Shelley Marsden speaks to musical troubadour Sean Taylor about Kilburn, Ireland and missing home…
Kilburn resident and talented bluesman Sean Taylor, whose mother hails from Navan, has opened for artists like John Fogerty, Neville Brothers, Tom Paxton and Band Of Horses. Fresh from a performance at the Liverpool Irish Festival, the Londoner is telling me about his new, fifth album Chasing the Night.
“It’s about London; there are so many songs and stories about this city”, says the singer. “A lot of folk singers tend to sing about the countryside, but I’m a city person and London’s my city. But this album is also about being a bit of a troubadour”, he says, sounding every inch the romantic.
“It’s about meeting people, creating stories and the stories becoming songs. London is somewhere I’m often away from, but where I always come back to.”
Dedicated, the sleeve-notes tell us, to the “poets, lovers and dreamers”, Chasing the Night is the album Sean Taylor has always wanted to make, for many reasons.
On previous albums, he had attempted things that come together on Chasing the Night, such as spoken-word which he tried on Calcutta Grove with Nightmares and came close, but which he achieves beautifully here with the blistering River.
An epic stream of consciousness In the vein of the Beat Poets, with the Thames as a connecting thread, River was a labour of love that took five years to write, and is scattered with references to Sean’s idols, such as Tom Waits and Edmund Spenser (the refrain is similar to the poem by Spencer “Sweet Thames runs softly…”).
“I love the energy and excitement of those writers”, he enthuses. “They focus on the urban too; the moody blues of the night-time and the danger of the city. I love the fearlessness of that.”
Similarly, the 29 year old finally got to work with one of his heroes, the double-bass player Danny Thompson; it’s also his second collaboration with producer Mark Hallman in Austin, Texas (the first was 2011’s Love Against Death) and this time, he says, they totally clicked.
He says Chasing the Night is his best work to date -and the closest to the bone: “It’s about who I am, which I’ve shied away from on previous albums. Not everything I write is autobiographical -if it was, I’d be dead about three albums ago, I think! I’ve done that and do that, but it’s a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. There are songs that reference where I’m from and being away from home –The Road is about being homesick and trying to find ways out of that.”
Recording an album essentially about London in the Deep South might seem odd choice, but it was about the producer. Mark has worked with names like Carole King, Ani Di Franco, all artists Sean loves and the singer says he “adores” the sound Mark gets when they come together in a studio.
What he wasn’t so keen on was the American welcome: “Texas is… scary! When you arrive in Houston Airport you hear the announcement: ‘When being asked security questions, please refrain from using any humour as it may result in your arrest’. It ain’t that welcoming when you first arrive. All these things made me want home even more!”
New single, London is driven by the pulsing double bass of Danny Thompson, who Sean got interested in via the songs of his musical ‘god’, the late John Martyn, famously Danny’s musical soul-mate and drinking buddy.
He says: “I wrote London in Austin and I knew the minute I wrote it Danny needed to play on it. I got in contact with him, and he loved the song. He won’t work with everyone but he was really glowing about it.”
It references the Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset (“Waterloo sunset melts as Terry and Julie walk on”, and while Sean is a big fan of Ray Davies’ old group, bu it was an unexpected encounter on the Tube that inspired the track: “I used to busk on the Underground. I was playing one day and this really cool guy walked past me, dressed really strangely. I thought, I know him – and then he turned round and it was Terence Stamp! He was in this mad pink outfit, really crazy, but he carried it off.
“I said ‘Are you Terence Stamp?’ and he said ‘Yeah’, all cool. I told him I loved his films, especially The Limey and his early stuff in the 60s with Julie Christie, hence the two characters in the song. But yeah, it’s also about Waterloo Sunset – a great London anthem.”
Biddy Mulligan’s with its whimsical piano backing is about the legendary, now defunct Irish pub in Kilburn, with lyrics about being Irish, the smell of turf and the taste of Guinness. Now a betting shop, which perhaps tells its own story, it was one of those typical London pubs which seemed to house half of Ireland, where everyone knew each other and reminisced about the homeland.
“Walk into a pub in Kilburn and it’s like Cheers –everybody knows your name, it’s a home away from home. There’s something sad about that because these places attract lonely people, but there’s also something beautiful about people coming together, no matter who they are.
For the full interview, see this week’s Irish World newspaper (26 Nov 2013).