Mu­sic

Phil Gif­ford re­vis­its a solo sailor, and the Finns pay homage to Otis Red­ding.

North & South - - North & South - PHIL GIF­FORD

HARRY LYON, a found­ing mem­ber of Hello Sailor, didn’t know De­laney David­son was go­ing to sing “Billy Bold” as a trib­ute to Gra­ham Bra­zier at the 2015 Sil­ver Scroll awards. It was only 13 days af­ter Bra­zier died. “I was pretty raw,” says Lyon, “and it was quite emo­tional.”

Back­stage at Auck­land’s Vec­tor Arena, Lyon and David­son came face to face. “It was the first time I’d met De­laney, and I lit­er­ally fell into his arms, weep­ing. We be­came in­stant friends.”

Four decades af­ter Lyon first recorded with Sailor, it feels like per­fect mu­si­cal karma that his de­but solo al­bum, To the Sea, was pro­duced by David­son.

Lyon al­ways pre­sented as the most grounded of Sailor’s three gifted singer-song­writ­ers. If Dave Mcart­ney was the mys­tic and Bra­zier was Keith Richards – if Richards had gym-rat mus­cles – Lyon was prac­ti­cal. He was the one in the 1990s who, in a ra­dio break­fast show stu­dio when the trio was asked to sing live, pro­duced a reel-to-reel tape with an acous­tic ver­sion of “Blue Lady”. It even had a de­lib­er­ate false start to make it sound as if they re­ally were per­form­ing at what was (for them) a scar­ily early hour.

Lyon’s solo al­bum sprang from a group of his songs, some dat­ing back more than 30 years, which he had never pre­vi­ously recorded. Rather than press­ing to make his own al­bum, he had planned to

regis­ter the songs with a mu­sic pub­lisher, pos­si­bly open­ing the way for oth­ers to record them. But as pub­lisher Paul Mclaney sat in Lyon’s home lis­ten­ing to the demos, it quickly dawned on him that what he was hear­ing should be­come an al­bum. Who would Lyon like as pro­ducer? “If I had a wish,” he said, “it’d be De­laney [David­son].”

David­son’s out­sider mu­sic, which has been fairly de­scribed as coun­try noir, and Lyon’s warm, older- school rock and blues, fit to­gether on To the Sea in an act of nearper­fect mu­si­cal serendip­ity.

“Most of what I write,” says Lyon, “is quite per­sonal.” So on the rock­ing “One for the Road”, his lyrics fea­ture a planned meet­ing at the Ris­ing Sun ho­tel on Auck­land’s K’ Rd . “Baby Don’t Stop”, with its “magic night, June 67” and 16- year- olds danc­ing the night away, surely has to be about Ma­guerite, who would be­come, and still is, his wife.

And while we’re talk­ing heart­felt sen­ti­ments, the lovely bal­lad “Christ­mas in Dublin” is ba­si­cally po­etic re­portage. Daugh­ter Roxy had mar­ried a Dubliner and lived in Ire­land for many years. On Christ­mas Day, 2012, she rang to say there was bad news: there’d be no trip to New Zealand the fol­low­ing year. But the good news was that in a year’s time, the whole fam­ily would be com­ing back to live in New Zealand. On Box­ing Day, Lyon grabbed his acous­tic gui­tar and “Christ­mas in Dublin” poured out.

In a bit­ter­sweet coda, when Mcart­ney was told about the song, he swore to Lyon it was prophetic. “You’ve got to go to Dublin, mate. I’ve got a sis­ter in Lon­don. I’ll go to see her. You call in to Lon­don on the way, and we can tie up for a bit of mis­chief.”

The Lyons booked for Dublin. But the Lon­don catch-up wasn’t to be. Mcart­ney was di­ag­nosed with ag­gres­sive liver can­cer, dy­ing in April 2013. “Two days be­fore he died,” says Lyon, “he was at home, and there was a ukulele sit­ting there, so I picked it up and just be­fore I left, I sang it [“Christ­mas in Dublin”] for him. Even though the song it­self isn’t about Dave, it’s taken on a huge emo­tional mean­ing for me.”

As the best al­bums do, To the Sea ap­peals at first lis­ten­ing, only to re­veal more and more charms the fur­ther you im­merse your­self in it. FAM­ILY’S AL­WAYS loomed large in Neil Finn’s life. Grow­ing up in the Waikato, as pri­mary school kids, Neil and older brother Tim were al­ways wheeled out to sing when the Finns’ rel­a­tives and friends gath­ered. The crowd favourite was “Terry”, a maudlin pop bal­lad writ­ten and sung by a posh 16-yearold English girl, Lynn Ri­p­ley, who called her­self Twin­kle. ( She went to school with Prince Charles’ wife, Camilla.)

The lyrics, in which a young woman con­fesses she was cheat­ing on her boyfriend the night he died in a mo­tor­bike crash (“Please wait at the gate of heaven for me, Terry”), are be­yond kitsch.

But the Finns’ mother Mary, a keen am­a­teur pi­ano player, recog­nised the power of the song’s melody. Af­ter an­other night of thun­der­ous ap­plause for the wee boys’ ren­di­tion of “Terry”, she told them sin­cerely that a good tune should be cher­ished. It was ad­vice they’ve largely heeded for the rest of their lives.

Neil, es­pe­cially, has been the mas­ter of the hook, a mo­ment in a song that em­beds it­self in your heart and mem­ory. I’d con­sider him a mu­si­cal leg­end if all he’d done was un­leash “I Got You”, his big­gest hit with Split Enz. The ef­fect the song, es­pe­cially the iconic cho­rus, had on au­di­ences in the early 1980s was Beat­lesque. Says Enz’s bassist in 81, Nigel Griggs, “I’d of­ten look down, and see teenage girls in the front row, look­ing at Neil, and all with their arms stretched out to­wards him.”

Catchy hooks aren’t at the heart of the new al­bum Light­sleeper by Neil and son Liam. Neil told in­ter­viewer Grant Smithies that while jam­ming with Liam, a “strange sort of hu­mid, dreamy sound started to emerge, so we just went with it”. If you love Brian Eno’s am­bi­ent mu­sic, you’ll love this. Neil and Liam are both gifted with beau­ti­ful voices, so there’s ef­fort­less har­mon­is­ing, and nu­anced play­ing. If your taste runs more to the pop magic of Crowded House, Neil’s vir­tual solo on “Anger Plays a Part”, and the charm­ing lul­laby “Hold Her Close”, will prove the most re­ward­ing.

AT THE other end of the spec­trum to the stu­dio in­tri­ca­cies of the Finns comes the weird but won­der­ful Dock of the Bay Ses­sions by Otis Red­ding, which ba­si­cally presents as an al­bum soul­man Red­ding might have re­leased if he hadn’t died – down to sleeve notes that sug­gest it’s “the first in­di­ca­tion of a new Otis Red­ding”.

In fact Red­ding died in 1967, at the age of 26, along with seven oth­ers, in­clud­ing four mem­bers of his tour­ing band the Bar- Kays, when the Beechcraft plane he owned crashed into freez­ing Lake Monona in Wis­con­sin.

Just three days be­fore the fa­tal crash, he’d recorded what would be­come his big­gest hit, “Dock of the Bay”. The gen­tle, re­flec­tive tone of the song was, co-writer Steve Crop­per would later say, in­flu­enced by the folk- rock sounds Red­ding heard at the 67 Mon­terey Pop Fes­ti­val.

There’s sledge­ham­mer soul on Ses­sions too (this is the man who wrote what be­came Aretha Franklin’s an­them, “Re­spect”), but the real ge­nius of Red­ding is re­vealed when he slows the tempo; tracks like “I’ve Got Dreams to Re­mem­ber” feel as stark and in­ti­mate as the 1936 San An­to­nio ho­tel room record­ings that made Robert John­son a blues leg­end.

By the mid-70s, disco mu­sic had de­liv­ered a near fa­tal blow to deep soul. The Dock of the Bay Ses­sions is a re­minder of how much was lost when the dance floor took con­trol. +

Above: Hello Sailor at the Glue­pot in 1977. From left: Gra­ham Bra­zier, Dave Mcart­ney, Ricky Ball, Harry Lyon and Lisle Kin­ney.

Otis Red­ding on­stage the year he died – 1967.

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