Illusion were a British band formed in 1977. They released two albums Out Of The Mist and Illusion both on Island Records. Their music was classically-inspired, sophisticated and polished. The band undertook a number of tour dates, but found their style of music out of fashion with the rise of punk rock. They didn't get a new recording contract from the record company. Since other companies weren't interested either at the time, they finally disbanded.
Illusion were intended to be a reunion of the original line-up of Renaissance, but singer and guitarist Keith Relf died before the project had been realized. He got electrocuted while playing his electric guitar. In a way his death turned out to be positive for the other musicians because when Relf was still alive family issues kept him from working on his new band named after the second album of Renaissance. They couldn't use the name Renaissance because this band continued with a different line-up after their first two releases. After the death of Relf some line-up changes took place before they could record their music. Jim McCarty moved from the drum stool to the acoustic guitar and shared vocals with Jane Relf, while Eddie McNeill replaced him on drums. John Knightsbridge took Keith Relf's place as guitarist. The other core members who performed on most songs on Renaissance and Illusion (see review) completed the line-up. This meant that John Hawken played the keyboards and Louis Cennamo the bass guitar. The two albums they recorded under the name of Illusion got a proper CD-reissue in 2011. These re-releases are way better than all the other previous re-releases. This time the liner notes include many pictures, all the lyrics and a retrospective by Jim McCarty, but most important: this remastered version sounds as all reissues should!
I heard the music of Illusion for the first time on a compilation album made from both releases in 1993. The album was named Madonna Blue and all fourteen tracks but one were taken from both albums. The music already impressed me then, and after listening to the re-releases on CD they're still very impressive. Especially the keyboard sound of John Hawken provides for a progressive rock flavour. His playing on the MiniMoog, Mellotron and acoustic piano is just magnificent on both albums. Songs as Isadora, Roads To Freedom, Beautiful Country and Candles Are Burning from Out Of The Mist (1977) are all fine examples of keyboards having a leading role. These tracks are the strongest compositions on this release as well. It's also evident that Jane Relf had grown as a singer. On the first Renaissance-releases her voice sometimes was too modest and somewhat timid. At the time the music business was new for her, but later on her voice become mature and she dared to sing the way she liked to.
On Illusion the band had grown music wise. Also the help of old pal Paul Samwell-Smith, who had played with Jim McCarty in the Yardbirds, provided for a better production and a better sound. Highlights on their second release are the opening tune Madonna Blue and the final piece The Revolutionary. Especially on these tracks you hear the same kind of music Renaissance would record later on with vocalist Annie Haslam and keyboard player John Tout. The interaction between Jane Relf and Jim McCarty and the harmony vocals are much better than on Out Of The Mist. The music on both albums very much resembles the music of the first two Renaissance-albums mainly due to the fact that the key members of both Illusion and Renaissance were the same. That also applied for the compositions mainly written by McCarty and Hawken. Unfortunately both releases lack some additional tracks. Maybe they could have used some of the recorded demos for the upcoming third album, but they didn't. These songs later on appeared on the album Enchanted Caress (1990). Illusion disbanded in 1979. Punk rock and new wave regrettably pushed aside many great progressive bands at the end of the seventies. Who knows how many more fantastic albums Illusion would have recorded..?
However, in 2001 the four core members issued Through The Fire, an album that consisted of new material under the name Renaissance Illusion, but they didn't give any concerts to support it. Hopefully this album will be reissued as well someday. It's fair to say that people who fancy both the early line-up of Renaissance and the second one will enjoy the music of Illusion.
*** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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