Our little tribute to Dave McArtney – who passed away today at the age of 62 – is this interview, conducted by Gary Steel, and published way back in 1981.
DAVE McARTNEY IS doing exactly what he was glad to see the end of at the time of Hello Sailor’s demise. He’s back into the daily slog ‘n’ grind of rock and roll road life.
Having a successful album and being Polygram’s great local hope does carry with it certain touring obligations, and touring’s something Dave doesn’t crave.
“First and foremost I’m a songwriter. I’m not a performing musician. Part of me says ‘be honest and get up and play,’ but part says ‘stuff the challenge of being an entertainer.’ So maybe I can make a compromise.”
“We did three songs in about April last year, then recorded the rest in about August in about six or seven days. Basically, I’m quite pleased with it. Like it’s easy to listen to, there’s no great flaws in it. The next one will be a bit more raunchy I think. The last one steered towards the more poppy songs I’ve written, to satisfy the record company in some respects.”
I was wary of approaching McArtney about Hello Sailor. Futile memories, perhaps. But that band does hold a fascination still, and he needs no prompting on the subject.
Okay, let’s back-track some. For those who need filling in, the Sailor made quite a go of it. Their self-titled album in ’77 made the charts but before the release of their second album Pacifica Amour – a tragically neglected album – they flew the coop. No halfway measures for these boys: they headed straight for the heart of the beast, LA.
Says McArtney: “We were on the verge of signing u over there. We played with The Knack. Even The Motels supported us. LA, the audience is better, you’re more accessible to your audience, and they really go for anything. It’s really worthwhile going there.
“Sailor at that time was a modern band. It was successful in the States… initially. We did lose a bit of money because of the winter over there. Things kind of shut down a bit and we weren’t getting too many gigs, and having management problems.”
Were rumours that Capitol passed up signing Sailor for The Knack true?
“What happened was, at the time The Knack were being signed up we were the support band. Because we’d done so many gigs with them it was like a big drawcard round LA. The Knack were courting the record companies. Like they’d have three or four record companies at each gig taking up about 100 seats, all complimentaries. And we got a little bit of attention, too.
“The Knack got signed up and they disappeared. They went off the road and started recording. We kept going and didn’t do too many gigs after that.”
Things were looking promising but they ran out of money. Returning home, Sailor found a surprising lack of support here. They couldn’t raise the $20,000 that would get them back to LA, so instead they scraped their way to Australia.
“We went there completely by ourselves. It would have been different if we could have gone over there with a fresh album to promote. But…”
“We didn’t have management in Australia. We didn’t have a record deal or any prospects. We didn’t have the chance to write and rehearse. We had to work six nights a week just to live.”
So the band split, and McArtney returned home to spend a reclusive year writing and playing low-key café gigs. And now he’s back with a band and a record: strange. For a man who places more importance in composing than playing live, he’s certainly going about things in a strange way.
“It felt really good for about a month. And then it gets to be a drag. Like what killed Sailor… we were on the road for five years. We just didn’t know what was happening. We lost faith in the band.”
McArtney reckons the musicianship of his current band is a definite bonus, though he admits that they are “probably less exciting for people in the audience. I remember when Hello Sailor started out we were into leaping around and being crazy. I’m a bit older now. I’m 29 now. I’m not into jumping around onstage.” GARY STEEL