I was chatting with a friend over breakfast when Hello Sailor's 'Gutter Black' came on the radio. (Seems it's being used for a new local TV series, so there'll be a few well-deserved royalties going Dave McArtney's way.) My friend commented that he'd never heard the song before, which seemed incredible to me; that song, I said, was what turned me on to music!
It's true. As a kid growing up there was no music in the house aside from the dross of early seventies government TV and radio -- and I'm sure many of you remember how bad that was -- so aside from the theme to 'The Thunderbirds,' music to me was just so much bland foreign territory with about as much interest as a week's holiday in Taihape. Until one day when we were sitting in the car outside the Westfield freezing works -- I can remember the moment IT happened, you see -- and THIS SOUND came on the radio.
"What's that?!" I said to my sister who was sitting fiddling with the car radio. "Turn it up!" I'd never heard anything like it. It was 'Gutter Black' in all its clever, punchy, pithy glory. If that was music, I wanted more.
I saved up my Newspaper-round money and bought the first Hello Sailor album, and I played it every afternoon for a year. After that copy wore out, I bought another one and played that every afternoon for another year. I was in love with music, and Hello Sailor was to blame. (Several thousand CDs and records later, maybe I should send Dave and Graham the bill?)
So after I'd told my friend all this, he confessed to an even sadder childhood: he'd never heard of Hello Sailor at all. Incredible. I talked and talked (as I do) but he'd never heard of them. He had however heard of Dragon, with whom Hello Sailor started playing back in their early days. In fact, when both bands were getting started they lived together in a rambling old house in Ponsonby, dubbed Mandrax Mansions due to the incessant and regular drug taking going on there.
So my friend and I then reflected on how history works, and how you judge success. You see, by 1975, Dragon had gone to Australia and achieved fame and fortune and $200-a-day heroin habits, while Hello Sailor were still in Ponsonby taking cheap drugs. By 1980, Hello Sailor had just acquired world-famous-in-NZ status before splitting (not for the first time); and Dragon were flying, in all senses of the word. Contrasting fortunes indeed.
But now, in 2005, the good fortune has turned around. Three of Dragon's original five members are dead, while Hello Sailor's line-up are all alive, kicking and in rude good health. And with new solo albums out to boot (Buy Graham's here, and Dave's here).
So how do you judge success?
If your interest has been piqued, you can buy The Sailor Story here.