Born: January 31, 1957;

Died: June 7, 2019

Rick Taylor, who has died aged 62, was an English player, arranger and teacher of music, who for the last 17 years of his life made his home with his partner Pam Allan on the Isle of Skye. Prior to this move he had been an in-demand session trombone player, playing for a diverse range of big-name artists including George Michael, Wham!, Tom Jones, Wet Wet Wet, Chris Rea, Joan Armatrading, Jamiroquai, the Spice Girls and the Lighthouse Family.

Most prominently, with long-standing friends Paul Spong, Dave Bitelli and Raul D’Oliveira, Taylor was part of the Onward International Horns live quartet, who were part of Elton John’s live band throughout the mid-1980s. They toured the world and accompanied John’s Live Aid set at Wembley Stadium in 1985, and played on John’s 1987 live album Live in Australia (with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) and his 1985 record Ice on Fire. Taylor was credited with arrangements on the song Candy By the Pound, and as a player on the songs This Town, Soul Glove and Wrap Her Up, the latter a modest UK and US hit featuring backing vocals from George Michael.

As a musician who sometimes struggled to reconcile the artistry of his profession with an industry culture where artists could be rapidly dropped from gigs, or their written arrangements given without warning to other players to perform, Taylor enjoyed his time with John. He was adventuring around the world with his best friends in Onward International, and he thought the star was a fair employer whom he got on with personally; John nick-named Taylor ‘Elizabeth’, after the star he shared a surname with.

Taylor’s recorded legacy also includes cameos on Wet Wet Wet’s 1989 hit Sweet Surrender, as well as Wham!’s third and final album Music from the Edge of Heaven (1986), George Michael’s debut solo record Faith (1987), and throughout Joe Jackson’s Grammy-nominated soundtrack album for Francis Ford Coppola’s film Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988). These are only the highest-profile of Taylor’s credits, and his family believe there were many more recorded and live engagements which only those who were there might be able to verify.

When Taylor and Allan moved to Skye, having been to stay with a friend on the island beforehand, he had fallen out of love with the music industry. A performer of integrity, who had once foregone his own wage to avert the imminent sacking of other players on a live tour he was on, he found himself sick of the meatgrinder ethos at work in the worst parts of the music business. Yet while he arrived happy to distance himself from his trade, doing unexpected jobs like winkle-picking, he and Pam soon found the sense of community on the island was matched only by the level of camaraderie with which the Scottish traditional music scene greeted them.

Brian McAlpine from Session A9 has paid tribute to the effect Taylor had upon the Scottish traditional music scene; how folk players who worked with him were blown away by his knowledge and talent. Shortly after moving to Skye, Taylor became a favourite featured player of many artists at the Celtic Connections festival; although his many attendances there fell away over recent years, he was back on Celtic Connections stages for performances in 2019.

Among the Scots musicians and bands Taylor involved himself with were Blazin’ Fiddles, Eddi Reader, Justin Currie, Bruce MacGregor’s Strings Attached project, Salsa Celtica, the Poozies, the Angus Nicolson Trio, Mary Macmaster and Daibh, while he, Spong and Nigel Hitchcock played horns for the Peatbog Faeries. While in Scotland, he also released his only album under his own name, 2010’s The Poet and the Maiden, which was recorded in Dumfries and Galloway.

Outside of playing and recording, however, Taylor found much of his greatest satisfaction in life as a musical educator. He taught on Blazin’ Fiddles’ Blazin’ in Beauly residency, ran his own annual Rick Taylor Ensemble Course on Skye for musicians of all abilities, and led local workshops for adults, children, people with special needs and the over-60s. One of the things he loved most about where he and Pam had settled was the way the people shared and rekindled his own love of music.

Born in Durham in 1957, Rick Taylor was the son of Richard Trevor Higgin and Jean Taylor. The family moved to Nairobi in Kenya when he was eighteen months old so that his father could complete his National Service as an officer, and moved back when Taylor’s younger brother John arrived two years later. His father left the family home when Taylor was 13, although he was happy to be reunited with him in the last decade of his life.

He was raised in Houghton-Le-Spring, and despite being an intensely sporty child with a particular aptitude for football, an ankle break when he was 14 caused him to focus on music. He studied at Leeds School of Music and then moved to London as a session player, developing his taste for world music by performing with Cuban, African and Brazilian musicians, and played in the QE2 liner’s house band. He met and married his wife Wendy in the 1970s and the couple had two children, Laura and Paul, the following decade.

Laura remembers being taken on tour with Elton John when she was three, but shortly afterwards the family moved back to the north-east of England, there Taylor divided his session duties with projects alongside local musicians. He and Wendy split in the 1990s, and Taylor met Pam while he was the musical director and she was the stage manager of Boogie Nights: The Musical in London.

An enthusiastic reader, dancer and birdwatcher – he loved identifying songbirds by their sound – Taylor was known for his sense of humour, his love of community and the way he could methodically cook all day, even if only for himself and Pam. He died at home in Torrin on the Isle of Skye, and is survived by his partner Pam and children Laura and Paul.

David Pollock

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