Interview with TERRY SULLIVAN

November 2005

Playing with the band and maneuvering with orchestras while maintaining the rock feel must be hard for a drummer. Not hard, though sometimes heavy, maintains Terence Sullivan who sat behind the RENAISSANCE drum kit in their classic – and classical – era. After the "Tuscany" LP that saw the band reunited and the subsequent tour it brought forth "In The Land Of The Rising Sun", the musicians went their separate ways, but it was Terry who’s become a bearer of the RENAISSANCE torch. Shaping his experience into the RENAISSANT project, Sullivan comes up with the wonderful "South Of Winter" album. And that’s only the beginning, says Terry.

– Terry, “South Of Winter” has an old RENAISSANCE feel to it. How would you describe this feel?

John Tout, Betty Newsinger and myself have always believed that musicians should remain true to themselves and play from the heart, which is what we did with RENAISSANCE and which we are continuing to do now with RENAISSANT. Thank you for recognizing it in our new music.

– Why is it called RENAISSANT? To reconnect you with the fanbase?

RENAISSANT is a part of the RENAISSANCE, I think this explains it all and I really didn’t want to go down the Terry Sullivan’s RENAISSANCE route.

– How did “South” come to be? The talk of it goes all way back to, I’d say, 1997…

Betty and I started writing together around 1977, but never had the opportunity to place the songs on the RENAISSANCE albums, so we decided to carry on writing together until the time was right. Fortunately, with the advancement of technology and the home studio thing, I was able to build a place for us to work, and now “South Of Winter” is a result of that collaboration.

– There’s all of your family on the record. Is that a reason for it to be so warm in tone? Could it be called a family album?

Working with the family has a special magic to it, as you’re all able to trust each other and egos don’t get in the way, so only the music matters, which to my mind is how it should be, Yeah, it does have a warm tone, must be all the love there.

– Your son plays in a band called BOA that helped you with your album. Did you ever get to sharing your proud dad experience with two other BOA members’ father, Paul Rodgers?

Yeah, I’ve met Paul a couple of times. He’s got a great couple of kids in Jasmin and Steve. They were happy to be a part of the album. Watch out for BOA: they are a great band.

– The new album shows you as a strong composer. How come, then, that in RENAISSANCE you co-wrote only two numbers, “Forever Changing” that sounds like a pre-cursor to your new songs, and “A Song For All Seasons”?

There was a bit of a Ringo thing going on in the band, I feel sorry about it now, as the band never did reach its full potential. John was a great musician and unfortunately was never given the credit he deserved, and Annie Haslam was obviously bursting with lyrics. Still, it’s too late to worry about that now.

– Quite a long ago you said you had written many songs with Betty Newsinger. Did you use those on the album or were these new ones done especially for “South Of Winter”?

The song “South Of Winter” was written ten or eleven years ago. “Cold Flame” was written last year so there are some old and some new songs.

On-stage with Michael Dunford

On-stage with Michael Dunford

– There was little correlation between the original RENAISSANCE and the one gathered by Michael Dunford, but did you ever have the feeling you were filling Jim McCarty‘s shoes – even though you replaced not him but other drummer?

Prior to joining RENAISSANCE, I was living in the USA, so I had no idea that Jim was the original drummer and had played on the first two albums. All I knew was that the band was an old name and deep in debt, but I just knew from the first time we played together that the music suited my style of drumming. I’d always enjoyed THE YARDBIRDS, so I felt pleased to be part of that musical tree.

– RENAISSANCE were one of the few bands to play live with an orchestra. Was it difficult for you as a drummer to be a part of a bigger collective or more safe?

No, not really, the whole thing from a drummer’s perspective was that it felt heavier – not in a metal sense but in the air that was moved.

– Having joined RENAISSANCE, did you have to have an expertise in classical material?

I studied drums and percussion with Frank King in London for three years covering all types of music, from Glen Miller’s swing band to classical pieces such as Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf”, with its beautiful little snare drum pattern, but really at that young age I was primarily interested in rock.

– How demanding it was maintaining the loud / quiet dynamics of the band’s music?

RENAISSANCE always felt that the dynamics of the music to be one of the most important features. It came quite naturally to me, and I liked the rest in the quiet sections. Ha ha!

– What is the drumming for you in the first place: a rhythm or a melody?

I have always thought of drumming in a melodic sense, but due to the nature of the instrument it, of course, takes on a predominately rhythmic aspect. I’m really pleased when people notice the melodic feel to my playing – it makes it all worthwhile.

– There’s a picture of a set of fourteen cymnbals on your website. Does your drum kit really equipped with that many of them?

No, that was artistic license on the part of my web designer, I normally use as many cymbals as the music warrants: in a rock situation, I’ll have a couple of rides, and maybe two or three splashes. I particularly like Zildjian, so I’ll always go with them if I can.

– You also play guitar and played it at the RENAISSANCE shows. Do you use it when composing?

Michael Dunford, Annie Haslam, Terry Sullivan

Michael Dunford, Annie Haslam, Terry Sullivan

Some songs – such as “South Of Winter”, “Morning” and “Alone” – I wrote on guitar, others including “Fool To Love” and “Burning My Bridges”, I wrote on the piano. It fascinates me the way a song lends its initial self to a certain instrument, and I just take it from there and let the song grow.

– How do you feel in a lead singer’s role?

Not at all comfortable. to be honest. I’m very self-conscious about my voice, and when you’ve been in a band with someone like Annie… Well enough said!

– Not much known about your pre-RENAISSANCE days, except the names of the bands you played with. Could you, please, give some details of those times?

Pre-RENAISSANCE. I was in various bands, charting with DRY ICE in England and then THE TAGGS in Sweden, but mainly I was on the underground scene, playing venues such as Middle Earth and the Round House, and many festivals and universities all over the country. They were great days, and I certainly paid my dues, sometimes playing two or three gigs a night.

– And what was after? Did you really leave the band just because of John Tout sacking – or was it because the music had become less adventurous?

John to me and many others was the very heart of the RENAISSANCE sound, so his sacking – combined with the fact that I was spending all my time traveling, supporting albums from which I made very little money – brought me to the decision to leave and damn the consequences. As it turned out, I think I made the right choice, although now I really enjoy the odd tour with Annie and Mike, as time heals and I’m a believer of living in the now.

– Were you and John in touch all this time?

Yes. John and I will never lose touch with each other, through all the good time and the bad. John and I have always had a special bond and respect for the music we create together.

– Is there a future for the RENAISSANT project?

I hope so. In the end. it’s up to the people to support us, and we in turn will try our best to return the love and respect given to us. My life has been all about making music, so whatever happens, I will continue down this path and use this gift I have been given. The second album has already been written, and I will start work on it in the new year, God willing.

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