legend... taken from the official SAILOR fanclub
And here's the true story...
with special thanks to James McCarraher:
It was inevitable that
Phil Pickett would commit his life to making music,
particularly in view of the considerable talents of his
father, jazz pianist Philip George Pickett.
A full and detailed account can be found in the book "A Glass Of Champagne The Official Sailor Story".
letter to the fans
Many, many thanks for your
interest - and for writing in. It's fantastic and a huge
"hit" for us that there are still so many loyal
fans out there after all this time! I'm honoured that you
still like the band and our music.
PHIL PICKETT is a great believer in
fate. "Success often comes from the door on your
left, rather than the one you're aiming for in front. You
never know what's around the corner," he says.
The texts under the photos:
didn't hold back. It was the fifth week he'd been waiting
for Paul, the plumber to turn up at his new recording
studio to do some vital work. When his mobile rang and he
heard the name Paul, he let rip.
"I was invited to play cricket at Richard Branson's home last year and I blowed him out! He came over as I was leaving and said 'thanks for writing that song Phil, it really set us up well'. I suppose he meant that the money they made helped finance the airline business!"
with Culture Club from their first tour. George said they
were thinking of asking me to go on tour but couldn't
afford to pay me. I said I'd go along because I knew
they'd be huge and they could pay me when they had a hit!
formed SAILOR in the early 1970s. We're still together
but we see it more of a hobby now. Our hobby is to play
in front of 70.000 people at festivals abroad!
ABOVE: My mate Macca. Phil above, far left, with Sir Paul McCartney and Duane Eddy and the Memphis Horns, at Sir Paul's East Sussex recording studio in 1988
glam-rock 1970s I'd worn sequins and sailor suits. In the
gender-bender 1980s I wrote and performed with Culture
Club. Now I'm writing for a ghost and a guy in a slimy
green mask," laughs Phil, who's pictured left with
his SAILOR buddies.
A text about Phil, taken from the programme of "Casper - The Musical" (composers: Henry Marsh and Phil Pickett, production musical director: Anthony England) 1999 / 2000:
for "Strange Days" in Japan
interview with Phil Pickett was made in January 2001 by
the Japanese music magazine "Strange Days".
Phil was asked to answer some questions about the SAILOR
history for the CD re-releases of the two SAILOR albums
"Hideaway" and "Trouble" in February
/ March 2001 in Japan.
Question: You are also active in the musical world, working on such musicals as "MASK" and "CASPER", but do you think that your experience with SAILOR works as an inspiration in these activities?
As already mentioned above, Henry and I composed the entire score and songs for three musicals during 1998-2000. - "Casper", "The Mask" and "Spider-Man". Although very hard work, I am sure the many years of working together in SAILOR helped the process enormously. Our "Casper" show has a number of songs where you can hear the influences of this tradition according to some, and this was the show that went on to be staged at London's famous Shaftesbury Theatre in the West End, and is also about to be produced in the USA.
Question: In Japan, people and the media sometimes confuse you with the traditional musician, Phil Pickett (who plays with Richard Thompson), but does the same thing happen in England as well? Do you know him personally?
We used to share the same hairdresser (!) and have many mutual friends such as Dave Pegg and Richard Thompson, but have never actually met. Once I returned some royalties - I have to say a very small amount paid in error for a song called "Hopping Down In Kent" that the other "Phil Pickett" had apparently written, but was then very worried he might have received some of my Culture Club royalties! - All very scary but it turned out to be o.k. in the end.
Question: Do you have any plans to tour other than Europe? We are looking forward to see SAILOR's live show here in Japan someday.
Talk to your friends! We would simply love to come if there was a possibility to play. Having visited Japan many times with Culture Club and later Keziah Jones, I love your country, and I know everyone else in the band who have never been would jump at the chance.
I really enjoyed the interview and
say a big "Hi" to our Japanese friends, many many
Very best wishes,
for Radio Darmstadt "Yester-Songs"
The following interview with Phil Pickett was recorded by Mark Stehle for his show "Yester-Songs" at Radio Darmstadt in Darmstadt, Germany which was broadcast on 04 March 2001. Phil answered questions about the SAILOR history and the songs that were played in the show. During the radio show Phil's voice was translated into German, so that this version here had to be translated back into English.
Phil: Hello everybody who's listening to Radio Darmstadt. This is Phil Pickett from SAILOR, talking to Mark, presently in Oxford in England and looking forward to the interview.
Song: Sailor (censored version)
Host: SAILOR with "Sailor". Let's talk about the beginning of SAILOR and the successes of this band from England. From 1976 to 1978 they had two top 10 singles in Germany: "A Glass Of Champagne" and "Girls Girls Girls". They also were in the top 30 three times. In England they had two top 10 hits and a number one hit with "A Glass Of Champagne". In Australia they had three hits in the top 50, highest chart position # 4, again with "A Glass Of Champagne". After a long time without SAILOR from 1980 to 1990 they reunited 1990 and had new hits with "The Secretary" (# 7 in Germany) and "La Cumbia" (# 25 in Germany) and "Latino Lover" # 61. When I started to look for an interview partner for this show there was a big problem because I didn't know how to contact the band. I finally found an address after a long search, and I wanted to do an interview with Georg Kajanus, the former lead singer of SAILOR. But then I received an answer from Phil Pickett from the original line-up. He was interested in doing the interview and it was great fun for me and also for him. Let's talk about the topical line-up of SAILOR: Georg Kajanus is not in the band any more. He was replaced by Peter Lincoln - lead vocals and guitar. Peter Lincoln had also worked for Cliff Richard. Then we have Anthony England - keyboards and Nickelodeon, Grant Serpell - drums, and also my interview partner Phil Pickett - bass and Nickelodeon. And Phil Pickett will now tell us how the SAILOR story started:
Phil: There were many romantic motions about the early days of SAILOR. There were stories that Georg and I met in a café in Paris, and there were many kind of very romantic stories. We met 1970 / 71. I worked as a music publisher in London. I listened to Georg's music and really liked his lyrics. Then we started to work together on songs, and we also had a recording contract. The album was named "Kajanus / Pickett" and was released in 1971 by Atlantic Records. We recorded it with much love and very carefully. It was a magical experience because it was our first ever record. Although we had very good reviews we didn't have a manager, we didn't have a band and we didn't really have a lot of knowledge about the music business. SAILOR was born out of that experience. We told ourselves: Now we have a great band, now we can go on tour and more people will see us. At that time Georg and I were also working on a kind of opera about sailors, prostitutes, red light quarters and sailors on shore-leave. Our drummer Grant Serpell liked this idea and thought this made us totally unique and different from what other bands did. We wanted to have a trademark, we wanted to be original. So we decided that we would take a what at that time was quite an extreme step - I mean - now with 30 years on now it's very different, but in those days to dress up in sailor suits and have elaborate stage costumes - we had a very dark presentation and a very atmospheric stage set built. We tried to do something unique and I think the spirit of that is what SAILOR is all about.
Host: One of SAILORs trademarks is this famous double-piano which is named the Nickelodeon. It was played by Henry Marsh and Phil Pickett. More information about this instrument from Phil Pickett:
Phil: Georg came up with the design. Georg is a craftsman and a carpenter and he had these very very kind of wild ideas. Some of them were quite impractical sometimes (Phil laughs), but we managed to find a way to build this thing and in fact some of the technical-minded musician listeners will understand what "midi" is today which means you can play lots of different instruments at one time with a keyboard. At that time something like this didn't exist yet, so we created a mechanical version of what is known as "midi" today. Half of the time it did not work, but when it worked is was really fantastic! We had a piano-keyboard and underneath the piano-keyboard hidden inside the Nickelodeon was another keyboard. Stevie Wonder also used something like that, it was an "APR synthesizer". We drilled holes underneath it, and when you played a note on the piano another note was played on the other keyboard at the same time. On top of the piano there was another construction which was named the piano-mate. It made a dreadful sort of organ-sound. The pubs in England used to have these to make the sound wider. On top of the Nickelodeon was a very large glockenspiel made of a 24 electrical doorbell mechanism that we'd wired up, so that every time you played a piano note it made a contact on this doorbell mechanism which played a little note on the glockenspiel with a hammer (Phil laughs).
Song: The Old Nickelodeon Sound
Song: All I Need Is A Girl
Host: There we could here the Nickelodeon in "All I Need Is A Girl". 1978 it was one of the radio hits in Germany, place 40 in the charts. But SAILORs greatest hits came some years before that, 1975 in December: "A Glass Of Champagne". There is a legend about this song which says that Georg Kajanus had went on holiday shortly after the song was released and meanwhile the song became a hit. When Georg returned he was welcomed at the airport by his colleagues with a huge bottle of champagne. I confronted Phil Pickett with this story, and here's how he reacted:
Phil: (starts laughing) I think that sounds like something a journalist dreamt of to put in the newspaper. I must say that we had a lot of good reviews about our music in the newspapers. We had lots of concerts in England and a lot of work. the audience wanted us to do this. But we weren't selling enough records and so the record company put us under pressure to produce a hit single. Our sound was not comparable to other bands. Before "A Glass Of Champagne" we had no kind of pop-sound in our songs. Georg worked on that song and played us a demo. It was very simple. We worked on all these ideas. It is a fabulous songs and a great idea from Georg. Those actual simplicity of the lyrics, you know: I've got the money, I've got the place... Let's get together the two of us over a glass of champagne. It's just a great sentiment that lots of people can identify with.
Song: A Glass Of Champagne
Host: SAILOR here at Radio Darmstadt "Yester-Songs" with "A Glass Of Champagne". On 03 April 1976 the second hit "Girls Girls Girls" entered the English charts, and as you know the song became an evergreen. Phil Pickett reminds us of this time:
Phil: We were on a tour of Norway at that time. It was Georg's home country. We were a little bit disappointed with the reception we got when we went back to Norway. We thought we had hits everywhere. Georg had lived in Trondheim and we expected to be welcomed there on a red carpet. But nothing like that happened. Georg was very proud to be able to show us his country. We met his father, and many of his friends from school came to see our shows. We also saw the local harbour where Georg got his ideas from. After this show in Trondheim Georg introduced his idea for "Girls Girls Girls" to us. It was a very simple melody. After the show we stayed and worked on the arrangement of the song and we were looking forward to recording it which we did as soon as we got back to England. We went straight to Whitfield Street in the middle of London and recorded it more or less exactly the same as we'd rehearsed it a few days previously in Norway.
Song: "Girls Girls Girls"
Song: "Stiletto Heels"
Host: "Stiletto Heels" was SAILOR's third song in the German charts. On 11 October 1976 it entered the charts and the result was chart position # 12. That's a way to flaunt through the charts. Phil Pickett tells us what happens when you have got one drink too many:
Phil: "One Drink Too Many" is a song that once again we play in our live shows now, and the people love it. Everybody can relate to that feeling when you've had one drink too many and you want more than your body can actually stand. It's as if your mind wants to cash a cheque, but you can't cash it when you've had one drink too many, you know... (Phil laughs).
Song: "One Drink Too Many"
Host: 1977 SAILOR with "One Drink Too Many". Highest chart position in Germany # 22. But let's change the subject now. Let's imagine to be a businessman who wants to make a deal... "Put Your Mouth Where The Money Is" is a song that might go into this direction, and it was not composed by Georg Kajanus:
Phil: We started to say: Come on guys, we have other talents in the band (Phil laughs). This song was written by Grant and Henry. It was released on the album "Hideaway". (a note from MARINERO: that's not true - the song was released on the album "Checkpoint" in 1977!) Fortunately we had enough talented guys. "Put You Mouth Where the Money Is" is a fantastic song.
Song: "Put Your Mouth Where The Money Is"
Song: "The Runaway"
Host: SAILOR in the "Yester-Songs" with "The Runaway". Lead vocals by our interview partner Phil Pickett. Let's now talk about the next two songs which deal with Asia. The songs "Trouble In Hong Kong" and "Soapland. Well, when sailors come to an Asian harbour a lot of things can happen...
Phil: Ok, "Trouble In Hong Kong", how should we do this, you know, how should this sound? There is some cliché how songs like this might sound. It's for example in "China Girl" from David Bowie. It's the cliché how music from China or Japan has to sound - you know, that sort of little plinky-plonky.
Song: "Trouble In Hong Kong"
Host: SAILOR and "Soapland" - Tokyo is calling. When SAILOR started to become less successful they decided to break up. And Phil Pickett will now tell us why and how they suddenly decided to come back together again in 1990:
Phil: That was interesting because in 1979 we decided to stop, and everybody went off to do their own thing. I went off and joined Boy George with Culture Club. I was the only SAILOR member who had more live concerts with Culture Club than with SAILOR. In Culture Club I played keyboards. The other SAILOR guys did lots of different things. Henry Marsh did TV advertising music. Georg Kajanus had a group called DATA. Grant Serpell went on to teach Physics and Chemistry which he did very well. A publisher contacted us and asked us to get back together again and release a new album. So we got back together again and continued where we had stopped in the late 70s - with the same kind of music. Georg wanted to write the songs again and he had some great ideas. We told him to do it in the same kind of songwriting-style and we will see if it works. "The Secretary" was written in the same style as "A Glass Of Champagne": funny lyrics, great vocals, a twelve-string guitar. We thought the audience would like this. After ten years we went to the studio together again and the sound was still intact. "La Cumbia" was another new track. It shows the Latin side of the band. We've always had a strong affinity for Latin rhythms and music.
Song: "La Cumbia"
Song: "The Secretary"
Host: You double your trouble when you double your home... Here your wife and there your secretary... SAILOR "The Secretary" 1990. Chart position # 7 in Germany. Last question to Phil Pickett: If a fairy godmother came along and told you to make a wish, what would you say?
Phil: Well, of course on a very superficial level it would be fantastic to release a new SAILOR record and to have another great worldwide hit. That would be a fantastic experience! It would also be great to have the opportunity to perform SAILOR shows in front of a large audience. Sometimes it's a little strange when you can't only play your own songs. You'd be surprised what kind of music we play at shows like for example in Amsterdam. It's the typical SAILOR repertoire. We also perform at Oldie nights with many other bands from the 70s. We have a very good repertoire, but 99 % of the visitors of such Oldie nights haven't heard that music. I mean, people like yourself and many of our fans of course love us just to play songs that they remember from 25 years ago, but we have to add to the repertoire for modern audiences. So, I think if a fairy godmother came along I think I would say: Give us a lot more shows where we can just play our material." I mean, we love playing the hits and some of the other fun-things that we do like "La Bamba", or we do songs like "Pop Muzik" and we're doing a new medley like a party record at the moment of Latin inspired songs about girls.
Host: Special thanks to the translator for Phil Pickett. Our last song will be "Street Lamp". Goodbye and special thanks to Phil Pickett from Mark Stehle.
Phil: Thank you Mark, and thanks to all the listeners of Radio Darmstadt for listening to me. It was very enjoyable talking to you. And keep going out and listening to the music of SAILOR!
Song: "Street Lamp"
night, Dresden, Germany
Phil Pickett sounds off about punitive German tax policy that is penalising visiting 'foreign' artists
taken from "the works" - the magazine of the British Academy of composers and songwriters - issue 8 2001
I've just come off
stage to a rip-roaring encore from 15.000 fans of SAILOR, the
group I founded way back in 1973.
It may come as a surprise to some that loyal music fans literally in their tens of thousands (and not a zimmer-frame in sight - honest!) regularly flock to see SAILOR and a host of other UK bands from what is honoured and appreciated as the 'Golden Era' of classic pop and unique live entertainment.
A far cry indeed from the 'end of pier' mentality prevailing toward such shows on home ground. But fear not - I am not intending to use this prestigious organ to bemoan a commercial reality we all accept.
The fact is, as a writer and producer in an increasingly nervous industry, I still get an enormous kick out of performing live, allowing me out of my studio box to camp about on stage with my mates most weekends. Assembling at 'sparrow-fart am' for the red-eye to the Fatherland became a regular opportunity to export our wares and, in the process, earn valuable currency for ourselves, our country and our PRS.
Since the early days with SAILOR, then Culture Club, I always felt that playing live gives a huge boost to the delicate craft of songwriting, and in any event I am proud to represent a cultural phenomenon of which we as a nation are celebrated throughout the planet - and rightly so!
So far so good, but obviously as far as our EU neighbours the German Government were concerned (God bless 'em!) this party was just too good to be true, so they set about bursting a few of our pretty balloons.
Perceived as a cultural advantage of another EU member state - in particular UK musicians and writers - they decide to implement actions that many believe are at best a flagrant breach of both the letter and spirit of closer harmony and economic integration - and at worst, frankly illegal.
Authority unilaterally slapped on an extra 40 % on top of the already generous federal and local taxes - not only on the artists' fees but (wait for it!) on all flights, transport and even hotel costs of their UK visitors. 40 %. Not very neighbourly, that!
Dubbed the "foreign artist tax" (excuse me but didn't we join the EU to not be "foreign" anymore - level playing fields etc.?) it has become a nightmare for both German promoters and bands. You don't have to be Gordon Brown to realise that, whilst not exactly finishing us off, it has torpedoed the economic fundamentals of a thirving market previously in robust and rude health. Therefore, it must be eventually affect PRS income, the value of those timeless copyrights, and into the bargain deprives a huge and genuine market willing to pay good money to see and hear great UK music.
How can this not be viewed as anything other than a form of cultural discrimination, naked protectionism and clear restrain of trade of a small but successful minority? An ominous note, surely, on the ever-thickening wedge into income from music and the esteem and value of our works throughout the world.
Where I live in Oxford, many of our German friends are coming over in droves at present to build their BMWs - can you imagine the uproar if any other viable EU industry was interfered with this way? Why can't our Government protect a vital UK business as others do theirs?
Behind the mealy-mouthed rhetoric of Blair & Co. that is allowed to pass for debate on the EU, are, I believe, some vitally important issues which affect the future of our business as writers, performers and producers of music of which the above story is but one.
Will new Culture Minister Tessa Jowell or anyone out there who professes such high regard for our industry and its achievements therefore try to stem the relentless tide of the denigration of our musical heritage and livelihood? Or even the MU - come on guys, stop arguing amongst yourselves like the Torries, lobby a few people and get behind some real issues!
Now where's the bar? Fräulein - ein grosses Bier, bitte!
for the DVD "Pirate Copy - Sailor Live In Concert"
Phil: I think that we wanted to do something a bit brave, and it was always a bit like 'oh god, short hair, white sailor suits, come on guys - what's going on?', but we made ourselves do it, and we got a fantastic reaction from people because everybody else at that time was wearing denim and had long hair and electric guitars and we just wanted to do something that had a sound of its own. We were creating a sound and a whole world of these harbour towns and sailors' nights on the town and things like that. It was quite difficult sometimes because all your mates are going 'what are you doing?', but I think a lot of people had respect for us because we were unique.
Question: Mandolins and glockenspiels are not normal instruments on hit records. How difficult was it to incorporate them into the recordings?
Phil: No, we just decided it on the template of the sound that we wanted to have as the original band with Georg, Henry, Grant and myself, and we made the whole thing work with four people. That was very important. The vocals and everything had to be performed. We were quite purist about that. We needed to do everything on stage like the way it was on the record. We didn't over-record and do lots of overdubs and thinks like that, we just kept it very simple and kept to that more European tradition of music.
Question: What was the link that brought all the original members of the group together?
Phil: Well, I guess it's true to say that originally I met Georg when I was working at a music publisher's in London and my job - it was my first job in the music business, and last - was to listen to tapes of people when they came in, like an A&R department really, and I heard Georg's music, I never met him, and I was just nuts about his music. My ambition was to form a band and to meet people who I felt I could work with and write with. Georg seemed to have everything. So I got in touch with him and somehow cheeky asked him if he'd mind writing with me as well. So we made an album together called "Kajanus Pickett" and then we decided after that to go separate ways for about six months. We thought it would be great to do it again, but with a band because we suffered from just being a duo. We were trying to be like "Hall and Oats" or something like that. Grant was a friend of Georg's and Henry was a friend of mine, so we got together and decided to form SAILOR.
Question: Do you think it's a bonus or a slight confusion that your image falls between the two stools of theatre and rock?
Phil: Quite possibly, yes. As you know we split up at the end of the 70s when punk came in and record companies just got rid of everybody unless you had a sort of safety pin through your nostril. I think we ran our natural course. And I guess we were then a pop band, but we didn't always consider ourselves as a pop band. When you listen to the first album "Sailor" it's far out, it's still my favourite album that we did. But there again we couldn't continue like that, we had to have the hits, we had to go through that machine, that whole kind of sausage factory. Not that I regret it, but I think now that we revisited the whole thing in the 90s and after the year 2000, we find that we can be more confident about that theatricality and have fun with it. It's not so much an experimental thing now. We really enjoy it.
Question: Does every change in the line-up bring you certain strength?
Phil: Oh definitely, yes. Everybody is expendable in this band because the arrangements and the songs are what it's all about. We're moving on a little bit now, doing some new recordings. But the sound is the thing, and we've play in very tight arrangements, I suppose in a way that bands like The Beach Boys did as well. I went to see Brian Wilson a few weeks ago, and everything was absolutely faithful to the records. That's what you want, that's what I want as a fan going to see. So that's what we do.
Question: What's your view on the present state of the music business?
Phil: It takes me a long time to answer that... I'm always very thrilled by pop music. I've always been involved in reasonable current things as well as enjoying what I do in SAILOR. I think the two help each other. But I think I'm disappointed at the moment a little bit with the trend of the whole industry going into the "pop idol" thing. Not that I resent those guys success, good luck to them, but I feel it cheapens the whole magic of what you're trying to create for the public. Because people see everything, how it's done, and then three weeks after if they fail, public completely loses interest. So, it's a television product, it's not a music product. These things come and go like a pendulum and come back again, and I've heard that record companies are signing bands again now, and not only factory-made pop artists. But however you get there - some of them are really good. Some of the runners-up are probably better than the winners.
Question: Are there any plans to take this band or this line-up into the studio?
Phil: We always threaten doing that. You have to find a worthwhile reason to do it. The promoters who have us on shows now, they want us to do a certain type of show. There's absolutely no point in playing new songs, maybe we play one or two new numbers. It depends. With the success of what we are trying to do now in the UK with this show and other concerts that we are trying to do in Europe, we would hope to do that, and then find a record company that will come in and say 'right, ok, let's do some new recordings'. But it's got to be relevant. When we first started we were very much into the pop thing with the kids and everything like that. I think we just have to find an avenue that will be worthwhile and enjoyable for us to do.
Question: As a songwriter, do you find that creative inspiration is something that has to be learned and perfected, or is it something like a gift?
Phil: I think there has to be a gift there to begin with. You get ideas and you have a desire to want to do that, instead of singing other peoples' songs or lyrics. But then I think it's like anything else, it's a lot of hard work. The motivation has to come first. And it's what I love doing, so I never need much motivation to write, that's the reason I'm into this, why I'm in bands, play with people, play on stage and everything.
Question: In the studio, did you have input into what was recorded and how it was produced?
Phil: We were lucky in that respect. We didn't have people coming down and telling us what we should do and what we shouldn't do. So it was very much our own creativity. We were trusted in the respect. I think maybe that has changed now with producers and things like that. But we kind of produced our own records, so we used to deliver it to the record company. Whether we could do that now I don't know, but we just worked it all out with the four of us.
Question: Which of your records are you particularly proud of?
Phil: Well, as I said, I think "Sailor", obviously the hits "Girls Girls Girls", "A Glass Of Champagne". I think "Sailor" is my favourite record because that was the blueprint of our sound. We've modified and moved on from that, but I think really that was the high spot. And then I think the second album "Trouble" was the hits and the success and everything like that. But I think "Sailor" was the favourit really.
Question: And finally Phil, any ambitions left that you personally want to fulfil within the band?
Phil: I'd like to see us have a hit again. We do other things as well as SAILOR. We produce and write - I say we do, I do it, and Peter does. But we are still doing it. We have ambitions, I have an ambition for SAILOR because it's a band that I formed with my mates. And I always think everything is possible. You never really know, the story is never written. I'm quite positive about that. It is difficult. We might just slot in there again and take off. If it doesn't happen, that's fair enough. We enjoy doing it, and we carry on doing it aynway. We found our little niche and we enjoy it. And if we have the success again, the joy of that would be to play for new and bigger audiences and having a lot more people come and see us.