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Juno-nominated musician returns to New West roots: High school stage encore

A trip down memory lane: Drew Arnott returns to Massey Theatre in New Westminster with Strange Advance
Drew Arnott was the drummer in bands at NWSS before forming Juno-nominated band Strange Advance in the 1980s.

When Drew Arnott hits the Massey Theatre stage with Strange Advance in October, it will be like coming home.

Arnott, one of the co-founders of 80s prog-rock-pop band Strange Advance, honed his musical talents while attending New Westminster Secondary School back in the 1970s. He recently visited Massey Theatre as part of the prep work for his band’s Oct. 13 show – and he can’t wait to return to the stage where he performed with the school’s senior and stage bands.

“I'm tickled. I was there and standing on the stage. Funnily enough, where my keyboards are set up is precisely where the timpani used to be set up in the school band,” he said. “I used to stand here playing timpani, and now I'm playing keyboards. And so, you're flooded with memories.”

Arnott, who attended Lord Tweedsmuir, Connaught Heights and Lord Kelvin elementary schools, started playing the drums in the school band in Grade 7.

“Everybody wanted to be the drummer. They said, ‘We've only got room for one drummer.’ So, they drew straws, and I won,” he said. “If I hadn't have won that silly competition or whatever, who knows which direction my life have gone.”

Arnott, who graduated from NWSS in 1972, credits music and his band classmates and instructors for keeping him in school.

“Band was like the thing that saved me in high school.  I was a bit of a weekend-hippie-kind-of-a-guy, you know?” he recalled. “It was just having that bond with all those people that kept me sort of functioning and thriving, really, in high school.”

Arnott has fond memories of friendships made with classmates during his days at N-Dub. He’d love to see some old school friends at his upcoming gig at the Massey Theatre – and chat after the show.

“After the show, we always go out to the lobby or wherever to mingle and meet the fans and stuff,” he said. “I'll definitely be around. … It'd be really cool to see people at the show.”

At the upcoming concert, some students in the NWSS band program will be joining Strange Advance on stage.

“They're going to be playing one of our songs. They're going to start off playing the song by themselves, and then they're going to join in with us,” Arnott said. “That's going to be a lot of fun.”

Having seen firsthand the impact that music can have on a person’s life, Arnott is happy to be able to support the NWSS band program. The evening includes a 50/50 draw, with proceeds going to the high school’s band program.

“It was definitely the glue that sort of held me together,” he said, “and I would love it if more people could have that experience.”

Within a couple of years of graduating from high school Arnott connected with another musician, who would join him as the founding members of the Juno-nominated band.

“Here I am, after all this time, coming back to my old high school and having this experience,” he said. “Getting a chance to relive that is pretty special. And I love the fact that some school band personnel will be out there playing. So, we'll come full circle there as well.”