On the road
By James McCarraher, F.Inst.L.Ex.
One very hot day this
summer, while I was perusing a particularly mind-boggling lease,
my thoughts drifted away to those halcyon days of childhood by
the coast in Hythe.
1976 was quite possibly the most memorable year of my young life. It was, after all, the hottest year on record and my beloved Southampton F.C had won the FA Cup. To cap an amazing year, my mother had taken me to the Bournemouth Winter Gardens to see an eclectic group of musicians, SAILOR.
I was amazed by what I saw. The lead singer, a Norwegian Prince, played a plethora of instruments, which included a harp and a charango (a kind of highly strung, hollowed-out armadillo). Henry Marsh and Phil Pickett played an outrageous instrument, dubbed the Nickelodeon, which consisted of two back-to-back Kemble pianos, rigged to accommodate synthesisers and a glockenspiel. Henry played the treble side and Phil the bass... ! And their drummer, Grant Serpell, perched behind a 1920s style drum kit. It was surreal.
I was to see them again. Last year, SAILOR was performing in High Wycombe so I made a pilgrimage to see them there. Marsh and Kajanus had moved on, their positions taken by Peter Lincoln and Rob Alderton but Pickett and Serpell remained. It seemed that such was the timelessness of the music it could be played by any collection of talented musicians. The Nickelodeon remained, modernised for transportation purposes.
Not long after this, I found myself writing their official biography. Striving to write a balanced and fair account of their turbulent history, I approached each member in turn (both past and present) and recorded somewhere near 100 hours of interviews. When the work neared completion, I was surprised to receive an e-mail from Phil Pickett with a very unusual offer.
"Would you like to come to Austria with us, as an honorary roadie? Were playing in Linz..."
How could I refuse?
Standing among them at Stansted Airport at 4.am on a Friday morning, I wondered whether this was such a smart idea. As I looked at their faces, I realised that I was very much the odd one out. These were all hardened musos, musicians who had travelled the world and entertained anything up to 25,000 people at a time. They lived life in the fast lane! And here was I, a humble lawyer, clutching a snare drum and masquerading badly as a hardened roadie, and fooling no one!
Upon our arrival at Salzburg Airport, we were whisked off in a people carrier to the city of Linz. I opened the car window and gulped in the fresh air, clearing the muck of Surrey from my lungs. Everyone slept except me. I was too excited and didnt want to miss a thing.
We arrived at Linz in an insanely quick time and were deposited at the four star Landgraf Hotel, by the Danube. I was taken aback by the sheer opulence, but everyone else took it in their stride. Being a local government lawyer, the luxurious trappings of full time rock star were obviously well beyond my ken!
To my surprise, everyone retired to bed for a few hours, prior to meeting for lunch. I was still too excited to rest, so took a long walk, returning to find glasses charged in the bar. We enjoyed a hearty lunch together before being hurried over to a brand new stadium on the far side of a mountain in Linz.
To my disappointment, there followed two hours of waiting, whilst the sound and lights were rigged. We grew quietly bored as we sat and watched, whilst Phil and Grant signed autographs for a few fans.
It was an amazing feeling when I was issued with my Access All Areas pass a piece of laminated plastic on a cord that I had coveted at so many concerts in my youth. It meant just what it said I could go anywhere in the building during the show even the stage unchallenged.
It was nearly 5 oclock by the time the band were allowed on stage and the sound check took just 15 minutes before we were whisked back to the hotel to freshen up before the show.
Half an hour later, we were taken back to the venue. There was a buzz in the dressing room as the band changed in to their stage clothes. Beer and rolls were consumed as we chatted and laughed. Last minute details about the set list were exchanged before the ominous knock at the door. They were on!
In front of an audience of 5,000 enthusiastic Austrians, SAILOR took to the stage. The crowd roared them on in a manner which far exceeded the manic days of the Seventies, when I witnessed them first time around. The band responded to the enthusiasm and warmth of the crowd by throwing themselves in to their music with every ounce of available energy. They ripped through their hits, including 'A Glass of Champagne' and 'Girls Girls Girls' and after a thumping set, left the stage to the sound of a hungry crowd desperate for more of the same.
The four figures slumped in the dressing room after the show told a story. Drained but exhilarated, they had given of their very best and the audience knew it!
Back at the hotel, we celebrated with fine wine and succulent Austrian cuisine. By midnight, I was exhausted, and making my excuses, headed for my bed. The band looked fresh from their experience and dug in for a long night. Now I knew why they paced their long days! That night, I slept well, elated by this strange new experience, glad to have had a peak through the window of an incredible profession and wondering whether they would accept an offer to join me at my desk for a day!
Special thanks to James McCarraher (UK)!