Setting the record straight

There is a lot of misinformation on the internet about Harlequin. Mostly there is confusion about the band’s origins. I’ve decided to set things straight with the facts as I know them to be.

Ralph James

Ralph James

It all started when Ralph James went from Winnipeg to Toronto in the mid-seventies to seek fame and fortune. He joined a band that called themselves Harlequin. Denton Young and John White’s names pop up in the history because they were in this first version of this band that performed on the Holiday Inn circuit. They were a cover band and never recorded or played original material. The band broke up after only a few months.

Ralph returned to Winnipeg and along with John Hanah, Dave Budzak and Gary Golden formed Holy Hanah. This band played original material which was written by lead guitarist and singer John Hanah. The band was an instant hit in their hometown, however it wasn’t long before John fell ill and they now needed a guitar player, a singer and new material.

David Budzak took over the vocal duties and they hired Lawrie Koyle (aka Leroy Hawk) to play guitar. David quickly grew tired of the double duty as they had a gruelling touring schedule. I had just left a band called Next with which I had recorded an album for Warner Bros. I was on my way to England with my then guitar player Bob White when I received a call from my agent who informed me that Harlequin was looking to audition me. I cancelled my plans and flew to Ontario instead.

Early promo photoUpon meeting Ralph and the boys I could tell that they were driven and focused and best of all, looking for a songwriter. Not being interested in playing covers we set about putting together a catalogue of tunes. We went on like this for a little over a year and eventually replaced Leroy with Glen Willows.

We worked very hard at writing and touring and eventually signed a recording contract and kept things going until the mid-eighties when the band broke up, but I bought everyone out and kept it going. Though it’s been reported that the band stopped touring, this was never the case. There have been plenty of changes, but the band was always active.

Ralph became my manager and, after hearing him deal with agents on the phone, I suggested he become one himself. He guffawed and went on a rant about agents and told me I was out of my mind and it was something he would never consider. Well … Ralph now lives in Toronto and is rich and famous as President of The Agency Group! The story has come full circle.

Glen Willows, Gary Golden, George Belanger, Ralph James and AJ Chabidon

Glen Willows, Gary Golden, George Belanger, Ralph James and AJ Chabidon

I did slow it down some in the nineties because I had a young family and another business I started with my wife which we kept going for 18 years.

Harlequin is still going all these years later and I might add that the original lineup still plays together from time to time and, in fact, Gary Golden is back in the fold and Glen still plays the odd date with us too! We are, to this day, great friends! We enjoy each others company and that fills me with pride and happiness!

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  1. Scott Attrill

    My memory is slightly damaged over the many years of being a fan of Rush, Harlequin and many other Canadian rock bands, however my music interest in playing guitar was spurred on by your band, as a basement band just south of Kelvin High. I can remember, the on goings and party like atmosphere in that basement and playing my first A cord and then I moved to Victoria as your first few albums rocked the air waves. Can you remember a little shit hanging around, most of the band did not like me much, to young I guess but still fun.

  2. Hi George. I hope all is well. I was enjoying reading some of your blogs but while doing so I could not help but reading parts that seem to not be so factual. As for setting the record straight, I am sitting here looking at a gold album for your very first release “Victim of a Song” this was given to my dad Lachlan Macfadyen for producing your first record. I remember being there at 8 yrs old watching you sing those songs at Thunder Studios in Toronto.Sharing hotel rooms with the band at the Carriage House Hotel. Memories burned in my brain. Sadly my dad passed away last Christmas. When I read things about Jack starting your career it is so wrong and disheartening that credit is not given where due. You see my accounts are much different than what I read. I know my father discovered Harlequin at the Gas Works in Toronto and shortly after signed the band to Waterfront Productions Canada, My dads production company with Jack. I also remember the countless hours my father spent working with the band,trips and countless demos (which I have most of them)and shopping for your first major label deal. Which he eventually helped secure with Epic Records.You see everyone in my home lived this experience for years so it’s hard to forget. We were your biggest fans. We all went without for years while my dad worked so hard to get you a deal, Introduce you to Jack and support you guys. He belived in the band. It saddens me that the man does not even get a mention in your careers. A career that may have never been had Lachlan Macfadyen not have had the faith to sign you to that production deal.

  3. Hey George!!

    Finally… your historical rundown officially confirms what I tell people when Harlequin comes up in conversation!! I remember Holy Hanah because I recall the “new” Winnipeg Convention Centre used to have mid-week concerts of local bands in the 70’s. I saw Holy Hanah there for the first time and came away thinking “What a great band!!”. Later, they became Harlequin. Harlequin played at our St. Paul’s and St. Mary’s Academy high school dances. And, as someone who aspired to play the drums, I remember David on the kit doing lead vocals and going “wow”. I also remember that Harlequin and Barrelhouse were the top two bands in Winnipeg back around the time that I graduated high school in 1977 (Barrelhouse played at our high school grad). Barrelhouse left Winnipeg for Toronto soon after and was never heard from again. In my university years, I remember that Harlequin left town, too, but what a different story. Such great music… great musicianship and songwriting. Your music was and still is outstanding, definitely standing the test of time and it will continue to do so. In my opinion, you guys should have been “blockbuster” international; you were that good. I don’t know what happened along the way but you guys should have been huge – I mean “Loverboy” huge.

    I am looking forward to seeing you guys with another one of my absolute faves – Chilliwack – next month. What an unexpected bonus to have you guys play with Chilliwack on the same bill. Can’t wait.

    Take care, George.

  4. Hey George,

    Glad to see that you are still going. I first saw Harlequin back in 1980 when you played at Windsor Park High School and I’ve seen you several times since. The last being at Summerfest in Vernon a few years ago. I got to meet you all back around ’82 when I did a “radio” show for the local tv station in Port Coquitlam and the band signed my Windsor Park year book.

    Even after all these years Victim of a Song is still one of my favorites (8 track, album, cassette & CD).

    Hope to see you in Coquitlam on New Year’s Eve.

  5. and not one mention of scotty’s island…….sigh….

  6. Rock’n’Roll Earl

    P.S. I`d love a copy of NEXT! I read Richard`s comment… must be a copy out there…

  7. Rock’n’Roll

    Happy Canada Day, Georgeous! Oops! Just looked at my watch… past midnight. Great story-clarification! Looking forward to seeing you guys at the Lyric on Friday! Salud!

  8. Love your tunes!! Shot some photos of you guys at Corn and Apple last year. Thought you might like them. Check them out on my Facebook page. The Big Apple Images

    • good day, George said you had some great photos from morden can you email them to me thanks so much

  9. I still have my copy of Next – Dusty Shoes with George on vocals….

  10. David Jorgensen

    I worked at CJRL radio in the early 80s and did a couple of interviews with you and Ralph when you were touring through Kenora. Always loved your tunes and your shows were fantastic. Makes me proud to know you’re still going at it. Our other connection is that I’ve known Jamie Brose since public school, and he more or less taught me to play guitar! Very cool to see how well the two of you did with your recent collaborations. Are they available anywhere yet? All the best to you and the lads.

  11. Thanks for the info enjoyed reading it, now I will patiently wait for a date in southern Ontario 🙂

  12. Ohhh the good old days 🙂 I am glad you can recall the 70’s and 80’s George !

  13. kevin j dawson

    great read George,thanks for sharing!!!