These days professional musicians make their living from concerts, making records along the way, Sean Taylor explains to Mick McDonagh
A few years back I was introduced to a very talented young guitarist from Kilburn called . He sounded like John Martyn back in the folk boom days. It was only natural that one day he would collaborate with the legendary double bass player Danny Thompson, who had accompanied John Martyn and most of the other great acoustic guitarists from the sixties and seventies.
Sean was born in Kilburn and although not playing specifically Irish music his Irish influences and roots are obviously important to his music:
“My mother is from Liverpool and is Liverpool Irish to the core as her family comes from Navan and my uncle teaches Irish in Donegal and I was always at the Liverpool Irish Festivals with the family.
“The first music I ever really saw live was at the Fleadh, Vince Power’s Fleadh in Finsbury Park and I was taken to the first one when I was about seven. They were great festivals and I remember seeing John Martyn and the Pogues, and lots of other bands and it was the best introduction to music I could have had.
“I remember walking away having just heard Kristy MacColl singing New England and then a few years later she was dead.
I saw Mary Coughlan too and of course growing up in Kilburn it was ‘County Kilburn’ where the National was and there were so many Irish influences.
“In fact just a week or so back when I came back from tour I went for a drink into the Colin Campbell pub, which has recently been done up and there was a session on. Over in the corner I saw this guy I recognised and it was Damien Dempsey just out there for the music like the old days. He was there for the music but he stands up and sang a few songs then sat down and listened to the session so that music tradition in Kilburn is still there – but not what it was – and it will always be an influence on me.
“In my music that Irish soul is always there although I am playing blues and guitar and my own songs. Irish music is great as it is full of extremes, like the wildness of the Pogues in contrast to the soulful beauty of Yeats. We all have Irish in us, everybody has an Irish grandmother.”
Sean recently released a new CD and it was pleasant to discover that he had followed the original advice and developed a close association with the aforementioned Danny Thompson, as well as recording an album in Ireland.
“Oh yes I did both. It was magical we recorded an album in the Wicklow mountains and Danny is just a gem and a fantastic musician, no one plays like Danny. He is so much his own man as he will only work with the people he wants to and he will only do a project that he likes, then he will just do it and if he doesn’t want to he will just walk away. He does it for the love of it, as he does not need to prove anything to anybody, he is great.
“I was a bit star struck at first as I wanted to work with him so much and it has been brilliant working with him and such a privilege to have him on my last three CDs.”
Sean has now released 8 albums and tours almost all the time.
“Thankfully I love and enjoy playing live and if I’m off for more than about eight days I get withdrawal symptoms and want to back on tour. I’ve been on tour now for nearly five months with only about 10 days off. But the way the music industry is these days you just have to play live. The days of the big record labels for artistes like me are gone and I just do my own thing.
“I would only want to work with a label or manager who actually liked music.
“I have met too many people who work in the music industry who just do not like music and are not listening to it and don’t get that buzz when it is magical. To them its just like it is the fashion industry.
“There are some good people in the Industry but the way I have done it in the last few years is to keep it very simple – I write songs, I make records and I go on the road.
“In between that I try to see and play with other musicians as you can learn a lot from that and I try to go to galleries to see art and experience other forms of art and I am trying to see more musicians and go to more gigs as I have missed a lot of other concerts from being on the road so much.
“John Martyn was a huge influence and I got all those comparisons with him but now there are people who are much more important, Van Morrison, Neil Young, JJ Cale, and Cat Power.
“My favourite songwriters are Tom Waits. John Martyn still hangs in there and Joni Mitchell is there and there is Bon Iver, an American indie folk band who has all done it on their own terms.
“With this album (Flood & Burn) I felt no pressure so I was able to do what I wanted to do which was to enjoy writing and get better at it. Each of the ones before had a template in my head as they had themes to them I had to stick to but this one I was free to create my own atmosphere. When I tour sometimes I work on my own and sometimes as a trio with a bass player and a drummer it depends.”
Sean’s last four albums have been recorded in Austin Texas. Had he gone there for the Americana influence?
“The reason I go there and the reason I went there was for a producer called Mark Hallman. He had produced Carol King and is one of my favourite producers.
“I heard an album he had produced for Eliza Gilkyson on a record called ‘Paradise Hotel’ and the production was so beautiful and really intimate and so rich. It was like you were there.
“I loved it so I hunted him down through the magic of Facebook and he was very polite and very gracious and we got to work together. The first record was good but we were a bit guarded with each other but now we have got to know each other and we are friends, so he is the reason I go to America to record.”
So what are Sean’s plans for 2018?
“I have got a lot of songs ready to record and I am working my way through them. It is sort of a pleasant headache to sort them out. The world is in such a dark place the next album may be bit dark. With Trump he has taken it to a whole new level it is very depressing.
“I’ve just come off a 30 day European tour and then I had three more dates in December one in Davos, which is one of the richest places in the world with women walking around with bits of dead animal hanging off them dripping with jewellery but there is this really good festival and they put me into a really nice hotel, which is connected in some way to Thomas Mann the writer.
“There were also gigs in Zurich. In February I am off on a European Tour going to Germany, Holland and other places. In Germany the audiences are amazing they love live music there and they seem to like me.
“In Ireland I love the Monaghan Jazz and Blues Festival and the Seven Hills Festival in Armagh and of course the festival in Wexford, which always gets a bit lively and I have played the Cambridge Folk Festival twice and love playing there. The people there really like music.