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Rock 'n' roll is a vicious game, or so the iconic Canadian band April Wine loved to bellow. But is that just showbiz hype? How nasty can a world of groupies and good times really be? Spend some time with deans Roger Slee and Martin Grant of McGill's very own Diminished Faculties and you'll start to think of April Wine as masters of understatement.
"Martin is dreadful to work with," says Slee, Dean of Education and the drummer for DF — a band gearing up for its annual Centraide Rocks benefit concert on November 13. "He insists on his own dressing room and we don't see him until we start playing so he can make a grand appearance on stage." Stopping short of lowering Grant from the ceiling on a platform spewing dry ice vapor, Slee says the other members of the band have considered firing him from a cannon to mark the beginning of concerts.
In a separate interview (it's been years since the two have deigned to appear together at media events), Grant, McGill's Dean of Science and DF's lead guitarist, chooses his words carefully when asked to describe Slee as a drummer. "Well, Roger's very loud," he finally concedes. "And there is no truth to the rumour that we're attaching a large metronome to his knee — it will, in fact, be a very small one."
The band was formed in 2004, as part of the sendoff for outgoing Dean of Science Alan Shaver — the man Grant replaced. "In retrospect, I think they wanted to make sure Alan never came back," Slee says ruefully of the maiden concert. Since then, the band has played a number of important gigs, including their now legendary tour of departmental Christmas parties.
Over the years, DF has undergone more personnel changes than Menudo. While the bulk of band members have either been faculty or students, a number of non-McGillians have crept onto the roster. "We gave [renowned local bass player] Stephen Barry an honourary degree just so he could play with us," admits Grant.
For this year's Centraide concert, the band has undergone yet another radical metamorphosis, including the addition of an entire brass section. As well, they've enlisted the help of another ringer, award-winning folk/blues musician Dale Boyle to shore things up. This isn't Boyle's first tour of duty with the band and the members appreciate his professionalism — and the fact that he can actually keep time. "Dale is great," says Slee. "He just takes off and we follow. Sometimes we even end at the same time."
Despite their well-publicized creative differences, Slee and Grant understand the importance of the Centraide fundraiser — enough so to schedule an unprecedented two rehearsals before their Faculty Club gig. As with many great bands, DF doesn't have a set repertoire, preferring instead to take a less structured approach. "The song list will be discussed during the 2nd rehearsal," says Slee. "The first day will be taken up hammering out the logistics of Martin's five costume changes."
In the end, however, the band is united by one common goal, according to front man Grant. "We're all just looking forward to upholding McGill's tradition of the highest quality of excellence," he says solemnly.
For his part, Slee is slightly more pragmatic. "I just hope we make it out alive."
Centraide Rocks; Monday, Nov. 13 at 7 pm at the McGill Faculty Club, 3450 McTavish. Admission: $10 at the door. For advance tickets or more information contact Deborah Dimitruk at 514-398-7040.
On the Island of Montreal, 107,000 families (23 percent of all families) live under the low-income cut-off.
Centraide supports 29 community agencies for families in as many Greater Montreal neighbourhoods. The amount invested annually is $2.6 million. The number of people helped is 79,000.