DISCO RECHARGE: THP ORCHESTRA-THP NO. 2 TENDER IS THE NIGHT AND GOOD TO ME.

DISCO RECHARGE: THP ORCHESTRA-THP NO. 2 TENDER IS THE NIGHT AND GOOD TO ME.

By 1978, when the THP Orchestra entered the studio to released their third album, THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night, the Canadian production team of Ian Guenther and Willi Morrison had just joined disco’s elite. Their previous album, Too Hot For Love, released on Butterfly Records, had been the biggest success of their career. Costing an estimated £100,000 to produce, this massive gamble paid off. Not only was it a critically acclaimed and commercially successful album, but it provided the soundtrack to North American dance-floors. 

Spurred on, and determined to better their previous efforts, Ian and Willi set about recording THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night, which along with Good To Me, will be rereleased by Harmless Records’ Disco Recharge imprint on the 15th July 2013. Sadly, THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night would be the last album the THP Orchestra would release for Butterfly Records. Sadly, it would not be a happy ending to the THP Orchestra’s time at Butterfly Records. Instead, it would prove a frustrating and expensive end to their time at Butterfly Records. I’ll tell you why, after I’ve told you about THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night.

THP ORCHESTRA-THP NO. 2 TENDER IS THE NIGHT.

For what became THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night, Toronto based Ian Guenther and Willi Morrison got to work on what was the THP Orchestra’s third album. The pressure was on them after the success of Too Hot For Love. This neither bothered Ian nor Willi. After all, they had something many artists were desperate for, complete artistic freedom. Artist freedom meant that rather than recreate Too Hot For Love, they could change their sound. 

Whereas Too Hot For Love has been sensual and steamy, THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night would be a much smoother, slicker album. It contained just four tracks, three of which Ian and Willi cowrote. The exception was Half As Nice. Weekend Two Step and Tender Is The Night were on side one, while Half As Nice and Music Is All You Need were on side two. For this change of sound, new vocalists were brought in. Replacing Barbara Fry, when the recording of THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night began were the Duncan Sisters, Helen and Phyllis.

Recording of THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night took place at Phase One Studios, Toronto. George Semkiw mixed and recorded and mixed the four tracks that became THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night. The lineup of the THP Orchestra included a rhythm section of bassist Errol Thomas, drummer and percussionist Barry Keane and guitarists Brian Russell and Michael Toles. They were joined by Dick Smith on congas and percussion, Carl Marsh on synths and keyboards plus a string and horn section. Once the four tracks were recorded, THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night was released in November 1978.

As was the fashion during the disco era, THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night was released on white vinyl. This didn’t come cheap. Featuring one Butterfly Records’ trademark erotic covers, THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night was well received by critics. While not matching the commercial success of Too Hot For Love, THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night provided the soundtrack to many a dance-floor. THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night was another commercial success for the production team of Ian Guenther and Willi Morrison. What with Grand Tour and the THP Orchestra, they were going to need armed guards when they went to collect their royalties. That wouldn’t be the case.

Opening THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night is Weekend Two Step. With the piano and handclaps, the introduction is briefly reminiscent of The Charleston. This marks the start of a a truly compelling, innovative and genre-sprawling musical journey. Over eight minutes, jazz, funk, disco, boogie and soul seamlessly unite. A gloriously, funky rhythm section, complete with wah-wah guitars, is joined by blazing horns, dancing, disco strings and a vocoder. Then there’s the soulful strains of The Duncan Sisters vocals. Percussion and synths punctuate the arrangement, which cascades joyously along. Best described as flamboyant and full of flair, subtle and not to subtle changes in musical direction are akin to a series of surprises. Soon, you realize not to second guess the THP Orchestra as they spread joy, hooks and surprises in equal measures.

A pulsating rhythm section and tender, cooing harmonies combine as Tender Is The Night unfolds. Keyboards and percussion join the fray. They’re joined by lush strings and rasping horns. Gradually, the arrangement is revealing its subtleties and  secrets. Growing in power and drama, The Duncan Sisters heartfelt and cascading harmonies are the perfect accompaniment to the arrangement. It’s a mass of braying horns, swirling strings, pounding drums, keyboards and jazz-tinged guitars. Fusing jazz, funk, soul and disco, the THP Orchestra create an infectiously catchy, hypnotic backdrop, one that’s timeless, soulful and dance-floor friendly.

Half As Nice is a cover of a familiar track. Made famous by Amen Corner, you’ve never heard it like this. Swathes of strings, punchy growling horns and dramatic drums provide the backdrop for The Duncan Sisters. They add emotion and passion, while reinforcing the drama. Along with the THP Orchestra a familiar song is transformed. It becomes a joyous, anthemic dance-track. Elements of funk, rock, soul and disco are combined with Euro Disco. The result is a remarkable transformation. Filled with poppy hooks, joy and drama, resisting this tracks charms and delights isn’t easy.

Music Is All You Need closes THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night. It’s very different to previous tracks as it unfolds. There’s a cinematic, sci-fi sound as the arrangement bursts into life. A myriad of strings, rhythm section and bubbling synths combine with grizzled horns. They provide a dramatic, moody and cinematic backdrop for The Duncan Sisters. Their vocals are deliberate and dramatic. Above them strings sweep and swirl furiously. Meanwhile percussion and the rhythm section provide a frantic, frenzied backdrop, as the arrangement reaches a dramatic crescendo. This proves a fitting end to what’s been a genre-melting, innovative album.

While THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night didn’t match the commercial success of Too Hot For Love, that’s nothing to do with the music. Indeed, in some ways, THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night surpasses Too Hot For Love. It’s a much slicker, smoother record than Too Hot For Love. An innovative, fusion of disparate musical genres, THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night saw the THP Orchestra reinvent their music. Rather than recreate Too Hot For Love, their most successful album, the THP Orchestra decided to change their sound. This was brave. After all, many other disco artists churned out album after album of similar music. Not the THP Orchestra. Instead, everything from disco, jazz, funk, soul, Euro Disco and rock was thrown into the THP Orchestra’s musical melting pot. The result was another innovative and inventive album THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night. Sadly it never replicated the commercial success of Too Hot For Love. Maybe that’s to do with what happened next.

Having released THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night, Ian Guenther and Willi Morrison headed to the Butterfly Records’ Los Angeles to pick up their royalties. They were on the hottest streak of their career. Both Grand Tour and the THP Orchestra had enjoyed huge commercial success. Owed considerable sums of money, they lucked out. Ian and Willi just happened to arrive in LA to pick up their royalties, they  the day before Butterfly Records literally flew away. The next day, Butterfly Records filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Now all bets were off. With their record company now insolvent, they could kiss goodbye to their royalties. 

Whether Butterfly Records’ impending financial meltdown affected the release of THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night is mere speculation. Did Butterfly Records have the budget to promote THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night? That we don’t know. It wouldn’t be the first time a record company’s financial problem impacted on an album’s commercial success. Maybe disco and the popularity of the disco orchestra was starting to wain. Sadly, the THP Orchestra’s luck didn’t improve. instead, it got worse.

GOOD TO ME.

Following Butterfly Records insolvency, Ian and Willi decided it was best to distance themselves from their former label. They’d lost huge sums of money. Sadly, there was nothing that could be done about that. It was a case of writing it off to experience and getting on with recording their fourth album Good To Me. They must have thought surely nothing else could go wrong for the THP Orchestra? How wrong could they be.

1979 saw labels start to change the music they were releasing. Disco was almost a spent force. The first waves of the anti-disco backlash was being felt. Suddenly, disco was starting to suck. This wasn’t good for labels who released disco. Nor was it good for the THP Orchestra, who were about to release their fourth album Good To Me in 1979 on Atlantic Records. 

The five songs on Good To Me were written by ian and Wili, who produced the album. Again, Pete Pedersen was brought in to arrange, orchestrate and conduct the THP Orchestra on Good To Me at Phase One Studios, Toronto. Joining them, were the same personnel that featured on THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night. This included a rhythm section of bassist Errol Thomas, drummer Barry Keane and guitarists Brian Russell and Michael Toles. They were joined by Dick Smith on percussion, Carl Marsh on synths and keyboards plus a string and horn section. Taking charge of the lead vocals was Joyce Cobb. Once the four tracks were recorded, Good To Me was released in 1979.

Like so many albums, released in 1979, Good To Me was an album that was released at the wrong time.  Disco orchestras had had their day. They were perceived as yesterday’s sound. Music was moving towards boogie and Hi-NRG. So Good To Me didn’t replicate the commercial success of previous THP Orchestra albums. That doesn’t make Good To Me a bad album. Far from it. 

Dancin’ Is Alright opens Good To Me. Straight away, there’s a change of sound. Funk and Euro Disco combine. This shows how disco was changing. The traditional, classic disco sound was being replaced by the Euro Disco sound. Crucial to this is Joyce Cobb’s vocal. It’s feisty and sassy. She encourages and cajoles, reminding everyone that: “Dancin’ Is Alright.” Accompanying her vocal is a a hypnotic, funky beat, stabs of braying horns, piano, chiming guitars, percussion and handclaps. They provide the backdrop for her diva-esque performance as the THP Orchestra innovate, reinventing themselves, rather than risk standing still.

Two Hearts, One Love sees a continuation in the reinvention of the THP Orchestra. There’s a much more soulful sound to this dramatic, dance track. Again, Joyce Cobb’s powerful, dramatic vocal takes centre-stage. She delivers some of the most memorable lyrics on Good To Me. A driving, pounding, funky beat is accompanied by sweeping harmonies and bursts of blazing horns. Joyce combines power, passion and emotion as she breathes life and meaning into the lyrics on this soulful, stomper.

Dancin’ Forever explodes into life. It’s not so much a song, but a message and suggestion for a lifestyle choice. It comes courtesy of Joyce. Before she makes her entrance, keyboards and the rhythm section drive the arrangement along. Searing rolls of guitars set the scene for Joyce’s ethereal scat. That’s just a taste of what’s to come. Combining power, drama and soulfulness, Joyce’s message is: “Dancin’ Forever is all we need.” Given the way she makes the song swing, you’re almost convinced. Helped along by growling horns, cascading harmonies and the driving, choppy rhythm section, elements of Euro Disco, soul and funk become one. In doing so, they play their part in another irresistible dance track.

Hi-NRG. That’s what springs to mind when I hear the first few bars of Good To Me. Regardless of whether you like Hi-NRG or not, you can’t fault the THP Orchestra for being ahead of the musical curve. They were true innovators, way ahead of so many other producers. Their take on Hi-NRG is much better than certain British producers. Mixing elements of soul and Euro Disco to this proto Hi-NRG track, Joyce Cobb struts her way through the track adding drama, hooks and more than a little sass.

Closing Good To Me is Who Do You Love? This proved to be the THP Orchestra’s musical farewell. At least they ended their four album career on a high. A myriad of chiming guitars, funky rhythm section, stabs of braying horns, swirling strings and keyboards accompany Joyce as she unleashes a sassy vamp. Soon, it’s transformed into another impassioned, emotive vocal. Delivered with her trademark power and control, her soulful strains are accompanied by cascading, cooing harmonies. Add to that, an arrangement where Euro Disco, boogie and funk combine. Drenched in echo, Joyce’s vocal probes and questions, asking, pleading and wondering Who Do You Love as this genre-sprawling track, closes Good To Me.

The constant reinvention of the THP Orchestra continued on Good To Me. To their fusion of Euro Disco, funk, soul, disco and even rock, Hi-NRG was added. This was the latest disparate musical influence that featured during the title-track Good To Me. A combination of soulful stompers and Euro Disc interspersed with funk played their part in the evolution of the THP Orchestra. They strived to innovate and release influential, imaginative and inventive music. Sadly, this wasn’t enough. Disco suddenly sucked.

The winds of musical change blew through American music during 1979. Gradually, disco’s popularity began to plummet. This included disco orchestras. Whether it was The Salsoul Orchestra, John Davis and His Monster Orchestra or the THP Orchestra, their popularity plummeted. It didn’t matter how good the music was. Disco was no longer as popular. Everything came to a head on 12th July 1979, in Comiskey Park, Chicago. This was Disco Demolition Night, which was organized by the Disco Sucks movement. Thousands of disco records were blown up. The effects were wide reaching and almost destroyed disco. Suddenly, labels dropped disco artists, disco albums weren’t released and disco labels folded. For the THP Orchestra, Good To Me proved to be their final album. 

From being one of the most successful disco orchestras, the THP Orchestra’s luck had changed drastically in the space of a two years. Thankfully, the resurgence in interest in disco, means the THP Orchestra’s music is back in fashion. Both THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night and Good To Me, will be rereleased by Harmless Records’ Disco Recharge imprint on the 15th July 2013. Like previous releases in the Disco Recharge series, this Special Edition is a double-album which features nine bonus tracks. Given this is the final installment of Ian Guenther and Willi Morrison’s music, that Disco Recharge will release, the rerelease of THP No. 2 Tender Is The Night and Good To Me is a fitting tribute to Canada’s disco Kings. Standout Tracks: Weekend Two Step, Tender Is The Night, Dancin’ Is Alright and Two Hearts, One Love.

DISCO RECHARGE: THP ORCHESTRA-THP NO. 2 TENDER IS THE NIGHT AND GOOD TO ME.

 

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