There have been a few notable symphonies in the past. On Sept. 24, 1969, British rock legends, Deep Purple, blurred the lines between classical music and prog rock when they performed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England. This show resulted in the famous album Concerto for Group and Orchestra. Just over three decades later, Metallica added some metal to the mix with the San Francisco Symphony, first over a weekend in November 1999 and, again, 20 years later resulting in both their S&M and S&M2 live albums.
Although Canadian rockers, The Tea Party, have dabbled in orchestra shows in the past, on February 3, at Caesars Windsor, and again, the next evening, at the Imperial Theatre in Sarnia, the Windsor-born band brought Canadian rock to a whole new level.
Lead singer and guitarist Jeff Martin, bassist Stuart Chatwood, and drummer Jeff Burrows brought out all the classics that weekend, “Temptation”, “Heaven Coming Down”, and “Sister Awake”, but also heart-wrenching ballads like “Psychopomp”, “Release”, and their cover of Daniel Lanois’ “The Messenger”, as well, quintessential deep cuts like “Gone” and “Oceans”.
The event took root when Yunity, formerly known as Bluesfest Windsor, a not-for-profit that Burrows partners with, approached Caesars Windsor about which Canadian act they would like to see brought in for a show. According to Burrows, Tim Tremblay, Caesars Windsor’s director of entertainment and the band’s former A&R guy at EMI Records, told Yunity that he thought bringing in The Tea Party with a symphony would be a real showstopper.
“We made it so it was a fundraiser,” explains Burrows. “We donated a very significant amount to Transition to Betterness and then invited around 1,500 frontline workers.”
Luckily for the band, the groundwork was laid for their symphony shows over two decades ago when the band did a handful of Canadian dates with an orchestra in late 2002.
“Our music has been transposed for years now,” explains Burrows. “We did a Canadian one almost 21 years ago. We also did Sydney and Melbourne, Australia in 2017 and those were outstanding.”
He says that the band was excited by the challenge of playing with so many skilled musicians.
“It’s a lot of brainwork, it’s a lot of memory work,” says Burrows. “It’s almost the complete opposite of what you do when you’re on tour. On tour, there’s X amount of days of rehearsal, X amount of days of production rehearsal, and then two shows in, you’re firing on all cylinders. Whereas this, we’re playing songs that we normally don’t play, we’re playing arrangements that the symphony music was written for 20 years ago that is completely different than how we play them now.”
He says that at first, it seemed like a daunting task, but once the band started moving, they got into the groove of things.
“By the second show, it was just as if we were on tour—we just rocked it,” he says. “It was a very different show in Sarnia then in Windsor, but what an opportunity to do both like that. We were pretty excited.”
Burrows explains that both shows were recorded and the band plans to release a live album of the music with the International Symphony Orchestra at some point, both on double vinyl and a double CD edition with download.
“We are confident enough to release it as an album,” he states. “It will be mixed in such a way that you’ll be able to hear every little nuance—it makes for such a great audio experience.”
However, with a band whose lead singer lives in Australia, a bassist who lives in Vancouver, and Burrows, who stayed local, it takes a lot of work and discussion to get things moving. Getting the band together in one location to either write, rehearse, or just to get together is a costly endeavour, but Burrows thinks that the symphony shows have lit a spark in the band.
“It really lit a fire under our ass in regards to doing something again and doing something special—and, hopefully, doing more symphony shows,” he states. “They are very special, and they work the mind quite a bit.”
“I think you can expect to see another few symphony shows in and around Southwestern Ontario within a year or so.”
The band is also talking about a possible tour and doing a couple writing sessions in the fall.
“Usually, after a tour, you are very satisfied and you’re kind of pooped and you’re pretty excited to just go home,” explains Burrows. However, after the two symphony shows, the band felt energized, and they want to stay busy. “It’s a different kind of vibe, but we are very much looking forward to doing something different again, start writing again, and so on.”
Burrows says that he has received nothing but positive feedback from the symphony shows, but adds that some who took in both shows felt the shows differed—the Windsor show was more symphony-driven, while in Sarnia, it was more rock-driven due to the Imperial Theatre’s small setting.
Having formed in 1990, fresh out of high school, The Tea Party have grown up together. Over time, things change—including how they interact with one another.
“We had a six-year timeout many years ago, but what we learned in that time off and the time away was that everyone always compares bands to a marriage—and it really is,” recalls Burrows. He says that lines of communication need to be crystal clear because they are both friends and business partners. “One of the main rules in business is ‘never go into business with your friends.’ It’s a bit of a juggling act, but since we’ve been back together, the beautiful thing is the complete and open communication.”
Burrows adds that, even in disagreement, they are not disrespectful to each other. “If there’s something that needs to be addressed, then we address it as if it is a business thing and not a personal issue—let’s keep the band going.”
“As long as we’re being creative and we’re satisfying our own desire to write and are happy with how the songs are coming out, we’re not just selling junk, then, yeah, we’ll keep it going and we’ll enjoy ourselves.”