Turning their cards in NYC, English art rock ensemble embrace their symphonic side to get away with opulence.
It was an enchanting evening in May 1974, when FAIRPORTS with Sandy Denny at the front opened for RENAISSANCE who returned to the venue they’d played two months earlier to take their performance to much higher level. A little while before that, they quintet had sounded like a tightly coiled group about to unwind once the wind filled their sails, which happened after they crossed the ocean again to play with an orchestra for the first time. Not a big one, only 24 musicians to add a new dimension to the band’s sonic scope, a lonesome violin seeping into opener “Can You Understand” to reveal this new fixture to fully unfold it on the harmonica-stricken “Carpet Of The Sun,” but as far as magnificent starts go, such an approach proved its vitality.
There’s not a lot of looking back on these tapes, where the ensemble bring on-stage most of their just-released album, “Turn Of The Cards” – including “Cold Is Being,” their rarely delivered, and slightly stripped of solemnity here, reading of Albinoni’s “Adagio” – and one of the most clear signs of progress is the prominence of Jon Camp as a singer to anchor Annie Haslam‘s stratospheric vocalise and, as bassist, to lock in with John Tout’s ivories in the likes of “Things I Don’t Understand.” Dynamic spread arranged in a majestic way, and hushed dramatically for “Black Flame,” now Michael Dunford’s acoustic guitar creates a fine texture weaving around Terry Sullivan‘s percussion, which brings out inherent simplicity of the group’s intent that’s also obvious from their interaction with the audience, giggling and chatting almost intimately as if not believing what’s being achieved in the moment.
This notion is a stranger to “Mother Russia” and “Running Hard,” though, as the strings, brass and woodwind elevate the cinematic epics to the wuthering heights of emotion, while “Ashes Are Burning” appears as vehicle for the collective – including WISHBONE ASH’s Andy Powell adorning it with sharp electric interjections – to flex their improvisatory muscle for an astonishing 21 minutes and tap into a genuine symphonic canon. The finale of “Prologue” only seals it in a rather playful manner – seals that greatness which was set from now on.