Exposé print issues (1993-2011)
Renaissance — Live Fillmore West and Other Adventures
(Repertoire REPUK1419, 1970/2023, 4CD+DVD)
by Peter Thelen, Published 2023-04-18
This, more than anything, is the story of two road-hardened blues-rock warriors who wanted a break from that grind to pursue something different. After six-or-so years with The Yardbirds, frontman Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty first had the idea of following a folkier sound, and as a songwriting team a single and some demos were recorded (several of which are on the last half of disc four of this set), but they were talked into forming a new band. Several musicians were invited to informal group-forming jam sessions, among them pianist John Hawken, who had played with the Nashville Teens, and bassist Louis Cennamo, who had played with some other bands including The Herd. Relf’s younger sister Jane was brought in as well, as the songs that they were working up could benefit from male-female harmonies. As soon as the new band solidified around these five, rehearsals began five days a week, and it happened that Hawken had classical piano training that all agreed should be integrated into the new band’s arrangements. Thus, Renaissance was born.
This four-CD plus DVD set offers a comprehensive review of the live work surrounding the band’s first album, radio sessions and more. That first album contained only five songs: “Kings and Queens,” “Innocence,” “Island,” “Wanderer,” and “Bullet” — long songs, for sure, but there were only a few additional songs that were performed in concerts. One must keep in mind that these shows were not necessarily recorded to be released, so the sound quality wasn’t always the best, but Eroc has done an awesome job preparing these recordings for release. The entire first disc (and the double LP set) is the most complete set here, consisting of the Fillmore West show from March 6, 1970, which includes all the songs from the first LP plus the extras “No Name Raga,” “After the War” and “The Tao of Myself.” Boots of this show have been released on CD previously, but they all sound awful; here it sounds better than ever. The second disc is subtitled Live in Europe 1969-70, and the highlights are taken from May ‘69 radio broadcasts in Helsinki and Stockholm, apparently before the first album was recorded, as the lyrics of “Bullet” were still coming together at that point. Parts of an April 1970 show at Casino de Montreux are also included on the second disc. The third disc is subtitled Live in Cincinatti, at Beat Club, Germany, in London and Paris. The six live cuts from Cincinatti in February 1970 are the highlight of this set, both performance and sound quality-wise, although the two tracks from the Beat Club (broadcast on different dates) are also excellent. The London and Paris account for two different versions of “Island” from October ‘69 and January ‘70 respectively. Disc four is split between BBC sessions — including a short interview with Keith Relf and a preview of “Face of Yesterday” that would ultimately appear on the band’s second album — and various demos and rarities that include some songs that Relf and McCarty did before Renaissance came together, as well as some songs that were intended to be Jane Relf demos. A standout here is an early version of “Carpet of the Sun” with Jane singing. All very nice stuff that highlights the Relf-McCarty partnership’s folkier side.
But wait. There’s a DVD in this set also, and it begins with a BBC documentary featuring the band in the studio with producer Paul Samwell-Smith (also an ex-Yardbird) cutting the chorus vocals for “Bullet,” that morphs into an interview with band members, and finishes with the band performing “Island” at the Revolution Club in London, the same as the audio on disc three. The “Island” from Paris, January ‘70 is also included on the DVD, and both “Island” and “Kings and Queens” from the Beat Club are here as well. While everything on the video taken together clocks in at less than 40 minutes, it’s still a fitting cap to this extraordinary set, one that collects most everything remaining by the original Renaissance that’s fit to be released.
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