But back in the day they were primarily known for their live gigs, rockin’ the nation, one pub at a time. They have spent more time apart than together.
The maths is not unlike the old quote from Charlie Watts about the Stones being together 25 years – “Five years on stage and 20 years waiting to go on stage."
The years when Sailor ruled the local scene were only five in total. They got started in 1975; they released two fine albums Hello Sailor (1977) and Pacifica Amour (1978); they unsuccessfully invaded Los Angeles (1978); they returned to NZ to rock the nation; they reluctantly invaded Australia (1979); they returned to NZ to rock the nation (ie. pay bills) and say goodbye (1980). At the time I thought splitting was a very silly thing to do and likely to be a temporary situation. I found it too easy to resent their solo projects (with the exception Inside Out, the 1981 solo debut of Graham Brazier), as they were not Hello Sailor records.
When Rip It Up started in 1977, Sailor were new to me, but there were other new kids on the block. Punks had arrived and although Sailor were yet to release their debut album, they became the target to be toppled. Sailor had also inspired wannabe Hello Sailors, for example, Th’ Dudes.
Sailor had been influenced by US punk (Iggy, Velvets), while the young punks got their recipe out of England’s NME cookbook.
When original Rip It Up editor Alastair Dougal said we should put Sailor on the cover of the third issue (August 1977), I queried whether a band playing the tiny Globe Tavern warranted a cover? They got it. A writer recently confused Sailor with Shakespeare, claiming that the band used to play the Globe Theatre.
Punks targeting Sailor was a little weird because Sailor had been influenced by US punk (Iggy, Velvets), while the young punks got their recipe out of England’s NME cookbook. Live Hello Sailor tore the house down with 'White Light/White Heat'.
When Dave McArtney died on April 15, 2013, one former-1977-punk Buster Stiggs (Suburban Reptiles, The Swingers) commented on those times: “The old wave vs new wave thing was just a way to get publicity. I did a radio interview in Wellington with Graham, Harry and Dave where we totally slagged each other. Graham referred to us as ‘The Suburban Roof Tiles’. I renamed them ‘Goodbye Sailor’. After the interview we had a good laugh and partied on hard. ‘No one could play Iggy Pop's ‘Nightclubbing’ like the boys did.”
I asked their manager, and co-founder of Radio Hauraki, David Gapes, about the band’s rise to fame for Real Groove magazine (2001) and whether his station broke Hello Sailor. “No, I think they broke through on the University live circuit. When I took over they were just starting to gear up for the 1977 Rum and Coca-Cola tour and I went on the road with them. They were so hugely popular and everywhere they played there were queues, some queues going around the block.”
“Never before or since have I seen myself as a band manager,” said Gapes. “It’s just that there was a special magic with Hello Sailor.”
The band and their manager headed for Los Angeles where they opened for the Knack, had the Doors’ Ray Manzarek play on stage with them and had too much fun.
After recording Pacifica Amour in 1978, the band and their manager headed for Los Angeles where they opened for the Knack (who got a record deal), had the Doors’ Ray Manzarek play on stage with them and had too much fun.
As the money ran out, David Gapes was fired in Los Angeles and the band went with Phillip Mills as manager. They returned to New Zealand and then headed for Australia, a plan that Gapes opposed. “I was never big on trying to tackle Australia because I just thought it was a bigger version of New Zealand. I thought we were looking for something considerably bigger than that. The whole reason for going to America was to get a record deal.”
When I asked Hello Sailor in 2012 about whether they had regrets, Dave replied, "I wonder what would have happened if we'd stayed in Los Angeles.”
Harry concurred, "We needed to tough it out in Los Angeles for years, not months. In LA signing acts was a seasonal thing, the season ended and we were not one of the six or so acts picked up by the majors, which was the game we were playing."
I had waited 30 years to ask the obvious question. Why split? Was it to get out of they Key label record deal?
"No,” replied Harry. “When we called it a day, it had been five years. We were sick of it, sick of each other. We had been living in the same car in Australia."
I suggested that LA should have inspired an album. "Writing was slow,” Dave responded. “We were having a lot of fun, playing and living the dream in Los Angeles. I don't think I wrote a decent song while I was there."
A six-track mini-LP of hits, Last Chance To Dance, was issued by Key in 1982 and sold well enough to see it chart several times, with gold certification.
Solo projects by the various members in the early 1980s (Dave McArtney's Pink Flamingos, Harry Lyon's Coup D'Etat and Graham Brazier's Legionnaires) were all successful but by the end of 1985 all found themselves in The Legionnaires and the inevitable happened – Hello Sailor reformed.
With Lisle Kinney appearing on only one track, Shipshape and Bristol Fashion (Zulu Records, 1986) was inappropriately recorded by a hep UK producer, Liam Henshall, in search of a "now" sound as part of Harlequin Studios Spiniflex project to record 2 albums each by 3 acts for the US market (the others were The Dance Exponents and Roy Phillips). The album largely misfired but contained at least two classics: 'You (Bring Out The Worst In Me)', and 'Fugitive For Love'.
Although far apart, there is nothing shabby about the band’s later recordings – The Album (1994) and Surrey Crescent Moon (2012). The former gave us two strong additions to the Hello Sailor canon, ‘New Tattoo’ and ‘Never Fade Away’, while the latter album is yet to receive the recognition it deserves. A live-in-the-studio album, the Ben King produced When Your Lights Are Out, revisited many solo and group highpoints, was critically well received and charted in 2006.
In 1996 a double CD compilation, The Sailor Story 1975-1996, was compiled by the band.
For my 2012 interview, Dave recounted a lengthy story that starts with Keith Richard's house burning down. Upon its conclusion, Harry quipped, "That's almost a really good story." Deadpan, Dave replied, "Hello Sailor … is almost a really good story."
Hello Sailor were inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame in 2011. Dave McArtney died on 15 April 2013; Graham Brazier passed away 4 September 2015.
In 1975 in Hotlicks magazine (No.19) Hello Sailor were described as – “Vamp rock, not to be confused with camp rock".
Hello Sailor’s early (circa 1975) on stage gimmick was to share their stage with ornamental antiques, such as chrome deco lampshades, pot plants and furniture provided by Peter Rogers of 20th Century Antiques of Ponsonby Road.