A great show that went from troubadour to rock star. Julian Taylor and his band (the core of the AMA-UK 2023 Awards house band) were a revelation for those who saw him performing solo earlier this year in his first appearance in the UK. Drawing on his 10-year catalogue, he took us on a journey from the more familiar material of his recent country-folk albums to the rootsy funk-rock of his solo debut.
To begin with it was just Taylor and his acoustic guitar (a Taylor of course). His voice was wonderfully resonant, more so than on his recordings, reminding me a little of Cat Stevens (as he was previously known). He started with his usual opener ‘Human Race’ from his 2020 album ‘The Ridge’ which he told us was inspired by his sister’s mental ill-health and his reflections on his own mental health. After a more conventional love song, ‘Be With You’, we had the first song from his latest album ‘Beyond the River’, which was a poignant account of his grandfather’s life called ‘100 Proof’ (he died at the age of 101).
Following these three songs Taylor was joined onstage by a crack band of UK-based musicians – Michele Stodart (bass and vocals), Raevennan Husbandes (dobro, electric guitar, keys and vocals) and Siân Monaghan (drums), and they launched into the atmospheric ‘The Ridge’, the eponymous opener to his 2020 album, which Taylor described as one his favourites.
The pace picked up slightly as you would expect with the presence of a full band and they provided the necessary grit for ‘Seeds’, a song from ‘Beyond the River’ but also available in an alternative version as a single. This song was written in response to the news a few years ago of the finding of mass graves of indigenous Canadian children. In the last century children were sent to residential schools to be “assimilated.” Thousands died whilst at these schools. The point of the song is in the chorus line “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.” Sad though the song is, the chorus is musically uplifting and the audience joined in – very tunefully I thought.
After a few more songs from the last two albums, Taylor’s replacement of his acoustic guitar with a telecaster signalled that it was time to shift to the rockier songs from his earlier albums. He played them more or less in reverse chronological order of album release, starting with a couple from ‘Avalanche’, and then four each from ‘Desert Star’ and ‘Tech Noir, including the very catchy singles ‘Just a Little Bit’ and ‘Back Again’.
As well as being an excellent singer and guitarist Taylor is a fine raconteur, weaving together his life story and philosophy and their impact on his song-writing. This worked particularly well in the intimate setting of the Water Rats (organised by those wonderful people at Green Note), but I suspect that the next time Taylor comes over he will be in larger venues.
A quick mention for the excellent solo support slot from Michele Stodart playing songs from her forthcoming album. She goes on tour with a full band in the autumn.