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Artist Profiles

The Not So Strange and Bizarre Life of Mike Taylor

By Published: March 27, 2013
For a relative unknown, Taylor certainly seemed able to pull some highly talented musicians into his orbit. Forty years on and Dave Tomlin marvels at the music they made together. "He'd got his finger on something that was utterly unique and different. His compositions were just unlike anything else. It was so utterly beautiful but it was still jazz. It was an honour to play his music because nothing else was like it."

And Taylor certainly wasn't alone on the British scene in trying to find new ways of playing jazz, as Jack Bruce makes clear. "I thought he was very forward-looking at the time and very open. I was originally in a trio with Ginger and Graham Bond but Graham was only playing alto sax at that time. So, it was very much along the lines of a sort of Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
sax, alto
band really in the sense it was a trio without a piano. We were all trying to find our own music as it were."

Back then all reports suggest that Taylor was quiet, polite, shy in manner and very precise in his dress. His hair was cut short and he was always clean-shaven. True, he smoked pot and was a musician but these were the only "bohemian" aspects to his life. He was married to a beautiful girl called Ann and looked more like a suburban nine-to-fiver than a jazz musician. For much of the period up to 1966, he continued to work in the family business. Taylor was, however, an early user of LSD, along with people like Dave Tomlin, Graham Bond and Ginger Baker. Tomlin picks up the story.

"It was much more an elite thing. People didn't know about LSD. There were all kinds of happenings in private flats and everyone would take acid. It was much later that it became a commoner sort of thing. Round about '64 there were Americans coming over here and bringing this new kind of energy, if you like. The English thing was very polite but they would cut through all that. So, that was very attractive to a lot of musicians."

According to Ron Rubin, Taylor became quite a proselytiser for the drug, which at that time was not illegal. "One night Mike and a couple of others, including a chap called Steve Stollmann—brother of the man who ran ESP records—came round. They said this is the greatest thing in the world blah, blah, blah. Something in me said, 'Don't!' I had read Aldous Huxley's Heaven and Hell and, of course, Graham Bond went potty and threw himself under a train and Mike went potty and Dave Tomlin went very weird for a time. So, I was glad I listened to that voice and not to them."

With hindsight, there were already signs that all was not well with Taylor. The neatness that others have noted with hindsight seems to border on the obsessive. He insisted on taping each rehearsal and performance and then listening endlessly to the result. The way he drew his own staves on artist pads with a five-pointed pen and copied each part by hand was a time-consuming and totally unnecessary practice, even if, in trumpeter Henry Lowther
Henry Lowther
Henry Lowther
's words they were "works of art in themselves."

For a couple of years, Taylor took LSD without anyone noticing any significant changes in his behavior. Gigs, though sporadic, continued and the band—at that time still a quartet—played its most prestigious date on August 29, 1965 supporting Ornette Coleman at Croydon's Fairfield Halls. Given the obstacles caused by the work permit system of the time, getting to hear "new wave" American artists in the UK was a rare occurrence and their albums were often only available on import in specialist shops. As a result, Ornette's set proved a surprise for Jon Hiseman but not just because of the radicalism of his approach,

"I was surprised for the simple reason it never occurred to me that anybody was doing anything like we were doing anywhere else in the world at the time. There weren't any musicians coming into London playing that sort of music and living in suburbia. I didn't have access to any esoteric recordings that might be in some famous jazz record shop in the centre of London. I had no idea that there was this movement in New York playing free music. What I was doing was a totally original form for me and it wasn't based on anything I'd heard from anywhere else. In fact, people around me, including musicians who were my contemporaries, would come and listen to this strange Mike Taylor thing and didn't get it at all. So, the Ornette Coleman concert was a bit of a surprise for me from that perspective."

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