Disco Recharge: Grand Tour ‘On such a winter’s day’/Southern Expsoure ‘Headin’ south’ 2CD (Harmless) 4/5

Disco came in various guises, but arguably the most panoramic fresco painted of the era in musical form came from the joint production of Canadian pairing Ian Guenther and Willi Morrison. Together they were responsible for the THP Orchestra sound and if you liked that, then the collective talents of Grand Tour and Southern Exposure emanate from the same mould of classy dancefloor action with a good deal of subtlety and, in several respects, were ahead of their time and were equally a precursor to some of the 1980s dance music innovations. Both original vinyl albums are previously unreleased on CD and feature bonus edits galore of the key songs. Grand Tour’s 1977 excursion was an understated take on the disco idiom with the selective use of strings, but interestingly reveal a reliance in parts on heavy bassline and piano vamp breakdowns that would be an integral part of Chicago house music a good six-seven years later. The title track is actually a tad mournful in its first part, but gradually builds into an uplifting number. Easy listening territory and a tad too MOR for this writer, ‘Let’s go boating’ features a trumpet solo. More compelling and a definite return to the danceflloor is ‘Flight from Versailles’ with prominent bassline and strings to the fore, and a slightly cheesy instrumental section with 1970s synthesizer. Rounding off matters is a cover of ‘California dreamin’ which starts with female vocals, but then morphs into a semi-instrumental piece with flute and strings. Overall this stylistic overview of the era has a good deal in common with albums such as USA-European Connection.

‘Headin’ south’ by Southern Exposure was late era disco from 1979, but classic disco nonetheless and borrowed heavily from the Philly International sound in its use of percussive intros, vocal harmonies and strings. However, where it departs from the soulful side of disco is with the lead vocals that hint at Dan Hartman and Euro disco hues. Its centrepiece song is the near ten minute ‘On our way’ which was an upper mid-tempo number that recalls the likes of Change, B.B. & Q Band and Hi Gloss from the early 1980s and would still have been perfect for the dancefloor two-three years after its original release. Lead vocals by Debbie Cathey are once again subtlely deployed. It is a beautifully structured song with harmonica and brass in evidence. Disco never reached more sophisticated levels and the lengthy instrumental section builds into a hypnotic crescendo. Firmly aimed more at Euro disco is the just under twelve minute ‘Love is’ which fans of Donna Summer and her Giorgio Moroder productions will appreciate and there are some lovely brass arrangements incorporated here. As for the title track, it can best be described as decadent 1970s with a strong hint of poppier elements, but still a classy take on disco. Detailed notes are once again provided by disco musicologist Alan Jones. Tim Stenhouse

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