Fans of Renaissance and Annie Haslam
JC = Jon Camp
RF = Renaissance Fanfare
JC: I had been playing with my friend Roy Wood, who was Annie’s boyfriend for some time. Well, Roy is godfather to my daughters. Roy was going on the road and doing a tour, I was basically Roy’s bass player and vocalist for many many years. One of the guitarists we had was Robin George who had a minor hit in the States with a song called ‘Heartline’. Robin had a successful solo career. He got signed to Bronze Records owned by Gerry Bron who had people like Uriah Heep in the stable. It was pretty rock orientated music but very melodic. Robin had a chance to do a world tour supporting REO Speedwagon so he said to me, “Roy’s not doing anything for bit, do you fancy coming along, Jon?” Robin and I were good friends so I said “Yeah, I’d love to.”
[Jon Camp is featured on Robin George's live album Dangerous Music, recorded in 1985.]
When I was playing with Robin, we needed a new keyboard player because the one we had, Allen, came down with hepatitis. And Robin knew this chap named John Young. So John strolls into my studio where we were rehearsing and says “Wow, Jon from Renaissance, I didn’t know you were involved!” Anyway, John and I hit it off immediately, liking exactly the same kind of music.
I had just moved to a large house in Shropshire in the countryside. It had a stable block, so I converted that into a studio.That took up quite bit off my time as I did a lot of the work myself. And while I was doing that, I bumped into the guitarist Tony McPhee who was the leader of a 3-piece called Groundhogs. The Groundhogs had a couple of major albums here in the 70s: one was called Split, which was a about split personalities, and the other one was called Thank Christ For The Bomb which was basically anti-establishment. So I got to know Tony and we started having a bit of a play, and anyway, I toured with Tony for some time. We used to get involved doing European tours with a collection of other people like Barclay James Harvest, Ralph Mctell and The Strawbs and we’d go out as a package tour.
[Jon Camp is featured on Groudhogs' live album The Lost Tapes Vol. 1, recorded in 1989.]
John Young and I did a complete Robin George tour with REO, and some more concerts with Roy Wood. Then John said “Do you think we should put something together?” We liked exactly the same kind of music: things like good progressive rock. So that’s how Cathedrale came to be formed. Now, Cathedrale took up a large amount of my time, somewhere around three to four years. We had two or three different managers, one was guy called Allen Seifert who was Robert Palmer’s manager, a wonderful guy. He got us a great publishing deal with Warner Chappell. But it was at the time when getting a large investment into a band like that was becoming increasingly difficult with record labels. We got very close to signing to Atlantic, but it was when punk was beginning to emerge and it was, “well do we want to put lots and lots of money into this band” — which is what it would have required to do it properly — and record companies were having slightly cold feet in those days.
So we basically spent a lot of time in the studio — my studio and others and put a collection of songs together for which, as I said Warner Chappell have the publishing rights. We did some concerts in England, very low key, which went down extremely well, but people were starting to drift. John got the chance to replace Geoff Downes in Asia because Geoff was doing some work with Greg Lake at the time and I got a phone call from Brian Lane, Yes’s manager, with regard to going out on the road with Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford and Howe as Tony Levin who was playing bass at the time had been taken ill. As it turned out Bill Bruford was good friends with Jeff Berlin and as he was already in the States where they were touring he got the gig. I think it would have been like dying and going to heaven to play with them — but I’ll never know! So Cathedrale unfortunately came to an end.
But having said that, I’m in contact with them all now and I’m putting a Cathedrale album together here. There is a possibility that we may be getting together over the next month or so and just see how it all sounds again.
Obviously I’ve been in constant contact with John [Tout] and Terry [Sullivan]. Terry is currently in Spain; he doesn’t like the English winter, so he bought a Winnebago and tends to disappear into warmer climes for the winter and then come back to see us in the spring. We had plans to do some work together, but then John had the heart attack which was unfortunately followed by another one.
We did have plans to play together at some time or another. So that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing. Then — with the Cathedrale tracks — I was listening to it and thinking, God this really does sound good! I mean, it was done on a 16-track in my home studio but it really stands up. The quality probably isn’t quite as brilliant as some recordings you get nowadays, but it’s certainly worth releasing.
I was speaking to Tony [Bodene] who’s the drummer in Cathedrale, and we decided that it was like an English version of Toto: reasonably commercial but quite complex, all virtuoso players. So we’ll wait and see when I get the album out.
My solo album, though, is written and I’ve started recording.
So that’s where we’re up to at the moment. I haven’t been dragging my feet. I know I’ve seen various things on web sites, where people have said “He’s not involved in the music business any more.” Nothing could be further from the truth! (laughs) I’ve had other business interests but music has always been my raison d’être.
[Cathedrale: Tony Bodene (drums) and Brett Wilde (guitars) in the second plan, John Young (keyboards) and Jon Camp (Bass and singing) in the first plan. This picture was provided by Jon Camp.]
RF: What year were those Cathedrale tracks recorded?
JC: We probably recorded them between 1986 and 1989. But it was ongoing—as we wrote songs we came along to the studio and recorded them. I think I’m currently holding about 18 finished tracks.
RF: We notice you have changed the spelling of the band name, added a trailing ‘e’—is there a trademark conflict or something like that out there?
JC: Yes there is—I wasn’t mad keen on the band name, to be honest with you, but we all had names that we liked and we put them in a hat. The one that got pulled out was ‘Cathedral’, so that’s what we went with. But there is a kind of a metal-grunge kind of band over here called Cathedral. It’s not a case of wanting to own the name or anything like that, so what I’ve started to do recently is to put an ‘e’ on the end of it, which fits in with the French origin of Renaissance and that’s how I shall be marketing it.
I’m going to launch my web site at the end of February and I’ll put some Cathedrale sound bytes so that people will be able to listen and see what they think.
JC: Hopefully, it will be released by Repertoire Records if they like it. As you know, they have done a lot of reissues of Renaissance material. They are a good label.
[Project for the solo album cover by the photographer Amer Jassim. This picture was provided by Jon Camp.]
RF: Is there a tentative release date?
JC: I’m going to do it as a solo album, there’s not going to be anybody else on it, so I think, in reality, I think we’ll be looking at about April or May for that.
RF: You just answered one of our other questions—who the supporting players on your solo album are. It is in fact a 100% a solo effort?
JC: It’s a 100% solo as it stands. If I can persuade John [Tout] ... John comes up to stay with me because I live in the country and he’s in central London and he loves the wide open spaces. I would love to have John on it; he’s such a wonderful friend and I’ve never known a better keyboard player.
RF: Are you planning to play drums yourself, or are you programming the drums?
JC: I shall be programming in the main... Let’s put it this way: I’ve got the facilities here to do ‘live’ overdubs myself and I’m pretty sure this is what will happen. I’ll be playing all the guitars and basses obviously as well as keyboards and lead and backing vocals.
RF: And you wrote all music and lyrics yourself?
JC: Yes, everything.
RF: Are these recent compositions, or do they go back years and decades?
JC: I think there’s one on there that I’ve had around for about four years, the rest have all been written in the last 6-9 months.
RF: You mentioned that you are about to launch your web site. And we all know that you appeared on Facebook, out of nowhere, in 2010 [personal profile in 2010 and fan page in 2012]. Is this your first foray in to the social media side of the music business?
JC: Yes it is, actually. I’m lucky enough that my oldest daughter Natasha’s partner Lewis has built a few web sites before, we’re going a bit touchy feely, and I’m quite pleased about the way it’s going at the moment...
RF: We notice the Russian name of your daughter. Is there a story here: Kiev, Mother Russia, Ukraine Ways, Natasha…?
JC: No. My wife and I just loved the name.
I had mixed feelings about Facebook. I mean, it’s one of those things that is very nice, but it can get all-consuming. I was following friends of mine like John Young, John Wetton, Chris Squire, and Stanley Clarke, all the bass players really. There’s a thing called Bass Forum, where we’re all members. We all started chatting to each other and Facebook came up so I thought I’d try it—and the rest, as they say, is history. (laughs)
RF: Do you follow any blogs on the Internet?
JC: Not really. I just do Facebook and, because my daughter’s in the media, I just started exploring Twitter.
RF: What’s your Twitter username?
RF: You’re about to have quite a few new followers on Twitter! Is your web site going to include a recurring blog?
RF: Do you still keep up with Nicky Beggs, John Young, Robin George, Tony McPhee, Roy Wood … ?
JC: We are all still in contact. Email is a wonderful thing (laughs)
RF: Are you planning anything like interactive video chats?
JC: I’m thinking about that, yes. There’s a guy who’s a member of Renaissance Fanfare called Wayne Orr. I threw a suggestion at him that—because he thinks I’m the best bass player, which is very nice—I said, “How do you think it would be if I actually did a live video?” There are lots of bass players that keep getting in touch with me asking ‘how did you do this, how did you do that’—about actually doing, without sounding egotistical, a “master class” where I play some of the more complex Renaissance bass lines and deconstruct them and explain how they fitted in with the song and why they are like they are.
RF: We think those would go over very well.
JC: Yes, I think they probably would. It would probably be of interest only to bass players, but then again, the bass was such a large part of the band that it would be fascinating to see the thought processes behind it. A lot of it is the way I approach the bass: I get an idea in my head and play something and I think, well, “I’m actually playing this as if it was a cello.” Or I’m actually playing this and implying it’s a double bass, or I’m playing this and thinking of a horn part. That’s the way I’ve approached things. What it comes from, you see, is [that] originally—and this is on my web site in the biog—I was a guitar player in lots of bands when I was a young lad, and when I swapped from guitar to bass—because a local band wanted a bass player and they were getting more gigs than mine were—I never modified my style, and my nickname became “Spider” because I was all over the fretboard, playing the bass like a guitar. So that’s how my style came about. I can’t tell you how much I love the bass—it has so much power and majesty—I only hope that I do it justice! I was brought up listening to a lot of classical music in my parents’ house as well as opera so it was pretty easy to get grandeur in your head at a very early age (laughs.)
RF: You stated in your 1997 interview that you were “very much into studio production” and that you were a technology consultant for musicians and music related businesses.
JC: Yes. A friend of mine, Phil Beaumont, owns a company called Systems Workshop, in Shropshire, near where I live. That company is basically there to set up studios for people, going into the acoustics side of things, and he supplies equipment. He was an importer for a company called TC Electronics in Denmark who make some very, very high tech equipment. And I used to, when I had the time, go and give him a hand. If people wanted to see the equipment working we would take it to them and demonstrate its capabilities. One of my fondest memories was going to London with some TC equipment and spending a very pleasant day with Robert Fripp of King Crimson who ended up spending a lot of money on it because he thought it was so fantastic. Needless to say I use a lot of it still.
RF: Have you continued this line of business: keeping up with music technology and then consulting?
JC: Yes, I try and keep up with technology. I actually did [as a student] a part-time degree course at our local university, just going in the evenings, on digital sound production. They had everything, wall to wall Apple Macs with Pro Tools and Logic and all the associated software; it’s a full time job just trying to keep abreast of it. Don’t get me wrong when you see my web site: I’m a great believer in some of the vintage equipment, it just can’t be bettered. But I like digital technology; I record digitally here [in my studio], but I also have an analog desk and a 2-inch [tape] recorder that I use to sometimes warm things up when mastering. I like digital, but I think it makes things possibly a little bit too easy! You don’t have to be able to play as well as you used to have to, to turn out something very decent now. I’m a bit of a purist.
RF: Then there are things like Auto-Tune [a Pro Tools plugin] — you don’t even have to be a good singer any more...
JC: Oh, no, you can get voice creators and things, on Pro Tools, where you could sing the whole thing out of tune, and as long as you are not too far away, you can just pull it back in—now I don’t really see a place for that although I have done sessions for people when I’ve used it. I’m not saying that the equipment that’s out there now is too good; it’s just too easy to be good. I’m a purist and wherever I can, I’ll do it the old way, even if it takes me longer (laughs)
RF: What do you view as the major innovations in music technology since 1997?
JC: You can’t really say anything else but digital recording, can you? It’s got to be that. It has lead on to so many other things. All my bass effects now are digital. I used to carry rack units around with me. I’m looking at my pedal board as we speak—it still looks fairly complex (laughs) but it’s all digital, and you can get so much into a smaller space now. And one thing I do think is really good about digital is that it has opened up recording to people who previously would not have been able to afford it. Which I think is great for young people to get an idea of things. Look at the amount of people who got really good record deals just by sharing something they’ve done digitally on YouTube in their bedroom!
RF: Or recorded on Garageband, software that comes free with every Apple computer.
JC: Yes, yes—you go on an Apple Mac and go to virtual instruments, it’s endless, absolutely endless. The one I’ve got here, the digital I use, I can go in there and select a Marshall 4x12 connected to Fender Bassman cabinet going through this and that and another. You don’t have to have lots of equipment any more.
RF: Speaking of equipment, in the 1997 interview you were pretty excited about the bass guitars and surrounding electronics and technology by a company called Vigier.
JC: Vigier, yes. I’ve got several Vigier basses, but the main one I use is quite old now but still in wonderful condition. It’s called the Arpege. It’s got a system that comes with it called the Nautilus: A microprocessor lets you patch 19 different sounds into the bass using the controls on it. You then call them up as presets. I used with Renaissance—say, you wanted one sound for the intro, you load that in, then another sound for the verse, you load that in, different sound for the chorus, load that in, different sound for the instrumental section, load that then you come back to the verse and chorus again, and you can just automatically change the settings, its fantastic.
RF: Right—in the 80s that was a huge deal, but today that’s fairly common [in guitar/bass effects]
JC: It was—if you go to Wikipedia it’s got 2-3 pages on it because it was such an innovation. There are very few people I know that have one., God knows how much money they must be worth now, because they stopped making them years ago.
RF: What bass would you play today for a recording or a live gig?
JC: I’d go back to the old favorites: Vigier and Rickenbackers.
RF: What about the bass rig—amplification, effects. All of those would be digital devices in a rack?
JC: For road work, I would go back to using something like Ampeg heads and SVTs, or Trace Elliott equipment.
RF: What was the bass rig the 1970—what were the effects back in the 70s and what would it be today if you want back on the road?
JC: Obviously, my babies were the Moog bass pedals, which I still use. And then I used things like chorus pedals, flangers, octave boxes, Morley Drum Echo Unit, a Mutron, phasers, harmonizers and an Ebow.
Now if I was going out, I would be using a Zoom 3000B effects unit. I have a 3000 and a 5000. I might use the 5000—it’s a bit bigger—with the Vigier and the programmable sounds on it. This zoom unit has got a fantastic effects catalog on it. You can make the bass sound like a violin. Everything I need, everything I used to use in the 70s is now in a box that’s about 2 feet long-of course there would always be my signature Rickenbacker!
RF: What songs did you play an Ebow on?
JC: Can You Hear Me, Midas Man, and the Ashes Are Burningsolo.
RF: You mentioned the Moog Taurus pedals. One of the fans submitted a question asking what your likes and dislikes about the Taurus pedals were?
JC: I have absolutely no dislikes about Moogs, they are wonderful. Moog has started building them again—they charge 2000 pounds a set for them! I tried them and they are not as good as the old ones. The only criticism if any is that they don’t take kindly to being covered in dry ice during a concert: the pitch tends to become a bit unstable!
RF: You don’t hear much of Taurus pedals being used today...
JC: Wayne Orr was asking me about this, because he’s a bass player. At the time, people that used those pedals, when you think about it, I can only think of four: Geddy Lee from Rush, Mike Rutherford from Genesis, Chris Squire from Yes, and there was me. Those were the only bass players I had ever seen use the Moog.
RF: You mentioned Wayne Orr . We at Renaissance Fanfare have Wayne Orr largely to thank for making this interview possible. Wayne also mentioned that you had a famous bass known as the Great White that was stolen, and Wayne was helping you track it down?
JC: Yes. There’s a thing called Rickenbacker Resource that we discovered, and Wayne has seen a picture of a guy playing it and he’s sure it is the one. It got stolen—I had that one and a fretless Rickenbacker stolen from Red Rocks in Denver. Its was an inside job, because we were there for two nights and we locked all the guitars in their very secure storage. Micky’s guitars were in there the drums were in there, the expensive keyboards were in there. Next day we come into the soundcheck and the only things missing? My bass guitars (laughs).
So I was a bit miffed about that! We’re trying to track it down at the moment. I’ve been in touch with Rickenbacker themselves and they’ve been keeping an eye out for years and years. I doubt if I’d ever be able to get it back now, it must have changed hands a few times. But I’d just like to know its whereabouts. It was made in May 1960, it was a very very early one. I had a lot of work done to it. It’s probably still the best bass I ever had, it’s still my favorite. I didn’t name it the Great White, the Renaissance followers did that! (laughs)
[UPDATE—3-Feb-2012: The Great White has been found!] [JC: I haven’t got it back yet but whatever it takes I will!]
RF: Circling back briefly to your upcoming Cathedrale and solo albums—you described the musical style of Cathedrale. What is the style of your solo music?
JC: I thought long and hard about this, what to do. There’s absolutely no point in bringing something out like Renaissance, but then again, you’re not in a band of that magnitude for that length of time without it sort of becoming inbred!
There’s going to be some nice acoustic stuff on there, some hopefully Celtic, Irish, Scottish influences; there’s going to be a couple of long tracks. There’s going to be a lot of harmony vocals because... I don’t know if you were aware that I used to organise the harmonies for the band? I was the one they went to and said, what do you think we could do on this one, and I’d try and come up with something interesting and original—it was my little treat! It actually will be interesting, that’s why I’m not going to rush it, I want to make it the best I can. It will be a little more ‘rock’ orientated than people will be used to.
I never actively tried to follow the high success route, apart from possibly Cathedrale, but I’m just absolutely amazed at how many people are still interested in what I do after all these years. They are predominantly Renaissance fans, which goes to show you that we had something to say and said it. I’m glad we brought as much happiness into people’s lives that we [did], but...
It will be a very varied album. There will be some long tracks on there with some fairly orchestral symphonic type things, there will be some acoustic stuff, there will be couple of little commercial type things. I’ll make it the best I can. And I want to make it varied; I don’t want to make it all the same, there’s very little point in that. I want to make it me. (laughs)
RF: We have written the next question down in the outline as “What’s on your iPod?” Do you own an iPod or a similar device?
JC: I do.
RF: Who do you listen to, and which artists of today or recent years do you admire, or respect musically or technically?
JC: I still listen to some of the old stuff. A band—I don’t’ know if they ever did much in the States—called It Bites, I like them. I just got the new Yes album, Fly from Here, that’s good. Unfortunately Jon Anderson is not with them, but the new guy does a very good job on vocals. Modern bands... I love Coldplay, I love Keane and probably my favorite of all is Muse—are you familiar with Muse? Wonderful, absolutely wonderful! They have taken symphonic rock where it should be in 2012. Absolutely amazing, I really do like them. A lot of classical stuff, a lot of Bach, a lot of Saint-Saens. I still like things like Joni Mitchell. I like Ed Sheeran, a solo artist, his albums have been in the charts forever over here. Funnily enough, I believe Micky put something on the Renaissance Facebook page—did you remember a keyboard player we had for a while callled Peter Gosling?
JC: Well, his son, Jake, apparently produced this Ed Sheeran album which I’ve yet to track down but... yeah, I still like bands. Coldplay, to be obvious, I know they are massive over here. I like U2, I like U2 on a good day when they are not getting overblown. I love the Eagles, because I love the harmonies; I played their last album over and over. I rediscovered Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon a couple of weeks back: amazing! But new bands that I like, my favourite one has to be Muse.
RF: What about from a studio production point of view? In the 1997 interview you made a very interesting comment that from a production point of view you said you love Celine Dion, just from the production quality. Who is producing sort of the best of the best-produced albums today?
JC: I’ll give you two: the recent Coldplay one, Mylo Xyloto that was produced by Brian Eno who used to be in Roxy Music. Also the self produced Muse album ‘The Resistance’. And to be honest with you, if get [this] and listen to it.... he’s my favorite producer, a guy called Trevor Horn, he produced the new Yes album. And I like that a lot, it’s very clean, very clean indeed, Mylo Xyloto that Eno got his hands on is just so off the wall production-wise, it’s really really big. And it’s almost like a concert album if you listen to it—there’s a theme that runs all through it. But Trevor Horn, I like, Eno I like. Old school... I like a guy you’ve probably never heard of who did albums with Nik Kershaw here called Peter Collins. Steve Levine and Steve Lillywhite and Jerry Wexler.
RF: You are obviously a songwriter: you contributed songs to Renaissance, you are doing a solo album now. During the Renaissance years, your songwriting didn’t appear on the albums until Scheherazade, and really not full bore until Song for All Seasons and Azure D’or. Why was that?
JC: Do you want the truth? (laughs) I was writing for Renaissance for a long, long, long while before that. But I was just putting it into the band and was completely naïve and unfortunately other people took the credit for it. The beginning of Can You Understand: probably our greatest opening instrumental piece—writers Camp and Tout! I wrote most of the instrumental sections in Mother Russia. I was putting everything into the band, John [Tout] wrote a tremendous amount that he never got credited for. But I had been writing for a long, long while before that.
RF: But starting with Scheherazade, you started getting songwriting credits
RF: Although we notice, and we’re guessing this was standard practice in the business: songwriting credits are alphabetical. In the case of Renaissance, it’s always Camp/Dunford/ etc. So there’s no way for us to know who wrote lyrics, who contributed what? Some bands today have an agreement that all “we’ll just credit everybody all the time” ...
JC: Well, this is exactly what we should have done. I mean, you look at something like—going back again—like Coldplay. Chris Martin writes every single note that they play and he shares all the royalties four ways. That’s why they have been together forever. I always wrote—from the ones you’re talking about being credited—all the lyrics. Micky used to come along with the sort of main body of the song and then I used to go and stay at his house in Surrey. We’d spend 2-3 weeks together and then we’d extend the song, we’d write some music to go into it and then we’d take it to rehearsals and put it in front of John [Tout] and then John would add his flourishes to it, and—it was very much co-operative situation, but it didn’t get credited like that.
RF: Some questions about your youth and formative years—where did you go to school? You mention Edmonton county school on Facebook...
JC: That’s right. I was born in London, good old London, in a place called Winchmore Hill which was a little suburb of the sprawl which is London. I Went to Edmonton county grammar school and stayed there until I was 18. Did my O-levels and A-levels, and then my father gave me three months—my father was in insurance and he gave me three months to make a career as a musician, or if I didn’t, then I would go into insurance , and I thought that was a pretty fair deal. Unfortunately though, I lost my mother when I was 16 so there was only just my dad and I together. Lo and behold, the little band I was in got spotted by an agent—before I knew where we were, we were supporting all the American soul artists that came over, things like Ben E. King, Clyde McPhatter, the Drifters, the Three Degrees, we did the soul circuit, so I did manage to make a career in music and did not have to go into insurance, thank goodness (laughs).
RF: What year was this?
JC: That would have been 1967.
RF: So you never attended college, you were never studying toward any other kind of career, you got your three months to try music and it stuck...
JC: And it clicked, yet. I did what we call the “sixth form” in our school system. You can leave school in England when you’re 16, but I stayed until I was 18 and took all my extras and that. Dad wanted me to go to the university. All I wanted to do was play music. I was a rebel. (laughs)
RF: What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
JC: I was introduced by a music teacher at school, Mr.Gill, to classical. That’s all they really did then, in those days of yore. And I picked up very quickly on Bach and Chopin and then love for the Russian composers—Rachmaninov, Shostakovich, etc which obviously John Tout was one of the biggest buffs I know on Russian composers: what he doesn’t know about them you can write on a postage stamp. Bands listened to then, obviously everybody went to school with a Beatles album under their arm, or a Rolling Stones album, My first album that really impressed me was Cream’s Disraeli Gears. I was listening to John Mayall’s Blues Breakers who were the spawning ground for Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. And I used to go to a tremendous amount of concerts. I wasn’t old enough to get in some of them but I managed to sneak in somehow—because a lot of them were [music] halls at the back of pubs, selling alcohol, and you weren’t allowed to go into them until you were 18. But I was sneaky. (laughs).
JC: Because I liked the blues side of things, I was familiar with the Yardbirds, who Clapton and Jeff Beck played with, and Jimmy Page played with them for a while. So I knew of Keith Relf. And then when the Yardbirds impacted and Keith Relf did this thing called Renaissance, this neoclassical kind of thing, I thought “wow, that’s a bit of a departure!” So I went and bought the first album, the first Renaissance album. It got played on the radio a bit—[I thought,] whoa, this is interesting! That was my first experience with Renaissance.
Then I was—this is also on the web site—I was playing in various bands around, doing support tours, doing lots of Beach Boys, bits and pieces, lots of harmonies. A music paper called Melody Maker which had an advert section in the back for “musicians wanted”, and there was this one that said “bass player with classical outlook required for”—something like “classic progressive band” and I said “well that sounds alright!” So I phoned them up and went along to St. Johns Wood which is where Miles Copeland, the manager of the band lived. They got this little cellar and I go downstairs and there’s John [Tout], and there’s Annie. Annie came for an audition with the band I was playing in prior to me doing the Renaissance audition but she didn’t get the job! John gave me some chord sheets for Prologue, which was in its infancy, and we started playing and that was it—we finished and John said , that’s it, you’re in. And the rest is history.
RF: What was the band you played in that Annie auditioned for and didn’t get the job!? Was it a pure coincidence that your paths had crossed shortly before your own audition with Renaissance?
JC: It was absolute coincidence. The band was called ‘The Nocturnes’.
RF: Was your Renaissance audition was entirely focused on bass playing—no guitar or vocals?
JC: Yes, we did a bit.... Obviously, with Prologue being what we call a capella, like vocalese, Annie sort of like sang it. Then John [Tout] said “let’s try to put a harmony to it” and I did, and that’s how that came about. The band initially was just John on the piano, Annie, and myself. There were no drums, no guitar, just the three of us.
RF: ...and then nothing for the next two albums.
JC: That’s right. I think, with Renaissance, it was always considered that the males would be a backing vocal. Obviously, when someone can sing like Annie, you don’t take away from that, you know, that was obviously the point of the band. But the songs in certain ranges, that fit my voice, and if you listen to the albums, there’s lots of times where I’m double tracking with Annie. Our voices worked well together. I never considered myself, or really wanted to be a lead vocalist, but having the love of harmony that I do have, and Micky singing, it was nice to be able to make a nice three-part harmony. John sings a bit, and so did Terry, you know, when we were in the studio and would get out to have a go , but I don’t think I saw myself or wanted to be a lead vocalist in Renaissance. It’s just that when a song came along that didn’t particularly suit Annie’s range and it was too good a song to discard, if my vocal styling fitted that then obviously we used it. I sang lead vocals in all the Cathedrale songs.
RF: And of course later on in Renaissance, on Song for All Seasons and Azure D’or, you sang on two songs .
JC: There’s one song that I can’t play because... you know the song on Song for All Seasons called She is Love? Well, we recorded the orchestra, we got everything, it was wonderful. It came up for Annie to do it and she just couldn’t do the vocal. Somehow or another, something had gone wrong and it was in completely the wrong key! So I walked in and I strained and strained.. I hate that song! Because there’s so many effects on it—it’s completely out of my range! Poor Annie: she went in there and tried and tried . It just didn’t work. We already got it in the can, so I was the sacrificial lamb. (laughs).
JC: No, I didn’t meet Jim but he’s a friend on Facebook. (laughs)
RF: Did your tenure early on coincide with Terry Crowe or Terry Slade at all?
JC: No. The first inception of Renaissance I was exposed to was John on keyboards, Annie on vocals and myself at the auditions. We had this Australian drummer on the first tour called Ginger—Ginger Dixon. He didn’t really fit, at all, and we had Rob Hendry on the guitar. Well, at the time, Renaissance really was always [with] electric guitar, which is strange. So that was the initial lineup: Rob on guitar, Ginger Dixon on drums, myself on bass, John Tout on keyboards, and Annie on vocals. Then we toured... I was only with the band for 10 days, and Miles Copeland, our manager, had already got us a tour of Germany. So went straight out there and did it, but it obviously didn’t work with Ginger, so he went and we had more auditions and that’s when Terry came along. Ginger was replaced by Terry and then Rob left and we had a friend of Terry’s called Pete [Finberg] on guitar for a while. It just didn’t sound right to me. And then one day Micky came down to show us some songs he was working on and we amplified his acoustic guitar and we thought, “Hang on! This is the sound we’re looking for!” Micky didn’t want to get on the road initially—he wasn’t keen on touring at all, but we beat him around the head with clubs and eventually he gave in!
To be perfectly honest with you, as to whether—I often wondered this—as to whether my style of bass playing... which was quite “busy”, if you like, quite interweaving... whether it clashed with the electric guitar, I don’t know. A lot of Renaissance music to me has always been like a small orchestra. And an orchestra displays dynamics. And the electric guitar for me was never subtle enough for some of the songs that we were doing. It was too brash, it was too loud, it was too raucous. It had its place, but in those days, if you had somebody who played the electric guitar, there was no way you were going to get them to sit down and play an acoustic as well. (laughs). I don’t think the electric guitar did the early music of Renaissance any favors at all. When Micky came that day and we all sat down and started just playing casually with the acoustic guitar it just clicked. So, it was a little by design, and a lot by accident.
RF: Apropos electric vs acoustic guitar in the band: you had a very nice double-neck electric bass-and-guitar Rickenbacker, and that coincided with the Azure D’or era of Michael going back to playing electric guitar live. That seems like a huge departure from the classic-era sound of the band when there was no electric guitar on stage—and now in the later years, there were not one but two!
JC: Some of the songs we were doing required me to play guitar. And Mike knew this wonderful guitar maker called Dick Knight who lived near him in Surrey. Dick unfortunately died some years ago, but what a wonderful craftsman. Mike and I put our heads together and thought, hmmm, right, Jon you have thedouble-neck, and of course we had been doing Seasons and Azure D’or which we were working on with David Hentschel as the producer, who worked with Genesis. He was responsible for all the big Genesis albums. And it was he that suggested that we introduce some electric guitar into the band to give it a broader spectrum. And Micky wasn’t resistant about it at all, I mean, Micky is a fine acoustic guitar player but he wasn’t too keen on playing electric. But some of the songs had electric guitar on them so we were always keen to try and duplicate what we did on the album live on stage. So hence, we both had guitars. That guitar that Micky played, although it looked like a Gibson, that was a custom made Dick Knight as well, they were both made at the same time.
JC: Yes. When we first went out on tour in England, although Keith Relf’s Renaissance had sort of bit by bit disappeared, we had go out and on our first tour as “Renaissance II” because his band was still technically alive. Although it was a follow-on from Illusion, our first album Prologue was recorded quickly and simply and I think it shows … it is not purely because the Americans took us to their heart, and you can never diminish the amount of help that we got from Alison Steele and WNEW in New York. I think the first Renaissance album I felt comfortable with was Ashes Are Burning. That’s when I felt that we’d established some rapport. It was very “embryonic” but I felt that’s when we established the style that gave us something to build on.
RF: The success of Renaissance in America always surpassed the success in the UK or the rest of the world and you mentioned a few minutes ago the WNEW radio station in New York as one of the contributing factors, but do you have any thoughts on what really made the difference. In particular, we are curious: was some kind of a management or marketing mistake made and if something had been done differently there would have been greater success, greater sales in the UK, or was it just somehow the nature of the markets, the audiences, something intangible that nobody was able to figure out and it just happened. The band focused a lot of touring time in the US—but of course, that’s a chicken and egg situation: you are selling well in the US, so that’s where you tour.
JC: Yes. I know what you mean, and it’s something that I’ve pondered on for many many years. You would think by the virtue of the style of music of Renaissance, that it would have been more popular to an European audience—with it being rooted in, really, European classical music, if you like. But, I think there was something about Renaissance and the American people, whether we exuded a certain kind of warmth that wasn’t coming from other bands, I don’t know. I think a lot of it was—and I can only go by some of the bizarre things that people have said to me when I’ve been backstage with them (laughs) after American concerts, but there was something about the Englishness of the band. We all know, if you don’t mind me saying this, I think the biggest devotees of the British royal family are the American people! I think the Englishness of us appealed to the Americans, there was perhaps a certain degree of subtlety, and obviously, (pauses) I think we were just a little bit more accessible than some bands in America.
Having said that, we did have a hit record over here with Northern Lights, which was great fun doing all the TV shows. I know they’ve gone bang now, but King Biscuit used to do a thing called King Biscuit Flour Hour, which I’m sure you’re familiar with and we did three nights at the Royal Albert Hall in England with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and a choir which was recorded and released on two albums. Now that is the epitome of having made it in England: playing Royal Albert Hall. That’s like playing the O2 arena nowadays. And we sold it out every night—that was 15,000 people over the three nights. Not anything near the audiences we got in America... I really can’t tell you why we were so popular in America. We could have been a lot more popular—if you look at the other progressive bands of the time, no way did we come close to the popularity of Genesis or Yes, or ELP—we weren’t in the same league.
But, whereas I think they had “floating” fans, if that’s the correct term, people that loved Renaissance stuck with Renaissance, and the stories I’ve heard of people that would not go to work in the morning unless they played at least one side of one of the albums. You know, they had to set themselves up for the day. We had the kind of a therapeutic effect (laughs) on people. I really can’t answer that question properly. I wish I knew the answer! Americans are so much nicer to play to than the English. They really are! If American people get behind you, you’re going to be there a long while. You’re obviously living the good life!
RF: Did the band and its management anguish over this state of affairs: that the popularity was so much greater on one continent than another, or was it just “it is what it is and we’ll tour where we are popular”?
JC: We have an old English saying: if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. So as long as the American people were happy to come and hear us play and we were being successful there... Obviously, we still did British tours over here, but they tended to be things like the Albert Hall tour, [with] the orchestra, you can imagine how expensive that was. But we took it on the road. We did three nights in Manchester, three nights in Birmingham, and then three nights in London. Now moving an orchestra around is not cheap (laughs) as you can imagine. But, so, the tours we did tended to be more special events (as opposed to be a collection of concerts) in major English towns.
We toured England in the early years and did very well prior to America. Because there is—like you have in the States—a big university market over here, where we used to do ever so well. But then the Americans took us to their hearts and , well, you know, would you rather play in front of a thousand people and go down really well, or go to America and play in front of 5000 people and get a standing ovation? I know which one I’d rather do. (laughs)
RF: Was album cover art a big deal back in the day?
JC: It was, it was a very big deal. The album cover was almost as important as what was in side of it sometimes (laughs). We tended to use Hipgnosis—a company called Hipgnosis who were THE people at the time. Storm Thorgerson and his partner whose name completely escapes me, but he’s the one who did like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, he did the ones with Caravan, he did the ones for WIshbone Ash, he did the majority of ours. I mean, I’ve got ours up on the wall here. He did ours up to Song for All Seasons which, actually, I was never very happy about as an album cover but …
RF: Funny you should say that because the reason we are asking this questions is that one of us always felt that Song for All Seasons was the band’s best album but had the worst cover.
JC: Yes, and me.
RF: You said that you used the Vigier and its different sounds in different parts of the same Renaissance songs. Can you name a particular song?
JC: You’ll hear it there in the 1980s live performances of Can you Hear Me, Touching Once, Opening Out, Day of the Dreamer and Song for All Seasons.
RF: We have a question submitted by a fan, and I think this was an interesting one that we wouldn’t have thought of. We’re guessing the person’s premise is the fact that Camera Camera and Timeline, being 1980s albums,using 80s prevailing arrangement and production standards, even if the songs are good, the arrangements don’t sound so great. Have you given any thought over the years to re-mixing some of those tracks? This fan in particular is thinking along the lines of turning some of them into modern-day dance arrangements.
JC: Well yeah, a lot of it lent itself towards that, and I often thought about that. I’ve got one lady on Facebook that writes me all the time and and says, “why don’t you remix Orient Express and release it as a dance track”
RF: Yes, same person, Randi Dennis from Portland OR.
JC: That’s right. And she’s right. I was never happy with those albums. Having said that, I had a good time writing them. But we were under—and I think Annie said this several times before—a lot of pressure from Warner Brothers in England to emulate the success of Northern Lights as a single. They thought we had more life in us over here with regard to getting hit singles to chart in the United Kingdom. And another factor was that because we were no longer with a major label, we didn’t have anywhere near as much money to spend on the albums.
I wasn’t happy with... I liked a couple of the tracks off of it, but it was a little too... poppy for my liking. We were under a lot of pressure and this is one of the reasons why it all started to go wrong for me because management was lacking in foresight.... I mean we’d come to the States and the management that we had at the time wasn’t the best—the good guys had gone—obviously actually it wasn’t as strong as it was . We’d be coming to America, we were playing... clubs, as a 3-piece: Annie, Micky, and myself. Now, Renaissance does not work as a 3-piece. It needs keyboards, it needs percussion, and it was like... We were becoming an English version of Peter, Paul, and Mary (laughs) and that wasn’t me.
RF: What, in the end, lead you to leave Renaissance?
JC: Management was a large part of it. When you take a drum kit away from a bass player, it alienates him—at least it does in my case. And I’m trying to play my bass part in a 3-piece situation sitting on a stool doing vocal harmonies and like, no keyboards or anything and it just didn’t feel right to me any more, and so … we didn’t seem to get the result I wanted regarding the management situation so. I said look... I’ve had enough. I left about three weeks before we were due to do an American tour and this thing with Robin [George] came up doing a world tour, and I thought alright, I’m going to do one thing or another here and I took a chance and... as it turned out... to this day I still don’t think I made the wrong decision. But it was mainly down to management and where we were playing.
RF: Were you invited to participate in the 1998 reunion?
JC: No. Annie and Michael never contacted me. I had a meeting with them and said look, you know, I goofed here, can I come back? And they said no, which I was absolutely stunned by. First thing I knew about the Tuscany album was when I phoned up Terry Sullivan to say “Do you fancy reforming Renaissance?” and he said “but we’ve just done an album” and he said “I fought tooth and nail for you to come back into the band, but they wouldn’t have it.”
And this brings us on to the 2009 reunion tour. All five people were going to do the reunion tour. I’ve got the tour programs, I’ve got everything on my computer. Micky called me out of the blue and said “Jon, what do you think about putting the band back together”. So I said “well let me think about it” . So about 10 seconds later I said “When do we start?” (laughs.)
So that was that. We were all buzzing and the emails were floating around and this is going to be great, big reunion tour and then of course as soon as we have the first set of dates booked, John has a heart attack. The only proviso that I made, when we decided to put the band back together again, was that I would only do it if all the original members were in the band because to me, after John and Terry went the band was never right. It was never the Renaissance that I knew and loved, after that. We had so many different drummers and keyboard players come and going—it was good, but to me it was … a pastiche, a parody of what the band used to be. It was never right once John and Terry went.
So that was the proviso... we all committed to each other and said “yeah we’re going to do it, fantastic”, I mean the phones were buzzing, it was brilliant, it was one of the best times of my life. And then it came to be that John had the heart attacks, we had to shelve those gigs. Micky said “what do you think about getting another keyboard player in?” And I knew of Tom Brislin because I’m familiar with his work with Yes on the Magnification album. So I said, yeah, if you can’t have John, then yeah, let’s go with Tom, and I got to the stage where I said look, even if it comes out of my money, let’s get John well, bring John with us, even if he just sits and plays the piano and does nothing else, I want him there. We had agreed on that.
The only other thing was—I said Mike, it’s my 60th birthday in October, my wife is planning a great big party for us all, I’ve got relatives coming from all over the world. Whatever you do, don’t book the gigs then. He phones me up—when’s the first gig? October the 9th, my birthday. I said “I can’t do it! I can’t let all these people down”. And so Terry said “if you’re not doing it, I’m not doing it” and John said “well if you’re not doing it I’m not doing it” and that was the end of it. But I have an email from Micky that said they’re going to try and do the tour on their own and never forget, the door is open for you guys any time you want to come back. And I’ll state, now that John is well, there is no reason on God’s earth why the original Renaissance isn’t touring America. Absolutely none.
RF: In 2002 the reunion effort fizzled, but Terry Sullivan announced then that he was in talks with you and John Tout to reform as another Renaissance incarnation. Do you remember anything about that?
JC: Well, it wasn’t so much Renaissance , it was just that Terry was in the middle of doing his album, with Christine, his wife, doing the vocals and John had done some stuff on that. I didn’t even know about that. And then he said “well why don’t we go out as “Renaissant” which is what he called his band. And I notice you use that term for people that join the Renaissance Fanfare site, they are called “Renaissants”, I quite like that!
So that was the plan, but it all drifted and Terry had to buy a new house and he was traveling around and we’d be doing things over the phone and sending pieces of music to each other, and John wasn’t too well again then, so it all sort of got shelved. Then I got to the stage where I’d been waiting for two years for it to happen. That’s what prompted me to say, alright, whether people like it or not, whether you like the material, whether they like it or not, I’m going to have a stab at doing it on my own again. And it was then when I started mentioning that, and got involved with Facebook, and I saw how many people were still in favor of what I had always done, I felt very emotionally charged by that. And it’s what’s got me to do what I’m doing now is because of it.
RF: If Renaissance as it exists today tours the UK in the future, would you consider a guest appearance if invited?
JC: Hmm... as things stand... Simple answer is yes—I’d love to but I doubt very much it will happen. I think a proper re-union is the way forward as do John and Terry.
As far as I’m concerned, we’ve all been part of very big happy family for a very long time and there shouldn’t be any animosity—and I hope there’s not. And I’ve only given my viewpoints of how I feel about things (and I think you could probably read between the lines anyway). But it’s a shame we’re not as we were—who knows, [maybe] one day? And I’m glad to be back doing what I do best. I want to thank all those people who continue to have faith in me and my ability—I’ll try my best not to let you down.
© Rudy Krankall
A Song For All Seasons is IMH (and professional) O a fantastic sleeve design.. Hipgnosis did it..it bears looking at a long time and is strikingly cool.
Now, Novella, THAT is an abomination--someone's nephew made that maybe?
No reason to ;)
Here you will know more about the nephew:
aaah.....her work's so much better now. so's mine for that matter. ; )
I agree, the 'Song For All Seasons' cover is great, it's just that it looks a bit odd compared with the beautiful earlier ones. I also don't like the 'Novella' one a lot, the front is fine, the back not so much... My fave cover is always 'Ashes Are Burning'.