Queens’s Sci 87 Swollen Members Reunion Gig Review 27 October 2012
Back in the fall of 1983 who would have thought that a group of spotty,
a reputable Rhythm & Blues band at university, but still be playing almost
30 years later in 2012? The band added glamour and beauty by recruiting
various female students (including at one point, the now famous CNN news
journalist, Ashleigh Banfield). Their contribution added depth to the vocal
delivery and sound.
Well that’s exactly what happened with the amusingly named Swollen Members, the Queen’s university Science ’87 R &B band. At Queen’s, Applied Science is the Engineering program, which at the time counted around 400 students in its various undergraduate disciplines.
Formed by student Jeff Arsenault (Engineering Physics 87, M.Sc. Electrical 89), this band has indeed been rocking to dance floors with a loyal fan base in pubs of Kingston, Ontario for all those years. Their winning formula drew from The Blues Brother’s reverence of classic R&B music: familiar feel good songs, classic themes and a modern touch; presented by a front man combining Bob Marley’s unifying warmth and James Brown’s showmanship.
October 2012 marked 25 years since graduating and this group’s homecoming was nothing short of pure energy, magic and fabulous music that rocked the socks off all attendees. Clark Hall Pub was packed to maximum capacity as 150 alumni returned once more to their hallowed stomping ground to share one more beer and re-live their lost, forgotten youth.
Certainly, nothing beats the R&B sound of a band with a full horn section, backing singers, magic keys and a rock solid rhythm section. Top it off with vocals led by the inimitable Jeff Arsenault and you know you have a recipe for success.
Over the years, the group has also played at various pubs and clubs in Kingston and the venerable Lee’s Palace, Toronto, Ontario; Gaensbauer’s Cottage, Peterborough, on the shores of lake Ontario and even Victoria Island, Ottawa. Residents of Stormont Avenue, in Kingston’s Strathcona Park, are familiar with the hoots and hollers of this R&B band, as they rehearse every five years or so in the basement of the lead guitarist’s mother’s home.
To mark the 25th Faux-Cumming Tour or rather the Science ’87 reunion, bandleader and lead vocal, Jeff Arsenault composed a soul-searching ballad called Clark Hall Blues. This ten-minute song rolled out the history of the band and the Science year that spawned it. As everyone swayed and digested the lyrics there were few dry eyes left in the room.
The show commenced with a slide show of highlights over the past 29 years and the nine piece strong band entered the stage to the music of “Thus Spake Zarathustra” (the 2001 Space Odyssey theme).
Beyond the new composition, the band featured their classic repertoire with the Blues Brothers styled introduction and “Gimme Some Lovin” by Booker T and the MGs and moved quickly to R & B, Blues and Rock favourites such as Midnight Hour, Chain of Fools, Doin’ it right, Green Onions, and Brown Sugar. In the other Swollen Member original, lead guitarist and composer Rich Arthur belted out “Psycho Cleaner.” This song had been inspired by his time studying at Macintosh Corry Hall. This R&B song finishes with a segment of the Talking Head’s “Pyscho Killer” – a popular song in the 80’s with the entire audience joining “fa, fa, fa!” in the closing. After all, this was a party that has been repeated many times over the years and most attendees know the words, perhaps better than the band.
Allowing the band a well-earned mid-show rest, the Manager of Clark Hall announced that the band had raised just over 1000 dollars, from ticket sales, for the “Make a Wish” Kids Charity in Kingston. Quick thinking leader, Jeff Arsenault, invited the willing pub manager and bar staff to join him on stage to help raise further dollars. All in the name of a good cause the lads made a show for the ladies in doffing their shirts to receive their new Swollen Members t-shirts while women lined up to offer “tips”, with a few cheekily slipping their notes into the top of the youth’s trousers. Two hundred dollars more were raised for this worthwhile charity.
The party continued with a final encore set commencing at 2.00 am. The band realizing that the end was nigh, finally closed with a set of familiar songs such as No Woman No Cry, Johnny B Goode, Jailhouse Rock, Devil in the Blue Dress, and Should I Stay or Should I go, before declaring they were out of material at 2.35 am!
So who will be back in five years time? Time will tell, but in the meanwhile here is the insider-potted history on how it all began and the low down on who’s who in the Sci ’87 Swollen Members:
Back row: Left to Right: Mike Leipe, Chris Catterall, Roger Shirt, Richard Woodruff, Alan Gaensbauer
Front row: Maribeth Casey, Richard Arthur, Jeff Arsenault, KimPerrin.
The low down on who’s who in the Sci ’87 Swollen Members follows in new report due 14 November 2012.