by Keith Sharp
Drew Arnott must be despairing that he will ever get to relaunch his Strange Advance band. Having decided to revive the Vancouver-based group which in the mid to late 1980’s scored major hits with tracks like “We Run”, “Worlds Away” and “Love Becomes Electric”, he had set his sights on reintroducing Strange Advance to the domestic music populace by scoring a key spot on the all-star Roxodus festival set for last summer (July 11-13) at Edenvale Airport just north of Barrie Ontario.
Unfortunately, the three-day event boasting a lineup which was supposed to include the likes of Aerosmith, Kid Rock, Blondie and Billy Idol was cancelled one week before the festival, drowning in a sea of red ink which left Strange Advance’s projected re-launch on hold.
Fast forward to March 27th and March 29th when Arnott’s band, now comprising of guitarist Sean Dillon, keyboardist Rob Bailey, guitarist Ian Cameron, bassist Alexander (A-Train) Boynton and drummer Ross Friesen along with lead vocalist/keyboardist Arnott (but not former vocalist/guitarist Darryl Kromm) were all set to perform their first concert in 30 years with a headline booking at Toronto’s Revival Concert Theatre followed by an intimate/interactive appearance at Ed Sousa’s Rock N Bowl Session Shows at the Classic Bowl in Mississauga.
But that pesky COVID-19 Coronavirus, which is currently sweeping the globe, has reared its ugly head, forcing Sousa to cancel all his charity events through March and April. If it’s any consolation, Strange Advance is set to play May 23 rd on the second night of Sousa’s Ronald McDonald House McBowl concert series on a lineup with The Spoons, Images In Vogue and Information Society and Sousa has promised to bring Strange Advance back to Mississauga and Toronto this Fall with rescheduled dates at the Revival and his highly-successful Rock And Bowl intimate/interactive concert series.
Speaking from Vancouver prior to the cancellations, Arnott praised Sousa as the driving force behind getting the band back together. “Ed Sousa, what an amazing person,” Arnott enthused. “Darryl (Kromm) and I had been talking for some time about getting the band back together and Ed (Sousa) called me up a couple of years ago and asked us if we would do one of his charity shows. We had no band, no musicians in place, it would have been a herculean effort to put together something just for Ed at that point in time. But he just kept at us, asking and asking, it was definitely a motivating push for me. My response was, we are going to do this, we are going to make this happen.”
Although it has been 30 years since Strange Advance last performed, their songs have been a mainstay of classic rock radio and Arnott counted on the support of their former fans when he relaunched the band. An aggressive social media campaign was initiated, a whole line of merchandise was introduced and the band even launched a crowd-funding campaign to fund what should have been their Radical Orbits Tour which has been pushed forward to this year.
“Every step of the way has been harder than I could have anticipated,” Arnott allowed. “People associate with our songs but they don’t necessarily associate with us. We never had our band photos on the first two albums, we were never much into publicizing ourselves, it was always about the music. Ask people who Strange Advance is; they didn’t connect with our name. but play them our songs and it’s like `Now I know who you guys are.’”
Arnott is hoping the legacy of their music holds up when he finally gets his band on the road this Spring. He has a top-notch line-up which he also gets along with on a personal level and in Cameron and Dillon, Strange Advance boasts two strong vocalists who can more than compensate for the absence of Kromm who originally sang the majority of the band’s previous hits.
“Darryl and I had talked about relaunching the band so often, I’d be on the phone with him and we’d be talking about what song we’d open with and what would come second, he was really excited about the prospect of doing It again,” Arnott explained. “But, sadly, Darryl came to the realization, for a number of reasons, that he couldn’t do it. But he urged me to get a band out there and he’d join when he could.”
Formerly known as Metropolis back in 1980 when they formed with original bassist Paul Iverson, Strange Advance’s legacy might be based around just three albums; `World’s Away’ produced by Bruce Fairbairn in 1983, 2W0, which spawned their biggest hit; “We Run” in 1985, both released on Capitol Records ( both achieved Gold status – more than 50,000 units sold) and their final studio release; `The Distance Between”, featuring “Love Becomes Electric” which was issued in 1988 on Current Records. Both the second and third albums were recorded with an all-star group of session players which included the likes of Earl Slick, Domenic Troiano, Ken (Spider) Sinnaeve, Andy Bown Andy Newmark, and on the third album; Randy Bachman and Allan Holdsworth.
“I don’t dwell on what could have been,” reflected Arnott of the band’s past. “I recognized that we owe all that initial success to Deane Cameron (former Capitol Records President who died May 24, 2019). He signed us at a time when the Vancouver scene was all about arena rock bands, we were totally different, we were this progressive, synthesizer band that didn’t really fit in, but he heard something that made him take a chance on us. Six months before he passed away, I wrote him a letter expressing my gratitude for everything he had done for us. Without him, there would not have been any Strange Advance.”
Toronto indie label, Bulldog Records revived interest in Strange Advance by re-releasing `The Distance Between’ in 2016 for the first time on CD (with two bonus tracks) and Arnott says he has a stack of new material for future releases. But the challenge now is to get his band on stage for that long-awaited comeback. “We were recently in this barn we use as rehearsal space and although there was no one else there, I was imagining seeing fans again and I reminded myself to soak it all up, to go out there and take advantage of this opportunity to play our songs for people who really care about them.”