I first saw Graham Brazier in 1981. I'd come back from living overseas and had never heard of Hello Sailor but there they were one night, these peacocks walking into Victoria University to play a gig and, by God, when I say walked, I mean swaggered. I had no idea who these tall, slim, striking men with kohl around their eyes were but they looked dangerous. I didn't go and watch them, but from then on I became aware of Brazier as a figure to keep an eye on, perhaps more for his adventures than his music.
Jump forward a decade or so, and I interviewed Hello Sailor when they reunited. The interview, in 1996 for a Sunday paper, took place in the Gluepot, in broad daylight and some of the feathers had fallen off the peacocks. The pub looked filthy, age hadn't been kind to any of us, and Brazier was disengaged, so Harry Lyon and Dave McArtney did most of the talking. It was on the eve of a tour and McArtney made a quip about the singer being more interested in breaking into a chemist's shop than breaking into the charts. I put it in the story.
The shit hit the fan. Brazier's fiercely protective mother, Christine, rang me in a fury the following week. Her son, she raged, had been reading the paper in the back of the car somewhere near Whanganui and as soon as he read the McArtney quip, he ordered the car to stop and he ran off. It was all my fault. I had killed off Hello Sailor. I felt terrible. Luckily, he turned up a day or so later and resumed the tour. My relationship with Brazier took a happier turn in 2008 when I had the bright idea that he, a famously wide, deep and intelligent reader, could be a great poetry reviewer for this paper. When I rang him, I was fearful he might remember me from that hurtful story and tell me to go away. But he was wonderful: excited, thrilled, and ready to take on the challenge.
Writing about poetry isn't an easy job, and Brazier couldn't handle using a computer. He rang me frequently complaining about the bloody computer. First he delivered typed reviews on bits of paper, then he got a friend to send the copy via email, which was a small miracle. But he was a very good writer. Take this, from a review of Small Humours of Daylight by Tom Weston: "Each time I search for a favourite poem in this book, it is eclipsed by another, so I choose stanzas, small twigs of verbal beauty."
It takes a wordsmith to craft a phrase like "small twigs of verbal beauty". And Brazier was always a real gentleman, even when he was on the phone having a meltdown about trying to use the computer. After all, he was a bard, not a technician.
Graham Brazier - five key songs
Billy Bold (1981)
"I had a dream and woke up with Billy Bold in my head," Brazier said of his stirring best-known track from his 1981 solo album
. "My dad, who had passed away, used to use it about a hard man, and I picked up the guitar, no pen and paper, and it just came. It was like channelling."
Blue Lady (1976)
The second single off Hello Sailor's debut album announced Brazier's songwriting talents and his pharmaceutical interest with this ode inspired by the name given to a type of syringe. And from Brazier's lips came the most memorable harmonica solo in New Zealand rock history.
Six Piece Chamber (1981)
One of Brazier's better excursions into the genre he helped invent - Ponsonby reggae - this was one of his better drugs'n'guns songs of which he had a few. And one which he revisited a couple of times after it originally appeared on his acclaimed Inside Out set album.
I'm a Texan: (1979)
A Brazier-Dave McArtney co-write, this uptempo number caught Brazier in full rock'n'roll sneer and showed while he had one foot in street-level Auckland he had another in the places he had read about in books.
New Tattoo (1994)
From Hello Sailor's fine mid-90s album, this track caught Brazier singing about his favourite colour (blue), Blockhouse Bay, and paying tribute to late Dragon keyboardist Paul Hewson - all in a rollicking good song which had Dave Dobbyn on backing vocals echoing Brazier's never-better lead voice.