Hard rock at its most sublime

When the Pretty Things put a song on Savage Eye called "It Isn't Rock 'n Roll" their sarcasm missed SAILOR entirely. Unlike other groups that have strayed out of rock's dominion into other areas as classical or electronics while retaining a rock-following, SAILOR began life as a non-rock band appealing to a normal rock/pop audience, and has so far only made a concession to the more commercial aspect of their slight fence straddling.
There's something intangible about a group that is promoted and presented in the standard rock fashion that leads one to think of them as a standard rock group, however unfair the musicians may find that association. When queried on their self-image, SAILOR's Henry Marsh admitted to the confusion that surrounds the identity) in the public's mind only) of a group that on one tour shares billing with Deep Purple's Tommy Bolin and Pink Panther's Henry Mancini, in the same city no less. When pressed for a self-made pigeon-hole, the consensus around the group runs to "good-time, European and romantic".
Unless you've heard or seen SAILOR, they bear quite a bit of description for a vague image to emerge of what they sound/are like. First, some background: All four SAILORs have histories in rock bands that they care very little about discussing. The names Eclection, Gringo and Affinity come up, as comes a duo album done under the name Kajanus-Pickett for Signpost a ways back, but details on the subject are scare. In any case, all four had known each other and played together on and off over the years (these are no spring chickens) when Georg Kajanus (Kai-ah-nus) presented them at the end of 1973 with a tape of songs he had written in fulfilment of an idea for a red-light revue. The songs were loosely arranged around the plot of a sailor's night out of the town in some port city, and it involved booze and hookers and gambling. (Things which have no bearing on the musicians - they're all straight dignified and extremely "ungroovy" as Georg puts it.) They enthusiastically formed around Georg's idea, and began playing colleges, clubs and other small venues, while their conception of the group evolved towards its present form. Columbia Records became interested in the idea, and their debut album was released in August 1974. It's an entirely conceptualised production, the proper presentation of a tape which had begun the whole process a year earlier.
Apart from the novelty of their subject matters, SAILOR scores in the uniqueness ratings by using some of the more esoteric non -rock instruments available to them. Although many did not appear on the first LP, the group has recorded with almost as many instruments as Thunderclap Newmann: nickelodeon, guitarron, accordion, Charango, Veracruzana harp and others not so familiar to rock listeners.
The "Sailor" album mixes Chevalier with schmaltzy Kinks to create a cabaret sound that holds hands with Manhattan Transfer and Rupert Holmes (who arrived in time to be associate producer of "Trouble"). Songs like "The Girls Of Amsterdam", "Let's Go To Town" and "Sailor's Night On The Town" all cover various romanticized aspects of putting one's ship into port (as it were) with no further meaning intended. Admittedly, it's a bit off the wall but enjoyable for its own merits.
Strangely, the song that was released and became somewhat successful in Britain was "Traffic Jam", a musical history of the automobile that does not pertain to the album's main theme. The group's next release was a re-recording of "Sailor", excised of a few naughty words for the benefit of all the mummy's daughters listening to the BBC.
In the meantime, the group became very popular in England and various parts of Europe, where audiences got used to the novelty, and became entranced in the jovial fantasy. America's reaction was, in terms of debut album sales, reserved. After all, English dance hall music is rather, how do you say, English - Americans have little nostalgia for George Formby and Max Bygraves.
SAILOR were doing well in England, but not as well as they might, so some bright soul at CBS suggests that Georg write something a bit more commercial than SAILOR's normal fare. Obeying his better instincts, Georg was, as he put it, "a very good boy", and knocked of an admittedly crass bit of fluff, loosely (well, not so loosely) arranged around Roxy Music's "Virginia Plain". A cute little ditty with strange synthesizers and bizarre harmonies, it became, with no prodding, a number one single in Britain, firmly establishing themselves as an explosive pop band with a great future on the single chart. Unfortunately, SAILOR is neither a pop group, nor has any interest in being one exclusively. The group's second album helped avoid typecasting them, for kids who bought the 45 and then the album, "Trouble", heard the group's choice of material, which makes no concessions to commerciality - it fares well with the first album, although the production is lusher. In order to put the SAILOR image right to the single-buying public, the group released another song from "Trouble" past March. "Girls Girls Girls" sounds more like Sparks "Looks, Looks, Looks" than anything else, but maybe you'd have to have been born in the forties to understand. In any case, nobody is typecasting SAILOR anymore. They appear, from the smallish repertoire of two albums, to be capable of anything strange and pleasant. Their stage act is happy and off-the-cuff, with perhaps a bit too much Oscar Brand / Burl Ives for me. However, SAILOR can and should be seen and enjoyed by everyone. Just don't expect Marshall stacks and smoke machines. They're not that sort.
By Ira Robbins


copyright by