Graham Brazier, 1952-2015

Graham Brazier, the swaggering, charismatic frontman of Kiwi rock institution Hello Sailor has died.

A family spokesperson confirmed to the Herald that Brazier died on Friday morning in an Auckland rehabiltation facility where he had been recovering after a heart attack which forced the cancellation of the band's reunion tour.


The 63-year-old suffered the heart attack while on holiday in the Bay of Islands in August and was flown to Auckland Hospital where he underwent emergency treatment.

Brazier's death follows the death of band mate Dave McArtney in 2013.

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"We've lost a truely great character, singer, composer, performer and mate. We're all better for having Graham in our lives. I'm devastated" said band mate Harry Lyon.

Brazier was born in Auckland spent his boyhood in Mt Eden and Balmoral where his mother ran a local book shop which her son later ran.

His mother instilled a life-long love of literature which influenced his songwriting.

Read more: The working man of rock

Brazier attended Mt Roskill Grammar, where he was a keen sportsman and league player turning out for the Mt Roskill Red Devils on the wing.

He left school at 15 to work in Whitcoulls and began writing songs when he was 19.

"First, foremost and always I am a songwriter. The words are most important, " he told the Herald in a 1990 interview.

He met future Hello Sailor bandmates Harry Lyon and Dave McArtney in 1970 when the latter pair were students at Auckland University.

The band made its live debut in 1975 and so began one of the most colourful - and haphazard careers - in NZ rock history.

WIth Brazier as the swaggering, occasionally saxophone-playing frontman, the band were soon a hit at home on the strength of songs such as Brazier's Blue Lady and the live show they took on the road as trailblazers for bands playing originals on the pub circuit.

Graham Brazier, vocalist from the New Zealand rock group Hello Sailor - circa 1970s-1980s.
Graham Brazier, vocalist from the New Zealand rock group Hello Sailor - circa 1970s-1980s.

Heading to the US to chance their arm, Hello Sailor eventually returned to split up then reformed for another album in 1985.

In a story that has become stuff of Kiwi rock legend, while in the US Brazier was reportedly asked to take the place of the late Jim Morrison by the three surviving members of The Doors.

The Herald's clipping files on Brazier speak to his sometimes troubled lifestyle as it does of his rock career and charisma.

He was 22 when he first tried heroin.

"It was very available and I was very susceptible to it. I went through a period when I thought it was romantic. Now it's a disease I will have to live with for the rest of my life. I can see it and smell it at 100 yards."

In August 1982, a 30-year-old Brazier pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of morphine.

His counsel argued that Brazier "did recognise that he had problems" and "was still allowing himself to be dragged around by the heels by his chosen occupation".

Brazier was convicted and ordered him to come up for sentence if called upon with the next 12 months. It wasn't his last time in court.

In July 1990 he was rushed into intensive care at Auckland Hospital and doctors told his mother he had eight hours to live.

He has pneumonia which developed into septicemia. He said later, "I believe very strongly there's a reason why I have survived. Certain people have not accomplished their life's work."

Harry Lyon and Dave McArtney said of his drug-taking: "Graham has plenty of will power - he just doesn't have much won't power."

In between Brazier's recorded output with Hello Sailor he recorded a string of albums under his own name.

His 1981 solo debut Inside Out - which contained the anthemic single Billy Bold - was considered a highpoint of his recording career.

In recent years he took over the running of his mother's book shop while doing the occasional Hello Sailor show.

"Anyone who thinks you get rich on rock'n'roll in New Zealand is living under an illusion. You survive - so you must love it."

Arguably, rock'n'roll didn't love Brazier back in kind.

But his voice, his stage presence and his songs made Brazier a genuine New Zealand rock star.

As McArtney once said of their respective roles: I was the melody, Graham was the balls."

Read more: The man and his best songs remembered

Remembering Graham Brazier, who passed away today, and Hello Sailor in the Gluepot Reunion concert filmed in 2011. The Gluepot Reunion Concert was headlined by Dragon and Hello Sailor, who performed at the famous Ponsonby venue during its late 70s and 80s heyday. Joined by Citizen Band and Herbs for a 'Sunday session'; Steven Orsbourn asked them what made the Gluepot so special and loved by the 'punters'.