Peter Calder: Standing room only at farewell to legend

It's like a Gluepot reunion as friends and family gather for Auckland musician Dave McArtney's funeral

Dave McArtney's children Moana (left) and Gabriel pay tribute to their father at his funeral yesterday. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Dave McArtney's children Moana (left) and Gabriel pay tribute to their father at his funeral yesterday. Photo / Sarah Ivey

I turned up just after 1pm for Dave McArtney's 2pm funeral. I wanted a good seat near the front. Fat chance. The best spot I could snag was more than three-quarters of the way back.

I should have known better. For a Hello Sailor gig, you always had to get there early to get a good possie. Yes, sure, if you wanted, you could worm your way through the crowd to the front - taking care not to bump anyone's jug elbow on the way - but worming your way through to the front at a funeral isn't really done, is it? And yesterday was the last time the full band would be on stage together, so seats were bound to be at a premium.

Over the next hour, the place slowly filled with people and the low rumble of conversation as Pink Flamingos songs like Virginia and Infatuation, brightened by the familiar jangle of McArtney's guitar, came out of the sound system.We leafed through the handsome order of service and looked at images - including a Peter Adams poster for the Christmas 77 gig - that sent us spinning back through the years.

And then MC Harry Lyon, Sailor's other guitarist, started proceedings. On time, for God's sake. That never happened at a Sailor gig. "I never thought this would happen," he said, summing up the shock a lot of us had been feeling for a week.

"I thought we'd just keep making music until we went deaf or couldn't remember the arrangements."

I didn't do a head count, but there were a lot of folks standing and all the people crammed into St Matthew-in-the-City yesterday would surely have made the upstairs bar at the Gluepot feel pretty cosy.

Dave was up the front, centre stage and silent for a change rather than stage right where he always used to prowl, his guitar slung low, looking impossibly relaxed and cool. His coffin was a box of plain pine, still smelling from the woodwork shop, but adorned with words and images put there by those who knew him well and loved him most: the tributes mixed the solemn and the whimsical but all were heartfelt.

There was more than a sprinkling of one-time household names among the mourners. Musos aplenty, of course, the ones of the old school who paid their dues humping speakers and drum kits up back staircases, not the instant stars of reality TV.

It was one of those occasions when almost every face was familiar, even if the names didn't come too readily to ancient memories. Some, not seen since Sailor's early days, looked in pretty poor nick, until you remembered that you don't look quite as flash yourself as you did in 1977.

Unlike many who were there, I didn't know Dave particularly well. Occasionally we'd see each other at the Shakespeare, the pub over the road from the Herald building, where he was fond of taking the international students he taught English to for an end-of-term drink. He'd greet me enthusiastically, talk to me like an old friend and I'd wonder what I'd done to get such attention.

And yesterday made it plain: Dave treated everyone that way. When you talked to him, it was like you were the only person in the world. Sailor bassist Paul Woolright stood by Dave's coffin and remembered how he'd greeted Paul's teenage son when they'd shared a car together: possibly the coolest dude in Auckland music - "a handsome groovster" his daughter Moana called him - treated this gawky youth like he was the most important man in the world and the boy-turned-man has never forgotten.

Among the tributes, that of Dave's wife Donna stood out, and not just because it was the last. Supported by Peter Urlich, she sniffed through a lovingly crafted few hundred words that were the work of a gifted writer reaching right inside her soul. It was hard not to see Dave behind her, smiling lightly, urging her on.

But Lyon ruled out the idea of endless encores. The floor would not be thrown open to all-comers to have a say, he announced early on. It was a piece of tight production instinct that Dave would have loved. Always leave them wanting more.

Everyone was invited to Sale St, an easy stroll even for the most elderly relic, to have a drink and share stories. Chances are they're still there now, if you want to join them.

- NZ Herald

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