are Burning. One which really is quite poignant. One of their first attempts to integrate band and orchestra back in ’73, as the closing piece it shows the regard in which the piece is held.

A typically quality package from Esoteric Antenna/Cherry Red, who do these sets so well, completes the picture. DVD and Bluray versions of the show are nicely presented. While it may be a drop in the ocean of the Reanaissance library of work with many bases untouched, this set is a super souvenir of a landmark event and occasion. Lest ye not know, it also confirms Renaissance – and Annie Haslam in particular as their focal point – as progressive music visionaries.

Here’s Carpet Of The Sun from the concert film:

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