What’s common between Suffolk-born Ralph Taylor’s dress sense, his music and his temperament? Each is as unpretentious as the other, though one would realise this only in a sequential fashion. His set is comprised of himself and his guitar, and echoes the incredibly successful simplicity which characterises his music. It’s his first song, ‘Animals’, that wows and it’s unfortunate that it’s also the shortest of the lot. The second – “Limit” – is one of his most famous, alongside his debut single ‘My Love’, and his use of fingerstyle is praiseworthy, particularly as he’s a self-taught guitarist. Originally starting out as a drummer, Taylor and a childhood friend also formed a rap duo before they were teenagers, when he began writing and singing. He calls this a “classic tale”, but it’s far from this; to leave school at the age of sixteen for an uncertain career in music, and that in London, is surely courageous. Still, when I ask the artist if there’s anything he misses, he seems decided that this is wants to do, but that “at that age, I did not think twice”. He also played cricket – “literally from the first year I was born” – but now his external activities are all music-based, according to manager Jonny.
“I am going electronic; I’ve always been by myself and then being in a band you learn that you have to look after everyone else as well”
Taylor is clearly grateful to his family for being supportive of his choices, particularly his father despite his being the headmaster of a school. Importantly, the music he grew up listening to is the music he tells me the most about: “Supertramp’s ‘Crime of the Century’ was always on in the car”, he says, and further lists Eminem, as well as Paolo Nutini, Damien Rice and Jack Johnson “from my fully acoustic days”. But Taylor is different to most artists in that he has been performing with a four-piece band for the last year and a half in tandem with solo performance. Ultimately however, he says, “I am going electronic. I’ve always been by myself and then being in a band you learn that you have to look after everyone else as well.” Today the produced sound is replaced, for the purpose of a purely acoustic execution, by a raw array of emotions in ‘Eyes’ (“when my eyes can’t see before me/I’ll be calling out to you”) followed by ‘I Shook Hands with the Devil’ and finally ‘Understand’, whose memorable phrasing and bridge interspersed with words make it a cathartic closing.
The artist’s writing process is also interesting. “You really can’t force it. You might think, ‘What’s cool? What’s in?’ but for me, it really doesn’t work like that.” Usually, there is a trigger sparking the subject of a new song – just the other day Taylor wrote one based on the tension he felt between himself and a guest at his house, who, to excuse the pun, “struck a wrong chord”. Described as “funky”, he says this song among others will be released this year as he plans to produce and record more after this tour concludes. Generally, it is a new place rather than the old, and “living life”, that inspires his writing. “I love getting chucked into situations where I meet people – people I’ll hate and people I’ll love – because I learn the most from others.”
He laments the fact that most Suffolk artists move away to London in hope of being recognised
Musically, Taylor says he “gets obsessed” with artists and then, after studying their music, selects what he believes to be the best bits of their sound to incorporate into his music. Appropriately, I comment on ‘Backyard’, from a four-track EP written and recorded over one weekend with Alexia Chambi whom he met whilst studying at London’s BIMM. The tune is nostalgic, and I realise during my conversation with Taylor that a certain lyric – “you look lonely” – resembles an equally small excerpt of Corinne Bailey Rae’s ‘Put Your Records On’. On his end, I hear a light chuckle at such a suggestion, but do not receive the same reaction when I mention Ed Sheeran. It’s refreshing to hear that he’s “one of Ed’s biggest fans” and initially taught himself to play the guitar with Sheeran’s songs. They both hail from the humble county of Suffolk and, like Sheeran, Taylor too played gigs in his hometown, though the younger of the two began performing in pubs when he was only thirteen. He laments the fact that most Suffolk artists move away to London in hope of being recognised, because “there is quite a scene” – one that he used to be a part of before moving away like others before him have done, and what others after him will do.
Sadly, Taylor doesn’t perform ’Subtlety’, a feel-good track reminiscent of both Sheeran’s ‘Take it Back’ and, more potently, Loyle Carner’s ‘Florence’. He responds positively to my comparison, appreciating the similar inclusion of jazz and adding that the two have met, and cites artists from the same circle as those he would collaborate with should he have the opportunity. It’s a struggle for Taylor to suggest two – Tom Misch, Jamie Woon – because he holds a fairly myopic view of what the future holds. He does make it clear that while he wouldn’t complain if international opportunities came along, his current outlook is to play some more festivals – El Dorado and Boardmasters are already under his belt – and continue gigging in popular venues like Notting Hill Arts Club, where he and his band headlined, and Camden’s Grand Union and Boho.
Look out for Ralph Taylor’s next single, Eyes, which will be released March 16th.