Sailor Newcastle City Hall 26th February 1976
I was about to categorise Sailor under “Guilty Pleasures”. Then I thought a little more. It would be easy to dismiss Sailor as a 1970s teen pop band, but actually, there was much more to them than their two UK singles charts hits “A Glass of Champagne” (which reached No 2), and “Girls, Girls, Girls” (No 7). Sailor were a serious band, grounded within a solid concept, and received many positive reviews and considerable critical acclaim at the time.
I first saw Sailor when they supported Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel on tour. Their show was pure theatre, exploring concepts of the sea, and telling stories of the docks, voyages and sailors. Sailor’s songs were based upon a narrative of life on the sea, drinking, frequenting taverns and visiting shady red light areas. Their influences came from European music of the 1940s and 1950s and they played authentic, unusual instruments including a charango (what is one of those 🙂 ?), and a nickelodeon. “If you can imagine Jaques Brel leading Edison Lighthouse through the score of ‘On the town’ or one of those other sailor-suited Gene Kelly musicals, then you’re half the way there” (New Musical Express, September, 1974).
Sailor’s line-up and instrumentation was Georg Kajanus (12 string guitar, charango, Veracruzana harp and lead vocals), Phil Pickett (bass nickelodeon, guitarron, piano and vocals), Henry Marsh (nickelodeon, accordion, piano, marimbas), and Grant Serpell (drums, percussion).
Their music was quite different from anything else around at the time, they were definitely an acquired taste, and their two hits singles were not typical of their music or of their theatrical stage show. Their 1976 tour came shortly after the release of their second, and most successful, album “Trouble”. The concert was an attempt to take us down to the dockland, setting the scene for their seaport stories, and it all worked quite well. Those in the audience who were only familiar with Sailor’s hits probably found it quite strange. Support came from three piece Alfalpha, featuring a young Nick Laird-Clowes, later to be a presenter on the Tube and lead singer and one of the principal songwriters in Dream Academy (“Life in a Northern Town”).
From the tour publicity: “It’s extremely unlikely you’ve ever heard anything quite like Sailor before in your life, because they are, quite simply, unique. An over-worked word…..but you can apply it to Sailor, not only for their repertoire, with its echoes of waterfronts, bars and bordellos, but to the sounds they use to colour the stories they tell. That monstrous machine on stage is the Nickelodeon — a custom-built bank of keyboards played by two musicians and something you won’t hear from any other band…..The Sailor sound has already resulted in the group having had Top Ten hits in Europe (with their first single Traffic Jam’) and becoming, in an incredibly short time, one of the most feted and popular outfits in Holland, Belgium and Scandinavia.”
If my memory is correct (and it often isn’t) after the Sailor concert at the City Hall we went down to the Guildhall and caught the end of a Big Jim Sullivan show, which was organised as a guitar clinic/exhibition in collaboration with a local guitar shop.
The set list is likely to have been something like this: Blame It On The Soft Spot; The Street; Let’s Go To Town; The Old Nickelodeon Sound; Veracruz; Blue Desert; Jacaranda; Girls Girls Girls; Panama; Traffic Jam; A Glass Of Champagne.
“I’ve got the money, I’ve got the place
You’ve got the figure, you’ve got the face
Let’s get together, the two of us
Over a glass of champagne.”
(Sailor, A Glass Of Champagne, 1975)
Archive for the ‘Sailor’ Category
Sailor Newcastle City Hall 26th February 1976
Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel Newcastle City Hall 1975
The Best Years of Our Lives: Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)
Support band: Sailor
1975 was a big year for Steve Harley. The original Cockney Rebel, which he formed with violinist John Crocker, had split with a lot of bad feeling. Steve quickly formed a new version of the band, with only drummer Stuart Elliott remaining from the old Rebel. The new band was named Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel rather than simply Cockney Rebel, and also featured Jim Cregan (ex-Family), George Ford on bass and Duncan McKay on Keyboards. Steve wrote a song about the break-up, blaming his former band-mates for deserting him. That song was Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me). As soon as I heard it, I knew Steve was back stronger and better than ever, and that he was going to have a mega hit. Make Me Smile was Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel’s biggest selling hit singkle, selling over one million copies globally; it was to be their only number one hit, reaching the top of the UK Singles Chart in February 1975. The single was taken from the Best Years of Our Lives lp, which was the most successful Cockney Rebel album. A tour was announced and sold out immediately and called at Newcastle City Hall in April 1975. My memories of that gig are of an amazing night. Make Me Smile had just dropped off No 1, and the crowd gave Steve and the new band a reception like few I have seen before or since. Support came from Sailor who were wearing their sailor suits, and were soon to hit the charts themselves with Glass of Champagne. I think Steve came on stage very late that night. I seem to remember a big delay before he took to the stqge; my memory tells me that he explained to us that he was late because he had been recording Top of the Pops (this is where I start to question my fuzzy recollections as Make Me Smile had dropped out of the charts at that point and Mr Raffles had not yet been released, so a Top of the Pops appearance that week doesn’t seem that likely). My fuzzy memory also tells me that they started the set with Make Me Smile, and played it again at the end, before the traditional crowd singalong to Tumbling Down. I’m sure they also played old favourites like Sebastian. What I am certain about was it was an amazing night with the crowd going crazy; it was about welcoming back Steve, being pleased that the new band was so good, and celebrating the success of Make Me Smile. This is another gig that I wish I could go back and relive. I have also seen that there was a programme for the tour, which I don’t have. They must have sold out earlier on the tour, as was sometimes the case in those days. I must look for one on ebay.