SEAN TAYLOR INTERVIEW
Sean Taylor is a Blues musician from Kilburn in London. Unarguably one of the most mesmerising performers in the UK, he has recently released his new album, the critically acclaimed “Chase The Night”. Here, in an exclusive interview with Steve, Sean bares all…
Hey Sean, how’s life treating you, and what have you made of 2013 so far?
Yeah, I’m having a great time, what with a new album – “Chase The Night” – recorded in Austin, Texas, and a UK tour which is going really well. All good. Lots of gigs and festivals booked into next year as well.
You are currently touring the UK in promotion of your new album. Which gigs have you enjoyed the most, and why?
They have all been great in different ways. I started the tour in Portpatrick, near Stranraer with a beautiful folk festival. Then a magical gig on the Isle of Man, followed by two great gigs in Pocklington & at the Kings Arms Festival with Paul Heaton. All great gigs, all very different audiences.
At your most recent gig in Pocklington, you remarked that you travel to gigs by train instead of car. What are the main advantages and disadvantages of surrendering yourself to public transport in such a way?
I love watching the world go by and writing songs about the places I travel to. I love the freedom that it brings. Every town has a new set of stories to tell, and the songs come faster the more that I gig. I wouldn’t want to learn to drive… I’d probably crash; I would get bored. Travelling by train gives me time to read. I love the Beat poets of Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg and Kerouac, and the fearless intensity of their writing. Reading poetry has developed my songwriting as much as listening to music. Discovering great writers like Federico Garcia Lorca changes the way the world looks forever, in a great way.
Returning back to the subject of your latest CD… what provoked you to call it “Chase The Night”, and why did you head all the way over to Texas to record it?
“Chase The Night” is a lyric for London, a poem for the polis and an ode for the ocean of lights burning eternal. It’s an album for the night owls. I love the Robert Frost poem “Acquainted With The Night” which is a celebration of the night. The producer Mark Hallman was the reason I went to Austin. I love his work with Eliza Gilkyson and Carole King. He is a really special talent. We recorded an album called “Love Against Death” a couple of years back, and I knew we were just getting started. On “Chase The Night”, everything came together. It’s the album I’ve always wanted to make; we put everything into it.
Which tracks from the album do you most enjoy to play live, and why?
I love playing “London” as it’s about where I’m from, and we wrote that song in Austin. It’s one of the few occasions when I have collaborated with another writer. It was a lot of fun. We drunk a lot of whiskey and came up with a song that works really well. I also love playing “So Fine”… it’s a rollercoaster of a song and I can take it somewhere different every time I go on stage.
Given that you usually perform your songs on your own in a live setting, what made you decide to haul in a band for so much of the recording session?
It makes the songs bigger and emphasises each melody. Plus, the musicians in Austin are so special. Mark is a great musician, as is the violin player Warren Hood. Then there’s Stephanie Daulong’s great vocal on “So Fine”. I love giving musicians freedom to let them express themselves. I don’t like giving directions to such incredible musicians. I just say, ‘Take the track where you feel it needs taking’. Once the recording was done in Austin, we brought in Danny Thompson – who has worked with the likes of John Martyn, Nick Drake and Eric Bibb – on double bass, and Michael Buckley – who’s worked with Mary Coughlan and Glen Hansard – on saxophone. That added a lot to the album.
How did you get to know Danny Thompson, and what’s it been like to work with him?
I have played with a lot of musicians he has worked with like Eric Bibb and Trevor Hutchinson of Lunasa, so I made contact that way. I love Danny’s playing; he is such a special musician. We are playing The Half Moon in Putney on the 23rd October and Farnham Maltings on the 25th October, and I can’t wait.
Nobody who sees or hears you play can deny that you’re a truly superb guitarist. Question is, what’s the secret to becoming such an incredible guitarist?
Thanks for that – it’s really appreciated. I like playing guitar, but it’s a means to an end for me… not an end in itself. I use the guitar and also the piano to write songs. The songs are the key, always. In terms of improving as a musician, the three key ingredients revolve around practising, playing with other musicians, and listening to great music. The more you do all of these things, the better you get. Nice and simple.
Delving deeper, I can’t help but wonder… how old were you when you first picked up a guitar, and was it a case of ‘love at first strum’ for you?
I started singing and playing guitar when I was around fifteen, so it was quite late compared to other musicians. At first, it was really hard going. It wasn’t until I started gigging a couple of years later, when I was seventeen, that I got hooked. I love playing live.
How does it feel to consistently receive high praise from people like Bob Harris and Mike Harding, and how on earth do you ensure that your ego doesn’t swell in order to remain grounded enough to retain your self-deprecating sense of humour?
That’s a sweet thing to say… thanks. The key is, whatever you do in life, always be good to people and show them respect. What you give out is what you get back. Karma.
The best gig I have ever been to was a Leonard Cohen ‘gig’ at Glastonbury in 2008. He was really self-deprecating and it was beautiful. He knows how great he is but he didn’t need to be arrogant about it.
Beyond your current tour, what does the rest of 2013 hold in store for you?
There are new songs happening all the time. At the moment, there’s a lot of promotion for the tour and album. It’s taking up a lot of time, which is a good thing, because it means things are going well.
Finally, what’s the best way for folk to find out more about your wonderful music?
My website www.seantaylorsongs.com
(Questions by Steve Rudd; Answers by Sean Taylor)
This interview was conducted on 1st October, 2013.