Russell Baillie writes about movies for the Herald

Mates farewell gentleman rocker

Dave McArtney. Photo/Richard Robinson
Dave McArtney. Photo/Richard Robinson

Dave McArtney, a founding member of pioneering New Zealand rock band Hello Sailor, has died at home in Auckland. He was 62.

Although McArtney had been seriously unwell and had spent a week in hospital, he was discharged last week and expected to recover. His death at his Pt Chevalier home shocked friends and family.

"His sudden death was not predicted and has come as a shock to all. His last words to his wife last night were that he was working on an arrangement for a new song," a family spokesman said yesterday.

Many people, including bandmates, friends and fans, yesterday paid tribute to McArtney for his musical talents and his character - one of gentlemanly manner, laconic humour, curious intellect and dependability.

"We used to call him Dunkirk Dave," Harry Lyon, his guitar sparring partner in Hello Sailor, told the Herald. "Because he's that guy you want to see on your right shoulder when you go over the top.

"He's more than just a bandmate. It's friendship that holds us together."

McArtney rose to prominence after founding Hello Sailor in 1975 with onetime schoolmate Lyon and frontman Graham Brazier, along with bassist Lisle Kinney and drummer Ricky Ball.

The group built a huge following and lasting legacy through their live performances, a swaggering image and singles including the classic Gutter Black.

The song, with its punchy beat and high vocal was written and sung by McArtney - under the working title Sickness Benefit - and had a second life as the theme to hit television series Outrageous Fortune.

But the way its lyrics were interpreted over the years bothered its creator, who reworked it for his 2003 solo album Hook, which had been his old nickname.

"It does irk me sometimes that people sing 'My love in the gutter black'," he told TimeOut in 2006.

"It's not a love song at all. I explore the theme of rivers, talk about the Limpopo and the Seine. It's like a mother releasing the son from the comforts of the nest. 'If you accept it, my child, you're running back through the blissful ocean' so it's about the process of life to death. It's a weird piece."

Throughout his career, McArtney was an adventurous musician. He was a sideman who became a frontman - of his post-Hello Sailor '80s pop outfit The Pink Flamingos, which showed his gift for a catchy tune on songs like I'm In Heaven, Virginia, Infatuation, and the group's own title track Pink Flamingo.

As Listener reviewer Nick Bollinger said in his assessment of Hook: "Even in the darkest days of Sailor and Pink Flamingos, McArtney could be relied on for a chorus that caught you by the ear and gave it a good tug."

McArtney was also guitarist who embraced advances in musical technology throughout the years.

He was a songwriter who turned his hand to producing - winning producer of the year in 1984 for his work with the Narcs - and teaching.

He tutored at the Music and Audio Institute of NZ's Auckland campus for 10 years. He was also a student himself, graduating with a master of arts degree in music last month.

With his rangy physique McArtney was an outdoors kind of guy in the indoors world of rock'n'roll. Had he not been a musician, he would have preferred life as a ski bum, he said in a recent interview. In recent years a riding accident on his horse, aptly named Dangerous, which he kept on his family's Turangi farm, left him with a broken collar bone and ribs.

Part of the McArtney personal legend were his brushes with death.

In 1975, McArtney's heart stopped when he received an electric shock from faulty sound equipment in an Auckland nightclub in the early days of Hello Sailor. He was revived by bandmate Brazier, who gave him CPR, while the experience - "I had the old flying through a field of corn and bright light sort of thing and I wondered what the hell it was" - inspired the Pink Flamingos' I'm in Heaven.

But it was Sailor, who split in 1980 after fruitless but mythology-stoking excursions to Los Angeles and Australia but reformed many times over the years, with which McArtney's name will forever be associated in his permanent stage position, guitar slung low, to Brazier's right.

The band was inducted into the NZ Music Hall of Fame in 2011.

Said Don McGlashan in his induction speech: "Hello Sailor didn't just steer their own course, they were on an entirely different ocean. They existed outside fashion, exuding danger and decadence in spades, writing great songs and playing unforgettable gigs. They meant every note, every gesture, and apologised for nothing. That's why their music still matters after all these years."

The current line-up of the band still featuring Brazier and Lyon released their final album, Surrey Crescent Moon, which featured three McArtney songs, last year.

McArtney is survived by his wife, Donna, son Gabriel and daughter Moana.

Watch: Dave McArtney singing Gutter Black:


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Russell Baillie writes about movies for the Herald

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