The Pin Group: Article on Ambivalence

The Pin Group. film by Ronnie van Hout

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.

Buy the album here.

Complete Interview here.

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

The Pin Group: Complete Interview with Roy Montgomery

Tell me about your early exposure to music (both listening and playing). I understand your mother worked for the British Forces Network radio station and that you were in a teenage group called the Psychedeliks?

I lived in Cologne, Germany until shortly before my fifth birthday. Although the “Allied occupation” was more or less over the Anglo-American cultural colonisation of Germany, the condition that many German filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s used as a launching point for their work, was still in full swing. I don’t remember the oompah, thigh-slapping “schmaltz” music that bedevilled popular local music. I remember Elvis and rock and roll when I try to recall Germany. The Psychedeliks were a band in name only and I think I was pre-teen, technically speaking. 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.

What was your perception of Christchurch as a teenager in the 1970s?

It depends a little on which part of the 1970s you are talking about. The early ‘70s felt very exciting. I was a regular, albeit slightly-out-of-place, attendee at local non-pub gigs at places like the Caledonian Hall or English Park. Bands like Butler played regularly and it was like having Hendrix’s cousins living in the same town. I barely noticed the drug culture and was a source of amusement to the core stoners who followed various bands around. I remember an Epitaph Rider bailing me up in a toilet to scrutinise the Maltese Cross I had hung around my neck. That was the happy hippie period for me. Things got weirder as the decade wore on. I remember sitting in the Christchurch Town Hall in what I thought I was a pretty adventurous pin-stripe suit from an op shot waiting for Lou Reed to come in the mid-70s when he was touring Rock and Roll Animal and looking behind me to see several people dressed so outrageously that it made Lou Reed look like an accountant when he finally took the stage. I distinctly remember one Maori gentleman who was dressed in a Hussar’s uniform with an Afro and white make-up. Not long after that I found The Gladstone and the denizens there who seemed bent on carrying on the tradition of Andy Warhol’s Factory irrespective of the bands who played the three-nighters.

What can you recall about the time spent in (Pin Group pre-cursors) ‘Compulsory Fun’ and ‘Murder Strikes Pink’? Did these groups have a different sound from the Pin Group?

These were “precursor” bands. 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. There were also the seminal hangovers from the glamrock and hippy era: Compulsory Fun opened their one and only show in 1980 at the England Street Hall with a cover of Roxy Music’s Virginia Plain, much faster of course than the original, and ended with The Byrds Eight Miles High done in manic overdrive well before Husker Du had experienced their own epiphany on that tune. Murder Strikes Pink used an image of Franz Kafka in posters for its handful of gigs at the Gladstone. Need I say more?

Can you lead me through the events that bought about the very first Flying Nun single? Tell me about the recording and your relationship with Roger in the early days.

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. The first Pin Group recording was technically a Flying Nun distribution deal rather than an in-house recording i.e., the Pin Group paid for the recording, paid for the pressings, paid for the screenprinting and sleeves and Roger marketed it outside of Christchurch. You’ll have to ask Roger but I think he got to starting a label by a process of elimination. If you were not going to be in a band but you were not content to just stand there and watch your friends embarrass themselves in bands what else could you usefully do which no-one was doing? Band “managers” were rated about as highly as car-dealers. Label owner in the mould of Rough Trade seemed worthy to all and sundry at the time.

Peter Stepleton was playing in the Victor Dimisich at the same time as the Pin Group – do you remember other notable groups from the era? Did the Pin Group play at pubs or parties, or other locations, and what was the typical audience reception for the Pin Group?

The Pin Group played all of their ten or so shows bar one at the Gladstone. The other was at a Dada Cabaret night in the Arts Centre. Just prior to formation of the Pin Group the Vacuum Blue Ladder Band, the Vauxhalls, Vapour and the Trails and Stanley Wrench and the Monkey Brothers and were notable groups who played regularly in the late 1970s. 25 Cents, the Volkswagens, Hey Clint, Mainly Spaniards, Ritchie Venus were local contemporaries of the Pin Group. The first wave of Dunedin bands were making their tentative sorties to Christchurch at this time as well. 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.

Were the groups songs trying to evoke a certain mood, feeling, etc? Your later solo releases often contain a cinematic or landscape type feel, and you’ve been involved with theatre.

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. I think both of them were writing words in a film noir style but it took the music that I was coming up with at the time a while to catch up. I think I was getting there about the time of Pin Group Go To Town and it went off more or less on its own after that. Often black and white but also technicolour or at least glorious Sovkino colour. My work with the Free Theatre in the mid-1980s which involved doing sound and lighting design for theatre before straying acting was to begin with less a deliberate choice about honing a particular scene-making or scene-evoking craft than it was about worrying that my girlfriend was going to make off with bohemian members of the theatre group and having to justify my presence at rehearsals and shows. The fascination with working in experimental theatre, which very few people seemed to understand at the time, and the creative scope afforded by its enforced minimalist aesthetic came a little later.

How did the new ‘Ambivalence’ release come about? I understand you worked with Arnie van Bussell on mastering the release – but where did you source the live recording?

I don’t know how much “pre-loading” or seed-sowing was done by Bruce Russell in this matter but Roger Shepherd rang me at some point in 2010 to announce that having reclaimed Flying Nun one of the prime re-release projects he had in mind was the Pin Group. I thought that this was a chance to correct a minor error on the Siltbreeze compilation of 1997 where a Coat demo had been accidentally substituted for the Flying Nun 003 track. The idea of doing a decent Ronnie van Hout artwork package was part of Roger’s pitch but I thought that it could do with an extra dimension if possible. As it happened our house got turned upside down in the September 2010 earthquake including the attic in which a daunting quantity of old cassettes had been carelessly stored. Some poorly labelled but vaguely familiar tapes had floated to the top of the mound of debris. I recognised these as various Pin Group live mixing desk tapes from the Gladstone which were only really meant at the time as working documentation to learn from for future improvement. I took it as a sign that something would have to be done to tidy up these loose ends. Hence the live recording.

Have you ever considered a reunion?

That ship has probably sailed. It was hard enough to get me on stage the first time around which frustrated Peter and Ross, understandably. And although I have mellowed a little in the ensuing decades and I believe that Peter, at some very and genuine fundamental level just loves making music with others I think that Ross, in particular, would struggle to see the point in it. I don’t think the old songs would be too complicated to reprise and our stage act was hardly athletic so we could probably do a reasonable impression of ourselves but it was more about the recordings than the shows back then so it is not an easy case to make.

Bruce Russell on ‘Time To Go’ [Volcanic Tongue]

Of all the profound ways in which my life had changed in that epochal year (and since the preceding Christmas I’d become an enemy of the state, among other things), seeing the Clean was the biggest. I can still recall the certainty with which I knew then that they were at that moment the best fucking band in the world. I still don’t understand how I knew it, and in many ways I’ve spent a significant portion of the last three decades trying to disprove that hypothesis, but I haven’t done it yet. Maybe the Fall were better that year. But the fact that the last sentence contains ‘the Fall’, and starts with ‘maybe’, should alert informed readers to the enormity of what I was experiencing. It was like falling in love.
– Bruce Russell – From Volcanic Tongue

Bruce Russell (The Dead C, Gate, A Handful Of Dust etc) has put together a short but witty (and mighty acerbic!) article on the Volcanic Tongue: Underground Music Mail Order and Shop website detailing the back-story to ‘Time to Go – The Southern Psychedelic Moment: 1981-86’ – a terrific compilation Bruce put together for Flying Nun capturing some of the lesser-heard treasures from New Zealand’s South Island in the early to mid 1980s. Have a read, it’s a nice little insight into how the compilation came about and the general enthusiasm Bruce has for music of the era.

It’s that kind of ‘it came from the sky’ vibe that frankly defies categorisation. You can smell the reality. These people were very literate in rock music terms, they were literate in literary terms too, and they took drugs. It was what we did to rebel. Listen to ‘Russian Rug’. You don’t produce that kind of whacked-out blending of Pierre Henri with ? Mark and the Mysterians, without engaging in the desperate ‘datura-to-San Pedro’ sub-sub-culture which characterised the South Island of New Zealand at that time: and we invented home-bake heroin, don’t forget.

– Bruce Russell – From Volcanic Tongue

And If you haven’t already; checkout/pick up the compilation itself. Contains some of my favourite tracks by the likes of Pin Group, The Gordons, Scorched Earth Policy and Wreck Small Speakers On Expensive Stereos – not a dud in the lot!

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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

Torlesse Super Group

Named after the South Island mountain range, the Torlesse Super Group is the intriguing duo of Roy Montgomery (Pin Group etc) and Nick Guy (Barnard’s Star); creating soundscapes about the harsh New Zealand high-lands.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • TSG [2011 Regis Recordings Rebis011]

See-Also

Victor Dimisich Band

Stephen Cogle, Alan Meek, Tony O’Grady, Peter Stapleton and (for the later period) Mary Heney – most of whom also formed Scorched Earth Policy with Brian Crook (em>The Renderers, Bible Black, Bathysphere) and eventually made their mark with the legendary Terminals. The Victor Dimisich Band’s recordings (an original Flying Nun EP and the extremely lo-fi live document Mekong Delta Blues – a cassette only Xpressway release) are highly collectable and very hard to find (despite being reissued with bonus tracks in 1997 on the Medication label), and show Cogle and Stapleton just developing their dark and morbid style (after spending time with Bill Direen‘s many bands).

Contemporaries to Christchurch’s Pin Group and the early rattlings of Bill Direen‘s Bilders, in fitting with the “Christchurch sound” at the time they favored something of a denser and darker than their southern Dunedin neighbours, expressed through a bleak vision and Velvet Underground inspired abandon.
Dan Vallor: Taken from Popwatch #9

Discography (picks in bold)

  • Native Waiter 7″ EP [1982 Flying Nun]
  • Victor Dimisich Band 12″ Ep[1983 Flying Nun Fnvd001]
  • The Mekong Delta Blues Cassette [1988 Xpressway Xway08]
  • Native Waiter 7″ EP [Reissue Crawlspace Space005] Rn
  • My Name Is K [Compilation Medication Med002]

See-Also

Bailterspace

Starting life as the Gordons, Bailterspace were one of the most abrassive aggressive and (primarily) loudest bands to ever emerge out of Christchurch and the Flying Nun scene of the early 80s. Comprised of Alister Parker on guitar/vox, John Halvorsen on bass and Brent Mclachlan on drums, the Gordons were the sonic exploration end of the dunedin sound, creating tremendous walls of weedback and distortion, never seen before on the New Zealand scene. Parker’s deadpan monotone growl was the icing on the cake in these early albums, and the Gordons were reasonably successful as a local act before disintegrating in 1986, releasing two solid albums on Flying Nun.

Parker formed Bailterspace in 1987 (initially as Nelsh Bailter Space), retaining his role from the Gordons years, but bringing in the Clean‘s Hamish Kilgour on lead guitar, the Pin Group‘s Ross Humphries on bass and Glenda Bills on drums. This line-up never seemed to settle though, with Kilgour switching to drums, Humphries and Bills leaving the group to make way for original Gordons bass player John Halvorsen to resume the bass playing role. This line-up recorded their stunning, ear-bashing debut Tanker, but once Kilgour had rejoined the Clean full time again in time for 1989’s Modern Rock, Brent Mclachlan was brought back in to complete the original Gordons line-up.

Through out the 90s, Bailterspace continued to release brilliant, dense rock albums, cultivating their wall-of-sound to the point of My Bloody Valentine comparisons, but Bailter Space were always more aggressive and indeed louder than their Irish cousins. After several impressive North American tours, Matador signed the band for American distribution, releasing the 4 song ep The Aim to a burgeoning US audience. The positive feedback that Vortura and Wammo (their mid 90s classics) receieved led to the band relocating to New York.

After adapting to a looser, more ‘Indie’ sound with 97s Capsul, the band then set about a less hectic schedule, gradually developing their sound at a more relaxed pace, taking several years between Capsul and Solar.3, even after the more considerable amount of press these albums receieved. In 2004 the (newly coporatized) Flying Nun / Festival Mushroom Group issued a best-of compilation compiling the history of Bailterspace. Though put together and designed by the band themselves and contains many classic character-defining Bailterspace songs, the compilation skimps on any band info or details along with some of the more direct and obvious compilation choices, leaving their albums (particularly Tanker and Wammo) much better starting points for the band.

After a lengthy hiatus whilst the members were living in various cities in New Zealand and the United States, Bailterspace re-emerged in 2012 with new recordings on the Arch Hill label – previewing tracks on-line before the new albums eventual release in August 2012 – some 14 years since Solar.3 was released!

Discography (picks in bold)

  • Nelsh Bailter Space EP [1987 Flying Nun Fn094]
  • ‘New Man’/’In A City Wardrobe’ 7″ Single [1987 Flying Nun Fn096]
  • ‘Grader Spader’/’The Escalator Song’/’N.B.S.’ 12″ Single [1988 Flying Nun Fn106]
  • Tanker [1988 Flying Nun Fn107 / Fne31]
  • Thermos [1990 Flying Nun Fn142 / Fne32]
  • The Aim Ep [1992 Flying Nun / Clawfist Fn232]
  • ‘Shine’/’Unseen’ 7″ Single [1992 Clawfist]
  • Robot World [1993 Flying Nun Fn259]
  • B.E.I.P. EP [1993 Flying Nun Fn284]
  • Vortura [1994 Flying Nun / Matador Fn295]
  • Splat EP [1995 Flying Nun]
  • Retro CD Single [1995 Flying Nun]
  • Wammo [1995 Flying Nun / Matador]
  • Capsule [1997 Turnbuckle]
  • Capsule 7″ Single [1997 Turnbuckle]
  • Solar.3 [1998 Turnbuckle]
  • Photon EP [1998 Turnbuckle]
  • Bailterspace Compilation [2004 Flying Nun]
  • Strobosphere [2012 Arch Hill]

See-Also

Christchurch in the 80s [By David Swift]

The Christchurch scene of 1980-82 is pretty legendary, and rightly so. This was most fertile period of rock’n’roll in the city since the beat-boom days of Chants RnB circa 1966.
There were some very good Christchurch punk bands (notably the Vauxhalls) in 1978/79 and a picky audience of 200 or so original-school three-chords hipsters, but it was only as the punk phenomenon flowered into postpunk that the number and quality of bands blossomed.

Think of it as the difference between The Enemy and Toy Love. It was cooler to say you had seen The Enemy in a small crowd, but Toy Love were a better band packing out 800-capacity bars.
Christchurch was second to Auckland in 1980 for the passion of its punk/new wave crowds. Toy Love, the Swingers, the Features would travel down and regularly pull 500-800 people at the DB Gladstone or the Hillsborough Tavern. Occasionally the Aranui Tavern on Brighton road [edit: Pages Road, on the way to Brighton – eventually became a family restaurant and is as of this writing a backpackers pub] would also host these kind of bands.

The primo local groups in 1980-1982 were the Pin Group (because leader Roy Montgomery – now a lo-fi legend in the USA – was an essential cog in the city’s cool – he was manager of the EMI shop on Colombo St that was totally given over to NME-approved sounds….the company wasn’t that keen, but it was just about the most profitable EMI shop in NZ as a result), The Gordons, The Newtones, The Androidss, Scorched Earth Policy, Victor Dimisich Band, The Playthings, Kaza Portico / The Builders (Bill Direen’s bands), The Volkswagens, 25c, Yeah, Mainly Spaniards were a bit popular too. I may have missed a few out….(at the same time there were kids in punk covers bands, pub rock bands, etc). But the above names were the central musical identities in a community fired by the Velvets/Stooges/Jonathan Richman/1960s USA Garage Punk/Pere Ubu/Wire – yet compelled to make their own music.

Roger began Flying Nun in early 1981 (i was the first journalist to write about the label, in the Press) because it seemed to him that if no one recorded these groups they would be lost to history.

At the same time, bands from Dunedin began forays to Christchurch where they knew that their original music would go down well with a knowing crowd that held no truck with punk covers bands. The Clean’s first big gigs were at the Gladstone and their reputation sprang from there by word of mouth. Roger was so blown away by them he instantly marked them down for a 45 – Tally Ho.
The Verlaines, The Stones, The Chills and Sneaky Feelings also ploughed that furrow. At the time no one in Christchurch was in thrall to any ‘Dunedin scene’; in fact there wasn’t one as such. As far as we knew, there was just a few really good bands down there who had been blown away by The Enemy /Toy Love and wanted to make their own contribution. And to have it recognised in Christchurch as there wasn’t enough support for their originality down there.

Some ChCh bands quickly carved out a reputation in Auckland too. The Gordons are probably the best example. I saw their first ever gig at the Hillsborough Tavern in early 1980 (supporting Toy Love, or was it the Swingers, can’t recall exactly) and they had only been together a week and only had five songs but played them twice to rapturous acclaim from 600 people.
The Gordons did it different – offering a discordant wall-of-noise with some melodies years before Sonic Youth. Years later, in fact, SY professed huge admiration for the three, two of whom i went to school with at Ashburton College. I remember the Gordons doing three sell-out nights at the Gladstone in 1983 and just being excited at the sheer size of the Marshall stacks they had shoehorned onto and around the stage in that tiny pub. It was incredible the passions that a local band playing original music inspired – one of the great legacies of punk.

At the other end of the scale, Bill Direen was a huge talent, playing the rawest nuggets flavours in his bands The Vacuum / Kaza Portico / The Bilders yet he never made any commercial headway. The Bilders’ Schwimmin In Der See EP (Flying Nun 1982) remains one of the label’s very best discs and the retrospective ‘Max Quitz Vol 1’ (1994 Flying Nun CD) is pretty essential to understand all that was good about garden city garage rock in the early 1980s.

In january 1986 i made my first trip back home after 18 months in the UK and was delighted to see that Sneaky Feelings were to play the Gladstone on a saturday night while i was home. But unlike four years earlier, the pub wasn’t full and i only knew three people in there. Sneakies were still great, but that was the end of the era for me.

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

The Pin Group

The birth of Roy Montgomery as a creative force (at least in terms of recorded groups), the Pin Group were a discordant cog that wouldn’t fit in the Christchurch scene of the early 80s. Recording the very first Flying Nun release single, ‘Ambivalence/Columbia’ – an agitating and badly recorded epitome to post-punk heroes Joy Division – with 2 fine songs struggling to make their way through the murk of the ultra-lo-fi recording.

The group originally formed as ‘Compulsory Fun’ with Montgomery on Guitar, Ross Humphries on Vocals, Tony Green on Drums and Dave McKenzie on Bass. When McKenzie departed the group became ‘Murder Strikes Pink’, with Humphries switching to Bass and Paul Champion filling the vacant vocalist slot. Neither of these line-ups lasted particularly long though on the group ‘went in to recess’ when Champion left the group. Montgomery then started collaborating with local Christchurch poet Desmond Brice, with Brice initially playing bass as well as supplying some of the Pin Groups early lyrics – before the classic line-up took shape.

The band were nicknamed Roy Division for their like of dark moody music a la Joy Division. Singer Roy worked in Christchurch’s main record store – EMI, and the shop was notoriously vandalized overnight with the words Roy Division spray-painted across the shop front, apparently not the work of the band and greatly embarrassing Montgomery
– Rob Mayes

Since disbanding in mid 1981, they’ve become more well known for their history than their music, which is a shame as the 3-piece of Montgomery (guitar – later of the Shallows, Dadamah, Dissolve, Torlesse Supergroup), Ross Humphries (bass – Great Unwashed, and a short stint in Bailter Space) and Peter ‘Buck’ Stapleton (drums – Scorched Earth Policy, the Terminals, A Handful of Dust et all) released some truly eclectic, original and most of all harrowing rock. Thankfully the long overdue retrospective released on Siltbreeze in 1998 provides everyone the chance to discover one of New Zealand’s most under-rated bands, and in much more accommodating (and audible) form.

The band presented a pretty gloomy image live with the members dressing predominantly in black, Montgomery playing guitar in black gloves with the fingers cut off. For all that most of their songs are far from gloom laden, being mostly melodic riff based music. The band have the distinction of having the first release on Flying Nun records, a 7″ single with black labels, and a matte black on gloss black cover, no track listings, no band name. Another 7″ followed, then an ep and later on a regroup and another recording. ‘Low Rider’ (a cover of US-group War’s classic single) was taken from a live recording of one of only about 8 performances, this one at the Gladstone
– Rob Mayes

Discography (picks in bold)

  • ‘Ambivalence’/’Columbia’ 7″ Single [1981 FlyingNun FN001]
  • ‘Coat (“Stalking Slowly”)’/’Jim (“Even Though, Scrape Scratch”)’ 7″ Single [1981 Flying Nun FN003]
  • Go To Town 12″ EP [1982 Flying Nun FN1967]
  • Retrospective [1998 Siltbreeze SB-68]

See-Also