Tributes to great musician who made Skye his home

Tributes were paid this week to trombonist Rick Taylor, who died suddenly at his home in Torrin on Skye.

Born in County Durham in 1957, Rick was profiled by the Free Press in November 2009 – just a few years after moving to Skye.

In the 1980s and 90s he was a session musician with Elton John, Wet Wet Wet, George Michael, Chris Rea, the Spice Girls and Robbie Williams. After moving to Skye Ñ which came about after a visit to his friend Dave Ritchie in Camuscross – he became a guest music teacher at  Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and was involved in the creation of the Skye Swing Jazz Festival. He also worked with the Peatbog Faeries, Eddi Reader, Justin Currie and Blazin’ Fiddles.

Duncan MacInnes, director of Skye Events For All, said: “We were extraordinarily blessed that Rick and Pam chose to move to Skye. From the summer of 2005 onwards, Rick introduced jazz in all forms to Seall’s audiences, giving us the privilege of sitting in on informal evenings with some of the great names from the Scottish jazz scene. These concerts developed into the Skye Jazz Festival and the Swing Jazz Festival. Rick persuaded all sorts of musicians and bands to head for Skye, while Pam undertook the organisation.

“Rick’s most recent appearance, as part of Christine Hanson’s ‘Cremation of Sam McGee’, was truly one of our long-term highlights.

“He possessed an incredible and unassuming ability to bring together musicians of all sorts, amateur and professional, local and international. Whenever he entered the room a sense of joy and well-being simply enveloped all those round him. Thank you, Rick, for the music.”

The Peatbog Faeries released a statement which said:  “We are so sad to tell those who haven’t heard the awful news that our great friend and inspiration, Rick Taylor, has passed away. He was part of the band for around seven years and contributed greatly to three studio albums as well as our 2009 live album.

”Our sincerest condolences go out to Pam, Paul and Laura, not to mention the multitude of friends who loved him.  Rest in peace, Rick xx.”

Here’s a look back at that profile piece by Lynne Kennedy, which was written after Rick Taylor moved to Skye.

Hanging on the wall in Rick Taylor’s loo in Sasaig, Skye is a gift from George Michael — a framed platinum disk to celebrate sales of over 600,000 copies of the album “Faith”, on which Rick performed.

It’s one of many he’s been presented with over his musical career, although he has given most away. “That one was a bit special, though, because there were only about 10 musicians involved,” he says.

Nearly 10 years ago, Rick arrived in Skye to escape the music scene in which he had spent his life working as a session musician.

“By 2001 I’d tried everything I could to find something that would satisfy me but I just couldn’t find it. I knew I needed to get out of that environment and I was originally thinking about getting a narrow boat on the Warwickshire canal, then my friend Dave Ritchie who lives in Camuscross came down to visit and said: ‘You should come to Skye’. A few weeks later, here I was.”

Rick was born in 1957 in Houghton le Spring, County Durham, though his father’s job in the RAF took them to Africa and he spent his first four years in Nairobi, although he doesn’t remember any of it.

“The first memory I have of my childhood is when we returned to Britain in 1961. I was four and I saw snow for the first time in my life when it snowed on Christmas Eve.”

He loved school and was heavily involved in sport, participating in everything he could — football, rugby, tennis, even boxing. Although he was in the church choir and had played guitar since the age of 11, music took a bit of a back seat to sport and it wasn’t until he badly broke his ankle when he was 15 that music began to play a bigger part in his life.

“They sent me to the music department and I was given the last trombone, which I had to share at first. I used to get up at six o’clock every morning to play sport but when I couldn’t do that any more I got up at 6am to learn my instrument. Within two years I’d done grade five and been accepted to Leeds College of Music. I’d also discovered jazz, and that was it — I was going to become a jazz musician!”

In his second year at college he was invited to join the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and immediately went on tour in France where he met fellow-musicians with whom he has ended up working throughout his career.

After college, in order to save money to go to London, he did a summer season with Jimmy Tarbuck in Scarborough which lasted eight weeks, before spending a year working for Cunard — the luxury cruise company.

“I worked with the last great dance band, the Trevor Knowles Band, and we did six months on the ‘Cunard Princess’ in the Caribbean and then six months on the ‘QE2’ crossing the Atlantic. Even on a ship that size, when you are in the middle of the Atlantic in a force 11 gale you really feel how insignificant you are. It was a great experience, though, and it’s where I learned how to drink!”

A year later Rick arrived in London, ready to make his mark. His first home was at 118 Finchley Road, in North London — “one of those houses where there was always a constant stream of residents who were musicians, particularly jazz musicians”.

“At that time, there was about 17 years between me and the next youngest trombone player — a lot of those guys had been on the scene for years and years and were more classical. As I was coming into the music scene in London there were more pop artists beginning to use horn sections in their music.”

Because of his youth jazz orchestra experience, Rick already had a lot of contacts and did not find it too difficult to get work. It was the start of the 1980s and he worked with some of the most popular artists of that time including George Michael, Chris Rea and Wet Wet Wet.

Perhaps the biggest gig he played at was Live Aid, in 1985.

“If you see the DVD and you watch Elton John’s section, you’ll see me at the back in my little red jacket which was nicked off me by a tramp about two days later. It was a really incredible experience. The backstage area was just unbelievable, though, the number of egos walking around!

“I did wish I had a camera because at one stage I saw Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Freddy Mercury and Elton John, all in their finery, sitting down in a little group drinking tea like a bunch of old blokes. It was great.”

ICK IS a passionate musician; the money was irrelevant, he says, and the music was what he lived for.

“I got offered Wham’s last gig at Wembley and would have earned £7,000 for the week. On the last night of rehearsals I had a jazz gig booked and I asked to get off a bit early but the management wouldn’t let me, even though we were fully rehearsed. I left and said I wasn’t coming back and ended up losing £7,000. But I did get paid £8.24 for the jazz gig; hardly anyone turned up and we had to split the door money!”

As well as being a session musician Rick was also able do a lot of the top jazz gigs, and worked all over the globe with an amazing range of world musicians — Cuban, Brazilian, South African Township, Calypso and European Folk.

“I remember in 1983 there was one particular week which started off with a call to go and play with a radio orchestra in Maida Vale in London, then in the afternoon I was at London Weekend Television to do a show with Wayne Sleep and that night I was at the WAG club doing a gig with Sonido des Londres. The following morning I went to Amsterdam to do a session with a Dutch radio orchestra, then to Paris that night for another gig. That was my life for a long time and I was young enough to cope with it.”

In the mid-80s he spent just over a year doing the only real “job” he ever had — touring with Elton John around the world. “I did get a little bored with the monotony of playing the same stuff every night for months and months but, at the same time, it was an amazing experience. At that time Elton John represented two per cent of all music sold all over the world in every genre. We played Carnegie Hall and many other huge venues, and were transported around in a private plane. Of course, as a young man I thought it was great.

“He was the best boss I ever had. I remember after the release of the album ‘Ice on Fire’, he gave all of us a copy of the CD. I asked him for a 12-inch LP and he said, ‘No problem, but keep the CD anyway’. The next day we all got a Sony Walkman; he realised I didn’t have a CD player but couldn’t just give me one, so he bought one for everyone.”

Rick worked solidly as a session musician based in London until 1988 when he decided to move back to the north-east where he grew up. “I’d met many musicians who had never seen their kids grow up and I didn’t want to be like that. I still hand-picked the good jobs I wanted but I was able to spend a lot more time at home.”

He became involved in a lot of provincial theatre and it was through this he met his partner, Pam. “Myself and my ex-wife had just drifted apart, but we still get on fine. Pam was the company stage manager on one of the productions I was working on and we became friends. Later, we both ended up in London and so we became a couple after that.”

In the late 90s, back in London, he worked with the Spice Girls, Robbie Williams, the Lighthouse Family and many other well-known artists, as well as a musical director in the West End.

By the end of 2001, though, he was unfullfilled. “I just couldn’t find anything that made me feel passionate about music any more. That’s when I moved to Skye, to have a rest and forget about music. I picked wilks on the shore and worked in hotel kitchens.”

It wasn’t long before he found his mojo again, though, having discovered Scotland’s traditional music scene.

“When I first came up here I ran a community singers’ night down at the Clan Donald Centre for people to come along and sing or play instruments. Gradually I got to know a lot of the local musicians and became involved in the Scottish music scene, so now I’m as busy as I ever was. The standard of music amongst the traditional musicians is incredible.”

Rick has worked on the last three Peatbog Faeries albums as well as with Eddie Reader, Blazin’ Fiddles, Justin Currie of Del Amitri and many more. For the past couple of years he has been a guest teacher/ensemble leader at Sabhal Mor Ostaig and for the Lews Castle College campus in Benbecula. His big project at the moment is putting the finishes touches to his album, “The Poet and the Maiden”, which is due for release in the new year.

I ask him what has been the biggest highlight in his life.

“Moving to Skye,” he says. “I’ve never in my life experienced being part of a community like I have since I came here.”

And his career high?

“I suppose the year touring with Elton John would be up there. But then I recently did a gig with Fiona MacKenzie in Inverness and I wouldn’t swap that for anything. The music was beautiful and the musicians all worked so well together. I’ve done some amazing gigs with the Peatbog Faeries, too —there is something about being in a band that plays great dance music, and they are just one of those bands.”

Profile piece written by Lynne Kennedy in 2009 for the Free Press.