Monday, 9 April 2018

Illusion (Renaissance,Yardbirds) “Illusion ” 1978 UK Prog Rock


Illusion (Renaissance,Yardbirds) “Illusion ” 1978 UK Prog Rock
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Formed in the 70’s from the Ashes of Renaissance by the Ex-yardbirds Vocalist Keith Relf’s Sister Jane.

Illusion was formed by the four surviving original members of Renaissance (Jim McCarty, John Hawken, Jane Relf and Louis Cennamo) in 1976, adding two additional musicians, guitarist John Knightsbridge and drummer Eddie McNeil. By that time Renaissance had achieved considerable success with an entirely different lineup so the original name was no longer available. The name “Illusion” came from the title of Renaissance’s second album, the last one to feature these four musicians. 

Illusion recorded two albums for Island Records, “Out of the Mist” (1977) and “Illusion” (1978). Demos for their third album, “Enchanted Caress”, were recorded in 1979 but the project was left incomplete when the band broke up that year. The recordings were remastered and released in 1989. 

The four core members reformed the band in 2000 under the name Renaissance Illusion, recording and releasing the album, “Through The Fire” (2001) before breaking up yet again…..~


In 1975 Keith Relf, the singer and former colleague of mine in the Yardbirds, called me up for a ‘get-together’ with his sister Jane, and Louis Cennamo. We had all been in Renaissance a few years earlier and were still getting royalty payments. Since the Renaissance days, Keith had been successful as a producer and had been in a band with Louis, Armageddon, who had made an album for A&M Records. I had made an album of my own songs on EMI under the band name Shoot, and Jane had sung on various TV advertisements. 

The remaining member of Renaissance, John Hawken, the keyboard player, was invited to join us and we spoke about reforming the old band as none of us were involved with any other projects at the time, and the fact that we were still getting royalties meant the music was still popular. John was a versatile pianist, having played with more rocky bands such as Spooky Tooth and Vinegar Joe, and he was responsible for the dominance of the keyboards in the band’s sound. We organised some rehearsals at my house in Molesey and things seemed to go well. Having played together before, it didn’t take long to recreate our old distinctive sound. We decided to give it a go again, and after recording some demo tapes tried to get record company interest. We were still seeking this when Keith was tragically electrocuted in his flat in Whitton in May 1976. 

Rather than making us abandon the idea, this event seemed to spur us on, and we decided to take on two more people: John Knightsbridge on guitar, and Eddie McNeil on drums, which left me free to sing lead vocal along with Jane. More songs came quickly and in July we recorded half a dozen more demos, including “Isadora” and “Solo Flight”. Someone had once told me to take demo tapes to companies for whom you were earning money, so I contacted Island Records who were still selling the original Renaissance recordings. After a live audition we were promptly signed up, and recorded the album “Out Of The Mist” at Island Studios in Hammersmith. We needed a new name at that time as Renaissance had been transformed into a band of new members (Annie Haslam, Mick Dunford, etc.) We finally settled on Illusion, the title of our second Renaissance album, and went off on tour supporting Bryan Ferry in the UK and Europe. 

We were received well, though sales were only moderate. After another nationwide tour, supporting Dory Previn, we were pressed by the record company to start another album which was to 'break’ us as a band. The first album had charted in the States, and it was generally thought that the production could be improved upon, so for the second album Paul Samwell-Smith, another former Yardbird, was brought in as producer. Paul was highly thought of by Island as he had produced a succession of Cat Stevens albums and of course the first Renaissance album. The consequent album (“Illusion”) was fun to make, collaborating with Paul again, but due to the pressure of time and touring the material was not as strong as on the first album, in my opinion, although it did contain the classic track “Madonna Blue” which brought out the very best of everyone in the band. 

The album was released in the UK and Europe, but not in the States, for some unknown reason, and this was a big blow to us. The new wave of punk music was becoming more and more popular, and the overall trend at the time (the late 70’s) was far away from what we were doing. Our only hope had lain in the States, but after the non-release of the second album we were dropped by Island in 1979. 
by Jim McCarty, February 1994 ………~


On Illusion the band had grown music wise. Also the help of old pal Paul Samwell-Smith, who had played with Jim McCarty in the Yardbirds, provided for a better production and a better sound. Highlights on their second release are the opening tune Madonna Blue and the final piece The Revolutionary. Especially on these tracks you hear the same kind of music Renaissance would record later on with vocalist Annie Haslam and keyboard player John Tout. The interaction between Jane Relf and Jim McCarty and the harmony vocals are much better than on Out Of The Mist. 

The music on both albums very much resembles the music of the first two Renaissance-albums mainly due to the fact that the key members of both Illusion and Renaissance were the same. That also applied for the compositions mainly written by McCarty and Hawken. Unfortunately both releases lack some additional tracks. Maybe they could have used some of the recorded demos for the upcoming third album, but they didn’t. These songs later on appeared on the album Enchanted Caress (1990). Illusion disbanded in 1979. Punk rock and new wave regrettably pushed aside many great progressive bands at the end of the seventies. Who knows how many more fantastic albums Illusion would have recorded..? 
by Henri Strik…..~


After the encouraging results of their debut album, Illusion went back the following year to record their second effort, the self-titled album that came with a superb artwork, much reminiscent of the Renaissance debut album and we also see the return of another ex-Yardbirds, Paul Samwell-Smith on production. One of the main difference between the rival line-ups is that Illusion has a real electric guitarist, even if his presence is less felt in this album than on Out Of The Mist. 

Opening on the superb almost 7-mins Madonna Blue, with its absolutely fabulous instrumental second part and a superb guitar solo, the album is off to a great start. McCarthy sings the following the west-coast CSN&Y-ish Never Be The Same track, while the soft-spoken Wings Across The Sea is a double vocal effort and is right in the usual target’s bull’s eye. Starting almost like a Tangerine Dream track, Cruising Nowhere is a splendid track that could’ve been a future avenue to venture on, showing that Illusion had indeed more songwriting tricks and talent in their bag than their rivals did. 

There is quite a difference in the with Louis’s Theme - a very mellow/soft and lengthy track, somewhat even quieter than any then-contemporary Renaissance track- and Man of Miracle that could’ve hinted to what a third album might have sounded but Punk killed that idea. Man Of Miracles (a track going back to the early Renaissance days) is again starting on unusual synth sounds and is again superbly soft-spoken, much like Louis’ Theme. The closing 8-mis+ Revolutionary is another escape into a different symphonic realm, and a rather successful one, even if you have to raise the volume to get most of its beauty 

If their debut OOTM was definitely ogling in the Renaissance direction, this second self-titled album is definitely aiming well beyond that restricted spectrum that their rivals were trapping themselves in. Indeed Illusion’s second album is anything but soporific, despite having half of its album in a very quiet and soft atmosphere that requires full attention and a good set of headphones. Renaissance fans might prefer the Mist album, but this one is definitely more adventurous…..by Sean Trane ….~

This band has a strong link with Renaissance featuring Jim McCarthy and Keith Relf. The sound is often similar (harmonic, lots of piano and acoustic guitar and warm vocals) to that legendary band. You can dream away on “Louis theme” and Man of miracles" but Illusion has a more lush symphonic sound due to the wide range of keyboards: clavinet, Mellotron, Fender Rhodes, Minimoog, ARP and Hammond organ, this can be heard on “Wings across the sea” and “The revolutionary” and especially on my highlight “Madonna blue”: splendid interplay between sparkling piano and majestic choir-Mellotron and a wondeful grand finale delivering a compelling guitarsolo and sumptuous keyboards, EXCELLENT!…by erik neuteboom ….~

Compared to the preceding Out Of The Mist album, the record here has some more accessible songs, better suited for easy listening. The omnipresent piano is more simple, not really Baroque, and there is the presence of acoustic guitar. The music is not really progressive except for one or two tracks; the songs are not complex, but it is not a simple music though. There are still many pleasant lead & backing vocals. There are some good mellotron parts, but there are also a few artificial keyboards parts that do not fit very well with the musical genre of the band, like on the slightly psychedelic “Cruising Nowhere”. Jane Relf’s super soothing lead vocals will definitely transport you on “Man Of Miracles”: it sounds like a pleasant & desired lullaby. The last track “The Revolutionary” is the most progressive one: it sounds a bit like The Strawbs. For those who, like me, love Jane Relf’s lead vocals, she appears on the beautiful New Age album with Jim McCarthy, on the “Stairway” artist name: the album is called Moonstone….by greenback …~

Illusion’s “Out of the Mist” album from 1977 (which marks the first half of this two-fer reissue of both of Illusion’s two albums for Island Records) is one of the most beautiful art-rock albums of all-time. Born from a line-up that includes all of the remaining members of the original line-up of Renaissance (minus Keith Relf who died during the early stages of the reformation of this band), the group includes John Hawken (Strawbs, Renaissance, Nashville Teens, et al), Jane Relf (Renaissance), Jim McCarty (Renaissance, The Yardbirds), Louis Cennamo (Renaissance, Colisseum, James Taylor, et al), John Knightsbridge (Third World War, et al) and Eddie McNeil. Together, the line-up of Illusion marked a band that, who for me, were a near-perfect blend of power, melody and lyrical imagery. To say that they were one of the most beautiful Mellotron and synthesizer-laced classical rock bands ever, is simply an understatement. They created and crafted music that even today, over 25 years later, holds up extremely well – there is little either before or after, that exceeded the quality heard on “Out of the Mist.” There is also some wonderful material found on the later self-titled “Illusion” album (included as the 2nd half of this two-fer). You can’t go wrong adding these great projects to your collection. Music like this is very rare – but aren’t all things that are truly beautiful?…by… R. Lindeboom…~

In the mid-70’s, the original lineup of Renaissance – Keith Relf, his sister Jane (vocals), Louis Cennamo (bass), John Hawken (keyboards) and Jim McCarty decided to regroup. Unfortunately, Keith died before the group could sign a record contract. Undaunted, McCarty became the chief songwriter and moved to acoustic guitar and vocals, recruiting lead guitarist John Knightsbridge and drummer Eddie MacNeil to fill out the band. Renaissance had carried on with new people after the original lineup had dissolved, so the band took the name Illusion. 

The sound of Illusion was the culmination of what the original Renaissance had started out trying to do. The early Renaissance was highly experimental in trying to merge several different musical styles, but they never really gelled. On their first album, 1977’s “Out of the Mist” , Illusion finally came up with a perfect classical/folk/pop hybrid. McCarty wrote songs that were catchy and accessible, based around acoustic folk patterns, with beautiful lyrics that weren’t too obtuse. The center of the band’s arrangements, however, was John Hawken’s keyboard playing. Unlike a lot of prog groups, he doesn’t overdo it (tasteful strings appear on a couple of tracks), pretty much sticking to piano, but filling things out with mellotron and Moog Synthesizer when appropriate. Knightbridge’s guitar lends a more rocky element to things on occasion (especially on “Solo Flight”). McCarty’s voice is rather thin, but the lovely alto of Jane Relf more than compensates. The songs range from the outgoing “Everywhere You Go” and “Roads to Freedom” to the romance of “Isadora”, the anthemic “Candles Are Burning” and the introspective “Face of Yesterday”, (a remake of a Renaissance track), maybe their most classically oriented composition. 

The 1978 followup, “Illusion”, showed growing diversity in the band. There were a couple of folk/pop ballads along the lines of the first album (“Wings Across the Sea” and “Never Be The Same”), but also an attempt at hard synth-pop (“Cruising Nowhere”) as well as a track which juxtaposed classical bombast and ambient sounds (“The Revolutionary”). 

“Louis’ Theme” was a proto-New Age waltz which was a showcase for both Cennamo’s bass playing and Jane Relf’s beautiful voice and lyric. However, 

the rock ballad “Madonna Blue” is, arguably, the ultimate Illusion track, with all the elements of the band perfectly on view. 

Unfortunately, despite “Out of the Mist” getting some US FM airplay and making the charts, Illusion’s timing was off. The second album did not get an American release, and the group was trampled by the rising punk movement in the UK. This is too bad, since even many prog rock fans were unaware of their existence. 

This CD corrects that, since both of their albums are avilable here. People who like the both lineups of Renaissance will definitely enjoy this, as well as fans of the Moody Blues, the Strawbs and Yes. Even people who find prog rock overblown could enjoy the more low-key, acoustically oriented sound of Illusion. If you missed out in the 70’s, don’t miss out now…..by… Robert R. Josef…~


Credits 

Bass – Louis Cennamo 
Drums, Bells [Tubular], Timpani, Percussion, Performer [Vibes], Effects – Eddie McNeil 
Electric Guitar [Lead], Acoustic Guitar – John Knightsbridge 
Electric Piano [Fender Rhodes], Piano, Mellotron, Organ [Hammond], Synthesizer [Mini Moog, Arp, Poly-moog], Harpsichord – John Hawken 
Producer, Backing Vocals – Paul Samwell-Smith 
Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Percussion, Backing Vocals – Jim McCarty 
Vocals, Backing Vocals – Jane Relf

Tracklist 
A1 Madonna Blue
A2 Never Be The Same
A3 Louis’ Theme
B1 Wings Across The Sea
B2 Cruising Nowhere
B3 Man Of Miracles
B4 The Revolutionary 

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