DISCO RECHARGE: GRAND TOUR ON SUCH A WINTER’S DAY AND SOUTHERN EXPOSURE HEADIN’ SOUTH-SPECIAL EDITION.

DISCO RECHARGE: GRAND TOUR ON SUCH A WINTER’S DAY AND SOUTHERN EXPOSURE HEADIN’ SOUTH-SPECIAL EDITION.

Back in 1976, in Toronto, Canada, a musical partnership that resuled in some of the most innovative music of the disco era was formed. This partnership was made up of Willi Morrison, who was born in Scotland, but moved to Canada to pursue a musical career and Ian Geunther. Together, they formed the THP Orchestra in 1976, who released a quartet of albums between 1976 and 1979. However, there was much more to their career than the THP Orchestra. Indeed, the Morrison and Geunther partnership masterminded groups like American Fade, The Immortals and Goddo. Two of their other projects were Grand Tour and Southern Exposure, who feature on the latest installment of Harmless Records’ Disco Recharge series. On 13th May 2013, Disco Recharge: Grand Tour On A Winter’s Day and Southern Exposure-Headin’ South will be rereleased. This is a special edition, which not only features the original albums, but numerous bonus tracks. Before I tell you about the music on Disco Recharge: Grand Tour On Such A Winter’s Day and Southern Exposure Headin’ South, I’ll tell you about the background to both albums.

GRAND TOUR-ON SUCH A WINTER’S DAY.

After the commercial success and critical acclaim of the THP Orchestra’s sophomore album Too Hot For Love, Willi Morrison and Ian Geunther decided the time was right to form another studio band. For onlookers, this might have seemed a strange decision. After all, the THP Orchestra had established a reputation as a successful and innovative group. However, Willi and Ian decided that they wanted to take disco in another direction. This was where Grand Tour came in.

It wasn’t unusual for producers in the disco era to form different studio groups. Other producers, including Boris Midney and Marc Chantereau had been doing this. In many ways, this made sense. Producers were able to choose the personnel that suited the project, rather than be tied to a members of an established band. This would work well for Grand Tour’s debut album In many ways, this made sense. Producers were able to choose the personnel that suited the project, rather than be tied to a members of an established band. For Grand Tour’s debut album On Such A Winter’s Day this worked perfectly.

Rather than release another album that followed in the footsteps of Too Hot For Love, Willi and Ian decided to change direction musically. Grand Tour’s 1977 debut album On Such A Winter’s Day was a disco album, but with a twist. On Such A Winter’s Day allowed Willi and Ian to demonstrate another side to disco music.

On Such A Winter’s Day is best described as a concept album based around winter. Haunting, ethereal and melodic, the music is complex and multilayered. It’s an album where subtleties, surprises and textures reveal themselves to the listener. Although On Such A Winter’s Day is a disco album, it takes disco in an unexpected direction. Gone are the pounding 4/4 drums, replaced by music that has a classical influence. Surprisingly, only one of the tracks on On Such A Winter’s Day was  written by Willi or Ian.

Of the six tracks on On Such A Winter’s Day, only Flight From Versailles is written by Willi Morrison. Other tracks include The Grand Tour and Last November written by Bruce Ley and John Shand’s Let’s Go Boating. There were two cover versions on  On Such A Winter’s Day, including The Yarbirds Still I’m Sad and the Mamas and Papas’ California Dreamin.’ Recording of On Such A Winter’s Day took place at the Producers Workshop in Los Angeles. While Willi and ian played on and produced On Such A Winter’s Day, Jamie Haskell arranged and conducted the six tracks. Once On Such A Winter’s Day was recorded, Grand Tour’s debut album was released in 1977.

When On Such A Winter’s Day was released in 1977, it proved to be both commercially successful and critically acclaimed. Willi and Ian’s decision to take their music in a new direction had been vindicated. Each single released from On Such A Winter’s Day was equally successful. The Grand Tour was released in 1977, with Let’s Go Boating following in 1978. Just like On Such A Winter’s Day, both singles were commercially successful and proved popular in North American’s disco. This innovative take on disco had reinforced Willi Morrison and Ian Geunther’s reputation as disco pioneer. You’ll realize that when I tell you about On Such A Winter’s Day.

Opening Grand Tour’s On Such A Winter’s Day, is The Grand Tour, one of two tracks penned by Bruce Ley. As the arrangement begins to reveal its secrets and subtleties, you realize this is no ordinary disco track. Instead, it’s disco with a twist. Pounding drums provide a disco backdrop, and are accompanied by deliberate stabs of keyboards. Providing a contrast are swathes of the lushest strings and wistful horns. Then a tender, ethereal vocal floats in. Deservedly, it’s serenaded by quivering strings. When they’re combined, they take on a dreamy, melancholy quality. From there, you embark on a musical journey. It’s a musical equivalent to The Grand Tour that noblemen embarked upon during the 19th Century. You float atop lush strings, visiting faraway places. These are places that are suitably sophisticated and innovative, where intricate treasures await discover. Strings dance at the beauty when you discover them, while pioneering, beautiful and ethereal music reveals its bewitching charms over six stunning minutes.

Straight away, Let’s Go Boating has a Spanish influence. Strings cascade, joining castanets and broody horns. Meanwhile, Grand Tour’s rhythm section provides a dance-floor friendly backdrop. Soon, angelic harmonies sweep in. They provide a contrast to the horns and strings. Not only are they crucial to the track’s success, but melt seamlessly in with the strings. Later, the addition of an accordion sees arrangement heads in the direction of easy listening, in particular, Bert Kaempfert. This works though. Three diverse musical genres somehow unite perfectly, creating a rich multi-textured musical tapestry that’s not just dance-floor friendly, but infectiously catchy.

Still I’m Sad demonstrates just how eclectic an album On Such A Winter’s Day Is. It has a sparse, understated and wistful arrangement, that’s symphonic and moody. Just shimmering strings, a dark, moody rhythm section and a heartbreakingly sad, melancholy vocal combine. Straight away, you’re transfixed by the drama and emotion in the vocal, while the strings, horns and rhythm section’s role is to compliment the vocal. This is does, apart from during a breakdown, when things get funky. It’s as of the rhythm section are determined to flex their musical muscles. However, this works. After the breakdown the drama and ethereal beauty increases, thanks to the addition of the heartfelt harmonies. Quite simply, this is a musical masterstroke from he Morrison and Geunther partnership that results in one the highlights of On Such A Winter’s Day.

Of the six tracks on On Such A Winter’s Day, Flight From Versailles has the most in common with the THP Orchestra’s sound. From the opening bars, the similarities are apparent. Synths, percussion and pounding drums combine with quivering strings before a funky bass helps drive the arrangement in the direction of Euro Disco. Although there’s a real European feel to the track, it’s isn’t completely lacking American influences. Scatted vocals give the track a jazzy influence. Mostly, the American influences are overshadowed by a delicious fusion of Euro Disco, traditional European music, folk music and classical music. Like, Let’s Go Boating this is an inZnovative fusion of influences that results in a hugely catchy track.

Late November has a much more laid-back, understated sound. Just percussion, a funky rhythm section and keyboards combine with chiming guitars. Strings sweep in, their lush sound joined by a Hammond organ. By now elements of funk, jazz, disco and classical music are being fused by Grand Tour. Almost effortlessly, everything falls into place. Later, there’s even a rocky influence as Grand Tour decide to showcase their considerable musical skills. You can only marvel at their ability to combine musical genres and influences seamlessly on this laid-back, but dance-floor friendly track.

Closing On Such A Winter’s Day is a cover of the Mamas and Papas’ California Dreamin.’ It’s given an intriguing and soulful disco twist. When the pounding drums open the track, you think they’re going to be at the heart of the track. Not at all. A beautiful, heartfelt vocal deservedly takes centre-stage. It’s accompanied by some stunning harmonies. Then when the vocal drops out, the drums take centre-stage. They’re accompanied by wistful strings, melancholy horns and keyboards. When the vocal returns, you welcome its sheer beauty. Along with the harmonies, they’re at the heart of this captivating cover version of a familiar track.

Grand Tour’s debut album On Such A Winter’s Day was quite unlike the THP Orchestra’s debut album Early Riser. Indeed, On Such A Winter’s Day was a much more eclectic album. It was a concept album based on winter, which drew inspiration from an eclectic range of musical genres and influences. Disco, funk, soul, Euro Disco and easy listening color and influence the rich musical tapestry that is On Such A Winter’s Day. Another thing On Such A Winter’s Day demonstrated, was that disco is a much more complex musical genre than most people realise. Rather than think of disco as one musical genre, I prefer to think of disco as comprising numerous sub-genres. This similar to soul or house music.

The other thing that On Such A Winter’s Day did, was cement Willi Morrison and Ian Geunther reputation was musical pioneers. They took a bold and brave decision to release an album that was very different from their previous album, the THP Orchestra’s Early Riser. Many producers wouldn’t have risked their reputation like this. Thankfully, Willi Morrison and Ian Geunther had the courage of their convictions and released On Such A Winter’s Day. It was a genre-sprawling classic album, containing six innovative and timeless tracks, which demonstrated another side to disco.

Now thirty-six years after what proved to be Grand Tour’s one and only album, On Such A Winter’s Day will be rereleased by Harmless Records’ Disco Recharge imprint. It’s part of their forthcoming release Disco Recharge: Grand Tour On Such A Winter’s Day and Southern Exposure-Headin’ South. Not only does this rerelease feature the original version of Grand Tours’ On A Winter’s Day, but features five bonus tracks. This includes promo mixes of Let’s Go Boating and Late November. The other album that features on Disco Recharge’s forthcoming rerelease, is another equally innovative album from the Morrison and Geunther partnership is Southern Exposure’s Headin’ South, which I’ll tell you about.

SOUTHERN EXPOSURE-HEADIN’ SOUTH-SPECIAL EDITION.

Ever since the release of Grand Tour’s 1977 album On Such A Winter’s Day, Willi and Ian had been kept busy. No wonder. They’d established a reputation as one of the pioneering partnerships of the disco era. Proof of this was their work with the THP Orchestra. Then there were the other projects they’d worked on. However, by 1979, Willi and Ian found the time and were ready to form another studio band. This would be Southern Exposure.

Southern Exposure saw the Morrison and Geunther partnership reunited with their usual arranger Pete Pedersen. Pete had worked with Willi and Ian on their other projects, including the THP Orchestra. For what became Southern Exposure’s debut album Headin’ South, Pete cowrote the four songs with Jaine Rodack. Unlike On Such A Winter’s Day, recording of Headin’ South took place in Toronto at Phase One Studios and RCA Studios.

At Phase One Studios and RCA Studios in Toronto, Willi and Ian had brought together some of the city’s best session musicians. This included a rhythm section of bassist Errol Thomas, drummer Barry Keane and guitarists Brian Russel and Michael Toles. Carl Marsh played keyboards and synth and Dick Smith played percussion. Augmenting the band, were a full string and horn section, while Debbie Cathey and Jimmy Jamison contributed vocals. Arranging and conducting Southern Exposure was Pete Pedersen, with Willi and Ian producing Headin’ South.

Unlike On Such A Winter’s Day, Southern Exposure’s Headin’ South was much more dance-floor oriented. It was what people expected from the Morrison and Geunther partnership. This resulted in Headin’ South being a commercial success in North America. Sadly, Headin’ South wasn’t released outside of America and Canada. This resulted in Headin’ South becoming an incredibly rare and highly sought-after album. On Our Way, Headin’ South and Tight Pants were the three singles released from Headin’ South in 1979. These three singles proved popular in North American clubs, further reinforcing the reputation of Willi Morrison and Ian Geunther as pioneering disco producers. Southern Exposure’s Headin’ South is proof of this.

It doesn’t take long before you realize that Headin’ South is a very different album from Grand Tour’s On Such A Winter’s Day. From the opening bars of Headin’ South, thunderous drums and percussion provide a dramatic, dance-floor friendly beat. Adding to the drama are growling horns and dancing strings. Then the arrangement literally explodes joyously into life. Sitting atop this explosive arrangement is Jimmy Jamison’s vocal. It’s not unlike Dan Hartman’s. Harmonies accompany the fusion of horns, strings and rhythm section as Southern Exposure kick loose. Peerlessly, they combine disco, funk and soul before Debbie Cathey’s sweet vocal provides the finishing touch to this explosive and joyous hidden gem of a disco track.

For the near ten-minute epic that is On Our Way, Southern Exposure drop the tempo way down. The result is a mid-tempo track that’s moody, and laden with drama. It meanders along, gradually revealing its subtleties and surprises. While keyboards, percussion and quivering strings combine, the rhythm section provided a pulsating heartbeat. Percussion cracks, while a harmonica adds a melancholy sound and blazing horns add drama. Having set the scene, they usher in Debbie’s dramatic, heartfelt vocal. Bursts of horns and harmonica punctuate an arrangement that’s driven along by the bass. Lush strings sweep as gradually, everything falls into place. Seamlessly, Southern Exposure fuse elements of disco, Euro Disco, soul, funk and rock and in the process, create a Magnus Opus of a track.

Love Is sees the tempo increase. The arrangement is driven along by thunderous drums, before a funky bass and flourishes of classical strings enter. Soon, you realize that a classy slice of American disco is unfolding. With the rhythm section providing the heartbeat, chiming guitars, percussion, cascading strings and ethereal harmonies join the fun. You’re transported away, atop the lushest of strings while banks of keyboards add a melancholy backdrop and the rhythm section drive the arrangement. Strings quiver and shiver an another epic unfolds. For nearly twelve minutes, an eclectic selection musical genres are combined. Everything from jazz, funk, disco and soulful harmonies play their part in a track that veers between unber funky to dreamy, dramatic and is always, dance-floor friendly and hook-laden.

Closing Headin’ South is Tight Pants. It’s as if Southern Exposure want to end the album on a musical high. Straight away, they seem determined to make an impression. Chiming guitars, pounding drums, percussion and piano combine before blazing horns and buzzing synths enter. Their raison d’etre is to build the drama. Jimmy Jamison’s vocal is enveloped by swathes of strings and punchy horns. With harmonies accompanying him, they reach a grandiose crescendo andsucceed in adding to drama. Later, when Debbie’s vocal enters, she picks up the baton from Jimmy, delivering a diva-esque vocal that helps bring Headin’ South to a dramatic close.

Just like Grand Tour’s On Such A Winter’s Day, Southern Exposure’s Headin’ South was an equally innovative album from the Morrison and Geunther musical partnership. It reinforced their reputation as pioneers of disco. Over four tracks, they incorporated a variety of musical genres and influences into an album that had a much more traditional disco sound than On Such A Winter’s Day. Having referred to Headin’ South as a having a more traditional sound than On Such A Winter’s Day, it was rich in musical influences. Soul, funk, jazz, Euro Disco and even rock are incorporated into the four tracks by Southern Exposure. Taken together, the four tracks are a musical roller coaster journey. This journey is filled with musical surprises and best described as variously hook-laden, joyous, dramatic, uplifting and irresistible. Key to the success of Southern Exposure’s Headin’ South, was a tight, multitalented band and two charismatic vocalists. When all of this is combined, the result is a true hidden gem of a disco album. 

The reason I refer to Southern Exposure’s Headin’ South as a hidden gem, is that on its release in 1979, it was only released in North America. This resulted in Headin’ South becoming a highly sought after disco album. Given how good an album Headin’ South is, anyone who owns a copy is reluctant to part with it. If copies of Headin’ South changes hands, then it’s for increasingly large sums of money. Thankfully, if you don’t have the deep pockets required to afford a vinyl copy of Headin’ South, it’ll be released on 13th May 2013 as part of Disco Recharge: Grand Tour On Such A Winter’s Day and Southern Exposure-Headin’ South. Along with the original version of Headin’ South, there are four bonus tracks, including two edits.

For anyone who loves disco, then the rerelease of Disco Recharge: Grand Tour On Such A Winter’s Day and Southern Exposure-Headin’ South will be welcome rerelease. Both Grand Tour’s On Such A Winter’s Day and Southern Exposure’s Headin’ South are reminders of two pioneers of the disco era, Willi Morrison and Ian Geunther. They produced some of the most innovative, commercially successful and critically acclaimed albums of the disco era. Proof of this, if any is needed, are Grand Tour On Such A Winter’s Day and Southern Exposure Headin’ South which will be released by Disco Recharge on 13th May 2013. Standout Tracks: The Grand Tour, Still I’m Sad, Headin’ South and On Our Way.

DISCO RECHARGE: GRAND TOUR ON SUCH A WINTER’S DAY AND SOUTHERN EXPOSURE HEADIN’ SOUTH-SPECIAL EDITION.

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