Dave McCartney’s memoir arrives just a year after his passing. He had delivered the manuscript just a few weeks out from his ultimate deadline. And it’s a wonderful book – worth reading, worth having. There are times when McArtney’s prose recalls the way his guitar lines would wind around Harry Lyon’s in support of Graham Brazier’s voice. There’s an energy to his writing, it surges, it’s compelling. There’s commitment there. You get a sense of the music – and of what it was to be involved in this music, the lifestyle and the passion.
Hello Sailor was New Zealand’s great rock’n’roll band – for the music and the look, the style, the feel. They oozed a charisma and sleaze – in equal measures. They got what it was to be a rock star.
And so the majority of this book concerns itself with Hello Sailor’s American story; their attempt to crack the market there in the late 1970s – we get, first, the Auckland story, vibrant yarns, wonderful descriptions, you can almost see the colours. And then we get the protracted comedown, the constant stumbling, as the American Dream slips into a drug-haze for a bunch of young Kiwis without the infrastructure and business skills, without the ability to say no.
McArtney never quite gives the full story around the drug haze – and this is, of course, a shame. An ugly story – if it’s someone else’s – is always appealing. But he doesn’t hide from the appalling moments. He hints at the drug use, he takes us right into the booze and drug-focussed flat and the hopelessness of young kids just falling down and away from where they might hope to be.
After that we get précis sketches of The Pink Flamingos and the series of “one-offs” that formed the quarter-century of Hello Sailor after their initial bust-up. We get enough heart and soul of the man behind the yarns though, so that helps.
There are mistakes, the timeline gets a bit confused, a couple of dates are clearly way off – and all of this is due, no doubt, to McArtney rushing to complete his story. The second half of the book falls away, but the reminder of why it fell away remains a compelling reason to read. And the book is saved by the poignant coda from McArtney’s wife. She started off her life with the band as Brazier’s wife, so her unique perspective – her insight into both men – is an important part of the telling of this tale.
When Hello Sailor released what will now be its last album I was moved to write about their enduring rock-star ideal, their energy, the way they just seemed to fit the bill. When Dave McArtney died I felt like I’d lost a friend. Reading this book brought back a lot of those feelings. And more. There’s an important grittiness at the heart of this book – at the heart of the Sailor story. And like the band’s music and the way their career played out, this book isn’t perfect. But it’s also just right.
A cracking read for the most part. Certainly worth your time. And lovingly assembled and produced by HarperCollins to stand as tribute, as McArtney’s very last word.