By Keith Sharp
When it comes to watching major U.S award shows on television, Strange Advance keyboardist Drew Arnott hates those In Memorial segments where artists, performers and entertainment personnel who have passed on in the past 12 months are recognized.
“I’m like, `No I can’t believe he’s gone, `Oh she’s gone too, I really liked her’, all these falling icons from the past are dropping like flies,” noted Arnott on the phone from his Vancouver residence. “I was over at Darryl Kromm’s house (Strange Advance guitarist) and he was playing David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” on his guitar. Shortly after, we learned that Bowie was dead”.
With Bowie recently joined by Eagles’ Glenn Frey, Joe Cocker, Emerson Lake & Palmer’s Keith Emerson, Beatles’ producer Sir George Martin and even Country Music stalwart, Merle Haggard on that celestial jukebox, Arnott is picking up a strong vibe that if he and his Strange Advance cohort Kromm are ever going to get back in the studio and create something new artistically, they might want to get a move on.
Ironically, that move might have already been made for them with Bullseye Records’ president Jamie Vernon announcing, that as part of a new distribution deal with Conveyor Records, his label, which specializes in re-issuing classic Canadian recordings, is planning to re-release the band’s 1988 opus “The Distance Between”.
An unusual item which appeared on Facebook around the Christmas holidays, brought the band to the attention of Music Express. It was an item which said that Strange Advance’s Fan Club were staging a special Christmas event.
Question: How can a band which hasn’t played a note in anger since dissolving in 1995 still have a functioning fan club 21 years later!
“If you reach people at a certain age, you have them for life,” explained Arnott of the on-going support of their loyal fan base. “Even if it’s just one or two tunes, people remember those songs, they can trigger a special meaning that sticks with people.”
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Certainly songs like “We Run” and “Worlds Away” continue to be staples on Canadian classic radio, and even though the band only recorded three studio albums in total between 1983 and 1988, the New Romantic vibe of their synth-driven music registered a strong enough impression at that time to solicit a Juno nomination for Top New Band in 1983 and Top Canadian Group in 1985.
Formed in Vancouver by the song-writing duo of Arnott and Kromm and bassist pal Paul Iverson, the trio originally called themselves Metropolis and a demo tape deposited by Arnott to Capitol’s Los Angeles A&R department was received enthusiastically enough that it was sent on to then Canada Capitol Records’ A&R chief (and later label president) Deane Cameron. Cameron was also impressed by the tape, but as it lacked any identification on who had sent it, he didn’t pursue it further.
Meanwhile Kromm was moonlighting as a guitarist in Bryan Adams’ original live band and when Adams heard the tape, he was sufficiently impressed to send a copy along to ace producer Bruce Fairbairn. Fairbairn was equally impressed enough to execute a rough remix and send the tape to Cameron at Capitol, who’s immediate reaction was “Hey, I already know these guys – I just didn’t know who they were.”
The recording `dream team’ of Fairbairn and engineer Bob Rock were assembled to record the band’s debut album “Worlds Away” in 1982, a change of name to Strange Advance forced because a German band called Metropolis had previous dibs on the name. “I still have a photograph of the three of us with Bruce and Bob, this was going to be the start of a powerful relationship,” noted Arnott somewhat wistfully.
Launching just as the progressive, new romantic rock scene was taking hold of Great Britain, their debut enjoyed an initial positive reaction. Fuelled by the synth-keyboard arrangements on “Worlds Away” and to a lesser extent “She Controls Me”, Strange Advance’s debut was certified gold in Canada (over 50,000 units sold) and their Adams/Fairbairn connection resulted in the band being picked up for management by Bruce Allen (whose talent stable at that time included Adams, Prism, Loverboy and Red Rider).
“Problem was that Bruce didn’t know what to do with us, we were not his typical `Bic flicking’, stadium rock band ,” noted Arnott. “He talked about us doing College dates but that wouldn’t have worked out for us so we eventually left him for Management Three in Los Angeles. As a result, we didn’t tour that first record at all.”
No Bruce Allen meant no Bruce Fairbairn, so after a fruitless recording session with Michael Kamen, Arnott was given permission by Cameron to record the second Strange Advance record himself. “2W0”, released in 1985 saw the band paired down to just Arnott and Kromm (with the departure of Iverson). Strong support for “We Run” and “Second That I Saw You” and the band’s first touring engagements in Eastern Canada also pushed record sales past the Gold plateau. But the lack of proper management was stalling the band’s career.
“It is so important to have the right management,” assessed Arnott. “Management 3 were okay, they had The Moody Blues, but we were assigned some junior staff guy who hadn’t a clue what he was doing so that didn’t work out. When we finished the third album; “The Distance Between” in 1988, we had the chance to tour Germany but we had already committed to a Canadian tour. The Germans really wanted us but we were told we couldn’t blow off the Canadian dates. Now proper management might have figured out a way for us to do both the German dates and the Canadian tour, but as it was, we had to decline the offer.”
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Their third album, featured one minor hit; “Love Becomes Electric”, but as an indie release (on Gerry Young’s Current Records), failed to register and the band struggled on for a couple more years before pulling the plug just as their “Worlds Away And Back” compilation was being released in 1995.
And then, nothing! Arnott has his own studio, has dabbled in production and continues to write songs. “Problem is that most of them are suited for female singers so I am looking for the right female voice,” revealed Arnott who also informed that Kromm is providing full time care for his aging mother (“He is her link to the world”) while successfully dabbling in the stock market.
Still that faithfully Strange Advance fan club remains hopeful Arnott and Kromm will find some opportunity to return to the recording studio and with Bullseye Records providing an opportunity for the pair to revisit a previous recording, the door is now open.
“Certainly, I have enough new material for us to work on, and every time Darryl and I get together, and get the guitars out, creativity kicks in,” things begin to happen, so who knows,” noted Arnott somewhat optimistically. “What we should note from Bowie’s passing is that we can’t take things for granted. It was a bit of a warning for both me and Darryl that we should be motivated to get something out whilst we can, before it’s too late.”