The Pin Group: Article on Ambivalence

Roy Montgomery
Roy Montgomery

There’s a short film from 1981 by prominent Christchurch multi-dimensional artist Ronnie van Hout that’s been well-circulated on Youtube recently.

The film opens with an evocative poem by (Pin Group contributor and early member) Desmond Brice, backed by guitarist Jon Segovia. The footage eventually cuts away to the equally evocative bass playing of the Pin Group’s Ross Humphries, running through the opening rumble of the brilliant ‘Ambivalence’, which is of particular note as it was the very first single distributed by Flying Nun Records.

In a general sense I think it was the accumulation of hard-to-get DYI punk, post-punk and obscure 60s vinyl coming from the UK and the US shared amongst a handful of folk committed enough to fork out large amounts of cash to pay for imports that led to a realisation that if no-one else was going to back the equivalent energy and garage aesthetic here then we had better put up or shut up.
– Roy Montgomery

Ross Humphries
Ross Humphries

A young Roy Montgomery bites his lips as he builds the intensity in his guitar playing, carefully looking over his shoulder at Humphries as drummer Peter Stapleton brings the song to full velocity. The sound is muffled, but Montgomeries husky baritone still powers through the murk – “I don’t know how to react to you, or even if I should” goes the opening line.

I think the lyrical content from Peter Stapleton and Desmond Brice was very filmic and atmospheric albeit rather bleak and fraught in a psychological sense. Desmond made no secret of his lyrics as recriminations or self-recriminations and used to refer to himself as Jim Despondent at the time – a not-too-subtle Doors reference.
– Roy Montgomery

The film gives a glimpse of a defining era in Christchurch music; free from the hype that would be thrust upon the Dunedin scene within the next few years.

Montgomery had been a keen purveyor of British and American Rock’n’Roll since his teenage years, avoiding the “oompah, thigh-slapping ‘schmaltz’ music” of Germany (he lived in Cologne with his British Mother and German father till the age of 5) and formed his first, in-name-only band – the Psychedeliks.

The only one with an actual instrument was me. I had a Diplomat six-string electric bought from Sedley Wells as a package with an amplifier that dated back to the late 1940s and which took about a week to warm up. I couldn’t play guitar at all at the time but I did come up with the band name and the spelling of it and I decorated the drum kit made out of crates with “crazy” lettering. We were as influenced by the Monkees as we were by anything really countercultural.
– Roy Montgomery

Peter Stapleton
Peter Stapleton

However at this stage in his live Montgomery was more music fan than musician, a regular at local non-pub gigs at venues like the Caledonian Hall and English Park where he can remember “an Epitaph Rider bailing me up in a toilet to scrutinise the Maltese Cross I had hung around my neck”. The Pin Group didn’t start taking shape until around 1980, pre-cursor groups ‘Compulsory Fun’ and ‘Murder Strikes Pink’ uniting Montgomery with Ross Humphries.

I was still learning to play guitar so three-chords/three minutes/buzzsaw music was the norm. The Saints were a big influence for me at that time. But we had a few atmospheric, brooding, plodders that anticipated the Pin Group modus operandi a year or two later.
– Roy Montgomery

The early Pin Group recordings were not particularly well received – mostly due to the crude murky quality of the recordings and pressing, a teething issue of the fledgling label. To add to that their live shows ended up a little odd, to say the least.

Typical audience reception to the Pin Group was bemusement as far as I could tell. I remember Bill Direen doing headstands on the dancefloor of the Gladstone to one of our songs but I think he was making some sort of Dada anti-art statement. On another night two women in bondage gear whipped one another for another number while a vibrator buzzed happily on a nearby beer-soaked table. Dancing and other expressive audience participation was not common for us so we had to be grateful for what we got.
– Roy Montgomery

However over the past 30 years the group’s reputation has grown substantially, partly due to the later success of the groups members (Peter Stapleton and Ross Humphries with the Terminals, and Roy Montgomery in a solo capacity), but also the powerful nature of the songs themselves. When Roger Sheppard was reunited with the Flying Nun label in 2010, creating a definitive Pin Group release was high on the labels list of priorities. Packaged with artwork by van Hout and mastered by Montgomery and engineer Arnie van Bussel, the release (named ‘Ambivalence’ after the terrific debut single) lays bare the gloomy, dark and dynamic sound of the Pin Group.

Over the course of the double-albums 20 songs (compiling all previous releases plus a live recording rescued from Montgomeries Earthquake damaged home) the listener is treated to gloomy, powerful songs that not only evoke a certain vision of Christchurch but indeed New Zealand at it’s darkest.

 

Complete Interview here.

[Published in an edited form by the Christchurch Press, Sep 21st 2012]

Bruce Russell

The man behind Xpressway, corpus hermeticum, and a significant part of the Dead C, Russell finally (after years of eclectic collaborations with a broad selection of New Zealand and international artists) released his solo album on his own Corpus Hermeticum label in 2003.

Discography (picks in bold)

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Scorched Earth Policy

Legendary early Flying Nun band (1982-6) that would later reform to become the Terminals, marking the debut of a young Brian Crook (later to form the Max Block and the Renderers). They put out a couple of highly sought after EP’s which contained some of the original versions of Terminals songs such as ‘Lolita’ and ‘Mekong Delta Blues’.

Initially they seemed more pop focused (well pop in the way that say, the Verlaines are pop) but the dark, rattled approach of Peter Stapleton soon turned them into something far more nefarious and disturbing. The Keep Away From The Wires compilation was put out by Medication in the late 90s and collects all their recorded material, along with live out-takes (though they’re of questionable quality). Pick up anything you can find from these guys.

Initially Stapleton (drums / lyrics) was flanked by a young Mick Elborado (bass / vocals – who carried a few songs from his Drowning Is Easy days) and Mary Heney (guitar, vocals, organ and drums – came from 25 Cents, a short lived ‘party band’, along with short stints in both the Victor Dimisch Band and the Pin Group) and Mick’s old bandmate Ian Blinkinsop – though he left before their first public appearance. Andrew Dawson soon joined to replace Ian on vocals, and brought around recently arrived ex-hastings lad Brian Crook who…

Was into German music at the time, y’know, Can and Faust and that sort of stuff. Some weird hybrid between German music and the Beach Boys I think I was kind of thinking about. Yeah, when i finally got to the Scorched Earth practice, the songs were y’know, two minutes long, or something. And Peter was really into that ‘Pebbles’ thing. And Captain Beefheart. Y’know, just, every practise, out would come the Captain Beefheart album.
– Brian Crook, taken from Wade Churton’s ‘Glam, Punk and Scorched Earth Policy’

Over the course of the bands 2 year run, Onset/Offset label-founder Campbell McClay (bass) and Catherine Upson (backing vocals) made contributions to their recordings.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • Dust To Dust 12″ Mini-Lp [1984 Flying Nun Fn028]
  • Going Thru’ A Hole In The Back Of Your Head 12″ Mini-Lp [1985 Flying Nun Fn042]
  • A.D. Cassette [Live Recording 1986 Passage Passage10]
  • Foaming Out Cassette [1991 Xpressway X/Way 20]
  • Keep Away From The Wires [Compilation 1999 Medication Med04]

See-Also

Peter Stapleton

Peter Stapleton is one of New Zealand’s most referred underground musicians. As a member and song-writer for The Vacuum, Scorched Earth Policy and The Terminals, Stapleton has amassed a body of work like no other, and established himself as one of new zealand’s most distinctive drummers. Under his own name, Stapleton has also collaborated with Bruce Russell and Kim Pieters for several experimental releases.

Discography (picks in bold)

    Last Glass [Collaboration With Kim Pieters, Bruce Russell Corpus Hermeticum]
    Sex/Machine [Collaboration With Kim Pieters, Bruce Russell Metonymic]

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Xpressway

Xpressway was formed by Bruce Russell in 1985 to release his then-fledgling Christchurch band the Dead C, live archival recordings from This Kind Of Punishment and the debut solo material from Alastair Galbraith. Over the course of the next 23 (mostly cassette-only) releases, Xpressway, Russell and his comrades themselves formed an ever-growing niche-market of dark, brooding releases, mostly in lo-fidelity form, but full of character.

Xpressway was the label that set the careers of Stephen Cogle, Peter Stapleton and Brian Crook (between them being a major part of Victor Dimisich, Scorched Earth Policy, the Terminals and the Renderers), the Jefferies brothers and David Mitchell in motion, quite an achievement. Their brilliant compilations Xpressway Pile-Up and Making Losers Happy were re-released by overseas labels in the early 90s, hastening the influence of these inspiring 23 releases.

Russell ended the label once they had achieved global recognition, as he had always intended Xpressway to be a stepping-stone toward competent distribution, and they had achieved that by the early 1990s with American labels like Siltbreeze, Drunken Fish, and Kranky and European labels Turbulence, Ajax and Raffmond picking up a fair portion of the labels many talented musicians. Russell then launched Corpus Hermeticum – an outlet for even more challanging music (mostly by his own personal pool of musicians, but expanding into even overseas experimental and underground musicians).

Compilation Discography
Picks In Bold

  • Xpressway Pile Up [1988 XWAY5]
  • I Hate Pavel Tishy’s Guts [1989? promo issued in 2 versions XWAY6]
  • Xpressway Pile=up [reissue with extra tracks 1990]
  • Making Losers Happy [1991]
  • Whats That Noise? 7″ album [1992]
  • I Hear The Devil Calling Me 7″ album [distributed by drag city 1993]

Contact Details

A Handful Of Dust

Biography

One of Bruce Russell’s (Dead C) and Alastair Gailbraith’s darkest outfits, often dealing with distinct imagery and motif’s in their music and especially pro-nounced in their liner notes (most of which are distributed through Russell’s Corpus Hermeticum label). Essentially a Russell and Galbraith duo, but eter Stapleton has been a regular contributor.

Members

  • Alastair Galbraith (Violin/Keyboard/Guitar/Lute/Vocals, 1992 -)
  • Bruce Russell (Guitar/Keyboards/Vocals/Percussion/Organ/Kazoo, 1992 -)
  • Peter Stapleton (Drums, 1993)

Discography

  • A Little Aesthetic Discourse (1992, Xpressway/Twisted Village)
  • Concord (1993, Corpus Hermeticum, HERMES001)
  • The Philosophick Mercury (1994, Corpus Hermeticum, HERMES002)
  • The Eightness Of Adam Qadmon Cassette (1994, Corpus Hermeticum, HERMES003)
  • The Seventhness Lathe-Cut 7″ (1994 , Corpus Hermeticum, HERMES004)
  • Music Humana (, Corpus Hermeticum, HERMES005)
  • Three Dances In Honour Of Sabbatai Sevi, The Apostate Messiah Lathe-Cut 7″ EP (1994, Corpus Hermeticum, HERMES006)
  • Crank #4 (w/ Alan Licht 1994, Crank Automotive, C1)
  • From A Soundtrack To The Anabase Of St-John Perse (1995, Corpus Hermeticum, HERMES009)
  • Authority Over All Signs Of The Earth Lathe-Cut 7″ Single (1995, Corpus Hermeticum, HERMES010)
  • Topology Of A Phantom City Cassette (1995, Corpus Hermeticum, HERMES020)
  • Now Gods, Stand Up For Bastards (1996, Corpus Hermeticum, HERMES013)
  • Urban Psychogeography, Vol Ii: Jerusalem, Street Of Graves (1998, Corpus Hermeticum, HERMES029)
  • Topology Of A Phantom City (1997, Corpus Hermeticum)
  • Spiritual Libertines (1996, Crank Automotive, C6)
  • For Patti Smith (2002, Freewaysound, Freewaysound003)
  • Mared’ Milk Mixed With Blood (2003, Non Mi Piace, 07)
  • Panegyric (2009, Next Best Way, NBWAY08)

Links

 

Dadamah

Melodic guitar textural band from a musically-reborn Roy Montgomery, who was noteably absent from the New Zealand music scene after the demise of the Pin Group in the early 80s. Kim Pieters sparse vocals add a lot to their charismatic sound, and a relaxed approach (only spiked by the legendary Peter Stapleton‘s occassional drumming) is very involving stuff.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • ‘Nicotine’ / ‘High Time’ 7″ Single [1991 Majora]
  • ‘Scratch Sun’ / ‘Radio Brain’ 7″ Single [1991 Xpressway / Majora]
  • This Is Not A Dream [1992 Imd / Majora Vgap-Lp-5750]
  • This Is Not A Dream Cd Reissue [1994 Krany Krank002]

See-Also

Roy Montgomery

Though appearing in teenage combo the Psychedeliks as early as 1971, Roy Montgomery emerged in the early 1980s as the deep-voiced guitarist for the Pin Group, one of New Zealand’s finest under-appreciated post-punk outfits. Though the Pin Group etched their name into New Zealand history as the very first band to be released on Flying Nun with their gritty debut single ‘Ambivalence’, Montgomery literally disappeared from the music world, after the demise of the Pin Group and it’s short-lived successor the Shallows.

After spending a great part of the 1980s traveling the world and discovering other avenues (including following Bill Direen‘s lead into the theatrical arts), it took Peter Stapleton‘s encouragement to bring this talented guitarist back to music, just as he had established a teaching role in Christchurch. Montgomery, Stapleton and Kim Pieters formed Dadamah, a more reserved and fleshed out, textural approach to music which re-invigorated Montgomerys live performing.

Dadamah gave way to Dissolve (a performing duo of Montgomery and Remarkables guitarist Chris Heaphy), and the first immergence of Montgomery solo recordings in the early 1990s. By now Montgomery had established a very distinct approach to playing a recording.

Montgomery spent his most prolific, style-defining period cooped up in a New York apartment. With just his bet-up 4-pickup Teisco guitar and a 4-track recorder, montgomery started producing vast soundscapes. Odes to the New Zealand countryside, and composed as lengthy evolving suites. His Fantasia on a theme by Sandy Bull from the fantastic Harmony of the Spheres boxset is a 20 minute journey filled with huge peaks and lulls – a masterpiece of interwoven guitar.

I would probably best describe Montgomery’s playing as an elegant, shimmering molass of guitar, rich with reverberation and slow-burning melodies. Montgomeries acknowledged masterpieces (such as the sublime Songs from the South Island and True – also with Chris Heaphy) are very evocative, visual works. Often composed completely free of vocals (though not always), Montgomery forms songs as soundscapes to environments, places, and moments in time.

As we rolled further into the 21st century, Montgomery again retreated from the live and recorded music scenes, continuing his role as a university lecturer and raising his young family. Thankfully in 2004 and 2005 he did return for two live performance in New Zealand, playing the Lines of Flight and Southern Oscillations festivals in Dunedin and Castle Hill (in-land from Christchurch). Performing as the Torlesse Supergroup with Nick Guy (formerly of wonderful space dronsters Barnard’s Star), these appearances might be an indication that we can expect future releases from one of New Zealand’s finest reclusive musicians.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • ‘Submerged And Colourful’ / ‘Cousinsong’ 7″ Single [1995 Hecuba]
  • ‘Long Night’ / ‘Its Cold Outside’ / ‘Film As A Subversive Art’ / ‘German Sister’ Double 7″ Single [1995 SiltbreezeSb58/59]
  • Songs From The South Island [1995 Drunken FishDfr-22]
  • Temple Iv [1995 KrankyKranky008]
  • ‘Zabriskie Point I/Ii’ 7″ Single [1995 Gyttja]
  • Goodbye [1995 W/ Flying Saucer Attack VhfVhf26]
  • ‘Something Else Again’ / ‘Adrift’ 7″ Single [1995 Roof BoltRb 004]
  • ‘Just Melancoly’ / ‘Used To’ 7″ Single [1996 Ajax]
  • Two Trajectories 7″ Single [Enraptured]
  • ‘Sterling Morrison, Corner 10th and First, 1966’ Split 7″ Single [1996 W/ Loren Connors GyttjaOoze-08]
  • Winter Songs 10″ Ep [1997 Roof Bolt]
  • ‘Cumulus And Fugue’ Split 7″ Single [1997 W/ Azusa Plane Colorful Clouds For AcousticsCloud 004]
  • E.N.D. 7″ Single [1998 Drunken FishDfr-27]
  • And Now The Rain Sounds Like Life Is Falling Down Through It [1998 Drunken FishDfr-41]
  • ‘London Is Swinging By His Neck’ 7″ Single [1998 W/ Kirk Lake Rocket GirlRgirl3]
  • ‘Particle’/’Wave’ 7″ Single [1998 Varispeed01 Varispeed]
  • True [1999 W/ Chris Heaphy Kranky]
  • 324 E. 13th St. #7 [1999 Compilation Drunken Fish]
  • Harmony Of The Spheres [1999 Triple Lp Compilation Split With Various Others Drunken FishDfr-50]
  • Allegory Of Hearing [2000 Drunken FishDfr-47]
  • Read Less Books Cassingle [2000 W/ Kirk Lake Victory Garden]
  • Silver Wheel Of Prayer [2001 Vhf Vhf49]
  • Split album with Grouper [2010 Root Strata RSGR004]
  • Split LP with Bruce Russell [2012 Grapefruit]

See-Also