Steve Burns

Review: SAILOR in Scarborough, Yorskhire (UK) 1974:

In autumn 1974, SAILOR played the Penthouse in Scarborough (Yorskhire, UK). The DJ, one Matt Watkinson, had been playing the album on odd nights, and I'd been quite impressed, so I'd bought it (he also worked at the local record shop which helped), and persuaded a few of my friends to come along to see this weird band who promised such an entertaining evening. Expect the unexpected, as they say.
The Nickelodeon on the stage convinced a few that we were in for something a bit unusual, but this was 1974, and we were a hard audience to please. We were all "into" synthesisier bands (Seventh Wave played a gig at the same venue a few weeks later, to great acclaim), but rather looked down our noses at "pop" bands. Which, it had occurred to me, this SAILOR might well be.
When these four guys walked onstage wearing the ridiculous sailor suits, I thought, "Lord, what's this?", and, when they started the first song ("Let's Go to Town", of course) and the sound failed, it looked as though it was going to be embarrassing.
They returned to the dressing room (or whatever), waited five minutes while somebody fixed the sound, then came back and blew the place away. They played the album in its entirety, plus (I think) Panama and (definitely) Pimps' Brigade. For encores, they played more or less the entire album again. ("We don't know many songs.") At the end, we were informed it had been the first time people had paid to see them play - I can't say whether this was true or not.
They came back to the Penthouse several times over the next couple of years. The gigs were always packed out from then on, going down in Scarborough folklore, though none matched the sheer refreshing novelty of the first night. I also saw them supporting the Make Me Smile vintage Cockney Rebel at Leeds Town Hall (featuring your friend Stuart Elliott), a gig famous for Henry Marsh remembering to namecheck Scarborough but getting it mixed up with (if memory serves) Newcastle. Not an easy mistake!
After "A Glass of Champagne" and the second album, things changed a bit, not necessarily for the better. There were supposedly serious interviews in the NME (headline "Hello SAILOR" - do us a favour!), but there was never likely to be much critical respect for such a maverick, easily categorisable band.
There was a fairly big gig at Leeds Uni with lots of flashing lights and stuff, and of course loads of encores. Commercially, SAILOR had come as far as they ever would, but were being pressured into becoming either a crowd-pleasing "pop" singles band or a "serious" album act. In 1975, there wasn't any half-way house, you see.
For the "Third Step" tour, Manchester was as near as they came to my part of the world, the Palace Theatre I think. There were various other synths and stuff disguised as street barrows and the sound was a bit more varied. The old magic was still there, they still clearly enjoyed what they were doing and the newer songs were OK, but they were kind of caught in a trap - do they change the style or subject matter and lose their individuality, or persist with a fairly limiting format and risk stagnation?
They never really solved that dilemma, I'm afraid, nor, even after all these years, can I imagine how they could have done. Certainly, their failure to come up with another "hit single" gave them little room for manoeuvre.
I lost touch a bit after that, but picked up the wonderful "Street Lamp" a few years ago. Also, I saw Noir on "Top of the Pops 2", thinking, "That bloke looks familiar", and when the announcer said someone called Georg Kajanus was one of the duo, it took a while before it sank in who he was!
Anyway, I've followed (among others) early Roxy Music, Van der Graaf Generator / Peter Hammill, Joy Division / New Order, the Wedding Present, Dead Can Dance and lately Tindersticks - a few good names to drop in that lot - but I'm still proud to admit to being a SAILOR fan too.
Best wishes,

Last updated: 25 August 1999


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