Peter Stapleton, 1981, with the Pin Group, Christchurch
Peter Stapleton (25 April 1954 – 22 March 2020) was an extraordinary artist whose life and work has left an indelible mark in the world of underground and adventurous music not just in his native New Zealand but throughout the world. He was at the center of an incredible number of groups including the Pin Group, Dadamah, the Victor Dimisich Band, The Terminals, Scorched Earth Policy, EYE and A Handful of Dust. Through his Metonymic label as well as the Lines of Flight Festival he fostered creativity and community in the international underground.
His friend and collaborator Bruce Russell here celebrates Peter's life and spirit...
Thinking you over… your gorgeous sentence done.
Bruce Russell… lockdown 2020
When I was a young person Peter Stapleton was an inspiration to me.
And still, when I listen to the Swell Maps, or the Velvet Underground, or Neu; I can remember why. It’s a drum thing.
Every band he was in was lifted by his poetic beat and his artistic passion, more than any technical virtuosity. Oh, he was good enough, but what he brought to any post-punk group was his conviction that what he did, what they did, what we did, mattered – mattered on a life or death, knife-in-the-throat sort of way; not because of pay (of which there was none), or making a flash of yourself, but because, like the Ramones,
he/we HAD TO do that -or else life was empty, void.
All time -in vain
not his. He worked it, doggedly, relentlessly.
And the driving, nail-you-to-the-floor rhythm. Not a lazy funky hip-swaying beat but -a white prole art-attack hammering -that grasped your heart in its waterside-working fist, its longshoreman’s grip… swinging the hook in the back of your head and picking you up, carrying you to greater heights; perhaps ecstasy, perhaps a filthy hangover, always with words Peter crafted to go with the music he was girding with his heart-hammering beat. Cogle-Stapleton: the watermark of a generation of great song-writers, the name on the back of music that was written just down the road and yet for us (for the first time) stood up with ‘proper music’ from ‘real places’.
‘And what will I miss?’: his turn of phrase, his look, his gentility …his faithfulness.
Peter Stapleton was a poet. A man who tirelessly supported the work of others. An enabler who helped realise the shared visions of us all, a true friend. His virtú consisted
not in achieving a goal set long before and circumscribed by rational calculation. No,
-he moved through life adjusting to experience, cutting his jib by new breezes blowing in from the long horizons, that filled his harbour in succession
-as life’s seasons swung. In sickness as in health.
Learning new tricks, changing gear,
that kept moving… but perhaps not as planned.
Now I am an old person Peter Stapleton is still an inspiration to me.
His path still runs in front of me,
though now he’s
-buried in memory’s mothlight
we will blow our best,
our wild sad riffs come easy in that case,
thinking you over,
knowing you resting, who was reborn to rest,
your gorgeous sentence done. Nothing’s the same,
sir, -taking cover.
John Berryman, Dream Song #39.
Peter Stapleton in one of his last performances, March 22, 2019, Lines of Flight Festival