As a songwriter, Neil Taylor has co-written songs for a host of stars, as a session player he’s been on countless albums. As a solo artist he can hold a packed audience at the Royal Albert Hall. Oh, and if we are talking ‘as a cool guitar player’ he recorded and toured with the likes of Chris de Burgh, Tears for Fears and Robbie Williams.
“I’d been in several bands in the UK during the early 1980’s including an outfit called Sneak Preview and then Neon, whose bass player was Curt Smith”, says Neil. “I went back to Sneak Preview as they had a gig in Switzerland and we thought this was the big one, while Roland Orzabal took over as lead guitarist in Neon.
Several months later I’m watching Top Of The Pops on TV, and there’s Curt and Roland who had formed Tears For Fears, I was gutted. I bumped into Roland at a party, he said they’d been trying to get hold of me to record and tour with them. The first session I played on was their hit single Every Body Wants To Rule The World, notably my guitar solo at the end, this was in ‘85, and from the band’s album Songs From The Big Chair.
Chris Hughes was the producer, he liked my guitar work and spread the word and I’d soon cornered a niche for myself as a session player.”
Was it the typical daily life of the session player, sat in front of endless musical scores and having to be on the ball, waiting for the red light?
“No, I couldn’t sight-read music that fast at all. It helped, but during the 80’s, as often was the case, a creative player was more in demand, someone who could finish the song when the band were in need of the final touch or the icing on the cake, I seemed to find this really easy to do, it just flowed.
A lot of the songs from that period had guitar solos, all be it 8-10 bars and people got me in to provide the all important hooky guitar parts. I’d often arrive without knowing anything about the song or even what key it was in.
It sometimes went.... “Ok go, we’re recording” and straight away I’d be into the song and by the time we’d finished, I would have a firm idea of how my part should sound and to be honest, a lot of the sessions were complete after the first take.
I wouldn’t say I was the world’s best player within any musical genre, I just express my own character and creative abilities, although I wouldn’t take on work where I had to bluff my way through. Even if I had a huge shopping bill that month, I’d turn down session work if I thought I couldn’t give it 100%.”
Sometimes the life of a session player can be tough on the road as Neil is well aware, but he’s also toured the world first class.
“Oh yes, I’ve seen and lived out of many a dowdy hotel room, and been treated as a second class citizen, but when you feel respected it’s such an enjoyable job. I toured with Robbie Williams for ten years flying around the world in private jets and living in the most luxurious hotels.
Robbie was so great to work with, I was in awe of him and his songwriter Guy Chambers. I’d been working on an album with Chris De Burgh, when one of the programmers liked my playing and recommended me to Guy, who said I’d be the ideal player to record on Robbie’s next album. Rock DJ was the first track I played on, and then ended up playing on the whole album called Sing When Your Winning released in 2000.
All the songs were perfect for my style and I found it relatively easy to come up with the guitar parts. We worked together really well and I was asked back to play on the next Robbie Williams album Escapology.”
At this point in time, Neil was still a studio session player for Robbie Williams, then it all changed, as he explains,
“That’s correct, I was just the hired session guy, but I sat in when the band’s original guitarist couldn’t make the 3 day concerts at Knebworth in 2003, it must have worked, as I stayed in the band and played some of the world’s biggest stadiums for the next ten years. Some of the larger shows had upward of 120,000 people, I also enjoyed some of the more intimate gigs with Robbie and playing live on air during a radio station tour of the USA.
After I left Robbie’s band, I decided not to delve too deeply back into session work, I liked touring and worked a lot of shows with Chris De Burgh and Natalie Imbruglia as their main guitar player, whilst also pondering the idea of performing as a solo artist.
I’d been writing songs with Steve Torch, my song writing partner and had enough material to write my own instrumental album. I got past the first track, but I found it far too boring, the guitar riffs were fine, but I really wanted vocals to provide the hook lines.
Steve and I had already enjoyed success writing for the likes of Hall and Oats, Tina Turner, Kylie Minogue, Enrique Iglesias and Cher.
We had a Cher song left after we penned her hit Believe, so Steve said we should use the extra track on the album and I should sing it. I was a little nervous as I’d only previously performed backing vocals and here I was, now taking the lead vocal. The album was released in 2011 called No self Control, and I was really pleased with the result, a powerful mix of acoustic rock.
Chris De Burgh’s manager Kenny Thompson really liked it and secured a deal for me with a German record label called Hypertension. I toured extensively as a solo artist, racking up some150 shows in no time to promote the album. I was learning a new craft not only as a singer, but how a solo artist has to entertain and capture an audience throughout a full 90 min set. Once again it paid off, I often open up for Chris De Burgh on his tours, then perform in his band in the main act.
About 18 months ago I started to put a band together as an alternative to solo performances. I was in bed one night looking at the gig list when the phone rang and a guy asked if I wanted to play at a festival in Kiev in the Ukraine on New Year’s Eve, this was the end of 2013. They wanted an International act to perform in front of what was expected to be a crowd of around 50,000 people. It was freezing when we went on at 3am, not to 50,000 but to half a million along with whoever was watching on TV.”
During February 2015, Neil released his latest album Silverwing, once again a fine mix of acoustic and contemporary rock.
“I’m really pleased with Silverwing which I’m promoting and touring with my band. You could relate this album to the good old days of vinyl, where one side had studio songs and the other was live. Silverwing has the same format with 8 studio songs penned by Steve Torch and myself, and 9 recorded live at The Grend in Essen Germany. The studio track Keep It Coming Baby, features my wife, Sachi Copley on vocals and so far, it’s getting encouraging air-play.
A far cry then from a session player in the 80’s?
“Yeah, but you know, I did enjoy that. Times have changed though, record sales have dipped and everyone’s cutting back. Artists are making quality recordings with smaller machines thanks to digital technology and session work is limited. A lot of producers and engineers can play guitar, so as often is the case, they will take the part of the session player.
I have a lot of travelling up ahead and I must mention the Fusion F1 guitar case I have here. I daren’t say how many times this has been dropped with my number one go-to guitar in. It’s never on purpose, just accidently off the stage or out the back of the truck maybe. I used to look skyward and pray the guitar would be ok, but I’m ok with it now, I’m confident within the strength and the protection it provides. The F1 has proved its weight in gold every time. Well, that can’t be true really, as it weighs very little and yet it’s as tough as they come.”
For more information about Neil Taylor, follow these links to:
Neil Taylor Website and Official video of Keep It coming Baby.
Neil Taylor web site and track samples: