Top Of The Progs
What happened when prog hit the upper reaches of the singles chart!
In our new weekly series, Renaissance singer Annie Haslam recalls the band's 1978 Top 10 hit Northern Lights
NORTHERN LIGHTS b/w OPENING OUT
(Warner Bros, 1978)
Highest UK Chart Position: No. 10
Where Did The Inspiration For Northern Lights Come From?
“Roy Wood, who I lived with at that time, was producing my album Annie In Wonderland. We’d just finished that off and we were doing the Renaissance album A Song For All Seasons at that time.
“Betty Thatcher, who lived in Cornwall, wrote all most of all the songs we ever recorded, and a lot of the songs were about me — Ocean Gypsy, Trip To The Fair, they were about my life. This particular one was about the northern lights of England, and me going away and leaving Roy at home — going off on the road for weeks at a time, which is what happened. A lot of people weren’t sure what it was about, and I always try to put people straight.
"When we recorded that, and when I did Annie In Wonderland, Roy really introduced me to all these different ways of using my voice. Treble tracking, slowing the tracks down, and so on, because you know what Roy’s like, he’s a great musical inventor. “Treble tracking my voice on the lead line was something I didn’t really like to do, but he said ‘Try it.’ So when we did Northern Lights, I suggested that I treble track my voice during the whole thing. You can hear it, and it just lifted the song and made it more commercial. It just changed it.”
What was the reaction?
“We were all ecstatic about Northern Lights being a top ten hit. It was an unexpected surprise for the record label as well as the fans. There’s no doubt the song has a magical feel and appeal to it, with an instant familiarity that made it so easy to sing along with.”
Did you feel like pop stars?
“Well, we got to do Top Of The Pops! I remember we were on tour in America, the single had come out and we were about to go home in the next few days. I think we were in Asbury Park or somewhere, for a big show we were doing.
“We got a message, somebody had called us to tell us that Dave Lee Travis had made it his record of the week, and they said ‘When you come back, you’ll be going on TOTP.’ God, that was an experience. It was in the miming years, but it was ok, I didn’t mind doing it, I think we did it pretty well. We did it with Tony Blackburn and… oh I can see him now, sandy coloured hair… Peter Powell. But what a great experience.”
Was having a hit a blessing or a curse?
“It wasn’t a curse at all, I don’t know why people would think like that. I love that song and we still play it today, I’m always proud of it. I never got a feeling from anyone that we had 'sold out.' it was a stop along the way in our careers, and I’m sure it gathered new fans for us.”