Saturday, September 26, 2015

Gary McCormick on Hello Sailor

After the Dominion Post and Christchurch Press published my column on Graham Brazier and Hello Sailor, broadcaster Gary McCormick contacted me. Gary knew the guys from Hello Sailor well and wanted to explain the band’s appeal. He submitted a letter to both papers but neither published it, so I’m happy to post it here.
Karl du Fresne, in his column about the amount of media attention given to the funeral of Hello Sailor’s Graham Brazier and prior to that, of Dave McArtney two years ago, raises some very good questions.
Why the media attention for the deaths of members of a rock band which Dave McArtney himself said failed at the critical moments?

They did not have the success that Dragon had in Australia and their trip to the US was a disaster. So why the outpouring of grief at both funerals at St Mathew’s Church and the substantial media interest?
Karl refers to the drug use which was big among New Zealand musicians at the time and asked, “What’s admirable about alcohol or drug addiction that wrecks people’s lives?”

Good question.
Hello Sailor’ s Gutter Black, written by Dave McArtney, was an anthem of defiance which struck a pose against the background of the rigid, conformist  New Zealand of the Muldoon years.

Blue Lady and I’m a Texan reinforced an exhilarating sense (to the rest of us living in small town New Zealand) that here was a band ….  that didn’t care ! From their boots to their loud Pacifica shirts, they were the spirit of summer.  They represented danger, Ponsonby-by-Night (at a time when any young person who had the opportunity would have lived there) and they were loved by women in the best rock band tradition.
Dragon and a few other bands had the same mana, but Hello Sailor seemed to be around more often and were more accessible to party-goers from Whangarei to Invercargill.

So, to answer Karl du Fresne’s question: Hello Sailor had the songs for Kiwi rockers that beautifully represented a time and a spirit . They personified and wrote about a  Ponsonby, Gisborne,  New Plymouth, Timaru and Invercargill  Kiwi-style “Summer of Love”!
The second reason for the public outpouring of grief was the individuals – Graham and Dave themselves.  Both flawed, Karl noted, as are we all.

Graham had the serious flaws – all born out of anxiety. Impossibly good-looking and in the early days, afraid to sing at all. He had an enormous talent as a songwriter – Billy Bold and Blue Lady – and a huge stage presence, but was riddled by doubt.
For someone of his vulnerability and personality type, drugs were the obvious solution (read Amy Winehouse.)

Graham’s excesses (and there were some spectacular public ones) were a part of the battle with himself. His friends completely understood that and helped time after time to clear up the collateral damage.
He had a lot of friends because if you had one relaxed funny conversation with Graham, the memory of it stays with you for a lifetime. He was a lovely, troubled guy.

Dave McArtney was Graham’s twin, in my opinion. He loved Graham and backed him. They were like two soldiers on patrol. It was a brand of loyalty and understanding that the All Blacks can only dream about!
Thus the media coverage of both “rock funerals” was not out of order. Paul Simon wrote a song in which he says “every generation throws a hero up the rock charts.”

Dave and Graham were ours.


Unknown said...

Well said Mr McCormick. And Karl, good on You and respect for publishing it when others wouldn't :)

Unknown said...

Karl's dominion post article, argued rather naively that Hello Sailor were a fairly marginal kiwi band, which failed to achieve international success, even in Australia, which Dragon managed and many other bands managed despite great excess and being drug riddled. Karl's view is that Hello Sailor were not really that talented. Not really, in most bands in which one or two musicians were druggies, most of the band were reasonably sober most of the time, and in many cases members who were sex addicts, ie Bill Wyman and Roger Daltery were not particularly into the bottle or needle. In the case of Jim Morrison, the first album, the Doors and the last LA Women, were recorded in the only two weeks of the last five years of Jimbos life, he was remotely sober. Sober Morrison and the band could record the songs, virtually live in one or two takes. When the Musics Over, was also taken in one straight 11 minute live take of Morrison singing straight onto the music tape.
Hello Sailor was really a Rolling Stones type band and no New Zealand band ever developed past that sort of blues pop based music, because this society was too soft, small and egalitarian to support the harder Australian rock style of the Divinyls or Hodo Guru or Nick Cave or any Punk or New Wave band. To succeed in rock after 1978 you had to have an ambivalent or criminal look which no New Zealand male with the possible exception of Paul Hewsons could do or get away with.
New Zealand's possibility of development was ended by Robert Muldoon and after that there was no way out of the cul de sac.