HOOTENANNY! Graham Brazier would cry into the microphone at the beginning of a gig. He did it as much to calm himself as prime the crowd. He was shy, prone to nerves.

So his friend and Hello Sailor guitarist Harry Lyon did just that this month when he stepped up to speak at Brazier's funeral. Brazier was 63. Two years earlier the other of the band's three founders, Dave McArtney, died of liver cancer at 62.

"It's weird," said Lyon, of being the last Sailor standing. He recently turned 65. "I've got my gold card," he said, "[and] I quite like it."

No, Brazier's death wasn't the end of an era, he said. "It's just another one. In recent years we've also lost Paul Holmes, Kevin Black ... "

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He probably thinks more about his health now than ever. Lyon quit tobacco long ago but Brazier never could. Lyon said the swaggering rock singer who had the constitution of a bull reckoned of all the drugs he did, cigarettes did most harm.

Hammond Gamble sang a low and slow version of Brazier's signature ballad Billy Bold that hit everybody's gut. "I was playing mandolin," said Lyon. "Hammond is a close friend of Graham's and mine, all of us really. I could hardly play, it was emotion-charged, and then I had to speak. I took a few deep breaths. One of Graham's things at gigs was to say 'Hootenanny!' I did that."

It did the trick. "Yeah," said Lyon, "it's hard to say goodbye to your old mates."

They'd lived their passion when most don't. "Graham, Dave and I and [other band members], all of us have had a fantastic life, following the dream, trying to make a go of it. Dave and Graham died before their time but, man, they packed a lot in."

Brazier loved to recite poetry. He had his delivery mode, said Lyon, striking a theatrical pose. "He was incredibly charming and polite. He would always open a door for someone, and not only for women. He was sort of humble, helpful.

"I'm thinking about the 40 years. I'm lucky to have had them. That's a long time for a band and for friendships because it was more than just a business arrangement."

Brazier and McArtney married the same woman and still came out friends. Donna McArtney (nee Mills of the Les Mills dynasty) was previously Brazier's young bride. "They probably had their moments but in later years Dave and Graham were incredible friends. The three of them were close and comfortable together."

Lyon met McArtney at school in Milford in 1963. Teenage Lyon was getting about in pointed shoes, a lurex tie and an Italian suit. Back then beachside kids went barefoot.

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He was back from two years in England where his New Zealand navy officer father had been posted. It was when the Beatles hit. Lyon said he was such an oddity his best mate gave him a hiding, "to settle me down". "I think I was the only boy at school with long pants."

McArtney was fascinated but there was an early hitch before the pair and a third schoolboy formed their first band. "[McArtney] had latched on to this girl who I thought was my girlfriend," said Lyon, "so I didn't take an immediate shine to him at all."

Lyon grew up with music. His father could play anything but on the piano preferred the raised black keys figuring, said Lyon, the odds against playing a bum note were better. That was the engineer and the mathematician in him.

Propped on the windowsill would be the pocket-size Boomerang Songbook containing the lyrics of the hits of the day. "My mother and my sister and I would all sing while we were doing the dishes. Lipstick On Your Collar, all that stuff. I'd wake up to my mother singing or whistling."

He had an electric guitar by the age of 12. "So in my bedroom it wasn't just an acoustic guitar plunking away. In all those years I lived at home, they never told me to turn down or shut up."

Hello Sailor grew out of the scene around Auckland University. Lyon and McArtney were flatmates and Bachelor of Arts students. Brazier was in the garden, literally.

"He was a gardener at Auckland University. The gardeners were all poets," said Lyon. "There was a whole swag of them. They wanted to be on campus but not be students. They were too cool for that."

All three turned up at open-mike nights - acoustic guitars, "hippydom" - at a student pub. Brazier loved words, said Lyon. His mother owned a secondhand bookshop in Dominion Rd which Brazier later ran.

But don't blame Brazier for leading Lyon and McArtney astray. "No, not at all. It was Dave and I, mate. We actually shook hands. Rock 'n roll, we said, rock 'n roll." They dropped out in their third year.

Hello Sailor were as close as New Zealand came to having our own Rolling Stones.
Hello Sailor were as close as New Zealand came to having our own Rolling Stones.

They didn't see eye-to-eye with their parents for a few years, said Lyon. McArtney's father was a bank manager.

They couldn't be stopped.

"Our world view was being informed by people like [philosopher] Alan Watts who wrote books like The Wisdom of Insecurity." Sample quotes: "There is no other reality than present reality, so that ... to live for the future would be to miss the point everlastingly." And: " ... it is absurd to take money too seriously, to confuse it with real wealth."

Said Lyon: "We just thought, what the hell?"

Hello Sailor - as close as New Zealand came to having our own Rolling Stones - was soon name-checked and celebrated. "When we got a spread in the Women's Weekly, that did it for my mother. Then we had a two page thing in the Listener and that did for the old man. Dad was like, 'that's my boy'."

There's a little story behind the name. In Ponsonby's famous "Mandrax Mansion" where McArtney and Brazier were flatting, there was a band set up available for jam sessions. Two speaker cabinets appeared at some point. "One of them, really roughly with white paint had 'goodbye dove' written on it and the other had 'hello sailor'. Graham and Dave had named a cabinet each. So we might have ended up being called Goodbye Dove!"

The house overlooked Westhaven, the name felt right. "It seemed to have great possibilities. It was tongue in cheek, a bit Spike Milligan. It had the nautical thing, Auckland." They were young, fit and wore Hawaiian shirts. The gritty black leather came later.

Sex and drugs and rock 'n roll?

"I'm not going to get into salacious tales," said Lyon. "Read Dave's book, he spills the beans a little bit."

A bit. McArtney's memoir, Gutter Black after his biggest hit, published a year after his death in 2013, did get down and dirty when it was needed, a reviewer said, but did not "provide detail or gory exposition of the band's notorious drug use ..."

It described without relish Hello Sailor's attempt to break through in America and how it lacked the professional mechanisms taken for granted today and descended into an endless drug-fuelled party.

"I'm no angel but somehow I survived it," is the most Lyon will say. The band came "perilously close" to achieving what they wanted from their US venture but ran out of time and money, Lyon said. But the band's manager from that time has reportedly noted there might have been a bit more money had they not spent so much on dope.

It sounded like wild fun, but they returned home exhausted and dispirited. They lived in a rented house with a pool in the Hollywood hills . "[It was] a fantastic place for a family," said Lyon, "but we had [up to] 23 people living there."

If Lyon came through relatively unscathed, he might put it down to the moderating influence of being a father at 25. He and Maggie have three grown-up children and were an item before Hello Sailor formed in 1975.

There was also that he didn't want his dream to dissolve into a drug haze. Brazier fell down that hole and the band came, went and periodically reformed. Lyon and McArtney had other bands. Lyon formed Coup d'Etat, after "the shambles of Hello Sailor" as Ready To Fly, The Story of NZ Rock Music puts it, and had a hit with the boppy Dr I Like Your Medicine.

"When I dropped out of university I was doing ok, I'd got into the groove of studying. [But] the only thing I was really passionate about was music, playing the guitar, I just love it. I decided I was going to make a go of it."

Lyon looked after business, dealt with promoters and venue managers. It didn't take long for Hello Sailor's crowds to grow exponentially. A cover of the Andrews Sisters' song Rum and Coca Cola was the band's first hit and got them on TV's Grunt Machine hosted by an afro-haired Paul Holmes.

"I don't think anybody gets into music to make money but I wanted to make it my living."

At the age of 50, he went back to university and emerged with a Masters Degree in Arts Management. "It always nagged at me that I didn't finish my degree. 'Harry, you idiot!'." He has ever since managed and taught at the Music and Audio Institute of New Zealand. His title is Dean Emeritus.

The students learn skills in audio that can lead to steady jobs and understand that the odds of finding fame and fortune in music are tiny. Most want to be rock stars nonetheless. "Get out there, give it a go," Lyon tells them. "What have you got to lose? You're young, it's not like you are putting your house on the line. If you want to be a musician, want a band to be successful get out there, start gigging, write songs, get busy with it."

A 40th anniversary Hello Sailor tour was planned for about now. Brazier was keen as mustard. "When he first came to after the initial heart attack," said Lyon, "apparently one of the first things he said was 'I'll be right for the tour!'" Lyon gives a hearty laugh for his mate and you know he was just as keen.