You are hereLive Review: Eric Taylor at the Maze, Nottingham
Live Review: Eric Taylor at the Maze, Nottingham
I approached the north side of
As I crawled through the slow moving traffic, listening to HOLLYWOOD POCKETKNIFE on the car MP3 player, which competed rather unsuccessfully with the pulsating and pumping rhythms of drum and bass from the Ministry of Noise coming from much bigger speakers in much bigger cars, together with the piercing sirens from emergency vehicles, attempting to negotiate the grid-locked chaos more forcefully than any of us, I finally saw the unassuming frontage of The Maze in the distance on the Mansfield Road, with the now customary gathering of smokers outside in the doorway. Grabbing my bag containing some recording equipment, my trusty camera and a notebook containing a few preliminary notes scribbled within its pages, I left the car in a highly suspect back street area and walked briskly towards the venue as night fell upon
James Windsor, one of the towns' main live music promoters and organiser of tonight's gig, which comes under the Cosmic American banner, greeted me at the concert room door, moments before the darkened room was opened to the public. "I have an appointment with Eric" I said as I squeezed into the empty bar, the stage of which was already set up with a single mic stand and adjacent accessory and drinks table, with the now customary black backdrop with the words 'The Maze' printed in large white letters together with a maze-shaped logo.
I was led to the backstage area through a series of passages and doorways, understanding perfectly well now why the venue is called The Maze, and then a final creaky door was opened to reveal an unfamiliar seated figure, who I soon discovered to be one Stuart Warburton, a Bury-born driver, road companion and support singer to the main act tonight. Squeezing into the room behind James, I was soon in the company of the towering figure of the legendary Eric Taylor. We shook hands and in a deep soft growl of a voice, the Atlanta-born songwriter said "nice to meet ya Allan".
Dressed in faded blue denim jeans and a loose fitting black Grandad top, with a pair of reading specs dangling over the button up part just below his chin, a chin now obscured by a cool looking grey goatee - always cool on a man of his generation - and finally a black flat cloth cap turned backwards beret-like, hiding his apparent shock of grey hair beneath, the charismatic singer-songwriter settled back into a creaky chair, matching the creaky door I'd just walked through moments before. The Maze is something of a creaky place, but charming nonetheless. Almost deliberately abandoning my previously scribbled notes, we settled into a conversation about the Eric Taylor story so far:
AW: I was just about to introduce you as the Texan singer-songwriter Eric Taylor, but that's not really true, you're actually from
ET: Yeah but I wasn't writing songs when I was born;
AW: Yes well you got to
ET: Music. The music scene. I've said this a thousand times that for a kid my age, eighteen, nineteen years old, wanting to be a writer coming in there at that time, I mean I saw Townes Van Zandt on a Friday night at this club and went back the next night and saw Lightnin' Hopkins, and they both lived in town and I said this is where I need to be. I'm staying here.
AW: Well at that time Mance Lipscomb was still around and like you say Lightnin'
ET: Sure, I spent a lot of time with Mance as well and Mississippi Fred McDowell was becoming a good friend of mine too. I was very lucky to meet and work with a lot of these guys they were a lot more accessible than I ever thought they would be
AW: Well we (music fans in the UK) who weren't around at that time, or certainly not in Houston, Texas, we tend to look back at people like Lightnin' Hopkins and we didn't know they were all that accessible but you say you could just go down the street and see them in the local bars?
ET: Oh sure, and not only that, but you could see them two or three times a week in the local bar and then if you were a musician it was easy enough to get to spend time with them, I mean I was Lightnin's second or third bass player. Rex Bell who owned the Old Quarter was like the main white boy bass player. When Rex was not around and couldn't do it then I would play bass with Lightnin' on and off for eight years and it was a trip. Mance lived just about eighty miles North of where I live now and we would get together, a bunch of us, and go up to Navasota and sit around in his yard and play music.
AW: Well talking about Texas, I guess that anyone who knows anything about music from the 1970s onwards right up to the present day, Texas is a hotbed for great singer-songwriters, you're part of that scene, you're one of that circle, Townes Van Zandt..
ET: Guy Clark
AW: Guy Clark of course, and then there's the Lubbock people Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, all these people, I mean is there something in the water?
ET: Well I don't know. I don't think there's anything in the water, there's not enough water. It was a wide open place, Texas was one of the few places left I think that was just wide open to anything, Guy Charles Clark used to say and I used to imitate, that the only rule in Texas about music at that time was there ain't no rules. Everybody listened to everybody, I mean you'd run in and play pool with Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top or Dusty, or Frank from ZZ Top, they all hung out in the same kind of places. We all hung out at the Old Quarter together or jazz clubs after hours. I remember many times after shows Nanci Griffith and I would go down after a show and there would be this place called the Green Room, where they would start playing jazz at three and would play until seven in the morning.
AW: We mentioned just then, your good friend the late Townes Van Zandt, I mean, Townes didn't have to die to become a legend, he was already a legend; I saw him in my town, which is about thirty or so miles up the road from here, just in a bar with a few people, and he had this aura about him that everybody loved and he's sadly missed. Do you still see Guy Clark?
ET: I still see Townes man.
AW: (Laughs) Of course.
ET: Yeah, I run into Guy once in a while, I don’t see him as much as I want to. We toured together a couple of different times. He lives in
AW: Well we wish him the best.
ET: I love him to death.
AW: I could talk now for the next three hours about all your songs one by one but I'm just going to pick one in particular which is personal to me. I used to play in a duo with another songwriter and we used to write songs about the plight of the Native American, songs about Geronimo, the Cherokee Nation and the Cree Indians up North, we actually stole a line from one of your songs for our name (Buffalo Brothers) from Joseph Cross. How did you come to write such a beautiful song and where did that idea come from?
ET: I was writing a play at the time actually and I was real young, I was 22 I guess, maybe 23 or 24 when I wrote Joseph Cross, and I was working on a play about this guy and the song came from that, it basically came from all the notes and the writing that I'd done in trying to put this play together about this particular character.
AW: Because it's a specific story song, I mean your songs are highly literate story songs, which lends itself to that and you are telling a story, the same with Deadwood, do you set out to do that?
ET: Well the historical ballads I do, sure. You've got to have some history. You've got to have something to go by. So like in Deadwood, there’s so much historical fact in the song Deadwood and there's so much historical fact in the song Joseph Cross but both of those were basically fictional pieces. They're just little films really.
AW: That's a nice way of putting it. I noticed also in your latest release HOLLYWOOD POCKETKNIFE, that particular song, not so much on the album but when you play it live you preface it with a little story whilst you're playing the guitar, is that really to elaborate on the story or is it, I assume it's more to do with setting an atmosphere for the song?
ET: It's more like a theatre piece really and that's what I've been working on the last year, I'm hoping that in the next year I'll be able to have the one man show finished. I'll do some of those pieces tonight, some of them, I won't do the whole thing but I mean I like to bring the characters onto the stage sometimes with the song, I think the crowd gets it and they feel it and they can feel a part of it, I mean the only reason to do this shit is to get people to be a part of it.
AW: Well you've been doing it for a few years now; do you still get a kick out of it?
ET: I probably like it more now than ever. I mean I'm a little older and it takes me a little bit longer to get going in a morning but I think I probably enjoy performing now as much or more that I ever did in my life really, I love it.
AW: Well long may it continue.
ET: Thank you.
AW: You've got a nice long tour throughout October going to
ET: Almost every night yeah. Well this last year it's been steady work in the States too, I mean I've travelled to almost every state. There's two that I haven't gone to, but erm..
AW: You're working on it..
ET: I'll get 'em.
AW: Eric it's been wonderful to meet you, thanks for talking to me and good luck with the rest of the tour.
ET: Thank you, I appreciate it.
Returning to the concert bar, I took a seat by the stage and was pleasantly surprised that the lighting was perfect for the single photograph I was hoping to take. Red lights are an evil conception, an achingly dull pain for any photographer, let alone someone like me, who just wants to get a decent shot to go with the review, yet most venues use them. Here at The Maze, there were three of four white spots directly above the mic, illuminating the stage perfectly, but not drowning the area with unwanted light. Here's a venue thinking about the audience as well as the artist. Great sound and great lighting.
Stuart Warburton opened with a warm up set, which included songs about emotional battlefields, domestic violence and a fragile heaven, together with an enchanting song set in the disturbing world of unsolved crimes in Mexican border towns, especially in relation to the astonishing amount of murders involving young women. A good selection of self-penned songs from the voice of Rockabilly outfit The Rhythmaires, which served to do exactly what it said on the box, settle the audience for what was to follow.
After a short break and some last minute seat shuffling, the background music faded to allow our attention to fall upon the stage, which was now occupied by a tall brooding figure, peeking out at the audience from beneath his hand, which stretched out above his brow, with squinting eyes in search of familiar faces and old friends. One such friend handed
With some delicate guitar chords, finger-picked to no apparent rhythm, a gentle Texan drawl set the mood for Carnival Jim and Jean, with a spoken introduction telling of carneys, that is, fairground people; 'little midgets and knife throwers, balloon blowers, tiny dogs with pink dresses, all tryin' to find their way home.' We were enthralled from the start, knowing full well that we were in the company of a first rate story teller who knows exactly how to capture the imagination.
Eric Taylor isn't as prolific as his peers and doesn't have a couple of dozen albums like Tom Russell, nor does he have the enigmatic reputation of his late friend Townes Van Zandt. What he does have though is an astonishing repertoire of intelligently written and highly literate story songs that speak of scared circles, of cold nights on the Plains and fighting the Indians, of Dean Moriarty searching for the father he never knew and of brand new companions, however dirty. Carnival Jim and Jean was a good starter with its driving rhythm on guitar and uplifting beat, provided by some rhythmic foot tapping, together with an engaging story of a world we know little about.
Speaking of uplifting tunes and how to get the show going,
'We've always been afraid of people' said
Half way through the set, Eric checked with James and with the approval of the audience, it was unanimously decided upon that there would be no break. It would be a shame to lose the atmosphere thus far created and
The second half of the set saw the songwriter revisiting some of the songs from his previous albums Manhattan Mandolin Blues, Big Love and Ain't But One Thing Give a Man the Blues from THE GREAT DIVIDE (2005) and Dean Moriarty and Hemmingway's Shotgun from the self-titled ERIC TAYLOR (1995), still criminally hard to get hold of over here, or probably anywhere for that matter.
Earlier in the set Two Fires from his classic RESURRECT album was given an airing as was the raunchy Brand New Companion with its highly sexually charged Dirty Dirty boogie originally recorded for his THE GREAT DIVIDE album.
An evening with Eric Taylor is more than just a gig, more than a singer-songwriter playing a handful of great songs, songs we have become so familiar with over the years. An evening with Eric Taylor is an emotive experience, a little glimpse into a world of carnivals and Kerouac, highways and Hemmingway, bar rooms and Birdland. A world where even Louis Armstrong has a broken heart. A worthwhile experience for everybody I would say.