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From Capture to PriMau

Shameless self promotion, confesses former Gisborne musician Maurice Priestley in his email about recording The Spines in his PriMau Production studio.

Priestley is now based in Wellington, which is where he has worked for the past 15 months with The Spines to record ten of band founder Jon McLeary’s songs.

“Back in 1984, I had the privilege of engineering The Spines LP, The Moon, at Capture Recording Studio in Gisborne, when the line-up consisted of Jon, Neill Duncan, Ross Burge and Wendy Calder,” says Priestley.”

Duncan was living in and around Gisborne in the 1979- 80 period and was hanging out with local musicians Jon Benson, Peter Stewart, and others while he sharpened up his saxophone skills, says Priestley.

“He moved to Wellington and hooked up with the burgeoning experimental jazz movement, including the Primitive Art Group, which he loaded onto a railcar and recorded a double album Five Tread Dropdown at Capture with me in 1984.

“Later that year, he returned with The Spines to record The Moon, and again in 1985 with the Primitive Art Group to record Future Jawclap.”

The Spines weathered apathy, incomprehension and fluctuating line-ups to produce a solid body of idiosyncratic and occasionally brilliant work, writes Gary Steel of the band’s 1981- 1987 period.

“The Spines went through a period of inactivity after Idiot Sun, but a new version featuring the group’s former sax man Neill Duncan as drummer emerged in the early 1990s, and it was this unit that recorded the album A Snakelike Life.”

The album was never released — but Dreamboat, recorded in Priestley’s studio was.

The album has a warm, lo-fi sound that gives McLeary’s songs the breathing space they deserve, writes reviewer Simon Sweetman.

“The new album by the Spines is the best the band has sounded in the studio, certainly since the very early days of the band (about 40 years ago now). Dreamboat follows on, nearly two and a half years after Epidural — an excellent set of songs too, but Dreamboat features the production skills of Maurice Priestley.”

Priestley also features in the recording.

“The current project began with Jon singing and playing the songs on an acoustic guitar and adding the other instrumentation and vocals by current Spines, Jon, Hannah Fraser, Les Knight and Malkie Taylor, and augmented with performances by Lisa Tomlins, Louise Loft, Riki Gooch and myself.”

The Spines formed in 1981 and always seemed either two steps ahead, or several steps sideways, of any scene or specific style, says Steel.

No slouch on the music, theatre and visual arts front, McLeary found he had to raise his game when joined by some serious musicians that made up The Spines.

After a haphazard trajectory, the group’s final fling for many years was commissioned by Flying Nun in 1986.

Idiot Sun is a great record even though McLeary still smarts about the lack of promotion or recognition it was accorded, says Steel.

“But Ross Burge, Wendy Calder and (particularly) sax player Neill Duncan (formerly of the Primitive Art Band), are real musicians’ musicians, and the album, although clearly a singer-songwriter rock hybrid, is at times dazzlingly complex in its constructions — something more akin to jazz than strummy rock-folk.”

The Spines released Epidural in 2017 and now, out of PriMau Production studio, comes the shameless self-promotion and Dreamboat.

Dreamboat is available on Spotify, iTunes/Apple Music and other digital services.

CAPTURING A MOMENT IN TIME: Maurice Priestley (left), former Gisborne musician, and founder of Gisborne’s Capture Recording Studio, and The Spines’ founder Jon McLeary take a break from recording The Spines’ most recent album at Priestley’s PriMau Production studio in Wellington. Picture by Jenny O’Connor
Picture supplied