Harlequin’s roots began as a Winnipeg circuit band in early 1978. The band consisted of singer George Belanger, guitarist Glen Willows, Gary Golden on keyboards, drummer David Budzak and Ralph James on bass. Within a year they were doing regular gigs across mid and eastern Canada and were signed to Epic Records in 1979.
Their debut album, VICTIM OF A SONG was produced by Jack Douglas, who’d previously worked with the likes of Cheap Trick, Patty Smith, Aerosmith and John Lennon. Released that fall, it immediately made an impression with both the critics and the fans alike. “Sweet Things In Life” and “You Are The Light” both became instant radio staples across the country and Harlequin was rewarded with a debut gold record. Backed by the solid writing of other tracks like “Turn Around” and their first single “Survive”, the band was heralded as one of the country’s most promising new groups.
Following a year long tour which saw them open for such heavyweights as April Wine & BTO, they returned to the studios for LOVE CRIMES, released in the summer of 1980. Again, the airwaves were filled with the tight harmonies and catchy rhythms of the singles “Innocence” and “Thinking Of You”. fter Hannah left to join Streetheart in 1980, Harlequin came back with CRIMES OF PASSION later that year. Fuelled by new guitarist Glen Willows, tracks like the singles “Innocence”, “Take This Heart” and “Thinking Of You” put to rest any fears the group couldn’t function through problems like personnel changes. The band was now taking its straight forward rock and roll message all across Canada, and into the rest of the world.
It would be nearly two full years before their third record, ONE FALSE MOVE would hit the shelves. By this time Denton Young had replaced Budzak on drums. Back for his third consecutive stint behind the controls was Douglas and the fans’ wait was justified by what many considered to be their best effort yet. “I Did It For Love”, “Superstitious Feeling” and the ballad “Heart Gone Cold” pushed them to the elite status of only having three records, but all going gold.
They released a self-titled album in ’84 which featured new keyboardist John White and John Hannah, ex of Streetheart, returning on guitars. “Take This Heart” was featured as the lead track and first single. More touring across Canada and into the states and Europe followed for the next year or so. Other noteable tracks included “Trouble In Paradise,” “Keep This Fire Alive,” and “Memories.”
Epic released a greatest hits package entitled RADIO ROMANCES in the middle of in-fighting within the band in ’86. Included was the new single “It’s No Mystery.” But because the album wasn’t released on CD, the label thought it might be a good idea. Before the end of the year GREATEST HITS was in the stores, which was essentially the same album but with a few extra songs thrown on it. But by the time of its release, the rigors of the road had taken their toll on the band, and they called it quits later that year.
The band all but disappeared until the mid 90’s, when the advent of the ‘classic rock’ weekend festival prompted Belanger to re-group with a new line-up, which worked the circuit part-time for the next few years.
In ’04, he took an an album’s worth of demos that had been recorded by budding musician James Brose, who’d asked for an opinion on the material. Re-working one song led to stripping the whole set apart. Melodies, lyrics and arrangements were changed and Belanger re-recorded the vocals, and it was released as HARLEQUIN II. Although the ‘Harlequin’ named appeared on the marquee, it was actually a conglomerate of Winnipeg musicians, including Doc Walker‘s Murray Pulver, Spider Sinnaeve (Streetheart, Loverboy, Lee Aaron, Tom Cochrane, etc etc), Streetheart‘s Daryl Gutheil, Phil X (Triumph), and Ron Halldorson (Lenny Breau).
The only single “Sometimes I Feel” was a moderate hit in pockets across western Canada that year. Other noteable tracks included “Reach For The Stars,” “Money,” and “Let Me In.”
Nearly three years later, WAKING THE JESTER followed, hailed by the critics. Along with the lead-off “Shine On,” it also included “Hell or High Water,” “This Limbo,” “Lolita,” and “Little White Lies.” More touring ensued off and on until the band’s first live recording, 2009’s LIVE ON Q. Taped during their performance on CBC Radio’s “Q” program with Jian Ghomeshi, it featured cuts from the latest album, as well as the tried and true classics from over the years.