How Annie Haslam — the golden voice of the 70’s classical rock group Renaissance — became the spokeswoman for the Angel of Bliss
Interview by Carl McColman
“I’ve had a website for several years now; it’s been extremely helpful in promoting my work – and has been a great way for people to find out I’m still alive and kicking!” So speaks Annie Haslam about her elegantly designed website, www.anniehaslam.com — and about her position as a seventies rock star who, far from being a mere icon of the past, is creating new music as beautiful and moving as anything she has ever done. Formerly the lead vocalist of Renaissance, Haslam has been described as “the nightingale of progressive rock.”
Nowadays, Haslam is still singing and recording, with two albums released in 2000, both of which feature a combination of gorgeous arrangements with angelically inspired lyrics. And to top it all off, a Renaissance reunion is in the works as well. During their heyday in the mid- to late-seventies, Renaissance toured the world, playing venues like Carnegie Hall and the Royal Albert Hall, performing with orchestras like the Royal Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic. Songs like “Carpet of the Sun,” “Ashes are Burning,” and “Northern Lights” can still be heard on classic rock radio stations. Renaissance’s sound was grand, expansive, and transcendent, and Annie’s five-octave soprano bestowed the music with beauty and grace.
In 1987 Renaissance disbanded and Haslam began her solo career, releasing several solo albums that showcased her voice in a lighter musical setting. In the early nineties, however, the singer faced a crisis when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Among other things, she credits her successful recovery to angels — especially Ananda, the angel of bliss. In her own words, “I know I had divine help through this period of my life.”
In response to this divine help, Haslam threw herself into her solo career with a renewed vigor. In 1997 she toured Brazil, releasing a live album documenting the trip. Live Under Brazilian Skies was the first release on her own White Dove Records, and features both classics from the Renaissance repertoire as well as some of her better solo songs. It’s an excellent one-disc intro to Haslam’s work; most significantly, it shows how her solo material is as strong as her work with Renaissance.
One of the loveliest songs on the live album, “Summon the Angels,” appears again on The Dawn of Ananda, released in 2000. This CD features ten songs of lovely benediction and heavenly blessing, each one celebrating some form of angel or other guiding spirit. Following in the tradition of artists like Enya and Loreena McKennitt, Annie Haslam has created a vocal album which, both musically and lyrically, fits squarely within the new age genre.
Each song on The Dawn of Ananda explores angelic spirituality from a different angle. “Ananda” and “Michael, Prince of Angels” tell of Haslam’s personal experience with guardian angels, while “This is Destiny” and “Running River Runs” celebrate spiritual guidance in a more universal, inclusive way. Two of the most poignant songs on the album, “Precious One” and “A Thousand Angels,” both explore the tragedy of a child’s death — and the solace the grieving parents find in their experience of their lost children as angels. “Precious One” was co-written by fellow Renaissance alum Michael Dunford, and sounds especially reminiscent of the band’s sound.
The music on this CD is orchestral and romantic, the lyrics unabashed in their celebration of faith and divine guidance. While Haslam’s earnest vision might not suit the fans of Slipknot or Godsmack, it should appeal to anyone who enjoys the ethereality of Enya, the romanticism of Sarah McLachlan, and the writings of Neale Donald Walsch. Several of the songs deal honestly with grief and loss, keeping the album from veering too much into sentimentality. Nevertheless, this is music filled with hope, optimism, and trust in heavenly guidance.
Given the celestial tone of Ananda, it seems fitting that Haslam would follow it up with her first CD of Christmas songs, It Snows in Heaven Too. For the past five years Haslam and her band have put on holiday shows at churches and other venues near her home in Pennsylvania, where she has lived for the past decade. Looking to the future, in spring 2001 Haslam will join in a Renaissance reunion tour, coinciding with the release of Tuscany, the first Renaissance album in fifteen years. Recorded in 1998, Tuscany is currently only available in Japan (or as a pricey import through Amazon). But until Renaissance secures a deal for US distribution of their new disc, Haslam has plenty to keep her busy, including managing her artist-owned label, website, and — her latest venture — a line of “Ananda” angel jewelry. Featuring a whimsical angel designed by Haslam, these charming pendants, earrings, and pins speak to the angel-trusting child within us all. As an added bonus, she is donating a portion of the proceeds to several charitable organizations, making those who buy and wear her jewelry “angels” as well.
I met Annie Haslam in 1998 when she performed in Atlanta; two years later, I had the good fortune to host her appearance at the International New Age Trade Show in Denver. She is a charming and delightful person, a great conversationalist, and entirely down-to-earth. The following Q & A is developed from email conversations we had over the fall of 2000, in preparation for articles published in New Age Voice magazine and the New Leaves catalog.
Annie, how has managing your websites (www.anniehaslam.com and www.anandaangels.com) impacted your career?
I’ve had a website for several years now; it’s been extremely helpful in promoting my work – and has been a great way for people to find out I’m still alive and kicking! The guest book is wonderful, the messages sometimes make me cry, it is so nice to know that one has had a positive influence in someone’s life. I continually update my news section so that everyone can keep up with my activities. My e-Commerce site (www.anandaangels.com) of course is one of the best decisions I have ever made. It was a lot of work but a great way to get the music out there if one cannot acquire a major deal, which nowadays is more difficult than in the old days of Renaissance. The music business is way different and it is more difficult for new talent to get the exposure they deserve. One of the problems of course being the lack of radio stations to play new artists!
Tell me about your Christmas CD…
I have wanted to do a Christmas CD for a long time, but the time was never right. I loved to hear the Christmas Carolers that used to come and sing in our street in Lancashire when I was little girl (at that point I had no idea that I was going to be a singer)! This will be the fifth year that I have done Christmas shows with my band and everyone kept requesting a Christmas CD…..Rave Tesar who is the music director and the keyboard player in my band was the perfect person to get it all together. He arranged and produced the CD of well known favourite Christmas songs and also he wrote the title track It Snows in Heaven Too which will surely become a Christmas classic.
… and about the new Renaissance CD and tour?
The Tuscany CD is out in Japan right now and we are touring there in support of it in March with three of us from the original band (Michael Dunford, Terry Sullivan and myself) and three other musicians. It will be the first time we have played together in almost years! Help! I hope we can get rid of all the cobwebs.
Talk to me about being a businesswoman and a musician. Has that been difficult for you?
It is very hard to be a business woman and a musician . . . it has been a hard struggle to be quite honest. I would rather have spent more time singing and writing than all the computer and office ‘stuff’. At least I know what is going on which is quite different from the good old days . . . I am in control and I guess it makes me feel good to know that I am the one who has made all these things happen. I have a business manager now who has taken a lot off my shoulders, but of course I will always have to be the decision maker.
Who is Ananda?
Ananda is a name given to me a few years ago by my brother Keith who is a Krishna devotee. I never used the name until recently, when I realized I hadn’t named my Angel logo which I had designed back in 1992 for my fan club. Ananda means “Bliss” in Hindu and seemed very appropriate for my little triumphant Angel. I wasn’t aware at the time of inception that she would watch over me during my bout with breast cancer. I came through triumphant and I know I had divine help through this period of my life. This is why she is so meaningful to me and I hope will be to others.
Tell me a little bit about your relationship with angels.
I believe I have always be interested in angels but not to the extent that I am now. I talk to them when I need guidance and feel their presence at that moment. When I become warm and overwhelmed with emotion, that is when I know they are with me. Of course they are with us all the time, but this material world we live in sometimes clouds our view. I have a wonderful photograph that was taken in the 1970s when I was performing in California, taken with infrared film by a very innovative photographer called Spider. This hangs on my wall at home in all its vibrant orange and gold lighting. My friend Patrick Moraz (former keyboard player with Yes and the Moody Blues) saw the photo and said, “Annie, this angel standing behind you is so beautiful.” I was stunned to see standing behind on stage is a huge angel with it’s wings outspread. It is always a glorious sight for me to see as I walk into the room where it hangs. Boy! Do I believe in angels!
The CD’s first song, “Precious One,” involves a child who dies but then reaches out to his grieving mother from the other side. Have you ever had any experience with after-death communication? I was close to both my mother and father, but have had some experiences over the last few years that I felt definitely were messages from him. These past few years have been difficult in many ways and through my own belief system have managed to get through all that has been handed to me. What started to happen to me was that when I got into my car the rear view mirror would be tilted either up at the roof of the car or facing the floor. Immediately my father would come into my mind at that moment I knew he was watching over me and telling everything would work out. He was right each time and it would always make me smile when that happened, to know that we are never alone and that there is always guidance and help there for us to tap in to. All we have to do is listen. This still happens periodically. His picture ‘bounced’ along the top of the television as if dancing one day. That was witnessed by a friend of mine. I just say, “Hi Dad,” to acknowledge I know he is with me.
Tell me about the Ananda jewelry. How did you get into the jewelry business?
In 1998 I was performing in upstate New York when a fan (who also happened to be a jewelry designer) gave me a wonderful gift! It was my little stick Angel logo (Ananda) made into an 18 karat pendant. It was magnificent! At that moment I decided that I would like to make it available to people in the fan club. Things evolved from there after I sat down and really thought more about what I could achieve other than just selling the pieces. This year the jewelry, known as the Ananda Angel Collection, was completed. Each piece is made from .925 sterling silver, and part of the proceeds from the sale of the jewelry will go to three different charities that I am involved with. I hope that people will be uplifted when they see her.
Tell me about the charities that the jewelry supports.
“Let the Children Live” is run by a friend of mine, Fr. Peter Walters. I met him in England in the 80’s and was so overwhelmed by his spirit and his determination to help the street children of Colombia, South America that I vowed that one day I would help in some way — so here we go!
“The Cancer Care and Haematology Fund” in the UK is a facility attached to Stoke Mandeville hospital that I visited last year, when I was on a promotional interview tour. It is run by a nurse called June Wilson who she has spent many years raising money to build a new center for cancer patients. I saw plans of the intended new building and was impressed at the ambience created by June and her staff. I visited the old building and even that was very welcoming for patients that have to undergo chemotherapy and all it entails. I am so glad that I went there, and hope that I will be able to help them with Ananda. “Casa Guatemala” is a home for malnourished and orphaned children in the jungles of Guatemala. They were hit very severely last year with floods which almost destroyed the entire orphanage and several new buildings that had not long been erected. I hope that one day soon I will be able to go and see the children for myself. Probably it will be a very upsetting trip to make, but I think it is necessary to see first hand what is happening. I feel I want to go and hug them all.
What do you think is the most important spiritual lesson you have learned from the angels?
I have learned from my angels that every single element on this beautiful Earth is connected to each other. We are all integral to each others lives. We are accountable for every move we make, every word we speak. I have learned that we all have the ability to connect to a higher level of consciousness, for some it easier than others because we all have our own belief systems and levels of spiritual growth. Wherever I am in all of this, I feel safe in the knowledge that there is a higher power, with many names as we know, but there is no doubt in my mind of its existence. We are all blessed and I for one am very thankful for my eclectic life full of wonderful friends and fans who have supported me, no matter what. We are all surrounded by angels heaven and earthbound.
Portions of this article originally appeared, in slightly different forms, in the December 2000 issue of New Leaves and the February 2001 issue of New Age Voice.