Graeme Taylor, English Folk-Rock Guitar Maestro

A Short Resume of the Career so far of a Great English Guitarist

A virtuoso on acoustic and electric guitar and quite at home on various other instruments, Graeme Taylor is a versatile musician’s musician rather than a household name.

Christmas Eve, 1965. An eleven-year-old south London boy pretends to be asleep when his father creeps into his bedroom with a sack “from Santa”. The boy waits until the house seems quiet, then crawls from his bed towards the sack, which is larger than usual, and strangely guitar-shaped. Hardly able to believe his eyes he opens the sack. It really is a guitar. He pulls it out, plus the “Bert Weedon – Play in a Day” book with it, and settles down.

Mastered the Rudiments of the Guitar Overnight

“By 4 a.m. I’d worked my way through most of the book and had sort of got it. Well, I’d mastered the rudiments anyway,” says Graeme. “My parents couldn’t understand how I got up on Christmas morning already able to play the guitar. They were amazed!

The “play in a night” boy wonder perfected what he’d learned that Christmas by making intense studies of the records he bought with his pocket money every week. He was passionate about The Beatles, The Kinks and other leading bands of the time, as well as being a big Blues and Bob Dylan fan. He played the records over and over, almost obsessively, studying every aspect until he knew the songs perfectly.

Gryphon – “The 13th Century Slade”

In his teenage years Graeme played in acoustic bands – “I couldn’t afford an electric guitar and couldn’t persuade my parents to buy me one” – influenced by both Bob Dylan and The Incredible String Band. Then at the age of 17 came his first breakthrough as a professional musician. His virtuosity had been spotted and he was invited to join Gryphon as a founder member.

Graeme comments on this indefinable band, “We played anything we liked. We deliberately took influences from everywhere – medieval, classical, rock, folk. Our label, Transatlantic, knew we were hard to pigeonhole so a creative PR man came up with ‘The 13th century Slade’, which the press loved. Another great strapline was ‘Imagine Henry the Eighth in a rock’n’roll band – think Gryphon!’ We were taken under the wing of Yes, who were huge at the time, and toured with them, so if we fell into any genre I suppose it was prog-rock.”

There has always been a strong Gryphon fanbase – so strong that thirty-odd years on from their demise they’ve been persuaded into a reunion gig at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in June 2009.

Legendary English Folk-Rock Bands

In the mid-70s Graeme, now able to buy his own electric guitars, began a long association with influential folk-rock bands: The Albion Band (run by the so-called “Godfather of Folk-Rock” Ashley Hutchins) and its offshoot, the John Tams-led Home Service, which featured an innovatory brass section. Graeme was also part of the later John Tams Band, an offshoot of the offshoot. Tams, the Sony award-winning singer-songwriter, also regularly calls on Graeme to wear his other hat, labelled “recording engineer and computer whiz”!

Rolf Harris, the West End and Tension of Opposites

From the early 90s Graeme has played guitar in Rolf Harris’s band The Roo Brothers, although the Aussie legend, being no spring chicken, only does a few gigs a year. Oh, and Graeme also plays bass, a job he’s currently doing with another comedy act, quirky trio The Omega 3. This came easily to him thanks to his adolescent habit of learning whole arrangements, including basslines.

His versatility has also led him into West End shows, playing not only guitar but a variety of other string instruments including bazouki and oud. And early in 2009 he was invited to do something “exciting but very scary” – being the lone electric guitarist with a 90-piece orchestra performing the world premiere of Tension of Opposites, by American composer Matthew Ferraro, at the Barbican in London.

A busy and varied life. Plenty of “opposites” but no real “tension” as he revels in variety. He may not be a household name but in the business he is well known and well appreciated.

Graeme Taylor, in conversation with Clive Harvey, 3 March 2009. Originally published in Suite 101 internet magazine.

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