LONG before Badly Drawn Boy or Danny from McFly, Bolton-born Annie Haslam can lay claim to being the town’s first true rock star.

Plucked from obscurity to front a new band formed by The Yardbirds’ Keith Relf and Jim McCarty, Annie soon found herself at the forefront of the progressive rock movement, as lead singer in Renaissance,a band which achieved huge success in the 1970s, including a top 10 hit in 1978 with Northern Lights.

Now aged 74, Annie lives Stateside where the band continue to enjoy a large following and to celebrate 50 years of Renaissance, they have recently released a new live album.

“I grew up in Great Lever on Parkfield Road,”said Annie, who went to SS Simon and Jude CE Primary School. “My parents were fabulous and very close to each other. We lived in a two up, two down with an outside toilet and a coal shed.

“Dad was a real character and a great singer who was a bus driver and they really encouraged us to perform.”

Singing talent ran in the family and Annie’s brother Michael worked the local dance halls, specialising in big-voiced ballads, before he was spotted and signed by Beatles manager Brian Epstein in 1964.

“He opened up for The Beatles and you just couldn’t hear him sing at all because the girls were all screaming,” said Annie, who has a five-octave range. “We went to meet him at the stage door and he said ‘come in and meet the lads’ but I was too nervous and my mum went in and met them all.

“Michael had such a powerful voice. He was like a cross between Elvis and Roy Orbison.”

After studying fashion at university and working on Saville Row, Annie began taking her singing more seriously, undergoing training from an opera singer and in February 1971, she became the new lead singer of Renaissance, after answering an advert in Melody Maker.

“I learnt everything off their first album,” she said. “I had a coat from Biba on and it was in a church hall and the next week I got the call to say I was in.

“It all felt quite natural to me and after concentrating on Europe for a bit we went to America and they just went crazy about us.

“Within four years of me joining we were selling out three nights in a row at Carnegie Hall.”

Along with the likes of Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Renaissance became one of the leading lights of ‘prog rock’ but with the genre dominated by young long-haired men playing endless keyboard solos, Annie, who was engaged to Roy Wood for a time, certainly stood out.

“When anyone asks me now I say it was symphonic rock,” she said. “Prog rock was always a bit heavier and blokey but I loved being on the road.

“It was very exciting but I think it got to a point when there was a bit of jealousy creeping in because people would be calling out my name at the shows and it all started to change.

“By the 1980s we were trying to be something we weren’t and we should have stayed with our style of music and not gone off into trying to sound new wave.”

Annie decided to launch her solo career in 1989 and over the next 20 years she released 10 albums and toured the world while keeping the flame of Renaissance burning by including some of their songs in her own show.

The band reformed in 2009 with Annie reuniting with guitarist Michael Dunford. Now following his tragic death in 2012, she is now the only original member from their classic mid-70s line up and combines the band with her work as a visual artist.

“We’ve found our niche again,” she added. “Performing with Renaissance is incredible, and it just seems to get better, the shows, the tours and recordings, travelling to far off places. Hopefully, it will never end.”

* Renaissance: 50th Anniversary Ashes Are Burning – An Anthology – Live In Concert is available now from cherryred.co.uk