Phil Pickett, born in Germany where his father served as an RAF pilot, was raised in Birmingham, England, and studied drama at UCLA. And travelled. For in the 20th century the romantic role of the troubadour has been passed along not only to musicians, but to actors as well. Pickett, like all actors, roamed the world in masques and disguises, playing roles of passion and comedy in small rooms and vast amphitheatres throughout America and Europe.
In 1969, Pickett toured with O'Neill's "Lazarus Laughed" across the British Isles, through the Low countries and into Paris, the very heart of Europe, where the production had been scheduled for a two-week run at the American Cultural Centre on the Rue Dragon, only a stone's throw from 'Cafe le Matelot'.
Dropping by the 'Matelot' with a friend one evening, he somehow found himself on stage doing mime sequences and playing keyboards. Georg Kajanus, then Sailor's senior member, liked his work and persuaded him to stay. Pickett left the drama troupe and remained in Paris until the cafe closed in early 1970 following the great fire.
After the break-up of Sailor, Pickett again took to the road. In July 1970 he enrolled at the prestigious Joan Baez School of Non-Violence in California. After a year, Pickett received a draft notice for the U.S. Army. He wisely decided to flee the country, leaving California and heading East.
He soon found himself in New Orleans. "I'd thumbed down from St. Louis and been droppeed off at the airport by some guy in a Hertz car. I wandered into the coffee shop and almost passed out when I saw Georg sitting there." The two friends returned to Georg's home in Mexico City. Pickett was still not sure of what he ought to be doing. "I needed time and privacy. I guess I turned into a bit of a hermit."
He retired into the seclusion of Cornwall, where his family owned a restored 16th century mill house, and took up repairing antique musical instruments as a vocation. From time to time, he would slip away to London to see old friends or for an occasional bit of session work. "I was still performing, I think. But the solitude of Cornwall was like medicine. I needed it badly, and it cured me."
Pickett was approached by Steve Morris, of Edwin H. Morris Co., the American music publishers, and was asked to help locate the other Sailor musicians for a one-time only session. "I was delighted, of course. I recognised the influential role that Sailor had played," said Pickett. "But I never want to do that star number again. I just want a quiet place to work. Music may still be my life, but that doesn't mean I want a life in the music 'biz'. That's all."
(C)1974 Epic Records, Ltd./Sony Music UK. Reprinted without permission.
Go to Grant Serpell.
Go to Henry Marsh.