Annie Haslam, solo artist and lead vocalist with Renaissance, chats with Kevin Cooper about the success of Northern Lights, the passing of her great friend Michael Dunford, their latest album Symphony Of Light and their forthcoming tour of the UK.
Annie Haslam, born in Bolton, Lancashire is an English vocalist, songwriter, and painter. She is best known as the lead singer of progressive rock band Renaissance since 1971, and for her long and diverse solo career. Having toured extensively as a solo artist, she is proud to have performed at Carnegie Hall and The Royal Albert Hall with Renaissance. Not content to have just a singing and song-writing career, she is also a painter, having been commissioned by Dolly Parton. Her jewellery range, Ananda, is sold to raise funds for a children’s hospital in Guatemala, and a school for street children in Columbia.
Renaissance are currently preparing for a tour of the UK and Europe on the back of their latest album, Symphony Of Light. Now living in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Annie Haslam took time out from her busy rehearsal schedule to have an amusing and honest chat with Kevin Cooper, and this is what she had to say.
Hi Annie how are you?
Hello Kevin I’m good thank you, it’s good to hear an English accent (laughter).
How are things with you over there in Bucks County, Pennsylvania?
Well Kevin we have recently been having a lot of snow over here. We had 10 inches yesterday (laughter). My car is buried in snow that I have got to get off. Having said that it is a beautiful area in which to live. Oscar Hammerstein, Moss Hart and Kitty Carlisle have all lived in this area at some time, but not because of me (hysterical laughter). It’s beautiful and it has an English look and feel to it. I was the only person in the band who moved out here and at the time I was the only one that didn’t want too (laughter).
(Laughter) so you have had 10 inches of snow overnight. If we get an inch over here in the UK the whole country grinds to a halt (laughter).
I know Kevin, it’s so funny isn’t it. However when you have things to do then you simply get on with it and don’t let it stop you.
Well now that we have solved the worlds weather problems (laughter) I have to tell you that I have been listening to the new album and I think that it’s great.
That’s lovely of you to say Kevin, thank you.
Also let me just say before we get started, thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
You are most welcome Kevin.
So how is life treating you?
Life is good at the moment Kevin. The band is sounding pretty amazing and I am looking forward to bringing it over to England and Europe. We have the new album which we are all very proud of, and we have also had a lot of feed-back from the fans saying that it stands side-by-side with some of our earlier work, which is really nice to hear. We did go astray with some of our albums; I don’t know why we did but back then I didn’t have a speaking voice as such and just went along with what we all did. However when I went out on my own I learnt to become a lot stronger in my views and to voice my opinions.
So when we got the band back together in 2009 Michael Dunford and I decided that we wanted to go back to what we did the best, which was symphonic rock, and not try to follow any new trends of the time, because that is what made us unique. We all think that we have done really well with this album by going back and making it symphonic. Every song on the album is different but they all seem to fit together so well. To be in a position where I am able to go back to England with this band is simply going to blow everybody away; it is brilliant. The new music is fantastic but the old music now has new life to it. It is even more symphonic due to the technology which we have now.
It is really exciting for us Kevin. I wish that we could have done it sooner, and I wish that we were playing bigger places but nobody was interested in booking us until the Rhino Agency stepped in. It has not been easy for us to get this tour together Kevin but it is so exciting for us all.
You have briefly mentioned Michael (Dunford). When Michael passed away how difficult was it to carry on?
It was an extremely difficult decision for me; emotionally it was very difficult because the two of us were building up a lot of momentum. We had just finished the album, but at that point we hadn’t released it. Michael and I had written all of the songs and it would have been very sad not to have promoted that album. I knew that was one thing that I needed to do, and that was what Michael would have wanted me to do. So really that is why I carried on Kevin. Obviously it was difficult emotionally but we carried on and we have done some great things since then; we have done really well and we have had some great shows.
You are currently in rehearsals with the band as you are getting ready to tour the UK. Do you still get a buzz out of touring?
Well Kevin to be honest we haven’t really toured a great deal. We have been performing live perhaps twice a year and that has all been done along the east coast of America. To take a band out on the road costs a hell of a lot of money and without a major record company behind you, let me tell you, it is difficult. People never give insurance a second thought but you can’t go anywhere in the world nowadays without firstly insuring everything, and that costs a hell of a lot of money. Then you have wages, hotels and transport costs; it’s a nightmare Kevin. I simply don’t think that people realise just what costs are involved when they contact me on Facebook asking why we are not touring here and not touring there. If you lose money on a tour then you have to try to recoup some of it by selling merchandise Kevin. That is sometimes your only means of revenue.
I really do wish that we were in a position where we could be touring more, but right now I am so excited about this tour, as I find performing live really exciting particularly with this band. The exciting thing about Europe is that we are taking a new band on the road. It’s a shame that it isn’t the old band but, sometimes you have to move on. Due to circumstances and timing, touring with the old band simply didn’t work out. There is no way that I would ever say that this band is better than the old band because it is not; it is different Kevin. It is different due to the modern technology and I would never take that away from the other guys. The five members of the classic band were brilliant. We have to remember to thank Jim McCarty and Keith Relf for coming up with Renaissance because if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be around (laughter). I really do still enjoy touring; I enjoy it very much, but now I have to watch my health.
But finding yourself in the position of being the organiser of everything is all your fault for being female, as us males will simply leave it all up to you (laughter).
Piss off (laughter). (It was at this point that Annie blew me a rather loud raspberry down the phone.) Don’t quote me (laughter) well you can if you want (hysterical laughter). The reason that I do it Kevin is simply because there is nobody else to do it. We had management and that didn’t work out, so for now I find myself doing it along with Denny Bridges who has been our sound engineer for many, many years. Denny used to work with George Martin and actually helped to set up the recording studio over in Montserrat. Denny is now our tour manager as well as being our sound man, and it has been down to the two of us to arrange everything for this tour.
I still think that it is all your fault as you keep telling us that females are brilliant at multi-tasking and that us males cannot do that (laughter).
Do you really think that Kevin?
Yes I do, that is why I buy slip-on shoes because I can’t tie laces.
(Hysterical laughter) that’s a shame (laughter).
On the subject of shoes, are you still performing minus yours and if so, why?
Yes I am Kevin (laughter). I have always performed like that and the simple answer as to why is because it is more comfortable (laughter). I have performed without shoes on stage for all of my life. When I very first joined the band I did go to Anello and David and I had a pair of lace-up white kid leather ankle boots made for me. I wore them a couple of times and I didn’t feel comfortable at all in them. I felt like I needed more freedom so I stopped wearing them and decided that I would go barefoot. If it was good enough for Sandie Shaw then it was good enough for me Kevin (laughter).
Funnily enough in the summer last year I was getting a lot of pain in my feet and so off I went to have them x-rayed and it transpires that I have got a heel spur. At that point the doctor said that I couldn’t go bare-foot anymore and insisted that I now wear a shoe with an inner sole, and so that is what I did. However the last shows that we did were very special. I had a silk dress made with one of my paintings on it; it was incredible. Obviously I had to get a pair of shoes to match the dress and I was dreading it. I found a pair of shoes that were really quite elegant and they went with the dress but I felt like I was wearing Doc Martins (laughter). They felt so heavy Kevin but I wore them for the whole tour and I hated it (laughter).
So when I did my Christmas show this year, I wore shoes all day with the inner sole in them and then when I went out onstage I didn’t wear any shoes at all (laughter). I am praying that I am going to be able to deal with that in England and that I won’t have to wear shoes.
Going back to the UK tour, I can’t think of a better place for anyone to come and see you perform than at the Union Chapel in London.
Yes Kevin, I have been told that it is a lovely place to perform. We are really looking forward to performing the new album in such an intimate setting. It should all work well together. I am so thrilled about this tour of Europe and we may go back after this tour, we may not. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. It is such a shame that Michael (Dunford) won’t be there after all of the effort and work that we put in. Having said that, his wife Clare and their sons William and Oliver will be coming to the shows so he is going to be there in spirit with them. It’s an exciting time for us Kevin.
Are you pleased with how well the new album has been received?
Absolutely Kevin; a lot of the fans have said that it stands up side by side with some of our classic albums. You can’t record another Mother Russia, because Betty (Thatcher-Newsinger) is not here and Betty was the queen of all lyricists as far as I am concerned. Some of Betty’s lyrics would simply leave you breathless; it was a gift. I don’t profess to be a songwriter but every so often I will come up with something like Renaissance Man, which is the last song on Symphony Of Light. I wrote it about Michael Dunford and it just poured out of me. Whenever I used to call Mickey up, whether it be a social or business call, he would always say down the phone “it’s fucking raining here” (laughter).
No matter when I would call him, if I asked him what the weather was like I would always get the same reply “I have just got back from walking the dog down the lane and its fucking raining” (laughter). And that is how Renaissance Man begins ‘walking down the rain’ because he would always say to me that he had been walking down the lane. We wrote the song knowing that it is the kind of song that Mickey would write. When you listen to it you think that it is a Michael Dunford song Kevin.
Whilst we are on the subject of the new album, is it correct that Symphony Of Light was written about Leonardo Di Vinci?
Yes Kevin that’s totally correct (laughter) who told you that (laughter). I have to say that I would love to hear that being performed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; I think that would be absolutely phenomenal.
Looking back at when you joined the band in 1971 did you ever think that you would still be doing it some 44 years later?
Do you know Kevin it’s funny but I was thinking that just the other day (laughter). I was thinking that it was marvellous that I was still doing the thing that I love at the age of 67 because sometimes I never ever thought that I was going to be 67 (laughter). I was 24 when I joined the band and it was like a whirlwind. I didn’t realise until I was doing interviews over the past year that I had joined the band in 1971 and in 1975 we were playing Carnegie Hall; how fast is that (laughter). Within four years we were playing Carnegie Hall and then soon after we were playing The Royal Albert Hall. When I joined the band it was a six-piece band and I was the backing singer; I wasn’t even the lead singer back then. Miles Copeland came along to one of our shows and fired everybody and then he built a new five-piece band around myself and Michael (Dunford).
When I listen to the early material, I have no idea how, when we played it live, we managed to make it sound so brilliant with only five of us in the band. Now there are six of us, we have two keyboard players, and together with the technology which we have now, it sounds like a full orchestra. It simply sounds incredible Kevin. To be able to keep going now is a blessing; my voice is very strong at the moment but I am not sure just how long I will be singing (laughter).
What was life on the road like back in 1971?
(Laughter) well Kevin, I remember rattling up and down the M1, stopping off at The Blue Boar Service Station at 2 o’clock in the morning (laughter). I remember one time that Queen were in there. All of the bands used to stop there for egg and chips with bread and butter (laughter) all served with big giant mugs of tea (laughter). I am really happy to think that I was part of all that and experienced it because there is nothing like it.
But that was all part of the grounding, rattling up and down the motorways in a battered old transit van (laughter).
Of course, oh my god yes (laughter). And then someone would shout up “come on then, let’s have some money for petrol” (laughter) and we would all moan and shout bloody hell as all of our hands went deep into our pockets (laughter).
But unfortunately that has all gone now. Thanks to Mr Cowell there is no learning the trade, you are an overnight sensation, record three albums and then simply retire from the business.
The awful thing is Kevin that they all copy everybody else. Most of the people who are on these programmes sound like everybody else, but it’s now just seen as entertainment. That is what it is all about now Kevin. People simply don’t realise that it’s a cut-throat business; people are in it for the money and you can’t do anything or get anywhere without a contract and you have got to know exactly what you are signing.
On a lighter note (laughter) I interviewed Jim McCarty a few weeks ago and he told me that the time that he was associated with the group were some of the best times of his life.
Jim is a great man, and I was lucky to catch up with him in New York last year and it was brilliant. Gosh, I have known Jim since I joined the band basically (laughter). There have been a lot of changes and a lot of sadness in the time that I have been in the band but the music that the five of us created was very special. There is no doubt that it was magical. However many people feel that we never got as far as we should have done, but we did so many wonderful things. We played with the Eastman Symphony Orchestra over here in Rochester, New York. We sold out three nights at Carnegie Hall, and I feel that we have done everything that anyone could ever dream of.
On your last tour when you played in Philadelphia, how was it having Al Stewart open for you?
(Laughter) you have done your research Kevin haven’t you (laughter). I would never say that Al was opening for us as I simply cannot see him as an opening act. Let’s just say that we co-headlined (laughter). I have known Al for ages and he is so amazing and impressive; for one person to get up onto the stage and do what he does. I had never really appreciated just what a brilliant acoustic guitar player he is. I have performed with Al before but that was truly an amazing evening and a really fantastic show. Al is one of the good guys. When you see him next month Kevin give him my love.
I can’t speak to you without mentioning ‘that record’ can I? When you first heard Northern Lights 37 years ago, did you realise just how special it was?
It was so special Kevin, because Betty (Thatcher-Newsinger), who was a Cornish poet, wrote that song about me and Roy Wood. That in itself to me was so very special. I had just finished recording Annie In Wonderland with Roy, who I love so very much; he is a genius, and we are still friends and we do keep in touch. I learnt a lot from him singing wise, lots of different tricks and lots of different things to do. He got me to do things that probably nobody else would, for example the treble tracking of a lead voice instead of single tracking.
When we were recording the vocals to Northern Lights it sounded great but there was a little bit of something missing so I suggested that we tried treble tracking my voice. So we did it and it just lifted the whole song. It was amazing what that one simple thing did to the song. It turned a great song into a hit song. That extra depth in the voice made all the difference.
How did you find out that the record was rapidly becoming a hit?
At the time we were on tour in America and one of the roadies came to see us and said “Dave Lee Travis has just started playing Northern Lights. You are going to be on Top Of The Pops when you get back to the UK” (laughter). We were all so very ecstatic (laughter). It was just incredible.
Did you enjoy being on Top Of The Pops for the first time?
Oh my god Kevin, for our first appearance on Top Of The Pops I wore a pink velvet dress didn’t I (laughter). I will let you into a secret Kevin, I had to stand on a box because I was too short (laughter), they had to put me on a little riser which had a map of England on it (laughter). It was so exciting. It was Tony Blackburn who introduced us.
Were you not nervous at all knowing that the show was going to be broadcast into millions of homes here in the UK?
No Kevin, not at all and you have to remember that the show went out live in those days. I don’t know if anyone else in the band was nervous or not but I certainly wasn’t. I can always remember when All About Eve were on Top Of The Pops performing Martha’s Harbour and they couldn’t hear the backing track, I just wanted to die for them. Julianne (Regan) just looked as though she was going to break down in tears.
And Northern Lights was the record of the week too.
Yes you are right Kevin. I can remember when I was living with Roy in Worcestershire, Northern Lights was the record of the week and I was driving along in my green Range Rover. At that time in England green cars were unlucky, so I had it sprayed black with a silver stripe around it, and Northern Lights came on the radio, and I nearly crashed the car (laughter). It was wonderful; we had so much fun with that and I am so very thankful to the fans.
There are some songs that will forever remain timeless and, in my opinion, Northern Lights is one of them.
Yes it is Kevin, it is fantastic; it is a brilliant, brilliant song. You never get fed up hearing it and it hasn’t dated at all.
And I have to admit that like millions of others, until I was doing my research, I thought that it was a song about the Northern Lights (laughter).
Really Kevin, so you didn’t know that it was about the northern lights of England and me going away and missing Roy (laughter).
Putting you on the spot, which do you prefer, Renaissance or your solo work?
I have to say that they are both equal in my heart. I have had some great experiences with the music of Renaissance but also with my own work. Working with my own band has taken me to South America, Japan and given me the wonderful opportunity to be able to work with Tony Visconti. But then Renaissance has taken me to Carnegie Hall and the Royal Albert Hall so (laughter) I really do think that they are equal. I couldn’t honestly say one above the other. I’m just thankful that I am still singing and that is a great feeling.
Who were you listening to when you were growing up?
Well Kevin my parents didn’t have a record player in the house but my Aunty Joan did (laughter). She lived in Buxton in Derbyshire. Aunty Joan, her husband, and their children were all into light opera and I would go to the Buxton Opera House to see them perform. That is where the seed was planted for me. When I stayed at Aunty Joan’s house they had a record player and a pile of 78 records and the one thing that I remember above anything else is listening to Lonnie Donegan singing Rock Island Line on a 78 (laughter). That is the one record that really stands out. When I was a little girl living at home with my parents, I remember listening to things like Listen With Mother and Housewives Choice on the radio (laughter).
My father was an amateur comedian and singer and so I used to listen to him listening to whatever it was that he was learning for his act. It would be songs of the time such as Jezebel (Frankie Laine), 16 Tonnes (Tennessee Ernie Ford), Nature Boy (Nat King Cole) and If I Loved You (Gordon MacRae). That is why I sang and recorded those songs because I knew that my dad had sung them at some point in his life. My brother Michael was managed by Brian Epstein who had discovered The Beatles. When I was growing up, we all lived in a 2-up 2-down with an outside toilet and I shared the back bedroom with my brothers until I was about ten years old. I can remember sitting with Michael listening to Elvis Presley, Ketty Lester and Radio Luxemburg (laughter).
You weren’t aware of it at the time but your parents played an enormous part in your future regarding both your art and music didn’t they?
Well Kevin, my parents didn’t have a lot of money but one of the biggest gifts that they ever gave to me was sending me to elocution lessons when I was ten years old. I had a really broad Bolton accent and they obviously thought that if I could improve my accent it would give me a better life in the long term. They could also see that I had talent when it came to painting and they let me go to a Secondary Art School in Bolton where I could learn more about art. I find that so very interesting Kevin. I am a firm believer in Karma and I think that my parents honestly believed that anything that you do is repaid tenfold. My father was a very generous man but he never expected anything back in return.
Testing your memory now, what was the first record that you bought?
Well that’s easy Kevin (laughter) it was Will You Still Love Me by The Shirelles. I simply love that song. Do you remember that record?
Yes I do, I’m a big soulie at heart. I love Motown and Soul music and so that just fits into that area perfectly.
We moved down to Cornwall for my mother’s health in 1961 and my dad bought me a Dansette record player and that was the first record that I bought. The second one was Big Girls Don’t Cry by The Four Seasons followed by Bobby Vee’s Rubber Ball (laughter). It was while we were living down there that I met Daphne Du Maurier who was also living down there at the time. She actually came over and spoke to me. It was such a special moment that it has to be the highlight of my life.
Who did you first see playing live?
That would be The Beatles, with my brother Michael on the same bill down in Plymouth. Michael was touring with them at the time. We went to the theatre in the afternoon of the show and Michael came to the stage door and invited us in to meet The Beatles. I was young and nervous at the time and decided to stay outside with my dad while my mum went inside and met The Beatles (hysterical laughter). I met Paul (McCartney) and Ringo (Starr) later on when I was singing myself but I always have to laugh when I think back about me and dad standing outside (laughter). We went in to watch the show and as soon as The Beatles came on stage the whole place went crazy; you couldn’t hear a thing.
I met Paul when I was recording my Annie In Wonderland album. He was in the studio next door with Linda and Denny Laine mixing the Wings At The Speed Of Sound album. I had just finished my vocal on If I Loved You and we were playing it back when in walked Paul McCartney asking “who is that voice” and I just looked up and said its mine. He said “that has just sent a shiver down my spine”. He sat down with me for an hour, chatting away. It was a wonderful experience.
I feel sorry for Paul because he gets a lot of criticism which I don’t think he fully deserves.
That’s totally right Kevin, and people like to make things up; it’s terrible. I read something the other week where a journalist had written that I was married to Roy Wood now. I just had to laugh and think get your fucking facts right (laughter), I mean bloody hell. That’s the problem with having freedom of the press.
Its ok giving them the freedom providing they can be bothered to get the facts right.
That’s right Kevin, it’s not a lot to ask is it.
Who have been the major influences on your musical career?
Bloody hell Kevin, I’ve never been asked that before. Gosh, obviously my parents because if it hadn’t been for them having that foresight, I probably wouldn’t have become a singer. I learnt ever such a lot from Roy (Wood). Roy opened me up to so much, and I really listened to his advice. I would also have to include Michael Dunford, there is no doubt at all that he had a massive influence upon my career because he wrote specifically for my voice; he knew my voice so well, and he wrote everything brilliantly. They are the people who have moulded my life as well as my career.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
Oh my god Kevin there have been so many. With Renaissance it would have to be performing at Carnegie Hall and The Royal Albert Hall with the best orchestras in the world. And then with my solo career I think that it would have to be when I recorded the Still Life album with Louis Clark and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra back in 1985. That was definitely the highlight Kevin. I can have two highlights can’t I because I have two careers (laughter). I have been blessed with two pathways as they say (laughter).
You can have three if you included your painting.
I can’t believe that pathway Kevin, because I am not really sure which way to take it. It is difficult for me to put a hundred percent into anything right now. Because I am working on the tour and my music, I am not selling any paintings and my energy is not there. I have got some ideas as to what I want to do with my painting at some point. I have only just started painting really and so I have no idea where it is going to take me but what I do know is that I can’t keep touring and performing forever (hysterical laughter) or I might. Whilst my voice is still good enough, if I need plastic surgery, I will bloody have it (laughter) just like Dolly (Parton). I did a commission for Dolly which she now has hanging in her home, which was wonderful.
You must have seen a lot of changes within technology over the years. Does it frighten you or have you embraced it?
I think that it is amazing. When we were a five-piece band we had so much to cover; for example we had a piano, synthesiser, organ, and we had to cover so many parts. However, with the advent of the amazing technology that we have got now, keyboards and computers, it is incredible. We now have two keyboard players and it does sound really huge. It is really fantastic, and the boys do produce a really huge sound.
What next for Renaissance?
Well Kevin, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra are wanting to work with us again which is fantastic. That would be wonderful to be able to do that again. But if it doesn’t materialise then that’s ok because we have done it (laughter). However it would be wonderful to do it again with the new music, because the new music really does stand strong. What I can tell you Kevin is that I am feeling strong and I don’t feel that I am finished just yet (laughter).
How did you get into designing and creating your own line of jewellery?
When I was touring with my solo band, we played a gig up in New York State, and a lady who was a jeweller attended the show. She was a big fan of mine and I did her a little stick drawing of an angel and I called her Ananda. What she did was, she made a piece of jewellery in 22ct gold, of Ananda, put a gold chain on it and it was just stunning. She gave me that as a gift, together with the mould for it so that I could make more of them. So what I did at that point was, I found a company on Rhode Island and I got them to make up some pins, earrings and pendants for me. I then sold these on-line and the money from these sales went to help a children’s hospital in Guatemala where they carry out operations on the babies that have the terrible cleft palette. The money that I sent enabled them to carry out operations on some babies which was absolutely fantastic.
Whilst on the subject of helping children, didn’t you also help some of the street children over in Columbia?
Yes Kevin that’s right I did. A friend of mine was working in Columbia and I wrote a song called The Children which was about the street children over in Columbia. I put the song onto the Blessing In Disguise album. I met him over in England when he was just about to leave his parish and go and live in Columbia where he was so busy raising money for these street children. When he was in Columbia he would put himself in very dangerous situations; people would fire guns at him because over there they call these children ‘the disposable ones’. A lot of these children are swept up off the streets and they have their eyes taken which are then sold to the highest bidder. The children are then simply thrown back out onto the streets.
It’s not only their eyes Kevin, they also take any body parts that the wealthy need. My friend would take these children off the streets, and at that time he was busy raising funds in order to build them a school. So some of the money raised from the sale of the Ananda jewellery went to Columbia in order to help these children. That was so special and I felt really good to be able to help him with that.
Tell me about your love of painting.
Well Kevin I love painting with a passion; I simply love it so much. I started painting back in 2002, when something in my head told me that it was time for me to start oil painting, and I have never stopped since. Whenever I am painting I never have any preconceived ideas unless I am painting a commission for somebody. If somebody wants a pet commission then I simply tune into that pet and you can feel the spirit of that pet in the painting as well. I never know what is going to come, it just flows out like water. When I paint I just look at a picture of the subject; ask them a couple of questions about their personality, and that is all that I need. Then it just goes somewhere inside me, and then it all just flows out of me as an energy painting of that person, or a landscape of the place where they want to be. I have now started painting songs and you can see my painting of our song, Northern Lights, on my Facebook page Kevin.
You have also painted some musical instruments too haven’t you?
(Laughter) yes Kevin that’s right, I did. You will have to tell me just where you are getting your information from (laughter). Are you absolutely sure that you are not psychic (laughter). I went along to Wood Violins on Rhode Island which is owned by Mark Wood. I introduced myself; showed him some of my work and asked Mark if I could possibly paint a prototype violin for him, and to my amazement he said yes. They sent me a Viper Electric Violin, which basically looks like a small Flying V electric guitar, and I painted it in purple, lavender, lilac and burgundy, and it looked amazing. The company were so thrilled with it that since then, I have painted at least twelve more violins for them.
Then, out of the blue, Lindsey Stirling who is an American violinist, bumped into Mark Wood at an event somewhere, and she borrowed the violin that I had painted, to play in her video of her performing her version of Phantom Of The Opera and it looks absolutely amazing Kevin (laughter). Lindsey has just mastered social media and if you look at her playing the Viper on YouTube she has had over 25 million hits; it’s unbelievable. It is brilliant what she did and the Viper looks amazing too.
After that, C. F. Martin and Company, who are world famous for their acoustic guitars, asked me to paint two of their guitars; one for display in their museum in Nazareth, Pennsylvania which meant that I could paint the whole thing. And then the second one, which was a playable one, which meant that I couldn’t paint the whole thing because it would change the sound, so I was only allowed to paint the front and the head-stock. So in answer to your original question Kevin, I love my painting with a passion.
Will you be selling your paintings at the gigs here in the UK?
I will definitely bring some over with me. The agent told me that no one had ever done that before and I told him that there has to be a first time (laughter). If they sell they sell, if they don’t they don’t Kevin. At least it will be spreading the word about my work.
Do you have a single ambition yet to achieve?
Oh gosh Kevin, (laughter) it is very difficult to choose just one thing isn’t it. I would love to go to Tibet and sing on top of the mountains. It is such a beautiful place; it looks so magical. And I would like there to be one person with me when I do that, and that is the Dalai Lama. What a spirit.
Which single event would you say has changed your life forever?
Actually I think that would have to be when I had breast cancer. I think that when anyone finds themselves in a life-threatening situation it changes their live forever. I was very lucky in that I was living over here in the States at the time, and I was just stroking one of my cats one day and I thought ‘oh that’s sore’ and so if it wasn’t for the cat standing on me at that point and in that position, I would probably have gone on a lot longer with the situation becoming more serious. I went to see a specialist and within three days I was having a lumpectomy. I lost twenty percent of my left breast, and I have been cancer free ever since. I did opt for radiotherapy and chemo at the same time although in the back of my mind I was wondering if I should have been trying natural things. But I had to think quickly and I thought that I had to do it.
Instead of being vain I just thought that if I lose my hair then that is fine; I have just got to do what I have got to do to save my life right now. So that is what I did. For two weeks in the whole process I got depressed. I kept telling myself that as soon as I had been given the treatment then the cancer had gone. I lost my hair but it started growing back after eight months. The whole situation made me think very seriously about everything that was happening in my life; where you are, what you should be doing, what are the most important things, what is your mission in life. We need to help each other and we need to be aware exactly what is going on. We have to remember that every single thing that is negative in your life happens for a reason Kevin. I always believe that things are happening for a reason and that something better is coming along, it makes you stronger.
You are quoted as saying that you are here to sing, paint and make people laugh and I honestly believe that if more people adopted that approach then the world would be a far better place.
I just love life Kevin and my dad was like that too. My dad’s voice was incredible and that is where my brother Michael and I got our singing voices from. My dad was a tenor and his voice had a beautiful tone to it; it was so beautiful that he could have been an opera singer. He was a family man and saw himself as being there to pass it onto us and not to have it for himself. In his lifetime he wasn’t going to be a star. He was a family man; a working man who worked for his family.
Annie, on that note, I want to say that it has been a real pleasure talking to you, so thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
Thank you very much Kevin; I have enjoyed it very much. I like it when you can talk to somebody and have a laugh. I am looking forward to seeing you at some point during the tour. Bye for now.
|Tues 14th||The Stables Milton Keynes|
|Thu 16th||Union Chapel London|
|Fri 17th||Cheese & Grain Frome|
|Sat 18th||The Maltings Farnham|
|Sun 19th||Tivoli Ballroom Wimbourne|
|Thu 23rd||The Robin 2 Wolverhampton|
|Fri 24th||Citadel Arts Centre St Helens|