Another chance to see Julian Taylor in London just a week after his first European appearance with a short set at Moth Club was too good an opportunity to pass on. A multiple Juno nominee, Julian Taylor has been forging quite the reputation for his singer-songwriter output of the last few years with the albums ‘The Ridge‘ and ‘Beyond the Reservoir‘ garnering many good reviews and appearances on end of year best of lists. His reputation does go before him – this gig was sold out well in advance and the wise ticket holder arrived well before the doors opened to ensure snagging a seat in the Green Note’s café style main performance area.
Taylor appeared solo, perched on a stool for his set, and explained early on that his intention was – of course – to entertain but he hoped to also provoke some thought, as he put it, “All of us need introspection.” And through a combination of the songs – beautifully written songs with great melodies and hooks but more importantly perhaps with lyrics that really mean something – and the background introductions and associated anecdotes, that is exactly what Julian Taylor delivered across an hour and a half. And fun – it’s rare to see the Green Note audience up on their feet clapping and singing along but that’s also what Taylor achieved by the end of the evening.
He opened with ‘Human Race‘, a song which reflects on the some of the difficulties of being alive – misunderstandings, mental pain and feelings of being out of place – and is shot through with an understanding humanity. It was, he shared, inspired by someone close to him – who recognised themselves in the song and told him that “if it’s going to help anybody, go ahead – tell them.”
The core of the songs chosen for the set were those peaks amongst highpoints from ‘The Ridge‘ and ‘Beyond The Reservoir’. The song ‘The Ridge‘ is a moving description of foundational moments in Taylor’s life – fetching eggs, shovelling manure, being with his grandparents and witnessing the birth of a foal. There’s a wistfulness to the recollections and also a strong feeling of powerful familial bonds and an early rooting to the natural world. ‘Seeds‘ takes Taylor’s twin heritages of Mohawk and Caribbean and celebrates their survival against what might have seemed insurmountable oppositions, “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.” The autobiographical ‘Ballad of a Young Troubadour‘ hints at the shadows of dark events along the way to a musical career, and gains an additional poignancy as Taylor adds a spoken coda to the song saying that what he has missed most in the last three years is “unity and harmony” and that is not just to do with the pandemic. ‘Murder 13‘ is a moving song – it’s an intense retelling of what happened to a youthful friend of Taylor’s, the only reasonable reaction to which is complete attention, and the Green Note was hanging on every syllable.
There are gloriously uplifting songs like ‘Desert Star‘ which celebrates the beauty of this beautiful old world and the equally fine joys of love. ‘100 Proof‘ with it’s borrowed melody is a folksong bearing witness to the passing of a grandfather whose outlook on life was one of consistent positivity – a big influence on Julian Taylor. ‘Opening the Sky‘ – Taylor’s letter of guidance and advice to his daughter…just in case anything should happen…is simply a declaration on how to be a decent person, but no push over. Serious topics still – but the heart of the matter is now on self belief, and love.
Having discovered that the audience were more than willing to sing along during ‘Seeds‘, the envelope was pushed a bit further as the set closed out with a couple of songs from the Julian Taylor Band album ‘Desert Star‘ which on record is a funkier rock sound than the more recent solo releases but which still worked just fine with only acoustic accompaniment. ‘Bobbi Champagne‘ was someone Taylor actually met and whose name was just too inspirational not to work into a song. It’s a soulful love ballad with a catchy and easily picked up chorus which references a party accident that actually occurred to its singer – that’s dedication to the song writing craft. ‘Just a Little Bit‘, also from ‘Desert Star‘, was a perfect closer – still fitting in with the optimism of the evening but also giving the crowd a good reason to be up on their feet. What a night. And what a musician – great songs, some lovely finger-picked guitar, a truly warm vocal – with a great balance between what’s sung and what’s said which draws even more from the music with additional context and those insights into the flashes of inspiration behind the lyrics. A great night, in short.
Photo: J. Aird
Shaun O’Reilly provided a good solid opening set – he’s an acoustic folksinger with songs from the darker edges of life. There’s drunkenness, mistakes made – and learnt from. ‘Blessed are the Cracked‘ celebrates the advantages of being a little off the normal path, “like me” he joked by way of introduction. ‘Witches‘ as described as being inspired by a drinking bout in Ireland and advice to avoid the banshees on his way home – and maybe it was, but it is more about avoiding falling for the trappings of display and concentrating more on what is really important in life than on trying to impress people you don’t even know.
Grabbing a brief word with Julian Taylor prior to the gig elicited the information that he was really enjoying covering the country and the tour had gone well. He’d had a great time at Celtic Connections and the gigs elsewhere had been mostly to capacity, which is always good to hear for a first time visitor, as he said “You just never know.” It’s his intention to return soon and have a tour with a backing band if he can, and before that he’ll be here for the Cambridge Folk Festival, which is all both “lovely” and “excellent.“
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