March 1, 2014
It’s been my great pleasure to write about artists like Sean Taylor and it’s always nice to catch them in performance, with the added bonus of a post-show conversation. The pleasure is so much greater when the artist is as cordial, articulate and interesting as Taylor.
Sean is a singer and songwriter with a strong musical affinity for authentic blues and down-home Americana, yet he is as English as the day is long, and a proud Londoner to boot. I found him at Backstage, an unlikely venue improbably bolted onto The Green Hotel in the comfy Perthshire county town of Kinross. It’s located within lager tin throwing distance of the T in the Park site, but Taylor is probably happier in this intimate setting.
He opens with Heaven from his highly regarded Love Against Hate album, and makes a tender song shuffle sweetly along the twin tracks of love and loss. London, taken from the new record is pinned down by neat wee riff. In performance, this empathetic poem is presented in an even more affectionate reading that is looser and more reflective. Taylor’s touch on guitar is nice ‘n’ light, but demonstrates a firm rhythmic pulse that is the lifeblood of great acoustic blues.
Indeed, there is a constant re-affirmation of his blues credentials throughout the set, especially on Sixteen Tons with a meathook vocal and agile guitar, and Skip James’ Hard Time Killing Floor Blues. But these are not mere plodding tributes. Taylor is a modern man and a rhythm king who moves with the speed of the times. On She’s Gone in particular, he encapsulates his idiosyncratic finger style and the beatbox in his body in an absorbing little showcase of style, musicianship and stagecraft.
There are other sides to Taylor though, and he is as open, candid and contemporary about them as he is about re-shaping blues stylings. In a new song called Rothko - inspired by the work of the modernist painter – he sings, “ Every night beauty takes off her dress ” and his poetry, it must be said, is streaked with a worldly romanticism.
Playing without a break, Taylor puts in a muscular shift, frantically burning up on So Fine and dissolving into open-tuned tenderness on his popular love song Perfect Candlelight. A bluesified version of boogie-tastic Chase the Night lets the vocal do most of the work replacing the fuel-injected energy of the original recording. However, the tune then leaps impressively into Jumpin’ Jack Flash with a single bound and a really superb vocal.
In between, he talks easily about being artist one day at a time, going from place to place: from playing in front of 2000 patient John Fogerty fans to the cultural no-man’s land of the Essex marshlands. He’s a purveyor of bone-dry banter as he drolly explains, “There’s Not much nature where I come from. We’ve got three trees in London. There used to be four, but now there’s only three. Boris Johnson ate one.”
This is Taylor all over. The quiet one you have to watch. He sings Stand Up as an invitation to a wave of protest with his trademark whisper to insurrection. His version of You’ll Never Walk Alone is almost perversely deconstructed and made into another song altogether. But it does say “Let your free flag fly” in the exactly the same spirit of camaraderie. There is a muted drama in his arrangements, as if he imagines banners coming into view on the long march to elusive freedom. Walk on with hope in your heart if you can and, in an increasingly oppressive world, if you dare.
He finishes with Richie Haven’s Freedom as if to underscore the contention that this is the truth; it can and will endure. Whether we overcome or not is of course, perennially a matter for future generations.
After the show, I spoke at length with him about music and making a living at a very tough game. He is a tremendously hard-working individual, but he is also organised and in control of his own life and work. He spoke of the need to do 100 gigs a year, which is why you will be able to see him just about anywhere in the UK this year. The winter months are for recording, and in between we’ll no doubt see him do a host of radio sessions and interviews.
Sean Taylor’s LONDON ↑
I also asked him about his collaborations with revered bassist Danny Thompson and, if possible, tell me what he’d gotten musically from working with the people’s favourite bass player. His reply came without a moment’s hesitation, “To play without fear”. Some people might suggest that encouragement springs from Thompson’s background in jazz. However, it’s just as likely to be London thing.
Michael S. Clark.
Sean Taylor is currently on tour. For all his 2014 dates please see his website (link below).