In 1972 Dave McArtney and I were both Auckland University students, flatting together in Parnell with dreams of starting a rock’n’roll band. I was playing most weekends in a covers band and we would often arrive home ‘after the pub’ at about the same time. One night he said he’d met this guy Graham Brazier who had some pretty cool songs, and played me what he could remember of what turned out to be 'Bush By Where You Live'.
When Hello Sailor started playing regularly in 1975, we had a regular Monday night gig at the Kiwi Tavern over the road from the university, with an acoustic line-up that included Dave, Graham and me, plus Cushla Foley on vocals and Richard McAuley on mandolin, harmonica, and slide guitar.
'Bush' was an early band and audience favourite, but became largely forgotten until we recorded and included it on The Album, released in 1995. It speaks well of the quality of Graham’s songwriting, that something he wrote in his late teens was comfortable company with other gems from him and Dave on that record, like 'New Tattoo' and 'Never Fade Away' — by then the product of 20 years of writing, recording and performing experience.
From the outset, the aesthetic for Hello Sailor was based on images of bohemian decadence in post-colonial 'British West Ponsonby'. It reflected who we and our friends were; a bunch of young university dropouts, aspiring writers, painters, poets, or musicians. The name of the band fitted perfectly, lending itself to everything from Hawaiian shirts and sailor’s stripes to lounge lizard ‘bodgie’ gear, and from palm trees, the sea and sunsets to back streets and the nightlife. Songs like 'Gutter Black', 'Blue Lady', 'Lyin' in the Sand' and 'Watch Your Back' from the first album reflect this, and the imagery is common through much of our songwriting since.
In May this year I played at a gig to promote the release of Graham’s posthumous (and highly recommended) album Left Turn at Midnite with ‘the remnants’ of the band, Rick Ball, Paul Woolright and Stuart Pearce. The day featured a stellar line-up of musicians wanting to pay tribute to Graham and his songs. A capacity crowd was treated to hours of loving renditions of his music that demonstrated its length and breadth. Songs as diverse as his classic ballads like 'East of Eden' and 'Billy Bold', bad boy leather rockers like 'Blackpool', 'Juan Pacenta' and 'No Mystery', and classics like 'Blue Lady', 'New Tattoo' and 'Latin Lover'. He truly was a giant of the local music scene and would have been absolutely chuffed by the gig, and to see Left Turn at Midnite sitting at number one on the Kiwi music chart.
Of course, any band’s musical ship is only as powerful as its engine room, and Hello Sailor has been blessed with amazing rhythm sections. Most of the time Rick (Rock) Ball has occupied the drum throne, but we started with Graeme Turner, Gordon Joll featured on The Album and live shows in the mid 90s, Steve Clarkson has filled in, and Josh Sorenson played on the acoustic record When Your Lights are Out and toured with the band. Tony McMaster, Andy McDonald, Lisle Kinney, Neil Hannan, Tony Lumsden and latterly Paul Woolright have all featured on bass. The various combinations of these great players along with Stuart Pearce on keys helped give Hello Sailor its distinctive sound, and compelling groove. Magic!
The two years since Graham’s passing and four years for Dave have flown by, but I still feel their loss keenly. Fortunately, we all have their musical legacy to remind us of them, and I encounter that regularly in songs on the radio or in the aisles of the supermarket and video clips that surface online.
Last week I delivered a class that traced my music career, and of course most of that featured Hello Sailor. Playing recordings for the students reminded me of how blessed I’ve been to play in a band with Graham’s gorgeous voice at its centre, plus Dave’s distinctive vocal, and guitar yin to my yang. Bless them both.
- A founder member of Hello Sailor, Harry Lyon spent seven years as Dean of the Music and Audio Institute of New Zealand, before releasing his first solo album To the Sea in 2018.