Intro story by Ron Lindeboom, creativecow.net.
CLICK HERE FOR JOHN'S PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF ILLUSION
I will never forget the first time that I heard Illusion. It was 1977 and the cut was "Beautiful Country" from the "Out of the Mist" album that had just been released by Island Records. One of the disc jockeys from the short-lived KORJ (K-Orange) FM station in Orange, California, was playing it as I made my way down the 405 freeway on my way to work at Rickenbacker guitars (where I helped build bass guitars at the time). The sun was just beginning to creep up behind Saddleback Mountain (in Southern California's Transverse Range) near the city of Santa Ana and the song was absolutely magic and made the moment come even more beautifully alive as the brilliance of the day began to dawn.
It was a wonderful introduction to the band and I will never forget how it made me feel.
A friend of mine owned a small record store just off the freeway and I knew that he showed up early to unbox the previous day's shipments and place the new releases in the racks. So, after hearing the name of the band "Illusion" from the DJ, I made for the store and hoped he'd be there. He was. I was let in and I asked him if he'd ever heard of Illusion. He said that he'd heard them and that he had a couple of copies if I wanted one. That day marked my introduction to one of my favorite bands of all-time.
The funny thing was, once I looked at the line-up, I knew this band already. This, as I had bought the first Renaissance album in 1969 as well as the second album, Renaissance "Illusion" in 1971. So I recognized the names right away. The band that had once been known as Renaissance was now Illusion, so christened from the name of their second album, which they opted to use as legally the name Renaissance now belonged to Annie Haslam & Company who had taken over from the original band in 1971. So, while the name of the band had changed, the musicians I recognized right away...
There was John Hawken, the keyboardist who had blown me away with his grand classical themes and embellishments in the first two Renaissance albums and whom I had later followed when he became a part of the Strawbs. Later, as I listened to the Illusion album, I was to learn that in Illusion, John's playing became much more hidden within the songs and while his playing was sometimes extremely embellished and lyrical -- he never over-played the songs, choosing rather to work within the melodies and themes (something he had honed in his tenure with Strawbs and perfected, I believe, in Illusion). I have always considered Illusion's "Out of the Mist" to contain some of John's very best work. His work on "A Face of Yesterday" (reworked from the earlier and more raw version found on the '71 Renaissance album) is some of the most exquisite piano found in classical rock circles. The power of the ending section of "Candles Are Burning" is classic Hawken, with all its beauty, power and majestic choir sounds.
There was also Jane Relf, Yardbirds/Renaissance singer Keith Relf's sister, whose haunting voice I once described to a friend as "She sings as if she's going to trans-dimensionalize on you, if you don't keep an eye on her she may disappear -- her voice carries such a longing and haunting fragile beauty that she sounds as if her voice is calling to or from another place altogether." The beauty first heard in the 1969 Renaissance cut, "Wanderer," was in full evidence in Illusion. Her work on cuts like "Beautiful Country", "A Face of Yesterday" and "Everywhere You Go" is simply breathtaking.
Then there was Keith's fellow Yardbird, Jim McCarty, who on this album had stepped away from the drums to play rhythm guitar and join Jane in the vocal front of the band. Jim's songs made up the brunt of the album and I will always consider "Out of the Mist" some of the best material that he has ever written. His work on songs like "Isadora" and "Candles Are Burning" stand as shining examples of the power of this man's music. The later released, second and self-titled Illusion album contains "Madonna Blue" which I consider to be one of the most powerful songs in rock.
Taking over drums for Jim was one of his friends, Eddie McNeill, a solid and lyrical drummer whose use of tonal percussion adds colours to the project that fit well with Louis Cennamo's bass. Eddie's solid drums brought not only the freedom to move Jim McCarty from his drum stool to the microphone stand at the front of the band, but it also seems to follow a tonal interpretation and complement to both Hawken's keyboards and Cennamo's powerful, yet subtle bass lines.
Louis Cennamo, another alumnus of the original Renaissance line-up, is arguably the most lyrical bass player in rock. Together with Eddie's solid drum sections, they formed one of my favorite rhythm sections ever. In a conversation that I had with John Hawken regarding Louis's bass playing, John said in his own words: "Louis Cennamo is one of the best bassists around. He has the ability to seemingly without effort find and play those subtle notes between the notes that most bassists don't even know exist. And he does it so fluidly and naturally that it never is contrived or forced." Like John, I have always considered Louis as my favorite rock bassist because of his sense of melody and power -- all done without the pretentiousness of some power bass players who over-play the music to such degree that the songs become excuses for their display of prowess. That was never the case with Louis.
Lastly, floating atop it all was John Knightsbridge's guitar. He always reminded me of the kind of guitarist that Robin Trower was within the first three Procol Harum albums. Powerful, understated and whose ability to restrain himself only made his subsequent release to peel off blistering leads just that much more commanding. Like Hawken, John played within the song and never played the songs as if they were excuses for him to show you how good he was.
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 classical rock bands ever, is simply an understatement. They created music that even today, over 25 years later, holds up extremely well and 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. You can't go wrong adding one or both of these great projects to your collection -- if you can find them. Rare but aren't most things that are truly beautiful?