A week or so ago #TEAMw21 had not come across Julian Taylor before, yet on the strength of one single and the quickest of spotify researching failing to find a bad track from him there was simply nothing else to be done than to head over to the Green Note production at The Water Rats to see him live. We were in good company, with Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine, a number of other music luminaries, as well as various fans he had picked up along the way so far on his short UK tour, and our reward was to be a truly outstanding special evening.
The evening would begin with a short set from Michele Stodart, ( co writer and bassist in the multi platinum selling Magic Numbers ), who in truth we have only ever seen before playing bass for other people, so this was an ideal chance to see her as a performer in her own right. Normally a perpetual blur when playing, this also represented a chance to see her standing relatively still. Playing solo with just an acoustic guitar, The Water Rats was stunned into silence with a performance high on drama and with an intensity that made you catch your breath. She opened with "Tell Me", her latest single, the recorded version has a piano as the lead instrument, tonight Michele's guitar work at times almost suggested a tune rather than outright playing it - leaving her vocals to take centre stage in what was a quite stunning way to open. Michele's style of part singing, part talking was so absorbing and the audience were held spellbound by each word.
For her next tune "Ain't No Woman" Michele's guitar playing was more standard and delicate - as she sang her eyes would be mainly closed while her face would contort into a myriad of positions as she sung another enthralling song.
Another song from Michele's new album due in September, "These Bones" was conversational at times almost whispered over a jazzy refrain. Michele would play with her vocals throughout in term of volume to great effect. with it's haunting "I ain't waiting round to die" final line - a cry of "yeah" went up as the final note was hit in appreciation of just how good it had been - even Michele seemed to disappear somewhere for a few moments in the wonder of it all.
With her mini protest song "You Can't Dismiss Me", Michele continued to hold audiences attention in a vice like grip that support acts rarely can. This short but powerful opening to proceedings would close with an unlikely bit of audience participation on - "Will You Wait For Me?" for which they would provide beautiful harmonies that would get progressively louder - it saw a broad smile come across Michele's face as things got ever louder. with an album launch to come at November 30th at St Pancras Old Church with promises of a harp - it wold seem to be an event to mark in the diary going from this evenings showing.
Julian Taylor will soon be releasing an Anthology and tonight would be an anthology of sorts which saw the show split into 3 distinct sections, the first would be Julian solo with his acoustic guitar. Without doubt Julian is a striking figure with his hat and dreadlocks yet nothing can prepare you for the quiet calmness that seems to emanate from him. His song introductions would be spoken while he played guitar underneath - the opener "Human Race" had a simple recurring guitar refrain that Julian introduced us to during the songs monologue, that would then repeat throughout the song. With a warm soulful voice, he continued the vibe that Michele had set earlier with the audience held rapt, hanging on every word.
The second song "Be With You" had an introduction that was both beautiful and heartbreaking, the song itself captured all those elements and more and included a marvelously beautiful sustained note. After only two songs it was clear that we were in the presence of someone special. The final part of his solo set "100 Proof" was about his Grandfather who lived until 102.
It dipped into his life at various point and came with a chorus that was impossible to resist. Just for a few fleeting seconds towards to the end of the song, Julian like us seemed affected by what he was singing, the song had built such a vivid picture that he was almost in the room with us - and when Julian offered out the final lines of the song to the audience - they all filled the gap without question.
Julian then invited his all female band, ( who were to play such a key part in the success of the evening) to join him on stage. Considering that they had only started playing together less than a week ago, this was a band that was awesomely tight, and they exuded the joy of what they were playing in wide grins. On the bass was the returning Michele Stodart who if asked to go on Strictly Come Dancing would surely have her bass guitar as her dance partner! A seemingly inseparable pair, they surely performed a number of dance routines as the night progressed, with Michele's bass sound ranging from a warm rumble to a pulsating heart stopping rock throb towards the end of the evening. At the back of the stage on percussion was Sian Monaghan, who from her opening contribution of setting an atmosphere by hand caressing her cymbals. made her presence felt. She would provide inventive and sympathetic drumming throughout, never fussy yet always catching the ear. She was also permanently on the move, her hair forever darting one way then the other. The final member of the band Raevennan Husbandes would dazzle and delight on a number of different guitars, as well as occasionally moving to the back of the stage to provide keyboards while all the time along with Michele providing backing vocals. Julian will rightly take a number of plaudits from the evening however these ladies were simply magnificent.
The band immediately set to making an atmosphere, as Julian said things were about to get "a little bit dirtier". Sian as mentioned earlier, provided the shimmering cymbal sound while Raevennan and Michele quietly added their contributions alongside as Julian moved on to introducing "The Ridge". This was a shift in gears, mid paced country that was equally absorbing - the sound now richer, with Raevennan and Michele lifting the chorus with their backing harmonies. Julian's introduction to "Seeds" was illuminating in many ways about both Canada and himself, the song upped the tempo further and saw all band members playing their part to full effect and within minutes the Water Rats was in a communal singalong. This was a night with absolutely no fillers, "Wide Awake" was wonderfully auto biographical and came with a chorus rich in harmony with the glorious backing vocals. that received a thunderous round of applause.
From there it was on to "Ballad Of A Young Troubadour", which once again saw the Water Rats turn into a supporting choir, it even saw Michelle encouraging the audience to get ever louder even as she was playing - Sian's drumming on this was exemplary. Another song that had us from the intro was "Opening The Sky"which started with Julian telling us about a car crash he was in - it turned into a dying list of wisdom for his daughter from a note he had written at the time. Building in intensity as it developed, this was a success on a multitude of levels. In a complete change of pace, there was a bit of Mavericks style Tex Mex with "Love Enough" with Raevennan's guitar work simply wonderful.
Julian's final section would see him go electric very much matching the mood of the room which was certainly buzzing. This part would prove to be as absorbing as the previous two - "Back Again" delivered what we needed, a perfect summer vibe. That good time feeling continued with "Desert Star (Who Could Ask For Anything More?)" with Julian moving into a more soulful section of the evening.
There was a rootsy rocking intro into "Sweeter", it seemed that whichever genre Julian and the band switched into they were equally adept. Things got a little a bit hybrid with a rootsy Latin infusion on "Just A Little Bit", Raevennan's guitar and Michele's bass turned up to heart stopping to make this an absolute delight - with at one point Raevennan and Julian facing off against each other as they played - there was no doubt party time had arrived at The Water Rats - all we needed was a beach and some sunshine that this song exuded in bucketfuls! Another fusion of rock n roll, country and soul came with "Set Me Free" driven by Sian's powerful back beat. Julian just kept delivering on song after song - the intro to "Bobbi Champagne" was so endearing and funny that it took little to rev up the Water Rats Choir to join in on a call and response on the chorus, so when Julian asked "What's your name?" a deafening "I'm Bobbi Champagne" from the audience was the reply! It was a sultry blues number, over which Julian laid down a sweet soulful vocal and it saw Julian give off a broad smile at the turn of events.
The closing run of songs continued that superior soulful sound - "Be Good To Your Woman" with Raevennan setting the mood with her keyboard from the back of the stage was a joy, while the funky final song "Zero To Eleven" closed the main set off in absolute style including a ridiculously extended note. Naturally there had to be an encore as there was a proper standing ovation given for something truly special. The final number "Why Would You Do That?" once again showed each band member giving their absolute best on this New Orleans inspired number
The evening had started a little late due to the sound check overrunning and the irony of that would be that the very song we had come to see Julian sing, "Georgia Moon" ended up being cut from the set although we did get to hear a muffled version get played before the doors eventually opened. If you are lucky you may get one or two gigs a year that are as good as this - every song was like an old favourite even if you'd never heard it before, Word of mouth alone should surely ensure that Julian Taylor will be returning to the UK swiftly -and when he does - just be there!!!