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Interview: GEORG KAJANUS (Sailor)

Rock Stars...

For a man who conceptualised the image, wrote most of the songs and added a dash of eclecticism to the early 70's chart toppers Sailor, Georg Kajanus has enjoyed a remarkably innovative career.

Born in Norway Georg (Hultgreen) Kajanus was the son of Russian prince Paulo Tjegodiev Sakonski and Finnish sculptress Johanna Kajanus. Georg moved to Paris in his early teens and shortly afterwards moved with his family to Quebec before he arrived in UK in 1967 and began his writing career with the excellent folk rock outfit Eclection with Michael Rosen.

The highly regarded Folk Rock band barely lasted a year before Kajanus further kicked against the prevailing trend of long haired guitar bands in the early 70's to come up with a concept that translated itself into one of the most successful but loathed bands of the time, Sailor.

But if you thought there was nothing much more to Sailor than camp sailor suits and countless Top of the Pops appearances then nothing could be further from the truth. For Georg Kajanus was always a man with a plan. So although Sailor may have provided the props, the unusual musical instruments like the startling nickelodeon, the hits and a band context for his conceptual and lyrical imagery, his subsequent career has demonstrated that he always had a bigger picture in mind.

Sailor's success led to Georg being able to pursue his own unique musical vision and he became an unlikely pioneer in the electro pop field with a three album career in the 80's with Data. Thereafter he disappeared from view, moving to Mexico to paint, before belatedly rejoining Sailor in 1990 in a writing only capacity.

Two albums later he left again and once more embraced left field techno pop with the stark audio visual style of Noir, a hugely innovative duo with collaborator Tim Dry. This of course led to the groundbreaking gastro pop concept which was embraced by Channel 4 who ultimately found the duo 'too challenging' for its viewers.

Now comes two new timely releases on Angel Air, Sailor's 'Treasure Trove - Anthology 1975-2005' and Noir's 'Strange Desire'. The latter was actually recorded in 1995 but is finally being released 12 years later through Angel Air. Noir is a self explanatory, very European work that relies heavily on a combination of electro pop, vivid lyrical imagery and innovative videos.

Indeed the duo's 'Walking' TV theme was produced in eight different ways to reflect the cities in which they were at the time. In musical terms Georg Kajanus is the original Renaissance man for who song writing and an integral concept are inextricably linked, and for who a band is but one vehicle by which to get his music heard. He's been the subject of a recent biography and is about to launch himself into potentially his biggest ever project 'People Industry' which charts the ascent of man and embraces his favourite theme of human sexuality of which more later, but first Sailor.

Sailor was a band that went against the tide of guitar bands at the time. Indeed the band's highly commercial and TV friendly image flew in the face of many rock fans sensibilities, and yet the name lives on. Does it surprise you that the Sailor has outlived many of your contemporaries from that era?

Well I never thought of it like that before. In fact Sailor's story is a quite unusual one. We were originally a rock band called KP Packet. But it was really when I accidentally showed the rest of the band that I had this 'Red Light Review' concept - which was basically my memories of being a young man in places like Pigalle in Paris's red light district - that the idea was born.

Also I had a Sailor sound to go with that. The Sailor sound was also unusual for the time because Glam rock was happening at that point and we sounded very European - especially the first album - though we already had one track called 'Traffic Jam' which I hadn't actually written for the concept but it still appeared on the album. In fact I was battling with CBS about this but they won.

But the 'Trouble' album was what started it all for us and after 'Glass of Champagne' and 'Girls Girls Girls' the whole process started getting into a higher gear. I think even the signing with CBS was unusual because Dick Asher head of CBS at the time was just tired of hearing loads of guitar bands. And here we were with a nickelodeon and accordions, and he loved it. So it was very lucky in some ways as it was very unusual for that time.

You and Phil Picket were primarily a song writing team at that time?

We had written five songs each for an album called 'Hi Ho Silver' which was a good album but drowned. The Signpost label tried to release it but it didn't work. We still wrote separate songs for KP Packet, but when I came up with 'Red Light Review' everything changed, and I wrote everything from then onwards mainly because it was a total concept, including the hairstyle, what to wear, props on stage, the works and we had the nickelodeon to recreate the sounds I has created on my demos.

So was this early innovation with sound an example of what led you to the techno pop and electronic experimental music of your later career?

Oh absolutely, and also we had an ARP 2600 synthesizer as a bass at the time. I don't think anyone had used that before. It sounded like a cross between an electronic tuba and a foghorn, which worked for us. But I think we had very good vocals as well, we always had 3 to 4 part harmonies.

Last year saw the premiere of 'Sailor' the Musical Journey'. Was that something that something similar to what you had in mind as part of the bigger picture for the sailor project?

In many ways I can say that Sailor the group was a way of hijacking my project that was going to be a stage production. Not necessarily a musical in traditional terms more like café theatre or a review. But yes it was always written with the stage in mind. Quite recently, 3 or 4 years ago, a guy from Scotland Bill Blenman (who was a real sailor) told me he had written a story linking 19 of my songs from the first four albums.

And my first reaction was, 'oh really, what a cheek!' because I had written a musical too, but I didn't really like it and abandoned it. But here was Bill with something very different, although inevitably it was going to connect in someway because of the subject matter of the songs. But he had managed to create an interesting romantic story that took in all the general travel aspects of the Sailor songs. And finally last year they staged it in Dunfermline in Scotland for five days at the Carnegie Hall (which was the name of the New York guy of course).

It was a semi- pro production but was both magnificent and extraordinary, especially for me when the cast were doing my songs. My publisher flew over from LA for the opening night. And I think they are going to do a professional production next year and maybe take it to Europe. Though I think there are a few ideas that could make it happen here too. So yes, for me there was a wonderful feeling of a continuum if you like, as there still seems to be interest in songs written in the 70's.

And of course recently 'Glass of Champagne' has been used by M&S on their adverts. I didn't know anything about it until my daughter called me to tell me it was on TV. I never thought I'd hear it out of context like that.

Sailor was always more readily accepted in Europe than the UK even though you had substantial hits over here. Why do you think that was?

Well I think we always had a European sensibility in our music. I never grew up on rock and roll to start with, and didn't come to the UK until 1967. It was a demanding time for me as I was trying to be a professional songwriter.

It was a very exciting time musically but I thought, 'my god I haven't got a chance', as all I had was 6 or so love ballads to start with. But I finally met up with Michael Rosen and the guys from Eclection, and we got signed up by Elektra. I think Jac Holzman even came over to sign us up. And by that time I had written something like 8 songs for that album.

Then I had written a minor hit for Cliff Richard called 'Flying Machine' which was quite a shock. It was lower Top 30 I think but it gave me confidence. There was also the problem I had with English being only my third language. I left Norway when I was 13, and moved to France then Montréal in Canada, and then came to the UK.

So my English was OK to get by with but in terms of lyrics…..I think a lot of people thought my lyrics for Eclection were deliberately obscure. And I didn't dissuade people from thinking that at the time (laughs).

So as song writers you and Phil wrote in parallel rather than as collaborators?

Well we wrote 5 songs each for 'Hi Ho Silver' and it was the same for KP Jacket. I think we'd both written two songs at that point. I'd written 'Traffic Jam' and 'Brag Brag Brag' and Phil had written 'Medallion' and 'Lost My Mode' and after that everything changed. He wasn't too happy with that as we had established a partnership in terms of sharing the writing.

That was at the beginning but it was because of 'Flying Machine' that strictly speaking you might say I had slightly better credentials. But really it was because I had this concept for Sailor that meant a lot to me and I wanted to see it through. It was the first time I didn't mind performing whereas in Eclection I was terrified of going on stage, and didn't see myself as a performer. In Sailor I was the lead singer and I believed in the writing.

Would you say Phil was more of a melodic writer and that you are more esoteric?

Well I don't have a particular approach I use all the time. That is to say I did have a particular approach to Sailor material, as I have a different approach to my other projects. I always prefer conceptual objects and I just couldn't write a song for the sake of it. It has to have a link to something else, or some other idea or purpose. So in that sense I'm not a true songwriter, I'm much better at conceptualising stuff.

You were almost an agent provocateur even in those innocent times with your politically incorrect lyrics and your OTT image weren't you?

Well we were concerned about that. The reason we looked the way we did and dressed the way we did, wasn't so much to try and look different as to reflect the overall concept. When we did the 'Trouble' album, we had some stylists who came up with a few ideas, and they drew an anchor on my cheek. Now if I'd thought about that I might have spotted that it might have been conceived as what they call Gay today…but hey you know….

But with the radically different image, did you feel you had to maintain the band's confidence in the project, at least until the first hit came along?

Well I think two members of the band were very keen on the project and Phil wasn't because it didn't involve him as a songwriter and I understand that. If I'd been in his position maybe I would have left. So anyway we did the first album and which I produced and directed, to make sure the sound we got was the sound I had on the tape. But the second album was produced by Jeffery Lesser and Rupert Holmes, and they got this big fat American production which is probably why it sounds so good (laughs). Jeffery was an excellent engineer.

On the new anthology Sailor draw on a lot of influences from The Beach Boys and 10CC to the Beatles and even Stackridge. Do you hear any of that?

Well if you are referring to the 'Anthology' then of course, because a lot of it is Phil. I would have produced a very different album. I think when I left in the 70's I felt I had written all I could for Sailor and I needed a break. They carried on. Then again we reformed in the early 90's, and I wrote a couple of albums and singles that did fairly well, but everything was formularised legally and so they had the right to continue.

I had thought of the name, and felt like it all belonged to me, but we formed a company and that gave them the right to continue as Sailor. I also felt that was right as the royalties were poor because of my bad deal with CBS. And of course because I wrote the songs the publishing was considerable. So I then left completely. But in the process of doing that I kind of gave away the direction if you like, as Phil's direction is very different from mine. He took the band in a very different direction.

Do you think the new direction has given Sailor some longevity that it might not otherwise have enjoyed?

No. Sailor was a very unusual thing to start with, so when you start to infiltrate other things into it that are not connected in any way with the past it tends to dilute it. I really don't think it means so much now because it's been diluted. It's obviously a contentious issue. They were mostly my songs until towards the end, and it was my concept. There was no record success with Sailor after I left the first or the second time and I think that speaks for itself.

So what made you come back in the early 90's?

It wasn't money that's for sure, as because of our initial success I was able to pretty much do what I wanted. I get involve with projects because I liked the idea of it., though that can be a very expensive thing to do.(laughs) But the climate seemed to be right and I thought it could be good to do a couple more albums.

Well that's what happened. But those two albums were made in a very modern way. A lot of it was programmed by me at home. So this again created a bit of friction. But the 90's stuff still sounded very much like Sailor. And it was quite nice that a 70's group could work again in Germany in the 90's.But the direction that Sailor has gone means it is able to carry on as a live band but nothing else. I came back to write but not to tour, aside from a few 'Oldie Nights' in Germany. Now, that was for the money! (laughs).

Going back to your early 70's touring days, who hooked you up with Stave Harley for the 1974 tour?

I think it was a combination of our label CBS and a management thing But it was a lovely tour. His audience wasn't at all hostile to us, well some were but not in a real sense and I think we might have taken quite a bit of his audience, who became our fans too.

On the other hand you had bad experiences touring with the likes of Vanilla Fudge and Charlie Daniels in the States?

Well that was another management thing but it was a disaster. I think it was Steve O'Rourke's idea; he managed Pink Floyd and had taken them over there several times on the principal that if you throw enough shit at the wall, eventually some of it will stick. Pink Floyd had done that.

When they first went there, Americans didn't know what it was all about, but they kept touring and touring until it finally worked. He tried to apply the same principal to us but it was terrible and didn't work, it was an unbelievable wrong mix. Also we stayed away for Europe too long especially when things were happening for us over there, so it was stupid.

If 'Glass of Champagne' hadn't have been such a big hit, would you still have persevered with Sailor?

Absolutely, although I must confess I did make a bit of a compromise when I recognised the importance of having a hit, not just for me but for CBS and the management. 'Champagne' was also so slight that it was almost impossible for it to be incompatible with anything. I think the combination of the title, and the lyrics, it all sort of fits in. But here's the funny thing. 'Champagne' took me all of 20 minutes to write whereas 'Girl Girls Girls' took me three weeks of hard labour.

'Girls Girls Girls' was just meant to be a nice way of labelling women, but in the right way. But I have mixed feelings about that song as it sounds terrible old fashioned, like Trad Jazz, whereas 'Glass of Champagne' is much more sexy I think.

Do your songs change as musical fashions change? You did after all achieve commercial success by going in a contrary direction to popular trends at the time in the 70's?

I think any change is mainly to do with the lyrical idea or concept. All songs if you like, are influenced by what is happening at the time, but I've always been fascinated for example by electronics. And after being in Sailor I formed a trio called Data (two sisters, Frankie & Phillipa Boulter and myself).

We recorded three albums on Bellaphone, Polydor and Illustrated records but had a terrible business set up., though the third album came out on Sire in the US. But it wasn't a good deal in terms of being commercially viable. I think dare I say it, that we were ahead of our time.

Data also existed around the time of the first musical videos. Did you get involved in video production at all?

Well Data was largely self financed and we did make video's and to a large extent I was involved. Also I was doing a lot of this stuff in the late 70's that actually came out in the 80's. It was pure electronic music and '2-Time' the second album is exactly that. I still get a lot of messages on my web site and My Space about Data, and it's nice to hear people are still into it.

And then after a sabbatical in Mexico you started Noir?

Yes I formed Noir with a friend of mine called Tim Dry who is an amazing guy actually. He was half of the 80's Robot mime duo called Tik & Toc. They used to look very serious and then became very sophisticated, and they used to dress in black like me. We both shared a lot of similar ideas and feelings in different areas like Film Noir obviously.

But at that time still nothing earth shattering happened with the project until we did 'Walking'. Then we got on two TV shows, 'Live & Kicking' and 'Top of the Pops 2'. Everyone liked it, but there was no single in the shops at that time. And a guy called David Pritchard who is a tycoon food programme director for the likes of Rick Stein and Keith Floyd saw our video and liked the way we looked and liked the song. So he had the idea of the two of us making Gastro Pop videos in different cities in Europe, and maybe re writing the lyrics to fit the location.

Yes. I notice there's a significant difference in translation on the English track compared to the French?

It was originally to do with the mixes and levels, which meant we had to bring the levels of London video up, and in doing that we felt the lyrics might be a bit to harsh and up front.

Was it big challenge to have to rewrite the lyrics for each different city?

It was wonderful and I loved the idea. Even the backing tracks were changed to reflect the location, so on the French/Paris video there is an accordion and on the German/ Hamburg one there is some oompaah, and on the Barcelona one there is some flamenco. The biggest problem funnily enough was taking in all the restaurants where they all cooked us some beautiful food - we took in maybe 3 lunches and 4 dinners - and couldn't eat that much

Anyway it was an extraordinary time for us as we got to present the 'Feast' programme on Channel 4. We presented it but it was a mistake as Channel 4 viewers apparently found us too threatening, though I did see why with our shades and black suites.

Noir is a lyrically rich project but the electronic music sounds very 80's maybe 90s and certainly influenced by Devo?

Very possibly as Tim is very much of the 80's and although I've been through the 80's I didn't do much except for Data. But I think the vocal approach is very different and unusual in that is used prose, partly sung and partly spoken and the whole changing of each line between Tim and myself also has an unusual ping pong effect.

Also I think we sound more European and maybe closer to the 1990's as the 80's had that very big Linn drum sound.

What about the notion that Noir is an extension of some of those sounds that you brought to Sailor?

Well I spent sometime having worked with electronics but I'm a conceptual song writer and like melodies.

There's also a song on the album called 'Believing' which almost sounds like a personal manifesto?

Well it's about some big things like God etc (laughs), and we don't have time for such weighty topics, but really it's just about believing in yourself. I like the song as it takes a positive approach to things. We think of Noir as a kind of poetic European thing and I guess 'Continental at Heart'' says it all. We see it as being something over which we have total creative control, that's me Tim and Barbie Wilde - the essential female voice

And finally you are already on to your next and most ambitious project yet, 'People Industry'?

It's another conceptual project that has taken me about five years in the making, including the research etc, but I probably first thought about it about ten years ago. Basically it's my perspective on mankind, which is actually quite positive.

Humanity tends to get a bad press all the time, cos it sells news. So I thought I'd write something positive and about sex. I think it's going to be previewed in Norway next year with 4 singers and a 12 piece string and percussion ensemble. It's essentially a classical piece - a musical journey but I've written it like a Bernhard Herman score of Psycho in a very aggressive and powerful way and close miked it.

There are 6 movements and 17 sub movements that represent different aspects of mankind. It's based on the fundamental role of human sexuality. Some of it is difficult, some of it is aggressive, and some of it is funny. I've had to brush up on my classical training and on my scoring, and went into the studio to demo the voices. It was like retraining myself.

Could you have tried to do something like this years ago?

Well it is a confidence thing. And the Classical world is a tricky one, as there's a lot of snobbery. After all pop is making the money. The thing I hate most is when they try to do the crossover thing, which is awful - neither fish nor fowl - whereas for the most part Classical music falls back on the old composers. On the other hand the new composers are often too abstract. But I always felt that if there's something I wanted to do I should just go for it and then figure a way to achieve it.

Sailor's 'Treasure Trove-Anthology 1975-2005' and Noir's 'Strange Desire' are both released this September on Angel Air.

Interview © September 2007 Pete Feenstra

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