Jim Wilson’s Blog, 14 September 2015
I think a true thing about life is to find something you love and then to stick to it like glue. Love, after all, is more like oxygen than oxygen itself. And we do need lots of oxygen in this life.
It has been a week since Graham Brazier left us and I have been thinking about what to write since then. The day after he died my back gave out and I was in quite a bit of pain. Then I felt the huge, black scraping arm of death above me as well and I got just a little bit morbid there for a bit. Graham meant a lot to many of us here in the Shaky Isles. The very idea of Graham was huge in local music.
Many years ago, being a New Zealand rock ‘n’ roll promoter and needing a break from the sadness of it all and from just being me, I would travel to Penang for ‘Heroin Holidays’. I would stay at the glorious, old and decadent New China Hotel. This destination was on what you might call the ‘Beat Route’ and my mates and I would go there and read Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. We’d recite poetry and sing songs to each other. Then, spent, we’d fall asleep in each other’s arms like men can do if they try. The seemingly natural aggression of men would be gone for a while and we liked it leaving us. Sometimes we’d play cricket out the front of the hotel and we’d laugh a lot.
In the foyer of the hotel, there would be ten heavy-duty Chinese guys with sunglasses and wearing hats (it sometimes seemed like they were actually wearing tea cosies on their heads). They’d be playing poker and grimacing at each other. In the rooms, there were no carpeting or blankets, but there was a giant old ceiling fan that one could study for hours a day. This, to us, was a very worthwhile existence. We didn’t watch television or read the newspapers. The internet wasn’t around and so life was a lot more peaceful on that account as well. We didn’t hear every five minutes that a cop had been shot ten thousand miles away. We weren’t endlessly gazing at people who were obviously doing better than us.
But you had to be careful in Penang because nearby was the Australian Air Force base at Butterworth. You’d get drunken and violent Australians pumped up and walking the streets with prostitutes. In every stomp, they’d be defending their manhood and I’m sure alcohol does shrink the dicks of many men and often makes them belligerent as a compensation. They steal their love like thieves in the night.
At one stage at the New China, I shared a large room with some of these prostitutes and they’d tell me about the Australians. I always found it interesting what respectable men will do when they can and what lies beneath the ‘thin veneer of civilisation’.
Anyway, when you walked the streets of Penang dozens of people came up wanting to sell you the local delicacy, ‘Pink Rocks’ (Pink Rock Heroin). At that stage, it was what was keeping the economy afloat and now of course it’s shoes all around the world that keeps the money flowing in and out of the banks. We are all trading shoes with each other, man!
If a Heroin dealer really wanted to attract your attention he’d say: “I know the Chinaman.” What he was telling you was that he was extraordinarily well connected. My man was called Alphonse and I’m here to tell you he really did know the Chinaman.
If I remember correctly, the first time Hello Sailor came to my attention was when they played the Gladstone Hotel in Christchurch around about 1976 or 1977. The pub at that time was owned by local legend John McCarthy. The gig room was booked by Robin ‘Oz’ Armstrong. These guys are two of the unsung heroes of New Zealand music. Oz told me a few years later that he’d be racing around town on the Sunday morning trying to sell 1000 Buddha Sticks in order to pay the band. That makes it a genuine gig and that’s what music used to be like. It probably still is this way but only if it’s real. It’s all a big gambling game.
Anyway, I can’t say that I knew Graham Brazier that particularly well and so I never really knew the Chinaman. Hello Sailor played for me a lot over the years and Graham and Dave particularly seemed to always have a smile for everyone. The band came back to New Zealand from Los Angeles sometime in the late 1970s after exhausting themselves trying to go to ‘another level’ in the world. They didn’t crack America and yet they were truly of top shelf quality. Someone got a bad hand because this was one of the very best bands I have ever seen.
In music, it’s as much about ‘the breaks’ as much as anything. If you can play the kind of music that is getting very popular on radio, during your rise and yet make it seem like it’s all your own and that you created it, then you will probably do well. If you can look the part then this helps a lot as well. It’s also best to have sex with music journalists and it pays to wear skinny jeans and to have a beard and to sound wistful keeping in mind that everyone is lonely. If you have a lot of money behind you and a good marketing machine then you should break through. Rumours and photographs of your bad behaviour will help. Join in the popular political movements of the day and play the benefit gigs. There will be curry in your pot if you can do these things.
I saw Graham a lot over the years and at one stage I had quite a correspondence with Dave McArtney. In these last four years since I have been back in New Zealand, I’d call into Graham’s shop a bit. He did some writing and sketching for me and also sang me a song from time to time. Mostly, people surrounded him and he had 20,000 mates as everyone knows. This made it difficult for me to truly connect with him. He was hung like the Statue of Liberty and I’ve seen it.
Most of all what impresses me is that Graham was a good bloke and that is the highest realm in New Zealand. He was a man who had a great deal of feeling for the music he played so well. I mean he ‘felt it’, he wasn’t faking it for radio play and that would be beneath contempt for him. Graham also felt for the man or woman on the street who is just trying to cobble together a living. He was in the very same position. Times are hard as everyone knows and Graham never put himself above anyone. He said to a mate of mine one day that there were now more musicians than plumbers and he meant it in the way you might think he did. He stayed true until the day he died.
Keep the Faith,