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Tuesday, 4 August 2015

40 Years Ago: Renaissance Get Symphonic With ‘Scheherazade and Other Stories’

Symphonic prog act Renaissance were finally a cohesive band by 1975, having recorded two straight albums with a consistent line-up. And with the sixth LP, Scheherazade and Other Stories, the quintet proved its staying power – collaborating as a unit on its most ambitious song cycle to date.

Acoustic guitarist Michael Dunford, previously a sideline composer during the band’s transitional period, had dominated Renaissance’s writing credits (with lyricist Betty Thatcher) on recent LPs. But Scheherazade marked the emergence of keyboardist John Tout and bassist Jon Camp – two crucial players in the album’s blend of melody and bombast.

Working with co-producer David Hitchcock (Genesis, Camel, Caravan), Renaissance began work at the venerable Abbey Road Studios in May, with Dunford drawing inspiration from the Persian tale of Scheherazade, in which a woman concocts an endless story to avoid being killed by a ruthless king. This idea funneled into the side-two-spanning, 25-minute “Song of Scheherazade,” which incorporated the London Symphony Orchestra.

“I think that when it was conceived originally, Michael was looking ahead in hopes that one day it could possibly be something bigger, like a musical, which he did actually work on for quite a few years to try and get that off the ground,” singer Annie Haslam said in an interview with Songfacts.

“But I remember when we were working on it, and I went in for an ear operation right at the end of it,” she continued. “It was really a weird time. It was very intense. We had the orchestra come in. It was very exciting. I think we did some of that recording at Abbey Road, but I know we did some of it at De Lane Lea Studios, as well. But that was quite incredible to work on…I didn’t really have any part in the process of that but was awestruck by the whole thing. And it was quite incredible when we did it at Carnegie Hall. I’ll never forget that.”

The quasi-title-track certainly holds up as a progressive epic – a rare rock dalliance with orchestra that doesn’t wind up a snooze. But Renaissance’s elegant songcraft was better displayed on the succinct first side, filled with three melodic concert staples.

“Trip to the Fair” opens the LP with a dreamy waltz, inspired by Haslam’s first date with musician Roy Wood (the Move, Electric Light Orchestra).

Read on...

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