On the Road from Damascus to Victoria, BC.

13 11 2016

dsc02494Sari Alesh

– Syrian Refugee gives back by using his musical talent.
Hear his first Canadian music recording
– Learn about plans to support Benefit Event
– Discover news about another Syrian Family commencing that same long road from Damascus.

The ongoing conflict in Syria has triggered the worst humanitarian crisis in the world to-day. Over 33,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada since November 2015 when Prime Minister Trudeau opened the doors to approved applicants. That “door” is now closed for government sponsorships but private sponsors still have until the end of 2016 or early 2017 to apply and receive approval.

One fortunate refugee who took that long road from Damascus to Victoria is a talented musician, 31 year old, Sari Alesh. Sari played with the Syrian national orchestra for six years, touring and playing in Germany, Italy and the Middle East. He also performed with leading Arabic pop stars and recorded a number of successful records. Sadly his musical career was abruptly halted for five years as the conditions within Syria deteriorated due to war. He spent the early years of the Syrian civil war in Damascus but then, like so many in Syrians, he fled his home to find safety in Turkey during 2014.

Since arriving in Victoria nine months ago, life has been busy for Sari. The accomplished violinist has been able to take some lessons at the Victoria Conservatory of Music. He is also improving his English studies at UVic and wishes to study for a Master in Music. He hopes to be successful to secure a scholarship to fulfill this dream. His ambitious plans are now to continue to play violin (in some capacity), teach French/Music and also to teach violin to children with downs syndrome.

Despite being focused on his new studies he still finds time to connect with his new Canadian community and try and give back to help others. He is so appreciative towards the people who sponsored him to move to Canada. He feels it is only correct that he return the kindness, as best as he can.

finalbenefit-dinner-posterbwOn 26 November, Sari will be performing in his third Benefit event. This time at the Friendship Community Church, an event that is being arranged to raise funds for another Syrian Family whose cousin, Liza Glynn, lives in Victoria. This family hopes to be following Sari and move to Victoria. The family of five (parents with two young children and a disabled brother) fled Syria after their home was destroyed by ISIS. Having lost everything, they, along with millions of others, decided to leave their homeland in the hope of finding a safe place for their family to re-start their lives again. Their children have never lived without war. They have not had the chance to play safely outside. They have been faced with many other challenges in Syria including daily power cuts, food shortages and other issues due to living in a civil war. They are currently in Beirut with thousands of other displaced refugees hoping for the chance to live in peace.

On the Road From Damascus Benefit event will feature Victoria’s local world music group, Saffron. They will lead the Middle Eastern themed musical entertainment, evening together with the dazzling Asmira and her Belly Dancing group, also from Victoria. Sari will join them for a “jam session” and then and he hopes to delight the audience with his chosen music for the night, that will include performances of Turkish, Arabic pop as well as classical pieces. It promises to be a fabulous evening with a three-course Middle Eastern-themed dinner prepared by owners of Café Zanzibar Restaurant in Brentwood Bay followed by the live entertainment.

Sari has made his first recording in Canada of his favourite music and you can listen to some of the songs now at this link.

Listen to Sari playing Violin on “Yalnız Sen”, a Turkish folk song.


Music Recorded in Victoria, by Richard E Arthur Studios.

If you enjoy listening to his music, please consider to make a donation to help the Benefit Event and raise funds to aid sponsorship of another Syrian family:
Please make cheques payable to St Mary’s Church, Saanichton Memo: “For the Peninsula Refugee Fund.”

To learn more about this special Benefit gig, please link here

Also, watch an overview about the event via this YouTube video:


Local Musicians and Dancers support Benefit Event for Syrian Refugees.

26 10 2016



Victoria, BC, Canada.

Victoria’s local musicians and entertainers have opened their hearts and pocket books, to offer their services to support and perform at a very special Benefit event on 26 November 2016.

Well known Brentwood Bay resident, Liza Glynn who has advanced MS, has been working hard to raise funds to sponsor her Christian, Syrian family to move to Canada.

Time is running out to meet the deadline to apply and raise funds so now a group of her friends, members of the St Mary’s Church and friends around the Peninsula and Victoria have gathered to host this special event to boost her fundraising efforts.

saffron-imageWell known World Music group, Saffron an entertaining mix of world influences, folk and jazz, will open the show with their wide-ranging explorations of three talented multi-instrumentalists – Ken Hall, Niel Golden, and Enrique Rivas. Using songs drawn from a deep repertoire of original and traditional pieces, these consummate tour guides will take you on a one-of-a-kind journey through the evocative sounds of India, the Arabian peninsula and Africa (with a touch of blues thrown in for good measure.) Saffron has also produced a critically acclaimed CD titled Road. If you are a fan of exotic instruments and mood-inducing musical textures, sit back, relax and enjoy the trip. Join Saffron for an unforgettable celebration of improvisation, featuring a musical conversation you won’t soon forget!

If the music of Saffron is not enough to entice you, live belly dancing will occur during the Saffron performance, presented by the awesome Asmira and her dance group. Asmira is a world class dancer, master teacher, and award winning choreographer who has taught and performed Arabic Dance in Canada, the U.S.A., Egypt, the Canary Islands, The Bahamas, Morocco, and Turkey since 1979.

sari-aleshFollowing these two electric performances will be Sari Alesh, a recent refugee from Damascus. Sari formerly trained and played violin with the National Damascus Symphony. He arrived in Canada six months ago, and is doing his part, to give back and help others, in the same way as others helped him.  He will also share his story from Damascus to Canada.

ximena-londonoWith all that sitting, the crowd may want to move beyond toe tapping, so the evening will be rounded off with a dynamic Zumba routine lead by Ximena Londono. It will be fabulous fun and we hope many will rush to buy tickets $50 and u18 $20.

Ahead of all this great live entertainment will be a delicious 3 course Middle Eastern Themed dinner prepared by local restaurant owners, Mo and Toni at Cafe Zanzibar, Brentwood Bay. Plenty of other folks will be volunteering to support and ensure the night will be filled with good food, music, fun and prizes.

It truly promises to be a fantastic evening at the Friendship Community Church, Saanichton. Tickets may be purchased from the following locations or tel 250 652 4123

Buy tickets at: Brentwood Bay Village Empourim, Cafe Zanzibar, Friendship Community Church.

Creative ways to teach teens!

6 10 2016
ca-roule-poster2Kids learn best when they are having fun. No surprise or secret here.  One innovative approach in Victoria, BC, Canada was a project to encourage more kids to listen to  French.  On the West Coast of Canada the chance of hearing French is pretty slim or rare.  However, being the second official language in Canada, it’s important to encourage young students to study and speak French as well as English.
A group of Grade 7 students were challenged to develop their own teen radio show – in French!  The goal was to encourage more kids in Victoria, BC, Canada to listen and speak French.  This was an exciting project that commenced with brainstorming sessions with the Radio station Director and producers to come up with the name, format and content.
Once the name, Ca Roule!, was agreed upon, the students selected topics that were of strong interest to them.  It would mean they would be able to speak passionately about the subjects.  They choose Video Games (what teen doesn’t like playing those!), Sport, Music, Cooking and Books.  In addition, to writing their scripts, seeking out people to interview they also were able to select French music to be played live on air.  They had great fun seeking our both Canadian French and French artists online to share.
They found an older student who served as their MC to glue each section together.  Best of all, they found you could buy online, soundbites that added an extra bling to the overall production of the show.  Finally, one of the students’ fathers, was able to compose a signature tune for their unique production.  Indeed, he helped the students with the major editing and production of the final program.  A job that would be challenging for most!  The show was a success with many local schools in Victoria tuning in to listen, or downloading the show for sharing later with their students.  Local press also enjoyed learning about this ambitious project – see here.
All their hard word paid off, as they were invited to make four pilot shows that were aired live during the summer months.  The show now exists online for anyone to download to listen.
The project is now being extended to High School students to continue the format.
This idea can be expanded for any topic. Consider getting your students to be “junior reporters” and write their dream interview. You could always video and host on a private “YouYube” post!
Please share your creative ideas on getting kids to read and write more!
Listen & discover #CaRoule podcasts, anytime via (Link to be added).

ON THE ROAD FROM DAMASCUS – Reuniting well known Brentwood Bay resident with her Syrian Refugee Family

6 10 2016

saffron-imageAs Canadians look forward to being reunited or joining their families for Thanks-giving this weekend, one Brentwood Bay homeowner is sadly unable to make such plans. Liza Glynn’s cousins were one of the thousands of families whose lives have been disrupted by the civil war taking place in Syria. Their home in Damascus was totally destroyed by terrorists and life in Syria became dangerous with bombings, food shortages and challenging living conditions. They have now fled to Lebanon in the hope that as refugees they can find a better life.

Liza and ChilliLiza Glynn, who has MS, has not allowed her disability to stall her passion to lobby, fundraise and work to get her cousins approved as refugees and able to move to Canada. Sadly time is running out as her application is only being processed now but she remains hopeful that she can celebrate Thanks-giving with her family in 2017.

Meanwhile, her friends are rallying around to help Liza raise the “much needed” funds that are required by private refugee sponsors.
An exciting, Benefit Dinner and Show has been scheduled for 26 November 2016 at the Friendship Community Church in Saanichton.

hagop-ani-and-their-childrenAll profits will go to aid the sponsorship of Liza’s Christian refugee family (Mother, Father, two young children aged 6 and 7 and a disabled cousin).

“We are so lucky to have such a fabulous welcoming community with an amazing capacity to reach out and help within Victoria.” Commented event planner, Sandra Arthur.

The owner of Zanzibar Café and Restaurant, Brentwood Bay will be cooking a Middle Eastern themed dinner (at cost) so that the fundraisers can maximize profits.

Following dinner, guests will be entertained with a Middle Eastern twist:- World Music group, Saffron will take you on a one-of-a-kind journey through the evocative sounds of India, the Arabian peninsula and Africa. Local dancer, Asmira will delight the audience with her exotic Belly Dancing skills and Ximena will give all the chance to try out their dancing skills by joining her in Zumba at the end of the evening.

benefit-dinner-posterjpgA recently arrived refugee from Syria, Sari Alesh who played for the National Damascus Symphony will share his wonderful talent and play a number of music pieces on his violin. He will also share his story on his journey from Damascus, to refugee and finally to Canada.
I hope readers will want to join and attend this dinner or send donations if they are unable to attend.

For ticket information visit the Peninsula Refugee Fund Team page at Facebook for more information.

Make it a date that counts!

Jesse Cook in Concert – leaving the best to last.

7 06 2015

Review of Jesse Cook’s Live Show Victoria BC, Canada 5 June 2015.

The final venue for Jesse Cook’s current Canadian tour took place in Victoria, B.C. Canada, and what a show!

From the outset he was ready to party and encouraged, the mainly middle aged audience (his fan base (?) or simply Victoria!) to join him in a rhumba party. And yes the crowd were ready to clap, dance and participate in sing-along audience participation throughout the show with the band.

I’ve been a big fan since the release of his first CD, Tempest in 1995 and used some of his haunting, swirling Arabic and Brazilian fused rhythms mixed with his famous flamenco-style music from Vertigo (his hugely successful 3rd CD) at my wedding in Cannes, France in 1999.

If you are not familiar with this artist, Jesse Cook is a Canadian guitarist, composer, and producer. Widely considered one of the most influential figures in “nuevo flamenco” music, he incorporates elements of flamenco rumba, jazz & many forms of world music into his work. He is a Juno Award winner, Acoustic Guitar (magazine)’s Player’s Choice Award silver winner in the Flamenco Category, and a three-time winner of the Canadian Smooth Jazz award for Guitarist of the Year. He has recorded on the EMI, E1 Music and Narada labels and has sold over 1.5 million records worldwide.

In addition to headlining concerts and festivals, he has opened for such legends as B.B. King, Ray Charles and Diana Krall. He has also performed with Welsh soprano Charlotte Church and toured with legendary Irish band, The Chieftains.


Jesse and band mingle with crowd

Jesse and band mingle with crowd: Photo Copyright Rich Arthur

This current tour was designed to promote his latest album, One World, which features a diverse range of musical influences from South America, Middle East and beyond.   This penchant for “world music” is equally reflected in his choice of band musicians.  I pre-ordered this CD and I’m still waiting to receive it so will review once received!

His longest serving band member is Chris Church– the multi-talented maestro from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Church plays the violin, accordion, percussion and sings. And, as Jesse shared with the crowd, he recently added the Armenian Duduk (the Grandfather of saxophones and Oboe) to his playing skills! Jesse had discovered this sound during his travels and a famous Armenian musician and composer, Djivan Gasparian had recorded with the band for one number on an earlier CD, Free Fall. As a result, it was a song that Jesse could not perform live “Incantation” as it was impractical to fly in Djivan from Armenia for one number. As a result, Cook decided to learn how to play this ancient instrument.   With that background, Cook teased Church on stage that he better nail the song! Which of course, he did.

On percussion Jesse had secured the services of Chendy Leon from Cuba. He was the backbone to the whole show and moved from drums, congo, tin pans and delivered an amazing and entertaining solo on a cajon.

Another force on stage was the equally talented Nicolas Hernandez who has been playing guitar with Jesse for over a decade. His latin musical strumming and plucking strengthen and complement Jesse’s rapid style flamenco guitar playing throughout the show.

Adding a slice of funk to the line up was Dennis Mohammed who played bass and an upright bass guitar.

A local guest vocalist, from Victoria, was announced and for a moment we thought we might have the good fortune to see Nelly Furtado join Jesse on stage. Certainly her experience to sing in Spanish, English and Portugese would have complemented Jesse’s music, but no it was a local lass, Kristina Héléne. She accompanied the band on the cover of Sting’s number “Fragile” and her smoky, jazz styled voice did justice to this romantic ballard.

Jesse ran the two set show with extreme ease and professionalism. Arriving on stage alone speaks volumes about how humble and confident he is about his music. He revealed himself to be quite an amusing and a worthy raconteur.

He kick started the show with some well known upbeat songs and then almost apologetically asked permission to play some music from his new CD One World.

He shared some background to how he had produced this latest album, breaking away from some of his more traditional musical roots. As he joked, his wife felt disappointed. To explain fully, she had expected him to go to a studio, a la 1960’s play a song and have it fully recorded in 3 minutes. However, Jesse, like his world music, has fully embraced the use of technology. Thanks to the creativity of new music software it’s now possible to build a song, track by track with contributions from a wide range of musicians who may never meet. Large files are therefore zipping over the internet and being shared, edited and returned ahead of final mixing and music launch. So in the past as Jesse travelled around to pick up ideas and influences for his work, he admitted he had stayed in his Toronto home, with no need to roam to develop his latest “One World” East meets West release. As many in his business are discovering, gone are the long studio rehearsals but now embracing the electronic style of producing music.  See an example of what he did on this link

After this explanation, Jesse asked the audience if they would like to hear how he had built some of the tracks, to which the answer was yes.

With the aid of digital looping technology (using his magic pedal box at his feet) Jesse commenced to lay down some basic music composition. He was then joined by other band members, who added to this mix, until a cacophony of reverb sounds rang out around the hall to the appreciation of the crowd.

The band moved from traditional line up to moving front stage for casual and informal percussion led numbers, audience clap along involvement and breaking away from the stage for a spine chilling acoustic Crowded House cover of Fall at your Feet, to the delight of the audience.

I would like to say a few words about the amazing lighting that bathed the band in blues, purples, red and greens which perfectly complemented the mood of the songs. Atmospheric, moody, sad, romantic, sensual and simply orgasmic – just like the music!

I had the good fortune to have a seat in row 3 and so had up close and personal views of his scintillating guitar skills. As he strummed away you could see each tendon in his arm flexing as he strummed and hit his guitar frenetically thorough his unique nuevo flamenco music. I struggled to see if he was still using crazy glue on his nails to strengthen his talons, to survive the abuse his frenzied plucking created!

Jesse Cook is an astonishingly generous person repeatedly thanking his band members and mentioning crew members who had gone beyond doing more than their job. He also shared how blessed he felt to make a difference in this world with not only his music but via his ability to give back to different charities. He highlighted one particular environment charity group, David Suzuki’s Foundation Blue Spot that he had invited to share his night.

The encore included another audience pleaser, a version of the Simon and Garfunkel classic “Cecilia” and The Lumineers Hey Ho.

Meeting Jesse Cook: Sandra and Richard ARTHUR

Meeting Jesse Cook: Sandra and Richard ARTHUR

I met up with Jesse after the show to express my appreciation of his wonderful show. I joked with him how many babies did he think his music had brought to the world. Wearily shaking his head, he had been challenged with the question many times, like Godfather of soul, Barry White, but his meek smile reflected some of his inner pride from such a notion.

We discussed the new trend of producing music on vinyl – rather amusing to think that such “old” technology is making a comeback. Must be all these baby boomers in early retirement wanting to bathe in the nostalgia of their youth!    Jesse confided he had considered making a vinyl LP but was reviewing production choices in Canada. No promises, as sales are still extremely small representing less than 3% of music sales. So if you want to buy Jesse’s next album on vinyl let him know!

Though the tour was over for the moment, there was no time to party, for Jesse had a 6 am flight back to Toronto in the morning.   He’ll be back in July performing in other parts of Canada and USA through to year end.

If you missed seeing his him this time then I highly recommend you book a seat for one of his shows later this year – definitely one of the people to see this year! You won’t be disappointed.

Bravo Jesse and band.   I absolutely loved it darling.

Rockin with Jann Arden, at last.

6 09 2014

A report of Jann Arden/Rose Cousin’s concert, 4 September 2014 Victoria, BC, Canada.


In 1995 I was touring BC and Alberta on holiday and walked into a Music shop in Banff. I asked the man serving in the shop if he could recommend a Canadian singer that he thought I might like. He mentioned that a new Alberta sweetheart, that was proving popular, was Jann Arden. I snapped up her CD “Living Under June” and fell in love. I introduced the music to my then Canadian boyfriend (later my husband) who had not heard of her, but who also fell under Jann’s spell with her quirky folky/rock songs. Since that time I have listen to her music and learnt to sing many of her soulful ballads.


Fast-forward to 2014 and my family had plans to move from the beautiful sunny shores of the Cote d’azur, France to the equally beautiful, but less sunny coast of Victoria, BC, Canada.   A quick check on upcoming concerts revealed that my top two Canadian singers: Sarah McLachlan and Jann Arden were due to sing in Victoria! What excitement and luck for me.   Budgets and babysitters get in the way of the hard decision that had to be made: which event to choose… I’d been fortunate enough to see Sarah in Montreal in the 1990’s, so the vote was 100% for Jann.


Jann was kick starting her Canadian tour to promote her 12th album, Everything Almost and tickets had sold quickly.   By the time I tried to book all but 10 seats remained. Hence balcony near the back seats remained, but no matter I had a ticket for the Royal Theatre, Victoria show!


I love the efficiency that I’m experiencing in Canada. Online booking works a treat. Things run on time and people are very friendly. I was informed that the show would start at 7.30pm and would run for 2 hours 45 minutes.  Guess what, it worked exactly like that. Wow, was I ready to rock.


No babysitter was possible so I came alone. Or to share a line from Jann, “I was not alone, I was with Jann!”. This Alberta singer-songwriter is now celebrating her 52nd year, and the audience profile tended to match. The majority of people attending were in the mid 40’s to 60’s with the exception of one young girl called Bella who the audience got to meet and a couple of other “younger” folks dotted about on the balcony level.


It’s been a long time since I attended a music gig without having part of my view blocked by something holding up their camera or smart phone to video or take photographs.   I have to say it was quite refreshing and remarkably enjoyable. All attendees were told that no photography was allowed during the show. With no public mention or reminder of this fact, I was honestly amazed that during the show not one person took a sneaky photo. I was tempted but realised this Canadian audience were an honest bunch – it would never have worked in France (;-) It was only during the encore when Jann stated she didn’t care if people wanted to snap her photo and share it on FB, Twitter or any social media platform that people slowly pulled out their phones and filmed and snapped away.


I did not make notes during the show but here are some of my memories and observations from last night’s show.


Rose Cousins opened the show. Who, yes it was my first question as well. Sadly her name was not promoted in the ticket nor on the theatre billboard. However, after tonight’s performance I feel Rose has won herself plenty of new fans. Originally from Prince Edward Island she now lives in Halifax. Apparently she writes from a tiny New Hampshire Island cabin, with no electricity and shares her beliefs about life. Her soulful voice resonated around the theatre and lyrics were delivered with passion and clarity. Slow, deliberate and questioning words reach out to the audience as she strummed her guitar – alone with no support. I thought this was a brave way to start a show… Luckily the darkness and shade of the sombre music was broken up by the humour and teasing that Rose shared with the audience. It was this ping pong change from dark to light that made her short, thirty minute performance such a delight. She sang songs from her STRAY BIRDS CD. This is a collection of meaningful covers, some by friends, some by heroes, along with two new originals, including the EP’s namesake.


No surprise that there was rush to the sales table, during intermission, to meet Rose for those interested to buy her latest EP/CD. As she stated, “I’ll be hanging out near to the CD sales table in the lobby – no pressure to come and meet me!”.


And so we come to the main act, Jann Arden.  Jann clearly is no pretentious diva or sex god. The opening lit logo image of her “shape” was testament to her style: She is “large” and proud! Her worst nightmare being if her skirt would fall down on stage, but as she quipped, she has hips and that probably only happens with skinny girls! Her years of touring experience shone through. She was at ease with the crowd – connecting, joking and sharing her fears, dreams and wishes.   She perhaps wants to be a sexy rock chick: her leather boots and faux-leather jacket paid testament to that but her self-deprecating humour “I have sweat rolling down my butt” was shared to confirm she was like one of us, “hot and human!”.


And human she is with a few wobbly notes for the first song but thereafter she was rockin, rolling and cruising with her dyed blond hair and amazing support band. Sadly I made no notes and can’t recall the names of the band other than they hailed from Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary as well as USA.  I’ll research and update later…


She kicked off with some of her older tracks (and my favourites Time for Mercy, Will You Remember Me, Good Mother and Unloved) but was careful to weave in her newer material from her latest CD Everything Almost. This latest collaboration with Grammy Award winning producer Bob Rock is considered to be amongst Jann’s finest work – progressive, yet retaining the magic that is distinctly Jann. Her support band were really ace, tight and professional. Special mention should be made of her keyboard/violin player, Allison Cornell.


Within the show she helped cheer up one lady who was celebrating her 60th birthday, who had thought she was coming to see Ann Murray, by singing “Songbird”. Whilst sang in a tongue in cheek manner, it was an audience pleaser! Jann also sang another strong cover favourite by Carly Simon “You’re so Vain”. She speculated Carly was singing about Woody Allan to the amusement of the crowd.


Full of surprises Jann let her band entertain the crowd and gave the spot light to her keyboard/violin player, Allison Cornell, to give her a perhaps much needed break during the mamouth 2.5 hour show. She popped up in the audience, sitting and singing in the only spare seat in the house. Whilst exchanging banter with the audience she realised her adult theme conversation might be offensive to the one and only child in the room. She invited the little girl in the front row to receive a 20 dollar bill to go and buy a “pot or pan” to cover up her discussion about marijuana (pot). Later the same lucky girl received two more 20 dollar bills to cover up her embarrassment and serve as an apology for discussing her death obsessed behaviour in her early 20’s.


Ahead of an emotional performance of her famous hit “Insensitive” the crowd where privy to her fun recount of being interviewed by a Mississippi Radio DJ who had called the song Insatiable! Some sassy attendee stole her dramatic pause during her performance of that same song by singing IN (to complete the word insensitive) but Jann took it in her strike and acknowledged the cheeky person before completing the song.


The crowd’s receptiveness and warmth was well rewarded with a 25 minute encore AFTER the two hour show.



To wrap up I can’t put it better than Nac Southam Hall “ Whether she is captivating audiences with her heartfelt music, entertaining them with her quick wit or sharing her written word in a boldly honest voice – Jann Arden is a Canadian original – a brilliant multi-dimensional talent.”


If you have the chance, do try and get tickets to see Jann during this tour – highly recommended. If you can’t do that, the next best thing, buy her music, you will not be disappointed.


See Jann’s Performance from a few years ago – still wearing those same leather boots!




Who’s who in Queen’s Sci ’87 Swollen Members R & B Band

15 11 2012

The year was 1983, the place, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada.  A student band, was formed, The Swollen Members, to celebrate the music of James Brown, The Rolling Stones, Elvis, Wilson Pickett, Jake & Elwood/Blues Bros and this would fuel Science ’87 to return back to their hallowed grounds in Kingston, year after year. 

Approaching their 30 anniversary since forming at Queen’s,  Sci ’87 R & B Band, Swollen Members share what they have done since graduating, how music has influenced their lives and more. 

First up, let’s hear from Guitar, Lead Vocals, band founder and the Grand Poobah himself.

Jeff Arsenault – Band Founder, Lead Vocals/Guitar

Jeff’s current employer is Halla-Visteon Climate Group where he is working as a Sales Manager in Plymouth, Michigan, USA.  He is married to, and still madly in love with, Renata (Ettel) Arsenault, also of Science 87.  They have two beautiful children, Samantha and Jeremy.

Why Queen’s?

The decision to attend Queens University in Kingston in 1983 over McMaster and Waterloo was quite easy; based on visits to all three places I estimated that Queen’s had 20 times as many beautiful women as the other two and then of course there was the charm of the town and Campus itself. When an old friend Marcie Woroby introduced me to a math professor at Jeffrey Hall who proceeded to give a tour of the crawl spaces between the classrooms I knew this was the place for me.

How did you start the band?

So after surviving Frosh week and starting into the routine of classes I made the decision that I had to make something more of the next four years I was planning to spend here. So about one month into first term I placed an ad in the Golden Words paper under Sci 87 for anyone interested in getting together to play music…. at the time there was absolutely no pre-conception as to what type of music although I was and still am primarily a folkie with a heavy Rastafarian influence. So after a week I had not really heard anything when Sue Anderson mentioned to me that some dude named Roger Shirt in her Frec group was a saxophone player…. so I call this guy up in Leonard Hall and it turns out he had seen the ad and was thinking to call so we began.

First year engineering would not be the same without Engineering Graphics class and who should be sitting behind but this really “boss” looking dude in a stray cats jean jacket…. Rich Arthur. I mean this guy just looked like a guitar player so I ask him…. “hey dude, do you play guitar?”… and of course it turns out that he has just taken up the old axe…. perfect. But Rich had to leave the Stray Cats to come and play in our band…. a decision he would never regret. So it turns out Rich knows a couple of other guys in his residence…. Mike Leipe (bassman) and Ewen MacPherson (keyboard)…. and then there were 5.

But it did not stop there… through the ol buddy system I had met Marc Lalouette and learned that he also was a keyboard player…. so Marc is in like flint. Meantime with only one horn I remember that an old friend Mike Winn from Ottawa is also attending Queens and so I ask if he has brought his trumpet?….. and then there were 7.

What did I say about first year engineering and graphics???… first term graphics mid-term before we get going I yell across to my buddy Wayne Dephoure (the Popper) … “do you know this Chris Catterall guy ?”. I think I was interested in playing water polo or something like that. Turns out Chris is the guy sitting across from me…. so he asks about the band? and what does he play…. trombone!! It was at that moment that I realized we were on a mission from GOD… in the span of few weeks all of the key elements of the Rhythm and Blues band had been assembled…. all we needed was a drummer.

The bands first meeting in the basement of Brockington residence … Rich Arthur of Kingston has a good pal from high school (Dave “Bones” Bowering) who would temporarily take the role of drummer…. so the first version of the band began.

What was the inspiration for your band name?

The name…. SWOLLEN MEMBERS… was so perfect for an R&B engineering band; it was Roger Shirt who gets the credit for bringing the name to the band; he may to say his brother gave it to him but I think that the band owes it’s name to Roger.

After many hours of practicing in Brockington we finally got to play our first gig at Clark Hall Pub in January 1994…. I don’t think that any of us knew what to expect but we learned very quickly that Science 87 was not a year that would sit down and watch. I could not believe how intense that first smoker at Clark Hall was… it seemed like all 200 people in Clark were dancing and drinking their faces off…. so when we played what would be perhaps our signature tune … SHOUT... I thought that the stage would come down for sure.

Without going through the details of all the changes that the band went through over the years it is crucial to mention that 1984 brought several key MEMBERS into the band, namely Rich Woodruff on drums and Jeff Hudson on alto sax.  The addition of female vocals was the finishing touch that would round out the band… Sue Rimmer in 85 and then Kim Perrin in 86….  After graduation, in 1987, Marc Lalouette (on keyboard) left the band and was replaced by Alan Gaensbauer, from Sci 86… we gathered momentum and have been unable to stop since.

What is Clark Hall Pub?

First opened in 1971 (and officially established as a student pub in 1975), Clark Hall Pub is not only the oldest bar on Queen’s University campus, but also the first student-owned and operated bar in Canada.

What does the band mean to you?

For me the SWOLLEN MEMBERS has been far more than a band but it has really become a social institution for everyone who has been a part of it over the years. The friendships and camaraderie of the band combined the incredible people would come out to party with us year after year have been the cornerstone of the band. When you imagine a group of eleven musicians teaming up to play a collection of classic R&B tunes you have to understand that there is an incredible potential for conflict and disagreement … yet in the years since 1983 that we have been playing I can only think of nothing but great times, laughing, drinking beer, etc. When I look at the band repertoire I realize that every single MEMBER has chosen and brought a song into the band; and of course every MEMBER who wants to sing and take lead does it. The band has all of the elements of a successful enterprise; friendship, trust, mutual respect, cooperation, etc, etc…. so maybe it’s no surprise that we continue to play today.

Inspiration and influences?

For those who have seen us play it should be obvious that we have many but the two big ones…. Jake and Elwood Blues (the Blues Brothers) and of course the Godfather of soul, the hardest working man in show business, soul brother #1 …. Mr. James Brown. If there is anyone out there who has not seen Mr. James Brown live in concert I suggest that you get on up (like a sex machine) and see this guy and his 25 piece R&B machine… this is entertainment people!

So when do we quit?

When does this all stop? I guess the question that I ask is why should this all stop? As most of us are now married (some with kids) the SWOLLEN MEMBERS reminds us all that it is important to make time for friends, make time for fun and of course make time for music…. music is food for the soul. As Bob Marley says “one good thing about music when it hits you feel no pain”.

Life is for the living so live long and prosper friends…. and the next time the SWOLLEN MEMBERS rise to the occasion we will be looking for you to be there with us.

SWOLLEN MEMBERS – October 2012 line up

Back: Mike Leipe, Chris Catterall, Roger Shirt, Richard Woodruff, Alan Gaensbauer

Maribeth Casey, Richard Arthur, Jeff Arsenault, Kim Perrin

Now let’s hear from all the other band members:-

Roger Shirt – Saxophone

A long time ago in a residence far, far away I met a group of guys who were coming together, on a mission from God, to form a band that would spread the good name of Science ’87 (and friends).  In order to impress girls our bandneeded a name.  I reached deep into my alcohol fueled mind and borrowed a lesser known British Punk band name that my older brother had told me about- the Swollen Members.  Sure, the name has been copied since but it quite literally is big enough for all to enjoy.

Since graduating from Queen’s I’ve mainly hung out in Western Canada, and am currently living in the great little town of Squamish, BC.  However, when the call comes every five years to return home to Kingston, my sax and I are
ready to go and reconnect with a truly amazing group of people in the band and our loyal fans.

Rich Arthur – Lead Guitar/Vocals

In 1983 I was a 17 year old freshman engineer with bouffant hair and somewhat aberrant clothes.  I was not really sure if I wanted to be an engineer or perform.    Well thanks to Queen’s I got to do both.  My engineering degree took me right into a job in a fast growing company where I could find my own way, and ultimately took me to south of France where I now live with my wife and two boys and work for HP.

However, back to 1983:   before the Swollen Members I didn’t have the confidence to really work on the guitar.  Joining the band, and working with Jeff, really gave me that confidence. Though I realized later that inebriated engineers are not the most accurate critics, the praise we got was a huge self-esteem builder.

Subsequently, playing on stage set me up for my work, which morphed quickly from engineering to product management, people management and marketing.  In these latter roles I am frequently required to perform on stage in front of large audiences (albeit holding a slide clicker instead of a guitar!)   Playing in the Swollen Members gave me that self-assurance to go out and do it.

As well as playing with the Swollen Members I have my personal project Zylin – featuring songs composed and recorded in my home studio – and I am currently playing with a rock cover band in France called Jam’s Band that performs regularly.

In 29 years, we’ve come a long way from hauling speakers through the Kingston snow, but if Mick Jagger can still rock in his 60’s I’m sure we can too.     The Swollen Members act as a catalyst to keep Science 87 and Nursing 87, as well as some loyal Arts students and 88’s and 86’,s coming together.    I always have fun, and a little nostalgia, every time I get back together with this great band and amazing group of people!  Will we even see some grandchildren next reunion?

Chris Catterall – Trombone/Vocals

Luckier than smart is a fitting explanation of how most of the goods things in my life have come to me.  The winter of 77-78 must have been cold because a friend convinced me to join the school band so we could stay in at lunch times.  Seven years later, this climatic twist of fate set the stage (no pun intended) for my first meeting with Jeff and his idea for what would become the Swollen Members.

I love music but by most standards I am no musician.  However the Members have  given me the privilege of playing with some truly gifted players and entertainers and living the experience that many with much greater talent will never know.  Equally important our time together has always been a much larger collective experience of a group of people who are both exceptional and ordinary.  Above all, my friendship with Jeff over distance and time has been the greatest gift coming out of this experience.

I marvel at the collection of people, places and circumstances that have been part of the Swollen Members.  The Members thrive because of the butter tarts, t-shirts, websites, basements, the cottage with the deck, strategically planned holidays, student residents, supportive spouses, ghetto houses, engineers and nurses turned event planners and a whole lot of love.

Away from the stage (i.e. 99.9% of my life), I have been blessed with a truly amazing wife who picked me out of the crowd back in 1991 and has loved me ever since despite myself.  I love my woman, the three children we created and all the wonderful things we have lived together in Montreal.  I have been working for the last 15 years in the public transportation industry and this year, I teamed up with two partners to purchase our company, ISC Applied Systems, from its Calgary based owner.  The decision to commit my heart, soul and most of my net worth to this venture was not taken lightly but was ultimately made without hesitation when I recognized in my partners the same quality of character that I have known with my band mates from the Swollen Members.

Mike Leipe – Bass/Vocals

Mike Leipe graduated from Queen’s to pursue an undistinguished career in the hi-tech business in Ottawa.  He is currently a development manager at IBM but that’s only because he likes to eat – he prefer to focus his time and energy on family, friends, physical activity and, of course, music.  Since moving to Ottawa he’s played with the Tyrell Underground, ice9, New Tricks, docweissband and Rothwell & Moffatt, and has contributed what he hopes is soul-infused Swollen-Member-esque bass work to CDs by the latter two.  He continues to work as a freelance bassist and plays some electric and acoustic guitar on the side.  Mike resigned from the Swollen Members in October of 2012 and is grateful to the band for 29 years of camaraderie, fun and mutual passion for music.

Richard (Woody) Woodruff – Drums

(Content to follow soon)

Al Gaensbauer – Keyboard/Vocals

I have had an interest in Engineering, Music and Art since a very early age, and could have used 3 lifetimes to pursue them all to my liking. Like many kids I started with piano lessons at an early age, but stopped within a couple of years. This left me just enough knowledge to pick it up later when I was 14 or so. I heard a Supertramp record and was hooked. It was tough to go back and learn to read music notation but I stuck with it. Having a brother 4 years older that also played the piano acted as friendly competition. We often challenged each other by playing the same songs.

During University at Queens for engineering I regularly played piano between classes and kept up my artistic activities as well by doing paintings and portraits to keep up my drawing skills. As a member of Sci86 I heard about the Sci87 band Swollen Members in my 3rd year.  I met Jeff Arsenault and found out we had a shared interest in Classical Rock, e.g. Genesis, ELP, etc. We played at the engineering talent show in my 4th year.  The rest of 4th year was a blur for me as I was the Art Director for the science formal. It wasn’t until after graduation that Jeff asked me to join the members and I have enjoyed being a member ever since.

Since graduation I have pursued my engineering career and music career in parallel and at times been a full-time professional musician. However, I always get drawn back to engineering as my main interest. I am now the owner in a engineering product development company with staff working on a variety of internal and client projects. This has allowed me the flexibility to work remotely from home in Collingwood, Ontario.

I look forward to playing with the Swollen Members as long as we can keep doing it. Where else can you get so much personal enjoyment and provide such enjoyment to the audience at the same time.

Kim Perrin – Vocals

Actually if the truth be known, I applied into the Queen’s Music Program majoring in performance on the piano as my first choice.  Nursing Science was my second choice.  I am glad it turned out the way that it did or I would not be writing this biography.

It all started in Frosh Week Sept 1983.  The nurses were put with the engineers that week and that is when my relationship began.  In fact, we all married one during a ceremonial ritual on Summer Hill that first week. The nurses attended Friday afternoon ritual, Science ’87 smokers and hayrides during Engineering week. We couldn’t get away from them!!!! Then, I had heard that they had put a band together and that sparked my interest and after seeing them perform for the first time, I immediately became a fan. During Frosh week of 2nd year, a few of us “Capes” and “Frecks” were gathering to celebrate the end of a well organized Frosh week and Jeff Arsenault suggested that we go down to the lake and have a camp fire sing-along.  There were  8 of us and we called ourselves the “Fireside 8”.  Jeff started strumming on his guitar and singing and I couldn’t help myself and I burst into a harmony and he turned to me and said “you should sing with the Swollen Members”. I was honoured to be asked but I didn’t join the band until 1986 because I didn’t want to be the only girl. Once Ashleigh Banfield became a swellette I was there.  Jeff then took me downtown Kingston to buy my tambourine and I was all set.

26 years later I am still singing with this incredible group of talented musicians/ friends and have many, many fond memories of our times together.  I have enjoyed partnering up with other swellettes such as Daphne Williams and my current partner MB. During the shows, I really enjoy seeing our loyal friends having such a great time together.  It’s like we have never left!

Since graduation, I married Ernie Perrin in August 1987 and moved to Mississauga where I still reside. Throughout my nursing career, I have worked at the Credit Valley Hospital delivering babies, a private fertility clinic and currently at a Family Health Team. I have 2 wonderful children Alicia and Mark.

I have made sure that music continues to enrich my life and have kept it as my hobby. I have sung at many weddings over the years and some funerals. I continue to sing regularly in a choir and a band playing keyboards as well. I also direct a children’s choir.  I have  been known to get up sing with random bands in our local pubs in Streetsville from time to time.

But……when our Loyal Grand Poobah calls us to return to our homeland, there is no hesitation. We all come together for more good times, good music and to make more “member”able moments.    It’s been an awesome journey and I look forward to the next time we meet.

Maribeth Casey – Vocals

(Awaiting content)


Previous members included:

Dave “Bones” Bowering – Drums; Sue Rimmer – Vocals; Ewen MacPherson, Keyboard; Marc Lalouette- Keyboard; Jeff Hudson – Saxophone; Ashley Banfield – Vocals; Daphne Grenill – Vocals; Robin Purohit – Saxophone; Mike Winn – Trumpet; Matt (The Trumpet) Ginser – Trumpet; Mike Hiscocks – Trumpet; Mike Leipe – Bass.

So what kind of music do Swollen Members play?

See them in action at the

“Faux-Cumming Reunion tour” 2012 Clark Hall Pub, Kingston, ON, Canada: 27 October 2012

Here’s the set list from their latest reunion gig at Clark Hall Pub, Kingston, ON, Canada.


The 2012 FauxCumming Tour

Clark Hall Pub, Kingston, Ontario

Saturday October 27, 2012

First Set

2001: A Space Odyssey

Blues Brothers Intro

Gimme Some Lovin

Midnight Hour

Psycho Cleaner

Doin it Right

Do Right Woman Do Right Man

Brian Wilson

Flip Flop & Fly

Second Set

Green Onions (Jam session)

Mustang Sally

Great Balls of Fire

Clark Hall Pub Blues

Chain of Fools

Brown Sugar

Sugar & Spice (I Got You)


Suffragette City

Encore – After Hours Set

No Woman No Cry

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Johnny B Goode

Jailhouse Rock

Devil With the Blue Dress

Mercury Blues

Blue Suede Shoes

Should I Stay or Should I Go

Tube Snake Boogie