Martin Taylor interview by Rick Sanders

Martin Taylor interview by Rick Sanders
Artist Visiting Cambridgeshire
Martin Taylor MBE is a jazz guitarist, but if you like you can leave out the word jazz. According to Jazz Times in New York he is simply ‘Europe's finest guitarist'. Classical Guitar magazine agrees, saying ‘he has a touch of genius'.
Rick Sanders spoke to Martin prior to his visit to the Moving Tone Sessions in May 2006. What came up? Memories of Cambridge, the challenges he sets himself, the healing power of music, the Sex Pistols and other crucial matters. Read on...

Q: Do you have any particular feeling about playing in Cambridge? Memories of past triumphs or nightmares or otherwise?

A: I can remember visiting Cambridge many times as a child. My dad worked for a while on a building site in Ely and I would often come to this part of the world. We only lived down the road in Essex. In the 70's I played a few times for the Cambridge Jazz Club and later played the Cambridge Folk Festival with Stephane Grappelli in the early 1980's.

I also played the Cambridge Folk Festival about 5 years ago with Bill Wyman and The Rhythm Kings. I was in Bill's band for about 3 or 4 years. I've had some good gigs in Cambridge over the past 30 years. It's always good to come back.

Q: You operate in such a wide scope of music. Which part of it do you find yourself most interested in at the moment? Can we expect any surprises in what you might play? How much of a fixed set or fluid?

A: Well, I've always been, and will always be, a jazz musician, but I do like to play "outside the box". Duke Ellington famously said that there's only two kinds of music - good and bad. I agree totally with that. I've upset a few jazz purists over the years but musicians must always keep an open mind and be ready to try new things and take on new challenges. I've been fortunate that lots of musicians from other musical traditions have taken an interest and liking for what I do and have asked me to work with them. I don't want to just be in the jazz box, it's too small and limiting. I hope I can come up with some surprises. I always try, and sometimes they're a surprise to me too! I don't like to stick to a set programme. I change things every night according to my mood.

Q: You have an enormous ease and fluency. Do you enjoy guitarists who play(ed) with less complexity - Lowell George for example - maybe even Neil Young who many people think is a horrible player?

A: Unfortunately for me, the musical ideas that I have in my head demand a lot of technical prowess. I say unfortunate for me because I've made a lot of hard work for myself. But I can't help what I hear in my head, and it means I've had to develop this technique. I'm actually not a very technical person and I know lots of guitarists that have far more technique than I do. I never think about it, I just do it. Very often people mistake un-technical with sloppy. They are two different things. I love to hear those players that say a lot with very little, but I hate to hear sloppy players. I actually like Neil Young's playing; I could never play like that.

Q: Do you most enjoy playing to guitar enthusiasts - who may be more liable to admire and assess - or to general folks who just want to feel good? Or are we all just human audience, much the same?

A: It's always good to play for other guitarists because obviously they have an understanding of the instrument that others won't have, but for me the music comes before the instrument. When I'm playing I am only conscious of the music; I never think of the guitar when I'm playing it, I just feel the music. I try to convey to the audience the feelings and emotions that I have. As human beings we all feel the same emotions and I think we musicians just help people tap in to them. I try to take the audience on a musical journey and I certainly don't want it to be exclusive.

Q: How do you overcome the ‘heard-it-all, played-it-all' feeling? Move to another instrument for a while? Play left-handed? Sing? Put on the Sex Pistols? Or just blast on through?

A: Music is a never-ending learning experience for me. If I ever feel I've heard it all or played it all I'll just quit. I do play another instrument actually - the mandolin, very badly. I can't play left handed but I can play a left handed guitar upside down quite fluidly. It's something I taught myself to do once when I was bored. I remember when the Sex Pistols first appeared I thought it was the worst thing I'd ever heard, but then I heard Chris de Burgh sing. I listened to a Sex Pistols track recently and really enjoyed it, which was a little worrying.

Q: Desert island discs - what music is surest guaranteed to open your own heart?

A: I listen mostly to singers these days and love to hear a great singer that knows how to interpret a song. Back in the 70's I toured with Matt Monro. I don't think people realize just what a great singer he was. Matt's singing opens my heart every time. Music has a lot of power. My son died last December and it's music that gets me through each day now. Music heals the heart. I hope I can share that.