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“Strange Spoons Tour” brings '80's hitmakers to New Westminster

Back to the 80s: Strange Advance and the Spoons to play in New West
Strange Advance is bringing the Strange Spoons 2023 tour to Massey Theatre on Friday, Oct. 13.

Two chart-topping Canadian bands from the 1980s, a light show and vintage vinyl – it’s all part of the “Strange Spoons Tour’s” upcoming stop at Massey Theatre.

Strange Advance, the Juno-nominated Canadian progressive-rock-pop group from the 1980s, is doing some Canadian gigs in celebration of the 40th anniversary of its debut studio album Worlds Away, which featured two hit Canadian singles, She Controls Me and Kiss in the Dark.

“It's a very, very fun show visually,” said Drew Arnott, one of the band’s founders. “Lots of things going on. It’s like an arena show, scaled down of course. But we're really trying to deliver a magnificent show for people.”

Strange Advance will be performing highlights from its four studio albums: Worlds Away (1982); 2WO (1985); The Distance Between (1988); and Strange Advance 4 (2021). The band will also be joined by visual artist Tim Hill, who translates the band’s music into unique images using projections and lasers.

Joining Strange Advance at Massey Theatre on Friday, Oct. 13 are the Spoons, a 1983 Juno Award nominee for Most Promising Group of the Year. The new wave band’s hits have included Nova Heart, Romantic Traffic and Old Emotions.

“Everything's sort of come full circle,” Arnott said. “When we first started touring, one of the first dates we did was a string of dates with the Spoons back east. We would swap whoever was going to headline each night. It's so cool that they're still around and we're still around, and here we are again playing together.”

Strange Advance recorded a cover of Nova Heart for the Echoes album in 2021, which featured artists covering Spoons’ songs as part of the group’s 40th anniversary. Gordon Deppe, the band’s lead vocalist and guitarist, is expected to join Strange Advance on stage for their cover of his band’s hit.

“Our version is quite different. So, I think it'll sound still sound fresh for people,” Arnott said. “It will be fun to have him on stage. That's a first for us. We've never done that before.”

Strange Advance received Juno Award nominations for Most Promising Group of the Year in 1983 (Payola$ won) and Group of the Year in 1985 (Parachute Club won).

For the current tour, Arnott, a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, is joined by Ian Cameron, Ross Friesen, Rob Bailey, Sean Dillon and Alexander (A-Train) Boynton. Cameron, a guitarist, was in the band’s lineup for the 2WO tour, while the rest of guys in the band are friends from “back in the day,” Arnott said.

Barry Harris, a Canadian musician known for his 1988 Kon Kan hit, I Beg Your Pardon, will also be appearing at the show. DJ Larry Hennessy (Jack up the 80s on JACK FM) will get the crowd warmed up by spinning vinyl from the 1980s.

Arnott, who played in the high school band while attending New Westminster Secondary School in his pre-Strange Advance days, has made arrangements for some band students to join Strange Advance in a performance of The Second That I Saw You. A 50/50 draw will raise funds for the high school’s band program.

It’s a different world in 2023 than when the band originally formed. Back then, Arnott and Kromm connected after the then-New West resident put an ad in the Vancouver Sun – “the only way you could reach people at the time” – looking for someone interested in forming a band.

Today, through social media, Arnott said he’s connected with fans of the band – many who never had the chance to see Strange Advance perform live because it didn’t tour extensively. He’s enjoyed meeting fans at concerts – and hearing their stories of how much the band’s music has meant to them.

“It's very special,” he said. “I’ve heard stories of how certain songs have saved people's lives – ‘I was on the verge of suicide; I just listened to your particular song or album on loop, just continuously, and it is the only thing that kept me alive.’ You can't help but be moved by stories like that.”

Anecdotes from the past:

Dreamboat Annie

The summer after graduating from New Westminster Secondary School, Arnott borrowed a couple thousand dollars from his dad and went to England to buy an electro-mechanical musical instrument called a Mellotron – a “very cool keyboard instrument” that wasn’t yet available in Canada.

“I bought that, and then when I got back, that sort of opened the doors to a different section of the music business because somebody had said, ‘You might be able to rent that to recording studios,’” he recalled. “Well, my first gig was renting it to Heart for their Dreamboat Annie record. And I've got the Mellotron on all sorts of songs that are out there, so that's very cool.”

Making connections

When shopping for a record deal in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, Arnott left a demo cassette at Capital Records. “Nothing happened” on that front, and Kromm got a gig playing guitar for Bryan Adams on his first Canadian tour.

“While they're on the road, Darryl would play him our demos and Bryan's is like, ‘Well, this is really good. Do you mind if I play this for someone?’ And he ended up playing our tape for Bruce Fairbairn, who was like a big producer. And Bruce really liked it, and he was looking for a project at the time. So he sent it out to people that he knew.”

One of those people was an executive at Capitol Records – who had already heard “and loved” the music – but had no idea who had recorded the demo tape. That demo cassette had landed on his desk, sans any labelling to identify the band.

“I learned a cardinal lesson in shopping for a deal: everything has to have your contact information on it. If the cassette gets separated from the box or whatever, you need to have everything labelled so they can get a hold of you,” Arnott said. “And that was the problem: he didn't know who we were.”

With that, Strange Advance signed a deal with Capitol Records.

What’s in a name?

When the B.C. band signed a record deal with Capitol Records, it was going by the name Metropolis. Because a band in Germany was using that name, Arnott said Capitol Records executives told them to come up with a new name.

“My sister's boyfriend at the time suggested Strange Advance,” Arnott recalled. “We had been bashing our heads against the wall, trying to come up with a name that didn't sound goofy as hell. And he said, ‘Well, what about Strange Advance?’”

The fellow who had suggested the name said he’d heard someone on a local radio show talking about a radio program from years earlier called Strange Advance – but Arnott would later learn it was actually called Strange Events.

“He misheard the name, so Strange Advance came about as a mistake,” Arnott said. “But it's worked for us.”

A famous rocker once weighed in with his thoughts on the name. Bruce Fairbairn, while working on an Aerosmith album, had called Arnott in to work on the album, and Steven Tyler asked about his band

“’Strange Advance? Well, that's the craziest name I've ever heard,’” Arnott recalled of Tyler’s reply.

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Fairbairn wasn’t available to produce Strange Advance’s second record, so the band jetted off to London, England in the early 1980s to record it there with a different producer. That recording didn’t quite go according to plan, and the band eventually returned to Vancouver and Arnott took on the producer’s role.

But while the band was in England, they played pinball with Tim Curry and visited him on the set of a movie he was making (Legend with Tom Cruise). Another day, they were at Mayfair Studios when musical icon Tina Turner recorded one of her biggest hits.

“One day we're in the lobby and the doors blow open and in walks Tina Turner, unmistakably Tina Turner, with this huge, Sasquatch-like fur coat on. It was just enormous … Tina was there to sing What's Love Got to do with it?” Arnott recalled. “And so, there I am, 20 minutes later, with my ear pressed to the door listening to her sing, What's Love Got to Do With It for the first time.”

Turner, said Arnott, was the consummate professional.

“She was remarkable. We were talking to the producer after and he says, ‘Oh, yeah, what a total pro.’ She did two takes, and he said she didn't have to – they used the first take. She came in totally prepared, totally nailed it. And then, half- an-hour later, boop, she's gone.”

Arnott said Strange Advance later did some dates with Turner on an eastern leg of her Canadian tour.