Strange Advance perform at the Empire Theatre
When Drew Arnott decided to relaunch Strange Advance (minus his vocal partner Darryl Kromm), he could have gone the usual route, hit a few clubs, rebuild the following by expanding into soft-seater theatres and then land a few festival spots – but that’s not what kind of presentation he had in mind.
“I am hell bent on producing a show, not just a regular show but a concert where we are locked into producing something special,” Arnott noted before shipping a special backline by truck to travel from Vancouver to Toronto where Strange Advance performed at Ed Sousa’s Rock N Bowl charity concert for Ronald McDonald House, staged annually at Mississauga’s Concert Bowl venue. “But it’s expensive to do that, it’s not a `take the money and run kind of thing.”
“We want to put on a big show, impress the fans, give them something to shout about and so far, it’s worked out pretty well,” Arnott continued. “But it’s expensive to do that. It cost us at least $12,000 to have our full band of six musicians plus our tech crew, perform, book hotels and other related expenses and we realize that there isn’t a promoter alive that can pay us what we need to make, so I have no choice but to promote our concerts myself.”
However, Arnott has quickly discovered that being a concert promoter is a challenging occupation. “I never had any empathy for promoters previously until I did it myself and oh my god, it’s a lot harder than I imagined,” he noted. “First you have to decide, where you are going to play and then you see where other bands are playing and you think that must be a good venue, and the venue says `sure you can put a hold on that venue- but you are No 5 on that list! The big promoters put a hold on everything. They don’t know if they are actually going to use those dates but if they don’t, they still have them protected anyway so you are rarely first in line,”
Arnott is quickly learning that “A successful promoter is one that has made all the mistakes and learned from them all and has developed a knack from putting on good, successful shows,” he continued. “You have to know where your fans live and right now, we don’t. I get calls all the time, `Come to Halifax, come to St John’s’ yeah gather 500 of your friends together and we’ll check into it, but without that, it’s too expensive and we can’t afford the mountain of money, it would cost us to hit the road.”
Strange Advance’s touring woes go back to the very beginning when Arnot, Kromm and bassist Paul Iverson started life as Vancouver-based studio musicians. Top producer Bruce Fairbairn (Prism/Loverboy) convinced the trio to record an album and, after changing their name from Metropolis’ their 1982 debut, ‘Worlds Away’ received a strong reception fueled by a hit single; “She Controls Me” which was strong enough for the band to win a Juno Award as `Most Promising New Group’.
They followed that initial success up with a sophomore release in 1985, ‘2W0’ which featured two major singles; “The Second That I Saw Her” and “We Run” which was strong enough to win a Juno in 1986 as ‘Group Of The Year’ but the problem was that Strange Advance was not touring as a live act!
Iverson left after the first album, pushing Arnott and Kromm to recruit session players for the few dates they did pull off to promote their recording success.
“We didn’t tour because we didn’t like the idea of touring. Success for us came about five years later than most bands,” Arnott explained. “While other bands were out there at 20 years’ old, kicking their heels up and crashing on people’s living room floors. We were like 30 years old, and we were like, “that does not appeal to me I want a nice hotel suite. Let’s face it, touring is not a fun thing to do, for 80% of the time, it’s just a waste of energy, and we were happy to do a minimal amount of touring. I am guessing, we have only played about 25 dates all told so most fans never got to see us play live.”
Strange Advance performing at the Empire Theatre
Strange Advance managed a third album in 1988, `Distance Between” which featured “Love Becomes Electric” but the band folded shortly with the advent of Grunge with Arnott instead deciding to run his own jingles company.
“We could see how things were going and we were not interested in changing our sound just to become trendy,” Arnott explained at that time.
Strange Advance’s record company, Capitol, kept their legacy alive by releasing a `Greatest Hits’ album ‘Worlds Away And Back’ in 1995 and in 2016 Toronto-based Indie label, Bulldog Records re-released a re-mastered version of ‘Distance Between’ on CD featuring two new tracks; “Flow My Tears” and the U.K dance mix of “Love Games”. And, Arnott, confronted by repeated airplay on classic rock radio stations and fan requests on social media, contemplated executing some kind of relaunch.
But it was the death of David Bowie on January 10th, 2016, which finally convinced Arnott to revive Strange Advance. “It was like, we can’t afford to wait until we’re 80, we’d better do something whilst we can,” he noted.
Kromm wasn’t in a position to continue but Arnott stepped from behind the drum kit, and he recruited Sean Dillon, Rob Bailey, Alexander Boynton, Ian Cameron and Ross Friesen as his touring band. They released a comeback album ‘4’ in 2021 but any touring activities were curtailed by COVID, not allowing Strange Advance to play the Toronto area until a 2022 slot in Ed Sousa’s Rock N Bowl charity concert series. The band repeated their appearance this year and also managed a self-promoted gig at Kitchener’s Maxwell’s venue.
Strange Advance’s ‘4’, released in 2021
But Arnott noted it’s still a challenge to find the right gigs moving forward. “I am happy with the new album, it’s available online and at our merch tables and people tell me it’s their favourite album but I don’t want to be playing festivals where we are on at 2 in the afternoon, we have 15 minutes to set up with no lights or production. And I don’t like the idea of casinos where you are there to play short sets to people who are there just to gamble. We need to find our real fans and we know they are out there; we’ve just got find them.”