Culture

Pick of the pops: ‘Panama’

Sailor were a very fine band. Best known, of course, for their two big hits ‘Glass of Champagne’ and ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’. They’re both good pop records, but there’s more to the group than that.

The singer and songwriter was Georg Kajanus, who seemed impossibly exotic in the Britain of the mid-1970s. He was the son of a Norwegian prince who had grown up in the harbour-town of Trondheim, before spending two formative years as an adolescent in Paris. ‘I would listen to Brel, Piaf, Brassens, Aznavour, and spend many, many evenings talking to the “ladies of the night” in the red light districts of Place Pigalle and Rue St Denis,’ he wrote. ‘With bemused indulgence, they tolerated this lanky, inexperienced Norwegian kid and on their coffee breaks, they gave me, for the price of a few beverages, some of the benefits of their colourful experiences.’

Having moved to London, Kajanus drew on those experiences for a proposed musical, The Red Light Review, about sailors on shore-leave in Marseilles in the late 1940s. The musical didn’t happen, but when he subsequently formed the band Sailor with keyboard-player Phil Pickett, much of the material was re-used for their splendid self-titled debut album in 1974.

Dressed as naval ratings, with unfashionably short hair, Sailor further distanced themselves from anything else in rock ‘n’ roll by using a self-constructed instrument, known as the Nickelodeon, comprising two upright pianos placed back-to-back, augmented by a glockenspiel and synthesizers, all played in a standing position. ‘We studiously avoided the rock route,’ said Pickett. ‘We didn’t have a lead guitarist, we didn’t have a bass-player – we were one of the first bands to use synthesiser bass, which I played – and there were no guitar solos at all, just this Nickelodeon thing.’

That first album is still their finest work, in my estimation, but in terms of sales, it was easily eclipsed by the follow-up, Trouble (1975), which included the hit singles. It also included this song, which was the B-side of ‘Glass of Champagne’, and which has been stuck in my head for the last couple of days, as the story of the Panama Papers has begun to unfold.

So bear these wise words in mind: ‘Don’t make love in Panama, until you’ve bought a camera.’

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