Sad news just in – Graham Brazier has died. Here I was, just recently – and along with several others, wishing him well and hoping for a speedy recovery following the heart attack that postponed a planned Hello Sailor 40th Anniversary celebration.
Now there is no Hello Sailor.
It’s been a sad few years in the life of Brazier and the band. Bittersweet. For every celebration of just how powerful and potent the band was (songs soundtracking Outrageous Fortune and the recent prequel, Westside, acknowledgment of the band’s 40th anniversary, a more than decent final studio album) there was the heartbreak of Dave McArtney’s passing. And Brazier’s personal problems (health and a recent arrest).
I met Graham Brazier for the first and only time about four or five years ago. I was writing a book about New Zealand music. I was featuring Sailor’s song Gutter Black, a McArtney composition. But I went to meet Brazier, talk to him too – if for nothing else than the fact that this tremendously talented musician had played the sax solo on the recording. In recent years he was playing it on the harmonica but told me he’d be re-learning it, getting back up to speed; his hope was to play the saxophone live again.
When I met him he was not in good health. Drinking, early. And my guess was to cope with anything else. But he was this ramshackle king, his throne the seat in the centre of the second hand bookstore where he was raised. His subjects the books sprawled and falling off shelves, stacked in piles and cardboard boxes. He recommended a Clive James book of TV columns to me. I bought it. We talked about Clive James and Bukowski. He quoted Shakespeare and sang songs – he was particularly taken with a Todd Snider album and was interested in Richmond Fontaine. We listened to some Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan too. He raved about Jordan Luck and The Exponents, reminisced about The Legionnaires and Sailor’s early days.
My goodness that was a band. They had a strut and swagger we’ve hardly ever seen. McArtney and Braz were rock stars. Harry Lyon and Dave McArtney had mastered the snake-winding guitar lines; you almost didn’t know where a rhythm line ended and a solo started. They finished each other’s sentences; they never spoke at the same time, at least not to cancel one another out, more a case of reiterating, restating, rephrasing. They played back-up to one another, they were each other’s support.
Brazier, even in lesser health, was something to witness on the stage. I was moved to write at length about Hello Sailor when seeing them open for Dragon on that band’s 40th Anniversary tour. The Brazier I had seen, slow and almost lost, wasn’t there that night. At least not on that stage. He was heavier, older – that happens. But he was a goddamn rockstar. As soon as the first cymbal and opening chords hit – he was there. It could have been 1977 or 1985 or 1995 or any time in between. In 2012 Hello Sailor still felt vital. Fresh. Exciting.
Then there was the poetry-aspect of Brazier’s words, work and character.
I saw him perform solo a few times – that Billy Bold (a feature of Sailor sets too, so often) always and forever sent chills. Those first couple of solo albums (heck, the third one too for that matter) had great, great songs.
I don’t know that I ever thought about how Brazier might go out, I’m not sure anyone might have predicted a turnaround, a transformation, a “comeback”. But this has been a sad few years to wind-down. And it puts a full-stop to one of New Zealand’s greatest ever bands.
Thankfully we have the music, the art, the poetry, the stories.
I really can’t speak to the character of the man, it’s not my call. I met him once – had a phone-call with him first; he was keen to chat to me. From there we met up. He was nice to me and generous with his time and I sat fascinated. He was a rock star. We don’t have many. We’ve just lost one of the few we had.
I’ll miss him. I just liked knowing he was around. Wayward, flawed. He was one of the fucking best.
And we certainly lost him far too soon. Aged 63.
R.I.P. Graham Brazier
Postscript: I have no idea if the planned benefit concert will go ahead – now as tribute – but man that’ll be a helluva show and send-off if that’s the case.