Interviewing Robbie Williams’ Lead Guitarist
August 22, 2012
By: Leonidas Achilleos
I talk to Neil Taylor (Robbie Williams lead guitarist), to discover the more personal aspects of life on the road and the inspiration behind his song writing.
‘Dad at a disco’, an infamous phrase connoting cringe-worthy behavior and social angst: he’s had a bit too many and is stumbling around the dance floor to the amusement of his ancient entourage of stay-at-home mums and office dads. So when my parents asked me to come to the pub with some of their friends last Monday, my first impression was one of bemusement. I had made the mistake before, and was stuck talking to ‘Sue from accounting’ and ‘Simon at Quick Fit’, far from enthralling. However, this time, I’d be in for a surprise. This time Neil Taylor was performing.
Neil Taylor lives in the same town as me, and is a fer
vent musician and songwriter. He’s been performing for quite some time, and may I mention, besides some of the greats: Tina Turner, Robbie Williams and currently Chris De Burke; Neil’s profession is wholly ‘rock’n Roll’. My parents told me the time and place for one of Neil’s small town gigs, 9:30, the Castle Pub, don’t be late. I didn’t really know what to expect, I mean, I’d always known who Neil Taylor was, (everyone does in our small town), but I’d never actually seen him perform live. When I did, it was certainly not ‘dad at disco’. Instead, centre front, tequila in one hand, Neil performed for a good hour, songs he’s played on stages, everywhere, all round the world. As his performance gained momentum so did the audience, and before long, it was a collaborative effort, with Neil’s tongue in cheek, mocking his audience to the thrilled laughter from the throngs. It was a very personal performance from a man who usually plays for thousands, a closer look into what most people see from behind an iron fence or below the stage. Luckily I managed to catch Neil after his gig for a quick Q&A in the same pub he’d just performed in; I wanted an insight into the life of a real life rock star.
Neil is certainly a man who knows how to own the space he’s in, his leg crossed over and his right arm slung over the armchair of the pub couch. I started simple, asking who he’d played for in the past and the list was extensive: “Tears for Fears, Tina Turner, Rob Stuart, Morrissey, Van Morrison, Peter Gabriel, Robbie Williams, Natalie Imbruglia, Clime Fisher, and a few more I can’t think of now…” too many to count on one hand. I’d check his Wiki page later, and add a few more to the list: Red Box, The Beloved, Nick Carter, bands that iconize the 80’s and 90’s. Neil is still playing today, and still for famous faces: “I’ve just come back from a tour working with Chris DeBurke in Dublin and finished a new acoustic album. It was great playing with him, but it’s quite demanding as a guitar player because you have to do lots of solos out front; about four to five-thousand people turn up some nights, other nights more. I’m off to Beirut with him next week in fact and Turkey after that. I’m doing a German tour with him next year as well”.
I wanted to understand what took him to our little pub, especially after he tells me about a crowd of one hundred and twenty thousand he once played for at Nedworth with the aforementioned ‘Robbie’ Williams (more colloquial than I am used to). He explains that since he’s released his solo albums; No Self Control in 2011 and Chasing Butterflies this year, he’s been playing in much smaller venues. I ask which he prefers, big or small? “There’s something about just performing in a pub, but they’re both different animals really. I’ve really enjoyed the smaller venues.” He tells me there’s a “special something” about performing in a pub: “There’s much more personal really”. I ask him if he has a pre-gig ritual, or anything to dispel the nerves before larger performances?
“No, not really, but normally if I’m working with someone like Robbie we’re usually just backstage for a few hours, maybe we’ll have a few drinks, you always get a bit nervous. To tell the truth I got more nervous performing my own stuff because it’s just me playing guitar and singing, having to entertain people. I do like a couple of shots of Gold Tequila before I go on. Tonight I’ve had a couple of shots of wine, a tequila and a bit of brandy.”
“How about Robbie? Will he drink before a big gig?”.
I’m worried I’ve breached tentative ground with this one, I’m sure he’s asked about Robbie a lot, surely it’s tedious answering on someone else’s behalf. But Neil only smiles, and coherent with his calamity on stage, answers in his cool fashion:
“No, Robbie doesn’t drink at all anymore, I think he used to drink a lot but just decided to knock it on the head. I think he enjoyed the drinking too much when he was younger, but he doesn’t miss it now. I’d just joined the band when he’d stopped drinking actually.”
“Most of the drinking must be done after the gig, right? Do you ever celebrate with the band after a successful performance?”
“Yeah, of course, when you’re doing big shows or even smaller ones, when you return to the hotel, you’re still buzzing, the last thing you wanna do is go to bed, sit in the room and watch TV or whatever. Everyone goes to the bar, then it’s invariably too much to drink. Robbie will often come down, have some coffee or whatever, sometimes we’ll go back to his room, and hang out with him.”
“So is their ever any mischief backstage? Any pranks you were part of?”
“Yeah, when I was working with Alison Moyay, we used to stay up late, trying to play pranks on each other all the time. Everyone was always worried that the band would gang up and trash their room; turn the room upside down, empty your suitcase, that sort of stuff. It happened to me once, up in Scotland. I ran up to my room, realising the whole band was missing. It was about two in the morning, I went up to my room, and it was completely empty, no bed, no tables, no chairs, nothing. I went over to the bathroom, but couldn’t open the door. They’d stuffed everything into this tiny en-suit, the TV, mattress, everything. I was trying to get everything out at two in the morning to the discomfort of my neighbour, who came over and complained about the noise. He called the manager, who knocked on my door, opened it and said “I’ve had a complaint…, where has everything gone in your room,” and after that I was banned for life. I was the second person to be banned; the drummer was as well after a play fight in the bar downstairs caused some trouble when he broke an antique chair in half.”
“What band do you think was the most influential and important bands to have worked with?”
“Tears for Fears were an iconic band of the 80’s, the best as far as I’m concerned — very credible. But playing with Robbie has also been fantastic, I’ve had some great time on stage with him, he’s been great on letting me do a lot of guitar solos.”
“How about the most eccentric band you’ve ever played for?”
“The most eccentric band that I’ve played for was Naterline Ruby back in 2001. I’ve never known a band that partied like those guys, I couldn’t keep up even back then, drinking from lunch time till six the next morning then getting up and practicing the next morning. When we went on the road it calmed down a bit, thank god. You see, you really have got to know your limits, the music business is one of the only professions where drinking is just expected and not frowned upon.”
“Is there any band or anyone you wish you’d worked with but haven’t?”
“Probably David Bowie, back twenty, thirty years ago, I’ve never done that. I had his early albums and I loved McRonsons, his guitar player and slick Ronson. I really loved his music, listened to all their stuff when I was younger.”
“You’ve recently released two solo albums; did anything especially inspire you to do them?”.
“Yeah, Chasing butterflies most notably. It was about me in the mid 90’s after having spent of [all my] money and coming off tour with Tears for Fears. We’d been all over the world, and I came back with not much money and a big tax bill, I was in the dole. I wrote the song chasing butterflies back then, at the lowest point in my life really. It’s about being down in your luck, in a really dark place and you can’t see any way out of it but you can still see a bit of light in the tunnel that you look to.”
“What’s inspired you to go your own way?”
“Well I decided to do my first solo album, No Self Control, after the 2006 tour with Robbie, the Post Encounters Tour, I knew I had a lot of time of before the next album was gonna be released. I decided to do an instrumental album, see how it turned out, but after I did the first track I thought, I can’t do another eleven of these ha ha, they’ll drive me up the wall. So, I was talking to my friend Steve Torch, a very well known song writer who’s written for Chere and Kyle Minogue and stuff, and he suggested I do some singing. So I wrote something, he wrote the melody, and four years later, No Self Control was released. When I showed it to Robbie’s band they laughed though, probably because I have more self-control than anyone of them. A lot of them are younger than me, and tried to keep me up after gigs.”
“OK, final question… What’ll I get you to drink Neil?”
“Oh… erm, Tequila Slammer… if you’re buying.”
“Yeah, no problem. Dad! One Tequilla Slammer please”. Maybe going to the pub with your parents has some perks after-all, long as it’s not them up on stage anyway…