I’m reluctant to resort to superlatives, but sometimes they are the only place to go. This is a unique band, and one impeccable bonus disc alone could be the best single disc that they have ever released.
Time: CD 9 /8 /5 tracks; 3 hours, 27 mins.
DVD 9 tracks, 68 mins
This release is the wrong way round. The main feature is a 1977 broadcast of this superb classic rock band in both CD and DVD formats. It comes with a bonus double-disc set of two earlier BBC live shows plus a 1978 session. While the “Sight & Sound” set has occasional early pitching issues, the 1975 show with three session tracks added could be the single best disc that they have ever released.
This is a unique band. I know of no one else who fuses classical qualities with a prog attitude, an acoustic feel and jazz flourishes. I could also add that they are caught here at the height of their impeccable musical strengths.
CD 2: That 1975 show is a snapshot of the band as they soar towards their zenith. Just about to release their fourth album, they have already built up a powerful set of near-perfect songs and in this show, they feel so fresh, unhurried and well-formed.
There are only five tracks and all are soaked in melody, whether the vocal tunes or extended instrumental sections. “Prologue” is the shortest at eight minutes long, and is the jazziest, Annie Haslam’s wordless vocals underlining Jon Tout’s sprightly piano work. “Mother Russia,” their tribute to Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and "Running Hard," both over ten minutes long, also share some free-flowing and tightly crafted piano work. A preview of the forthcoming "Ocean Gypsy" – a beautiful, minor-key ballad – rounds off these four classic tracks that appear in each of the three concerts.
The hour-long show, a touch more reverby than later recordings, closes with the wonderful, eighteen-minute epic “Ashes are Burning,” with its Rickenbacker bass solo that leads into the entrancing and majestic closing section. It’s pure musical magic.
The rest of the disc skips to a 1978 session, where the sound has developed. Still extended, but with more string synth, “Day of the Dreamer” is a treasure that is missing from many of the band’s earlier live sets and compilations, and this – together with the shorter, poppier songs “The Vultures Fly High” and “Midas Man” – make this release particularly valuable, the latter featuring Haslam reaching the top of her stunning five-octave range.
CD 3: Recorded ten months later, after their career-best Live at Carnegie Hall, the core set remains, with “Ocean Gypsy” trimmed to fit the hour-long show and the epic encore now changed to the massive “Song of Scheherazade.”
It may not have 1001 parts, but the highly lyrical sections it does have are stitched together as compellingly. Like so much of the band's work, it is intelligent, but still knows how to make you feel things... and can they do an ending!
Although his few lead vocals on this track are weaker. Jon Camp is a fine harmoniser, and a magnificent bassist, whose runs up and down the neck amply fill the space where an electric guitar would normally be.
DVD /CD1: Ten months later again, Renaissance launched a new BBC simulcast series, where Radio One’s In Concert programme was transmitted on BBC 2, allowing stereo sound to accompany the visuals – a rarity at the time.
Haslam suffers occasional pitch wobbles on the opening two tacks (so maybe a foldback issue) and the set list includes “Carpet of the Sun,” both lively and lovely, as well as two extended tracks, “Can You Hear Me?” and “Touching Once (Is So Hard to Keep).”
Acoustic guitarist Mick Dunford may se em less involved, sitting quietly at the side of the stage, but he is the one who has written this remarkable music, where there are no duff tracks and several that stay with you for a lifetime.
Having the video is precious, as the only other ‘70s video of the band is Song of Scheherazade, a grainy monochrome affair, treasured by fans as the only visual memory of that era as much as it was panned for its low technical quality.
So BBC quality video plus a set of brilliantly composed songs (and a useful booklet from one-time Melody Maker editor Chris Welch) makes this almost as key a Renaissance release as the mighty Live at Carnegie Hall.