Milton Keynes, December 2008. (picture credit Mike O'Connor) (l-r) Henry Marsh,
Grant Serpell, Phil Pickett, Oliver Marsh
Sailor broke through in a
major way in 1975/1976 getting recognised for their multi-influenced
sounds and visuals with the centre-piece nickelodeon. They played five
headlining concerts at Friars and won the Friars Aylesbury Talent
Winners Cup in 1975 which has its pride of place in Phil's studio.
Sailor have been together pretty much most of the time and retain a
loyal following in Europe. Phil not only played with Culture Club in the
1980s he also co-wrote one of the biggest British songs of all time,
Karma Chameleon. Three quarters of the original line up still play today
and Sailor received the Friars Heroes Award in 2008.
They played a rare UK gig
in Milton Keynes recently and we caught up with Phil Pickett and Grant
Serpell for a chat. Our grateful thanks to them for their time.
I'm with Phil Pickett from Sailor having just seen a wonderful Sailor
gig and also tonight Sailor were presented on stage with the inaugural
Friars Heroes award
Phil Pickett (PP): By your good self!
Yes, it was squeaky
bum time for the webmaster!
You did very well. Let me tell you - a lot of people came up to me and
said how good it was and how good a presenter you were.
That's very kind, but
I should point out (for the tape!) that I was press ganged by you and
Henry before the concert! But as you know I'm here to talk about
Aylesbury Friars and as you know, Friars was really big in terms of
Sailor's growing up as a band.
It was one of those venues around the world, probably one of only around
four very very special places where we got the kind of reaction that was
almost unbelievable. I'm glad to say we usually go down reasonably well,
but the audiences there [Aylesbury] were always sensational...and helped
propel us into the stratosphere for the time that we were very big. It's
a long time ago but still remember it very well and David Stopps and all
the people there and all the characters. You just loved playing there.
It was always a great vibe...
From 1975 to 1976 you
had five big headlining shows..
- Was it five? Good Lord!
...and they all went
down sensationally well and a lot of artistes on the website have
incredibly fond memories of playing Friars
It was electric the atmosphere and it was always absolutely rammed and
the feeling was so good there, it was a very special place in terms of
our growing up.
You mentioned to me
earlier about a support slot for Cockney Rebel and the audience took to
Yes they did, and Steve Harley took to us as well, he was very very
generous to us. I think he saw us do an In Concert on BBC2 and contacted
our manager and said we're going on tour, would Sailor come out with us.
There was a quirky originality that Cockney Rebel had, certainly in the
early days and it was a very complimentary programme for people to come
and see Steve Harley who was massive then and [us] who were the new kids
on the block. I don't think we would have got our record success if we
hadn't built up the audiences...and I think we nicked half of Steve
Do you think as well
that the visual appeal of Sailor with the nickelodeon - it was unique
and still is....
I think it is...we've kept the same thing, trying to do something that's
a little bit different to somebody else. That was the idea at the time
and it's stuck with us.
There weren't many bands using the kind of instruments that say
Fairground Attraction were using many years later...
You know, a harp and guitarron...
That's right....and glockenspiels and mandolins. We were a bit folky
really. But in the 70s we were almost like a revue. We played
universities and the record company signed us and said "we love you
guys, but we want some hits" so we were segued into this glam rock thing
which wasn't really us so we readapted our look and theatricality a bit
to reflect what people wanted at the time.
Hence Georg having an anchor on his face?
Yes, and stylists involved, although we styled ourselves in the early
days. It was all a bit radical...short hair and sailor suits. A bit
I guess so. The cover of your first album (Sailor) had the four of
you in sailor suits. The style you referred to was revue, but
there's a bit of music hall [variety] to a certain degree as well..
I think that the show...there is a music hall element, a music hall
entertainment...I think British bands have that.
So Aylesbury was a good starting place in terms of building up an
audience and in 2008 you're still building an audience. I know these
days you are very popular on the continent, why for example have the
people of Germany taken so well to you?
It's a very good question...and I do find it quite mysterious. The
German audiences are very very big audiences and they are very faithful
to bands over a long period of time. The British market is good, bit
it's much more of a fickle market. They've got a big market over there
for bands of all eras and they go out in their masses and pay their
money to see these bands. They've been a lifeline to bands like us.
I've seen some of the YouTube clips for example, some of the open
air German gigs and the crowds have been vast.
Over here, you've got the tour that Boy George (is or won't be
headlining in Spring 2009 dependant on circumstances) is headlining (an
80s tour) but you've got about six other bands and yet there doesn't
seem to be a 1970s equivalent in this country. It's very very strange.
But you were involved in a 70s tour in this country about 18 months
ago with the Rubettes..
We do those tours because it's work to us and we enjoy them, but we
don't feel like we're a 70s band. That sounds snobbish, but we were an
albums band when we started but the album market just collapsed when we
formed! Therefore to market us, because we were theatrical they put us
into the glam thing. But we related much more to what Genesis were
So you got lumped in...[to glam]
We didn't want it really because we were much older than the others.
We are now joined by Grant
I was saying to Phil that Aylesbury seemed to be very kind to
....and helped to break Sailor.
There were certain key gigs we did, The Penthouse in Scarborough and
Aylesbury gave us an awareness we could entertain people. That's very
very important. We'd all been round the block a few times. I had played
with Geno Washington and Mike D'Abo. When you start something new, you
don't know if there's going to be a market or not. The first time we
played Friars, the second album [Trouble] wasn't out, the first was, but
certainly not the second and to get a crowd of that size...they knew
there was something commercial here.
My introduction to Sailor was probably 'Glass of Champagne' but I
had an older cousin who influenced me heavily and I listened to
'Trouble' and 'Sailor' and they were incredible...'Let's Go To Town'...I
still play that now! I was hoping you'd do it tonight but guessed you
It's a great opening number but it's very conceptual within the original
With the bass drum in front of the nickeodeon..
Yes! but we can't... most of the gigs we do it's get on, 45 minutes and
get off! You've got 15 minutes to get on so you have to go with the bare
minimum, no sound check and you're out there and you do it.
It's a real shame that Oliver (Marsh and son of Henry, Sailor's
singer played his last gig just before this interview) is going. The
highest compliment I can pay him is that it was like Georg was there.
I'm not saying that was deliberate, but in terms of vocal style and performance..it made the band complete.
We will miss him. The person that replaces him...we have to have some
equivalent of Con Te Partiro because that is such a tour de force. To
finish like that is amazing (webmaster's note....Oliver performed an
operatic piece, Con Te Partiro, on stage - he is leaving to pursue a
career in opera) . The gig before last in Essen (Germany) when he did
Con Te Partiro, there were 8,000 people clapping with their hands above
their heads, such an amazing reception.
You've retained a
huge following in Germany..
NB: Yes, but they are there because it is an oldie night with six or
seven bands. We know if we go out on a multi band bill, we can...not
blow the other bands away, but they [the audiences] respect us because
they know we are really good. You have to accept this [multi band gigs].
Our last hit in Germany was in 1991, La Cumbia, which was a big hit all
over Europe but didn't even get a release here. That's the way it is. A
guy tried to put a solo gig by Sailor last year in Munich but he had to
pull it because it wasn't selling enough tickets. It's very difficult to
get people to come out for a 70s band.
But thirty odd years
on, you still have a career with Sailor which is more than many from the
70s can say..!
and the 80s and the 90s!! Many have been and gone, we're aware of that.
If you look at the
bands that played Friars in 1975 and 1976 and look at who is still
touring now, there's going to be very very few
Absolutely, that's true. And we're very lucky to have three original
With Henry coming
back which was good. You've obviously remained friends over all this
Although you and Phil
have been pretty much constant in Sailor, am I right in saying you had
Gavin and Virginia David in the band?
That was probably 1978 when they came in. That's when I left the band, I
really didn't think much of them! (laughs) I didn't see any future in
So Sailor went into
Phil and Henry carried on. Georg had already left by the time David and
Ginny came in. I couldn't see it being successful so I thought 'what's
the point' and I jacked it in.
But you came back on
Yes, when we reformed in 1989 and I've been solid with that [ever
That's when you
reformed with Georg?
Yes and Georg stayed with us until about 1993/1994. Georg doesn't really
like performing live.
Yes, he gets very nervous.
Yet when people
identify with Sailor's most successful period, that was all Georg's
songs...I'd have imagined he'd be out there wanting to perform them. So
he was quite a reticent performer?
Yes, whereas the three of us love performing...
all the running round the stage
unusual as rock bands are normally all groin thrusting and trying to be
cool. We're different.
How is Georg these
He's fine, we're in touch with him. I spoke to him last week. He lives
You must mention the
Friars award to him, because I'm sure he'll be very pleased with it.
Thanks very much
This interview and its
content are © 2009 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not
be used in whole or in part without permission.