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, Vapor and the Trails and Stanley Wrench and the Monkey Brothers and were notable groups who played regularly in the late 1970’s. 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.

The Palace Of Wisdom

Biography

The Palace of Wisdom originated in 1999 when well established Christchurch rock’n’roller Ben Johnstone (Guitar/Backing Vocals – Hi-Tone Destroyers, The Incisions) got together with intimidating vocalist Andrew ‘Ox’ O’Connell, adding hooky guitar riffs to O’Connell’s hurricane force vocals. The resulting recording was released as part of the No Thanks To New Zealand On Air compilation in 2000. Matt Alien (Hi-Tone Destroyers, Black Panthers, Space Dust, Slavetrader) joined on drums, with the line-up complete by English bassist Ian Lloyd.

With Lloyd’s departure in late 2000, ALC5 (yet another Hi-Tone Destroyers member) joined the group on Bass, however after a year with the group he was also replaced, this time by the legendary Mick Elborado (Scorched Earth Policy, The Terminals, Gas, The Axemen, Drowning Is Easy etc), who became a mainstay in the group and is responsible for the bands huge, over-driven bass sound on the excellent Pills EP.

The group then started to rotated through a number of drummers with Nick Harte (The Incisions, Shocking Pinks, Black Albino, CM Ensemble, The Urinators) in February 2002, Tim MacDonald (The Incisions, Shocking Pinks) in March 2003, Simon Nunn (Steffan Van Soest Hit-Machine, The Undercurrents, Kate in the Lemon Tree, Weaponized, Hi-Tone Destroyers etc) in December 2003, and then Chris Andrews (a million lights, Mysterioball, Idols of Eve, Pop Hits City, O’Lovely) in November 2004.

This line-up was the longest of the group, though recordings from this era (which lasted almost 4 years) are limited to Stuck In The Suck. After a disastrous recording session at Christchurch’s MAINZ, and other internal issues – Mick Elborado left the group. Jared Kelly (The Pickups, Blue Moon) then joined in May 2008, with Andrews and Kelly switching instruments after their first practice.

2008 was a particularly important year for the group, recording the Common Threads EP with the lineup of O’Connell (Vocals), Johnstone (Guitar), Andrews (Bass) And Kelly (Drums) Before Stink Magnetic‘s Aiden Moody (Bad Evil, Grand Chancellors) joined as a 2nd guitarist, moving down from Palmerston North. This was an important change for the group as in late 2009 founding guitarist Ben Johnstone left to raise a family in Canada, and Moody took over his lead guitar duties.

Both Kelly and Andrews left for other towns in 2010, however Ox enlisted the help of drummer Michael Summerfield (The Undercurrents, Cowboy Machine), before Andrews rejoined in early 2011 on bass guitar. The group played the very last show at historic Lyttelton venue El Santo Porteno, just 2 days before the February 2011 earthquake. This disrupted the progress the group had been making, with guitarist Moody moving on to form surf group The Grand Chancellors.

The group resurfaced in early 2012 with Jared Kelly once again playing drums (replacing a departing Summerfield), with John Harris (Lonely Harris Club, Doctors, BnP) quickly establishing himself as their latest guitarist. Summerfield would eventually find himself back in the group after a hilarious stage moment at the (now bull-dozed) New Brighton Tavern which saw Kelly replaced mid-set by multi-instrumentalist Rhett Copland, and this line-up played quite a few shows over the next couple years.

Which Palace’s recorded output completely stagnant Ox formed a new group with guitarist Dave Branton named The Ruling Elite, which eventually picked up Andrews (switching to 2nd guitar). Eventually both groups began utilizing talented free-form drummer Rory ‘IRD’ Dalley – with the new group quickly writing and recording a whole swag of new recorded output, whilst Palace remains a tight live-act-only type of group.

Over the course of the last 15 years the group has played a string of high-profile support slots, including The Chills, The Datsuns and of particular note – US group Dead Moon, who the group cover (‘Unknown Passage’) and are of particular importance to vocalist O’Connell with their never-say-die attitude to Rock’n’Roll. The Palace of Wisdom’s set is augmented by a number of re-interpreted covers, often quite removed from the originals, or obscure in their origin – this includes The Great Unwashed‘s ‘Born in the Wrong Time’ (as ‘Sending Him Away’), and Joy Division’s ‘Sound of Music’.

 

Members

  • Andrew ‘Ox’ O’Connell (Vocals, 1999-)
  • Ben Johnstone (Guitar, 1999-2009)
  • Matt ‘Alien’ Johnstone (Guitar, 1999-2002)
  • Ian Lloyd (Bass, 1999)
  • Alan ‘ALC5’ Cameron (Bass, 2000-2001)
  • Mick Elborado (Bass, 2001-2007)
  • Nick ‘Harte’ Hodgson (Drums, 2002-2003)
  • Tim MacDonald (Drums, 2003)
  • Simon Nunn (Drums, 2003-2004)
  • Chris Andrews (Drums/Bass, 2004-2010, 2011-)
  • Jared Kelly (Bass/Drums, 2008-2010, 2012)
  • Rhett Copland (Drums, 2012)
  • Aiden Moody (Guitar, 2008-2010)
  • Michael Summerfield (Drums, 2010-2012)
  • John Harris (Guitar, 2010-)
  • Rory Dalley (Drums, 2015-)

Discography

  • The ‘P’ EP [2001 Self-Released]
  • Candy Pants [2002 Self-Released]
  • Pills EP [2003 Self-Released]
  • Stuck In The Suck [2006 Self-Released]
  • Burnside EP [2008 Self-Released]
  • Common Threads EP [2009 Self-Released]

    Links

  • MySpace
  • BandCamp
  • Facebook
  • LastFM
  • Photo’s on Flickr

Vacuum Blue Ladder

The Vacuum Blue Ladder formed when Bill Direen joined Stephen Cogle (Bass / Vocals) and Peter Stapleton (Drums / Lyrics), who were also making music as the duo Victor Dimisich Band – a group that would later release an EP on Flying Nun, and can be seen as the starting point for the more recognized Terminals, plus Stapleton and Cogle’s many variations. However – the Vacuum were quite different from these future groups, as Direen was an important creative force in the group who added his own color to their sound and songwriting.

The members took advantage of their connections to the album importing business, encompassing inspiration from the most obscure (in New Zealand’s mid 70s environment) corners with the likes of the Velvet Underground and West Coast U.S. psychedalic artists the 13th Floor Elevators (along with the staple Nuggets bands)… the very best in gritty, noisy and creative garage rock.

Like before we were in Vacuum we had a backyard band sort of thing. We used to play in this room down the back of my parents’ house. A woman called Theresa played guitar with us and we wrote songs. The ones we did with the Vacuum, most of the songs were written by Bill, which was a source of conflict eventually, and so we took our songs and did them with the Victor Dimisich Band
Peter Stapleton

Guitarist / Vocalist Theresa Mcquire joined and left in 1976, making way for Direen to front the band, and soon Peter Fryer had joined on violin. The combination of Direen and guitarist Allen Meek created a rift in the band, with Cogle and Stapleton restricted to the side-lines.

…They got pretty close. Peter and I would come along (to practise), and Bill and Allen would’ve spent a long time working things out. In the end, it sort of goes, that I got fired, by Bill. ‘Cause I didn’t mix with him. I remember.. Peter meeting me over the christmas period, we sort of had a christmas break, and he said oh, Bill wants me to tell you that you’re out (laughs). And I said oh, that’s fine, it suited me. And I was replaced by Segovia
Stephen Cogle: taken from Have You Checked The Children?

Jon ‘Segovia’ Markie (soon to make his name with the Axemen and later Shaft) joined Direen, Meek and drummer Malcolm Grant (the Bats) on bass to complete the final line-up of the Vacuum in 1979. The band eventually dissolved in the very early 1980s, but resurfaced with the short-lived Kaza Portico – Segovia in the mostly-covers outfit the Volkswagons, and later in Ritchie Venus‘s Blue Beetles.

Direen eventually took the shortened Vacuum as the name for his theater group, and continues to write, act and perform to this day.

Discography (picks in bold)

See-Also