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My First and Last: Jazz guitarist Martin Taylor

Martin Taylor.
Martin Taylor.

Dr Martin Taylor, MBE is a multi-award winning guitarist, composer and educator who is widely considered to be the foremost exponent of solo jazz and fingerstyle guitar playing.

Based in Perthshire, Martin has amassed a record 14 British Jazz awards as a guitarist and visited The Gardyne Theatre as part of the Dundee Jazz Festival along with accordion maestro Jack Emblow and Dundee’s own star jazz singer Alison Burns.

Q] First memory?

A] I was about 3 years old. I was sitting on a wooden draining board in the kitchen while my mother was giving me a bath in the sink. My father walked in with a parcel under his arm, and when he opened it he brought out a bright red Hawaiian ukelele with a palm tree painted on it. He handed it to me and I started to strum it. That was the start of my musical journey.

Q] Last resolution?

A] Not to worry so much. I worry a lot.

Q] First job you had?

A] I did my first gig when I was eight years old. I played in the band at a Lonely Hearts Club dance. I got paid 10 shillings, a glass of shandy, and a packet of crisps. I left school when I was 15 and joined a band playing at a holiday camp in Morecambe, then a few months later we went to New York and joined the QE2 as the resident band. I was paid £75 a week, which was a small fortune at the time.

Q] Last time you took a holiday?

A] My wife and I went on a cruise four years ago from Los Angeles to Hawaii. I enjoyed the first week, but got bored by the second week. I spend 8 months of the year touring around the world so I always like to spend my holidays at my house in Perthshire. I spent this summer based at home, and just played a few European music festivals at the weekends. I loved it. There’s no place like home.

Q] First time you wanted to do the job you’re doing now?

A] The first time I picked up the guitar at the age of four, I knew I wanted to be a musician. By the time I was eight years old there was no question that I would do anything else except play music.

Q] Last time you quit a job?

A] I’ve always been a self employed musician, and I’m primarily a solo performer, so I’ve never had a “job” as such. The last band I played in was ex-Rollings Stones bass player Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings. I had a lot of fun playing in the band, but it started to conflict with my solo work. There wasn’t enough time for me to fit in Bill’s gigs so I had to quit the band. I have played a few times since with the band as a guest, and I speak to Bill often of the phone, but I’m so busy with my own touring and recording projects to play in another band.

Q] First time you dressed up smart?

A] On my first gig when I was 8 years old. My father gave me one of his bow ties, and I wore a black suit. It felt great dressing the same as the rest of the band, and I felt really grown up!

Q] Last fancy dress costume?

A] I’ve never been to a fancy dress party, but I wore a few outfits in the 70’s that would probably pass as fancy dress!

Q] First dish you look for on a menu?

A] I’ve been a vegetarian for over 40 years, so anything vegetarian. I don’t like fried food very much.

Q] Last thing you cooked yourself?

A] I cook what I call “Jazz Curries”. I buy lots of vegetables, throw them in a pot with curry powder and other ingredients and cook away. It’s just the same as being a jazz musician, improvising and seeing what happens. Some times it’s spectacular, other times it can be a bit disappointing.

Q] First book you loved?

A] It was called ‘Really the Blues” and was the autobiography of the jazz clarinettist Mezz Mezzrow. I’d just embarked on my career as a professional musician and was fascinated by his musical life in New Orleans back in the 1930’s. It inspired me, but fortunately I managed to avoid the more excessive aspects of his lifestyle.

Q] Last book you read?

A] It was called ‘Simple Kindness’ by Ajahn Sister Candasiri, a Buddhist nun who also happens to be my neighbour. It was very inspiring. My wife and I go to her hermitage often to meditate.

Q] First car you owned?

A] It was a 1964 VW Beetle. I was playing in the resident band at the time at The Ritz in Piccadilly, London at the time. It had holes in the floor, so if it was raining I would often turn up to the gig with my evening suit trousers completely drenched through.

Q] Last car you bought?

A] I’ve mostly driven Mercedes and Audi cars, and decided recently to buy a new Audi until I saw a VW Passat CC which I really liked. It’s a lovely car. I also bought my wife a Renault Capture at the same time. A number of years ago I played the music on the famous Renault Cleo “Nicole, Papa!” TV commercials. I’m still asked quite often if Renault gave me a free car for playing on the commercial. My tongue in cheek answer is always “No, I took the money and bought a Mercedes!”

Q] First choice to play you in a film?

A] Denzil Washington would probably be my wife’s first choice, but I think that’s probably a bit unrealistic!

Q] Last time you were mistaken for somebody else?

A] My brother and I look quite similar and we are always being mistaken for each other.

Q] First record you bought?

A] California Dreaming by Wes Montgomery. I ordered it from WH Smiths and it took 2 months to arrive. I’ve never been so excited in my life as the day I walked into the store and they handed me the record.

Q] Last time you sang a song?

A] I never sing.

Q] First time you spoke in public?

A] Part of my job is speaking in public. I find it easy to do when I’m on stage playing a solo show, but get nervous if I have to speak in public without my guitar. I’m currently holding my Martin Taylor Guitar Retreat in Shetland and have been talking with my students for 6 hours a day for the past 3 days. I’m used to it.

Q] Last time you made a fool of yourself?

A] Probably the last time I opened my mouth.