Neill Duncan was the first musician I hooked up with when I came to Wellington. He was at the Art Centre when Louise and I started there and played some flute and sax with us. He was part of what seemed to be a large group of interconnected alternate jazz players that were just starting to form into a collective.
Negative Theatre played a gig with the New Deli Jazz Band in those early days and I remember to this day Ant Donaldson’s drum solo – he just blew me away.
A bunch of them formed the Primitive Art Group – Neill, Ant and David, his brother on bass, Stuart Porter and David Watson on guitar. They played a very free form of jazz – it was quite outside of anything I was interested in musically but they did leave a mark on me in many ways. They didn’t seem to care who liked what they were doing, they were a big extended family with their own visual art look that was funky and cool and they got things done between them – Braille Records. Around this time too I met David Long who was playing guitar with the Tin Syndrome – I jammed with them a few times before I formed the Spines.
Caroline and Rob, our original rhythm section had those jazz roots too though more traditional and Neill was part of the band on and off so I was always fighting them off with my weird post-punk/ska/pop/rock songs.
By the time the Primitive Art group morphed into the 6 Volts, Ross and Wendy had left the Spines for a time and I recorded Act Your Age solo and I was flatting with David Watson on Cuba Street. I missed having a band and I formed a short-lived group with Neill, Ant and Dave, named the Death Commandoes after one of my songs. We played a couple of gigs doing the strange time signature material I was writing at the time.
When Wendy and Ross came back that way of writing continued and we went into a funkier/jazzier direction for the next two albums.
In the nineties when Neil took over on drums we would practice at the famous Arthur Street rehearsal space. The collective had become a multitude of various bands and line-ups by this stage – Family Mallet, the Thrashing Marlins and Ant was involved in most of them. When Neill left the Spines he took over as our drummer for a couple of years and he was fantastic at rock drumming – something he told me he always wanted to have a go at.
I really enjoyed that Spines line-up with Ant on drums, Andy Craig on bass and me finally cutting loose on lead guitar. We played a few venues around town mainly at the old Bodega and developed a unique sound – with Ant adding effects as well as his poly-rhythms.
Almost all of that group of strange jazz buffs has gone on to do great things musically. They have been a huge part of the Wellington music scene ever since I got here and are still going strong – their influence can be felt in a lot of the younger bands around town.