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Artist Profiles

The Not So Strange and Bizarre Life of Mike Taylor

By Published: March 27, 2013
It's hard to be exact about the time sequence but the contrast between increasing success and personal turmoil was, however, to become more and more marked. His marriage had ended effectively in 1965, with Ann leaving him for another man, though they were only finally divorced in 1968. According to Tomlin, Taylor was understandably devastated by the separation and when the same thing happened to him, they both struggled to cope. Pendulum was made against this background. As Tomlin remembers: "I don't know how I did it. But you just get in the studio and do it, though I remember there was one point where I just wailed out what I was feeling at that time on one of the pieces."

It wasn't long before Taylor gave up his flat handing it over to his brother and Jon Hiseman. According to the latter, from that point on Taylor was of no fixed abode, though he usually found a friend's floor or couch to sleep on. Often he would turn up at their place or else he'd stay with Graham Bond. Taylor's hair got longer, he grew a beard and abandoned shoes. Jack Bruce, hardly a prude, was shocked. "He changed drastically. He used to come along to Graham Bond gigs and sit at the front playing bongos or something. He completely changed and became a hippy, I guess."

In 1967, Taylor even served a short prison sentence, probably for possession of drugs. By now Dave Tomlin had embarked on his own life odyssey and was living and working at the Notting Hill Free School. One day, there was a knock at the door.

"There was this guy standing there like some dirty tramp. He looked pretty mad but the Free School had this rule, 'nobody get's turned away.' He had dirty bare feet and hair all over the place, beard all over the place and he had this little drum and red eyes staring. So, I made him a cup of tea and gave it to him. As I looked up, I suddenly realized it was Mike Taylor. I said, 'Mike! Fuck it's you.' He just stared. He stayed for a while and then one day he disappeared."

The tales about Mike Taylor began to get stranger and stranger. Tomlin had formed an ad hoc improv-performance group called Giant Sun Trolley and Taylor was supposed to join them for a gig at the UFO club in February 1967. Instead of joining the band onstage, Taylor walked through the throng of dancers and lay down on the floor staring at the ceiling. As Tomlin says, "It was a statement of some sort but of what I don't know. You couldn't talk with him. You either saw what he saw or you didn't get it."

Around this period, Taylor asked Henry Lowther to do a gig with him at Ronnie's Old Place along with Ron Rubin and Jon Hiseman. Henry remembers the experience only too well.

"Mike used to walk about with a little drum made of clay. On this gig, he alternated between playing the drum and playing the piano. He'd just get up on the piano and hit it with his arms or with his elbows. Then he'd come back from the piano, sit on the floor and play this clay drum and, periodically, he would scream. Everybody was disturbed by this, the audience. Everyone."

Evan Parker has a similar memory and tells that drummer John Stevens
John Stevens
reserved a chair for Taylor at the famous Little Theatre Club.

"But I remember later on when Mike was obviously no longer playing piano but doing a lot of psychedelics, I think, he used to come to the Little Theatre Club and was always welcome. Sometimes, he'd sit there and play a little hand-drum, sometimes he'd say something but he was never asked to stay away. People liked him a lot."

Ron Rubin remembers a particularly bizarre gig at Ronnie's Old Place with just him and Mike Taylor. His journal entry for Monday 28 August 1967 reads:

"Old Place again. Duo with Mike Taylor. Mike turned up bearded and barefoot and had a job getting past the doorman. Played no piano at all, just a broken tabla drum and pipes. Astonished American couple in the front row gaping at the burning fag between Mike's toes. At one point Mike seemed to be talking mumbo-jumbo. When I said, I couldn't understand him, he said, 'It's OK, Ron—I'm talking to the loudspeaker.' Manager, John Jack, goggling at all this from the back of the club. But he did pay us."

Though Rubin, and others, tried to get Taylor to seek help, he just brushed such suggestions aside or, as Jon Hiseman says, "would just grin knowingly to himself about things you couldn't possibly know." Rubin's journal entries concerning Taylor over that last year of his life begin with one entry that makes chilling reading. It says that friends were becoming scared to let Taylor into their homes.

"Saturday 13 January 1968—Henry Lowther says Mike is going completely potty—he attacked Ann, his wife, because she 'wasn't treating the man she now lives with properly' and is almost certainly certifiable and perhaps dangerous. Marie, my wife, is scared for the children and Dick Heckstall-Smith's wife won't let him into the house. Mike thinks that Dave Tomlin wants to kill him. He seems to be sinking fast."

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