Thursday, 28 March 2013

Mark Taylor Interview

When did you first meet Mike Peters?

I seem to remember meeting him and the band in the offices of IRS records in Ladbroke Grove.It was around the time of the album "Strength" and the imminent promotion and touring usually associated with an album at that time. I say that because there really isn't the same amount of activity surrounding a release as there was then. I liked the tracks that had been played to me and I was impressed with Mike, a likeable and enthusiastic character and I thought the rest of the band seemed ok too. The album had included some big keyboard parts and they needed to be represented live. The keyboard player Rupert Black had recorded them but his commitments to The Pretenders meant he was not available at that time so I stepped in with great relish to enhance the rock and roll sound of The Alarm.

When were you approached to work to work on the "Eye Of The Hurricane" album?

I was already a couple of years down the line with the band so it was a continuation of my role. They did have a guest in the form of Chris Stainton who did a couple of the tracks like "One Step Closer" with Dave Sharp but I covered all the synth work and the piano and Hammond stuff. We were working with John Porter who I was aware of and liked. He in fact gave me some good advice along the way for which I am still grateful.

What do you remember of the sessions for "Eye Of The Hurricane"?

The EOTH sessions were at Linford Hall studios in Milton Keynes. It was formerly the Lord Mayor Of London's house and was a fine Georgian manor in a little area of countryside that had not been swallowed up by the new town. We found various quaint pubs to walk to but to be honest we spent most of the time working hard on the tracks. I enjoyed one of my first real experiences playing a Hammond organ and I was afforded some creative input on sounds and parts. I remember the feeling of listening to "Rain In The Summertime" as it developed over the period and being excited by it's creation every step of the way. It felt like a hit record and when a hit record is in your midst and becoming a palpable commercial possibility there is a buzz in the studio and in the collective of musicians working on that record. The record company would come for an impromptu listen which has never been a pleasant experience, however such positive feelings surrounded some of the tracks so we knew word was getting back to the world that we were on to something!

What was the first tour you did with The Alarm and what are your memories of it?

It was the "Strength" tour. We played two nights at the Marquee club just for fans and just before we went out on tour. I remember it being bedlam in the hot and sweaty summer night crammed into the club. We were to tour extensively in Europe and America for a couple of years.

When playing live shows with The Alarm how did you approach adding keyboards to songs that didn't previously feature any?

I am a rock 'n roll keyboard player at heart and my influences are not always the obvious larger than life keyboard stars you might imagine. I am influenced and interested in some of the unsung heroes and how they play within a rock band.

I was aware of players like Nicky Hopkins and indeed Chris Stainton, Richard Tee and Chuck Levell. They were not household names but they played their part in adding and creating a sound within a group. Nicky was the Rolling Stones keyboard player and I loved his style and just how integral he was to their sound. It is no use just playing a subtle quiet apologetic part when you are capable of taking on the guitar player if you wanted to. So I always had a vital attitude to my playing and where it fit into the sonic landscape. I may not have been the so called star but I wanted and still do want to be reckoned with whether in volume or in flair and dexterity.

What is your favourite Alarm album?

I like the album "Change" and I like "In The Poppy Fields" and "Direct Action".

The band seemed on fire during the recent "Vinyl" tour, what were the highlights for you?

We had some great gigs on this tour. The Newcastle gig was amazing and so was the Birmingham show that we hadn't expected to be so successful.

The highlights are all incorporated in what was a well thought out set with highs and then quieter moments that helped illustrate the varying colours of The Alarm without being a relentless head bashing two hours! Mikes songs are so often reflective and on this occasion with the introduction to the "Spirit Of '76" we all were treated to another side of the song and what it means to the band and more importantly Mike himself.

Obvious fun highlights would be the "Vinyl" premiere itself when the band enjoyed an evening in London town with all the glitz that a film premiere brings. Rarely do we get an opportunity to do something like this these days and I know everyone involved had a great time.

Who came up with the idea and arrangement of "Spirit Of '76" which featured just yourself and Mike on this tour?

It was an extension of what Mike had been working on in his acoustic set. After a few discussions about timings and mood the piece pretty much played out itself.

The Alarm announced that there will be a gig at the Mall of Asia Arena in the Philippines in May, are there any plans for the rest of the year?

There are always ideas and potential for more dates in this band. The energy and attitude are that of a young vibrant outfit and that probably will never disappear.

They say rock 'n roll is the fountain of youth (Stiv Bators quote) and I firmly believe that to be true. The application that the band is capable of will be the vehicle for all the songs that are written for many more years to come. Like the Rolling Stones and dare say we will be celebrating our own 50 years one day!

With such a massive C.V. what are the stand out moments of your career so far?

I enjoyed playing with absolutely everyone on my c.v. and I am proud to have been associated with so many talented artists.

How did you become involved with Simple Minds?

I was with The Alarm one time in L.A. and we were to go to the L.A. Greek Theatre to see the band Simple Minds. I was aware of them but had not really considered what they would be like. It was a sunny evening and the Greek theatre is an outdoor venue and we sat glowing in the Californian sunset so a pleasant way to see any band.

I have been lucky enough to play there many times since. The band came out on stage and I was immediately  taken by the charisma of the front man Jim Kerr but more than that I was blown away by the role Mick McNeil was playing. He was so integral to the band that he was situated almost in the centre of the stage and the sound of the band was heavily keyboard led. I love the fact that the keyboards were so featured and I was also drawn by the arrangements of the songs all of which had so many synthesizer lines that spoke so loudly on the sound that was pumping out of the p.a. It was a breathtaking experience that left me thinking that must be a dream gig for any keyboard player. We actually went backstage to very briefly hang with them and I could pick out Mick from across the room and I had so much admiration for him and  for his creative input so integral within Simple Minds.

It was to be a chain of events that my journey should actually take me to their door many years later. As luck would have it The Alarm were to be supported by a fine band from Glasgow called The Silencers. I got on particularly well with them and I struck up a friendship with their drummer Martin Hanlin. He put me in touch with his school boy friends that happened to be Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill and they needed a keyboard player after the departure of Mick McNeil! I am forever in his debt for introducing me and for all the subsequent involvement I had had with the band through his involvement.

You have worked quite a lot with Brian James both in Lords Of The New Church and with his Grand Cru album last year, how did the Grand Cru project come about?

I was to find myself living in Brighton which is where Brian lives. We have always been the best of friends right back to the early Lords days  to present day. I had time on my hands and it seemed like an interesting pairing. I was trying to get Brian to consider something acoustic with maybe a bluesy feel and we set to work on a selection of songs that would become "Chateau Brian".

The album got some great reviews and good press, will there be a follow up?

It did indeed have great reviews which of course is the kiss of death! I remember the reviews for "What Are You Going To Do With Your Life" by Echo and the Bunnymen. If we could have banked the fervour and anticipation of those reviews we would have been very rich very quickly! Alas the great reviews in turn were once again the kiss of death and the album did not do anything like what it should have done.

We are however planning a second album as well as a series of appearances in festivals across Europe hopefully this summer.

What were the recording sessions like for the album?

They were very basic. Brian insisted on going as analogue as we could so I borrowed an 8 track machine and bought some tapes and then set to work. We recorded in a very punky environment which leant itself perfectly to the content and feeling we wanted the album to represent. After a series of sessions we were done and we looked at each other and thought "yeah, not bad actually". I am looking forward to the next step of the project.

You played on the Elton John album "The One" alongside legendary guitarists Eric Clapton and David Gilmour how was that?

The whole experience was one I will never forget. One doesn't often get the opportunity to work alongside one of the biggest names in the industry and I was excited from the start to see what would happen. Simple Minds were managed by Clive Banks who also at that time managed Elton. The keyboard player Guy Babylon who sadly is not with us any more was to go home from Paris for the arrival of his son Ben and they needed a keyboard player to take over the sessions and my name was on the list. Suddenly I was in the world of super stardom and all that came with it. If Elton said "have you got your passport on you and do you fancy going home to the family tonight?! then that meant a private jet and no customs and home by 8 p.m. Picked up the next morning and at work by midday the next day. It was an exciting time and I learnt so much from him and his approach to writing, playing and performing live.

The fact that I was mingling with all these names and faces that were rock 'n roll royalty was a bonus however I made a very good friend in Davy Johnstone who is Elton's original guitar player and still there to this day. We spent a lot of time together as you do on a 3 year tour. His stories from all the '70's tours and recordings with Elton were priceless and I am indebted to him for so many great times on the road.

You have been Musical Director for Marti Pellow, Jimmy Cliff, Sinead O'Connor and Belinda Carlisle on numerous tours, how do you prepare for this role and are you a hard task master?

The way I prepare for any such role is to immerse myself in the material of that artist until I know it almost better than them. The same applies to each of the names above. They may have different characters so you adapt accordingly and look to the same goal, which should be that of a performance.

Are there any plans for a Mark Taylor solo album?

I do have loose plans but I tend to move on so quickly that I am unhappy and dissatisfied too quickly to commit to something. I have a few new ideas in mind and we'll have to wait and see if I can find the time to see them through.

Who would feature on the album if it went ahead?

I would probably call on whoever I thought right for the job. I am not a great guitar player so may need some help there. I tend to swing between my years with Simple Minds and my interest with electronica and my earlier appreciation of American music so I need to decide who I am at this point. Still deciding after all this time?

You have played with so many different artists and played anything from rock, reggae, pop and punk. What are your own musical tastes?

I actually love 70's funk. My lovely wife Georgina and I have mad funk nights where we dance the night away into the early hours steeped in Sly Stone and Graham Central Station.

Who are your musical inspirations?

 My early inspirations were from my fathers record collection. He liked pianists from the jazz era. Guys like Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson. So I tried to emulate them as a young boy on an imposing old upright piano we had in the back room of our house in Sunderland. One Sunday night I was invited to the Sunderland Empire where a band called The Nice were playing. It was this night that my destiny was to be called and I watched in awe of the antics and sheer excitement of Keith Emerson their daring Hammond player and focal point of the 3 piece. I decided there and then that that was what I wanted to do. I chartered his career and soon became interested in other great players like Steve Winwood, Billy Preston or Leon Russell. They were a departure from the sort of music The Nice were playing but it was the sound of the keyboards and look of the black and whites that I love to this day.

What was the last album that you purchased?

Bowie "The Next Day"

If push comes to shove what albums would you count in your top 5 albums of all time?

Grace Jones "Hurricane"
"Who's Next"
"Exile On Main Street"
Donny Hathaway "Live"

How was working with James on his solo album?

It was very enjoyable. I was to finally work with the great Pete Walsh who had worked with Simple Minds and is responsible for so many amazing albums. I had badgered James into recording a handful of interesting songs that would subsequently make it to being an album to be very proud of. The sessions were joyous with many great performances from various players. The whole 2 weeks were peppered with a lot of fun and also a lot of focussed hard work. I like the album very much and now I am badgering him into doing some live shows. It will happen this year I hope as long as we don't have too many distractions.

How can people find out more about Sonic Hills?

Sonic Hills Studio is on the back burner as I am designing and then constructing a purpose built studio for all my needs.

Out of all the sessions and bands you have been involved with, is there anyone you would have liked to have worked with more?

If you look at my c.v. you will see that, for all you say there are many names on it, in fact I have had long relationships with all those artists and I continue to go back and forth with them all depending on their requirements. So I am in a fortunate position to be able to guest on a project or perform for a period of time with all my previous artistic friends and acquaintances and I hope that situation never changes.

What are your plans for the rest of this year?

I have to write an album with an artist who I have been with for many years called William Topley. We are to record in the summer and then tour hopefully in the fall in the Bahamas and the U.S. There are murmurings on The Alarm front as well as me going to spend more time in America in an M.D. capacity working with members of the David Letterman band introducing the singer Lulu to an American audience. I have a South American tour and some Japanese dates with Belinda Carlisle to do. I have to get on with another Brian James album and apparently my own solo work!

Any chance of a holiday this year?


  1. Brilliant stuff. That's more info in one interview about Mark that I've read than all the years he's been with MP and the lads.

    I bet those Funk nights are really good fun. :)

  2. Hi Mark!
    Your old friend Carlos, from when we both used to live in Sunderland, here. Its all a far cry from our young teen days Mark and our later times with the -'Anabels' Club- in I am so pleased you have enjoyed so much success with your music...and long may it continue. I have often thought of you over the years and i tried to get to see you once, when you played Gateshead Stadium with Simple Minds.
    Stay well and happy my friend!

  3. great insight into a very talented and nice guy