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Category: Progressive Music Lounges
Forum Name: Interviews
Forum Description: Original interviews with Prog artists (which are exclusive to Prog Archives)
URL: http://www.progarchives.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=71669 Printed Date: March 29 2017 at 21:48 Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 11.01 - http://www.webwizforums.com
Topic: PtarmiganPosted By: toroddfuglesteg
Date Posted: September 26 2010 at 10:55
Ptarmigan was formed in 1970 when Michael Bieling introduced guitarist James Lithgow to vocalist / recorder player, Glen Dias. They began writing songs with Bieling accompanying on congas & soon added Dennis Lelonde on alto sax, piano & vocals; Monte Nordstrom on 12 string guitar & vocals with a second percussionist, Shawn Mullins. The sextet performed on Vancouver lsland & eventually came to the attention of the renowned flautist Paul Horn who had moved to Victoria, BC to escape the rigours of life in Los Angeles. He was impressed with the group's unorthodox style & encouraged the band to stay in touch. When the group fragmented with Lithgow & Bieling departing Peter Wheeler, an American percussionist, joined the band.
The first stop was Winnipeg & their first dates at the Ting Tea Room. They began writing new material immediately, developing harmony structures & establishing their eerie west coast sound.
The result was one highly regarded album. I got in touch with Monte Nordstrom for the Ptarmigan story.
When, where and by whom was Ptarmigan
The original lineup of
Ptarmigan began at Cowichan High School in Duncan on Vancouver Island in mid-1970. It consisted of James Lithgow, Glen Dias, Mike Bieling, Dennis
Lelonde, Shawn Mullins & myself, Monte
Why did you
choose that name ?
We were looking for distinctive band names in a book
about Canadian Birds & liked the sound of Ptarmigan. Unfortunately the
misleading silent P became a problem for people trying to order & locate the
Lp in record stores. It was also hard to pronounce if
you did not know the name...
What is your
musical background and were you involved in any other bands before you started
I started playing electric guitar & interacting with other
players in various RnR & psychelic garage bands in the late 60s along with
Shawn Mullins who was my neighbour out in the countryside near the town of
Duncan. I acquired an acoustic 12 string guitar in 1968 & started
writing songs right away, (starting with "The Waiting: Suite" which finally
appeared on my CD release "After All" in 2004 -along with some other
material Ptarmigan performed but did not record). In 1970 I joined the newly
formed Ptarmigan & carried on from there.
Which bands were you influenced by ?
influences were Vancouver bands, the Collectors, My Indole Ring
& Mother Tucker's Yellow Duck. Steppenwolf, the Doors & Quicksilver
Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane & the Grateful Dead were
other influential west coast bands. Improvisation is something I have
always enjoyed & Ravi Shankar's sitar also affected my modal
stylings. I also was interested in classical, jazz & flamenco.
This is why I concentrated on using my right hand so much & became a part of
my style. Lenny Breau was a huge influence in approaching the guitar in a
balanced manner, much like a piano player. His big influence was pianist, Bill
Evans. Native American, Australian & African tribal chanting &
rhythms were inspiring & also seeped into my original work with
How did you get your record deal with Colombia
Paul Horn had seen the original 6 member line-up of Ptarmigan in a
talent contest in 1970 & was interested enough to say "stay in touch". After
the group turned into a duo & Glen Dias & myself had recorded a demo of
original work in Winnipeg we contacted him. He was interested enough to sign us
to management, publishing & producing contracts. The Ptarmigan album was
recorded on speculation. We started recording in the fall of 1972 with
studio musician's from Paul's band. We wrapped recording the
album up in mid-1973. Paul shopped the album around for a few months until he
leased it to Columbia of Canada & the LP was issued in
How was your
writing and creative processes ?
I had a collection of
instrumentals with some lyrical ideas & my co-writer, Glen Dias
had a book of poetry & a good sense of melody. His Recorder playing
was very creative & my 12 string rhythms meshed well with it tonally. We
would experiment with ideas until things clicked. Then the composition would
take shape. Once it evolved to a performance state we would stick to the form in
concert as a duo. Much of our music was recorded while we toured across Canada,
playing in hippy Coffee House venues during the winter of 1971 to the summer of
Please give us your long or brief thoughts on your
only album Ptarmigan released in 1974.
The creation of the music & it's
recording were 2 different processes & both were very organic. The
compositions evolved as I described above & the arrangements with the studio
musicians were added to our recorded tracks with our direction & Paul's
intuitive production. The talented musicians who joined us, worked very hard to
follow what we described, which is an unusual way to achieve what we
you describe the music ?
Ptarmigan managed to convey a certain worldly
spirituality which seems timeless & unusual. It is satisfying to know that
so many people continue to find this recording & enjoy it's resonance.
Glen's unique album cover artwork has kept the visual aspect of the album
interesting enough for people to pick it up & look at it, which is the first
step to acquiring a copy.
This album was later re-released by yourself in
1999 on CD with two bonus tracks. Please tell us more about this re-release and
how you managed to get the copyrights from the big corporation Colombia
I contacted Paul Horn in the mid-90s when a Los Angeles
label Synphonic Records expressed an interest in a re-release. Paul told me to
contact the Toronto office of SONY CANADA who had taken over the Columbia
catalogue. Paul told me to try to get them to turn the tapes over to me for free
if possible since the record was so obscure. When I contacted SONY they said
they had the master tapes in their vault, but didn't know why, because they
belonged to the producer, Paul Horn!
I instructed them to send the tapes to Paul Horn in
Victoria & Paul then gave them to me. The deal with SynPhonic fell through
so I did a limited CDR re-release with a 16 page booklet, to recoup some of my
expenses, which included digital remastering in Victoria & a trip to
Progfest in LA. I included a couple of live tracks featuring my first
post-Ptarmigan band (& included Glen Dias guesting on percussion).
After a couple of years I was contacted by Vincent
Tornatore of the Lion Productions in Illinois. He offered to rerelease the
original recording from my digitally remastered source. There is talk of a vinyl
re-release depending on the US economy.
can this album be purchased from and how is it's distribution ?
This CD & others in my catalogue can be ordered by mail
order through http://www.montenordstrom.com%20 -
When did the Ptarmigan adventure end and what have
you and other members been up to since then ?
1975 Ptarmigan was finished. Our new bassist, David Aston had died in a
car accident & I was disillusioned with working with Glen, on-on-one
any longer. I went on to solo & band work recording a new self-produced
album every 2 or 3 years. Glen went on to a career in musical theatre
& eventually more band work in Ontario.
I guess the new internet scene has meant a new
interest in Ptarmigan and new generations is getting exposed to your band. What
is your view on this new internet driven music scene and have you got many new
It is fantastic that new people learn
about Ptarmigan & get exposed to other titles in my catalogue. I
continue to do original music & perform at special events. There will be new
music in the NEAR FUTURE as my long-time collaborator, Jeremy Sagar & I get
our new production facility up & running. I know my best work is yet to
come, so it is very exciting. Stay in touch through my website & mailto:[email protected] - to keep up on
To wrap up this interview, is there anything you
want to add to this interview ?
My website is rather out of date at the
moment but be patient, as it is due to be retooled soon, adding new
features & technology. Feel free to keep in touch in the mean time.
Thank you to Monte for this interview
Their PA profile is http://www.progarchives.com/artist.asp?id=1202 - and their homepage http://www.islandnet.com/monte -
Replies: Posted By: Sean Trane
Date Posted: September 26 2010 at 13:32