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The Not So Strange and Bizarre Life of Mike Taylor

By Published: March 27, 2013
Then he asked people to return his manuscripts. One day, Jon Hiseman came home just as it was getting light. "I returned to see a lot of white paper sticking out of the dustbins. Mike had thrown all his scores away and I took them out. It was these that formed the basis of the album, Mike Taylor Remembered." But much of the rest has been lost.

On or around 19 January 1969, Mike Taylor made his way to the Southend area. His body was found washed up in Leigh Creek not far from the station. After a week, he was eventually identified through his fingerprints, which were taken when he was sent to prison in 1967. The coroner returned an open verdict, the only possible course.

There have certainly been a few fanciful stories about Taylor's demise. Local Southend newspaper reports describe the man found on the beach as being "aged between 25 and 30, 5ft8ins tall, of medium build with shoulder length dark brown hair, auburn moustache, a long straggly full beard, straight nose, blue eyes and large ears with small lobes. He was dressed in a cream-striped shirt, two white vests, two pairs of trousers and brown shoes." The police spokesman quoted in the report adds, "It is very strange he has not yet been identified. He was found with £6 on him and had been in the water for about six or seven hours—perhaps less."

It is unclear what Taylor was doing in the area but Leigh-on-Sea had been a regular town for the band to play in. The mainstream trumpeter, Digby Fairweather, remembers vividly a performance at the town's Studio Jazz Club in the mid-sixties. At the inquest, Taylor's sister suggested that he might have been in Southend to attend a concert. She also told the court that her brother had tried to "gas himself two-and-a-half years ago 'due to his inability to be recognized as a musician.'" She continued: "I saw him at the beginning of January and he was much better because he was now recognized."

Of course, it is not unusual for people who subsequently commit suicide to experience an improvement in mood before they take their life, what his sister Muriel had noted might have been just a shadow. LSD use had clearly affected Taylor psychologically. We know that following the making of Trio he had slept rough in Richmond Park for a time communing with the deer or otherwise living with Graham Bond, with whom he would consume acid in large quantities. It seems likely that he did have an underlying predisposition for psychosis but given the volume of drugs he was using—LSD and cannabis—these alone would surely have done him no good. His death by drowning 'under mysterious circumstances' near Southend-on-Sea in 1969 has merely enhanced the myth. A tragic figure, dying romantically for his art?

The evidence, what there is, suggests that it was as an accident, or more, likely a misadventure. The curious aspects of the case are how he was dressed, that he had a reasonable amount of money on him and that he had travelled from London to Leigh-on-Sea. People in distress do strange things but would Taylor really have taken himself all the way to Leigh to kill himself, however disturbed his mind? The additional vests and two pairs of trousers he was wearing might suggest that he had prepared for the cold January weather. In general, individuals actively considering suicide do not tend to worry about such details. As for the money he had on him, back then, this was plenty to buy food and pay for a couple of nights in a reasonable, if cheap hotel. It all suggests a level of preparation and planning that was unnecessary for someone intending to take his own life.

We will never know, of course, and many will no doubt prefer the romanticized version of the tormented artist too emotionally sensitive to survive in so cruel a world. In a way, any mystery is surely exaggerated. Mike Taylor took a lot of psychedelic drugs, which can mess up even the most stable individual. His behavior, bizarre as it became, stemmed from a psychosis probably brought on by drug use. There's nothing mysterious in that. One thing is clear, on 19 January 1969, the British jazz scene lost one of the most interesting talents it had ever produced. Mike Taylor now rests in peace and on his gravestone in a Southend cemetery are the words, probably written by him,

"A dive from a springboard/Into cool clear water/And yet I furnish my springboard/With my experience/So that my life/Is more than my action."

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