Martin Taylor has been working on his craft for 56 years and says he’s now coming into his prime. He tells us why the best of gigs was also the worst of gigs ahead of playing Whitby’s Musicport Festival, 21 Oct, Manchester’s Band on the Wall, 27 Oct, and Runcorn’s Brindley Theatre, 1 Nov to celebrate his sixtieth birthday.
Tell us a bit about your sound and your influences.
I started playing the guitar when I was four years old. My father, Buck Taylor, was a jazz musician, so I grew up listening to his records. The musician that really grabbed my attention was the Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. My father’s side of the family are Gypsy/Traveller people so my dad felt a great affinity with Django both as a fellow Gypsy and as a jazz musician. Django’s musical partner in their group the Hot Club of France was the great violinist Stephane Grappelli. Amazingly, from the age of 22 I spent 11 years touring the world as Stephane’s guitarist and sat in Django’s seat every night. It was an amazing time for me. I also listened a lot to my dad’s records of jazz piano players like Art Tatum and Fats Waller, and it was really piano players that inspired me the most and set me on my path as a solo guitarist. My style and sound comes from listening to piano players.
How have you evolved as a musician over the years?
I’ve always stayed true to the music I love but I like to think I play this music in a timeless way. Even though I may sometimes play a tune from the 1930s or 1940s I give it my own treatment and interpretation. That’s the great thing about improvised music like jazz, we have freedom to explore. This tour is celebrating my 60th birthday, which is a time when most guys are thinking about settling down in front of the TV with their pipe and slippers for the remainder of their lives. Someone asked me the other day if I was thinking about slowing down and maybe retiring, which really took me by surprise. The way I look at it is that after 55 years of devoting my life to playing music I feel like I’m only just getting really good at it! I’m only just coming into my prime as a creative musician and there’s many more years in me yet.
Did you ever consider playing under an alternative name?
Martin Taylor is my real name, although there was a time when I wished I’d chosen a stage name to separate my musical life from my private life. Unfortunately, by the time I thought about doing that I was already quite established in the music world, so it would have been a bit weird to start using another name. Although The Artist Formerly Known As Prince did well with it! I work mostly in America and the two most famous acoustic guitar manufacturing companies in the US are Martin Guitars and Taylor Guitars. That always creates a bit of interest and I’m often asked over there if Martin Taylor is my real name. My reply is usually: “No, my real name is Fender Gibson!”
What are you up to at the moment artistically?
I’m currently on a solo UK tour but I’ve been very busy this past year filming and recording in my studio. I have an online interactive guitar school, which is based in Napa, California, and I also have a Patreon creativity site where I’m constantly filming new content. I was one of the first guitar educators to set up an online guitar school back in California six years ago, and I’ve embraced the internet as a way to communicate with my fans around the world. I have guitar students in over 80 countries around the world and I also hold four or five guitar retreats a year at different locations around the world. It’s important to stay up to date. I don’t want to become a dinosaur.
How do you stand out from the crowd in a saturated industry?
I think it’s important to stay true to the music you love and believe in. You may not get to play stadium gigs, but you will always find like-minded people around the world that share your passion for that music. That’s why the internet is so important and a vital tool for all creative people.
What’s on your rider?
A bottle of Highland spring water (still), some vegetable samosas and a white towel. It’s not very rock n’ roll but it’s actually all I need backstage.
Tell us about your worst live show.
My worst gig was actually also one of my best gigs. I was on tour in Japan then flew directly to Seattle on the west coast of the USA for a solo show. I must have picked up the flu virus from hell on the flight and spent the three days before the Seattle show in bed. I couldn’t move. On the night of the show I decided that we couldn’t cancel the concert so somehow I managed to drag myself out of bed and went ahead and did it. I honestly thought I was going to die on stage that night, I felt so weak and dreadful, but I think some kind of primitive survival instinct must have kicked in and I played one of my best solo gigs ever. Some of my online guitar students were in the audience and told me it was the best they’d ever heard me play. One of the guys even suggested I should get sick more often!