Renaissance - Island

One day in 1969, when I was just a lad, rippling piano arpeggios rang out from the radio. That was odd because the portable transistor radio in the kitchen was always tuned to the light entertainment channel. Radio 3, the BBC’s classical music station, might have been on in the living room but not until after I had been packed off to bed and certainly not in the cramped kitchen of our flat where serious music couldn’t be appreciated.

Curiosity compelled the youthful Crotchety Man to listen. After a few bars the piano gave way to strummed electric guitar chords, a gentle drum beat and a rich electric bass. This wasn’t a piano concerto but it wasn’t like any pop music I’d heard before, either. A woman’s warm, clear voice began to sing over the backing track.

There is an island where it should never be,
Surrounded by cerulean sea …

It was a haunting melody and a song with a captivating mystery. Where is this island? Why shouldn’t it be there? Is it a paradise or a manifestation of hell? Listening intently I strained to pick out the lyrics. Some of the words were muffled and distorted by the recording, the AM transmission and the electronics in the cheap radio receiver but the refrain was quite clear.

I want to be there,
I want to be there,
I want to be there,
For the rest of my time.

There could be no doubt any more. This island is a perfect place, a paradise if not heaven itself. But, like heaven, it is somewhere else, somewhere the singer longs to be, a place she fervently believes she will reach in the end.

I know that it’s waiting
I know there’s a place ready for me

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Island was a single by Renaissance, a band whose music is usually described as progressive rock or symphonic rock. I prefer the latter term because it emphasises both the strong classical influence in their compositions and their unashamed use of orchestral arrangements. In fact, as their collaborations with classical orchestras attest, no band straddles the rock/classical divide more successfully than Renaissance (and that includes ELP and Elbow).

The self-titled debut album from Renaissance contained both Island and another lush keyboard piece called Wanderer that was (apparently) never released as a single but did receive some airplay. Those two tracks burned the name of Renaissance into the Crotchety brain as permanently as a red hot branding iron on cattle hide. Although the original band personnel changed completely over the next couple of years the rock/classical blend remained and the Crotchety LP collection gradually accumulated no less than 5 LPs by Renaissance (and that’s a lot).

Island was the spark that prompted Crotchety Man to roam a little further out from the pop/rock mainland towards the continent of classical music in search of deeper waters and lasting beauty. For that I am making it my Track of the Week.

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