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PHIL PICKETT

The problem with punk was that it so dominated the media and the industry (if not the charts) that any white pop band even slightly past its first commercial peak got swept away entirely. And if you were too recent an arrival on the scene to have built up a substantial following, then you didn't stand a chance at all. Into this latter category fell Sailor, who were potentially one of the most interesting bands of the era but who only had the opportunity to get two hits in before punk arrived in all its splendour.

The premise of Sailor was to give singer/songwriter Georg Kajanus a chance to mine a European vein of cabaret and musical, drawing on Brecht & Weill and Jacques Brel. Backing him was a curious line-up of drummer and two keyboard-players working a home-made double-sided instrument that they called a nickolodeon. Given that Kajanus played acoustic guitar, this left them without an electric guitarist or a bassist of any variety - both of which are normally considered integral to rock music.

But then Sailor, at least to start with, weren't really a rock band. Although they'd signed to CBS as a kind of acoustic West Coastish kind of act, their first album was resolutely original, quirky and eccentric. Which meant, of course, that it was a complete flop. Despite critical appreciation of the first single 'Worldwide Traffic Jam', it got nowhere. And even a tour supporting Steve Harley in 1975 - when he was at his absolute blinding peak - only established them as a cult act, not a commercial proposition.

Phil Pickett - who was one of the keyboardists, and who intriguingly had earlier played on Sakkarin's version of 'Sugar Sugar' - remembers that there was pressure from CBS to come up with a hit. To which Kajanus responded admirably: 'Georg turned up with this demo of "Glass of Champagne", which was I suppose sort of derivative of Roxy Music, and you could just hear it: that's the one.'

He was right: it sounded like a guaranteed #1 though unfortunately - as Hot Chocolate, Laurel & Hardy and Greg Lake had previously found out - trying to get a #1 single when 'Bohemian Rhapsody' was around was a tough proposition. 'Glass of Champagne' stayed at #2 for a couple of weeks and promised great things. It was, admittedly, very Roxy with its insistent right-hand keyboard chords clearly derived from 'Virginia Plain', but it was a successful adapation of the earlier Euro-sound to the requirements of the charts. And the follow-up 'Girls Girls Girls' is even better remembered as a classic of its time.

The album both came off was Trouble and it's still one of the great documents of the era; if you like early Roxy and early 10cc, you really should hear it, though as far as I know you're going to have to get it on vinyl.

Come the 80s, and Pickett took a different route to most of those covered here. Before Sailor he'd been a session-player, and he returned to this calling when the band folded. Amongst those he worked with was Boy George, who happened to be a big Sailor fan and invited Phil to join his band. So whilst his contemporaries were struggling to be heard in the hostile environment of the 80s, Pickett was touring the world as the fifth member of Culture Club and writing the music to 'Karma Chameleon'.

More recently Sailor reformed, though Kajanus didn't stay around for long, and they currently play with a new singer. I've not seen them, but their 1996 album Legacy: Greatest and Latest wasn't at all bad, and they're still pursuing an eccentric approach to pop music, albeit more Latin- than Euro-flavoured.


TOP FORTY SINGLES: Sailor
UK
1975 A Glass Of Champagne (#2)
1976 Girls Girls Girls (#7)
1977 One Drink Too Many (#35)

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Eddie Amoo
Ken Andrew
Dave Bartram
Mike Batt
Wayne Bickerton
Biddu
David Blaylock
Trevor Bolder
Jacko Boogie
Tony Burrows
Sally Carr
Tina Charles
David Courtney
Danielz
Rob Davis
Richard Dodd
Patrick Doonan
Ray Dorset
Herbie Flowers
Ken Gold
Graham Gouldman
Dave Hill
Harvey Hinsley
John Hughes
Jim Irvin
Jimmy James
Steve Jones
Lorraine Kelly
Paul Layton
Les McKeown
Russell Mael
Johnny Moore
Mike Moran
Chris Norman
Bill Oddie
David Paton
Lyn Paul
Phil Pickett
Suzi Quatro
Chris Rae
Chris Redburn
Norman Rogerson
Ron Roker
John Rossall
Andy Scott
Eddie Seago
Mat Snow
Chris Spedding
John Springate
Ray Stiles
Sunny
Alwyn W Turner
David Van Day
Phil Wainman
Johnny Wakelin
Jeff Wayne
Alan Williams
Pip Williams