Monday, 14 September 2009

I ain't never comin' back

Brian Maurice Holden was born in Middlesex in 1939. After the war, Brian and his family emigrated to the United States. In 1955, his sister married animation genius Joseph Barbera of Hanna-Barbera fame, and the family re-located from New Jersey to Los Angeles, where the teenage Brian found himself enrolled at Hollywood High. A big fan of Gene Vincent and Elvis Presley, Brian started performing their songs at parties and would later appropriate elements of their look into his own act. In 1957 he accompanied his famous brother-in-law on a trip to London and, inspired by the emerging rock and roll scene in the coffee bars of Soho, he adopted the name Vince Taylor and decided to become a star.

After releasing two flop singles in Britain and being dropped by his record label, Taylor found himself part a musical package tour to France where, in a career making moment, he was photographed getting off the train in a full black leather outfit, a heavy chain and medallion around his neck, his black hair greased into a massive quiff, a sneer on his face. The publicity made him an instant cause celebre; two wild performances at the Paris D’Olympia consolidated his position as a Gallic superstar.

Taylor’s records were never actually that good: his vocals were fairly weak and his choice of material was usually second hand or formulaic, but his image was incredibly strong and his energetic, barely controlled performances electrified audiences in France and the rest of mainland Western Europe.

As the sixties wore on, the always temperamental Taylor became increasingly erratic in his behaviour and immoderate in his habits: at one major concert, filled with speed, LSD and whisky, he wrapped a towel around his head and stalked the stage telling the audience that he was the prophet Matthew before trashing the equipment and staggering off into the night. Not surprisingly, Taylor’s career stalled and, despite numerous comebacks up until the late eighties, it never really recovered. For a time, Taylor drifted in and out of mental illness and homelessness fuelled by alcohol, narcotics, religious fanaticism and paranoia. In the late sixties, he apparently crossed paths with the young David Bowie, who would later base the character of Ziggy Stardust on the ruined Taylor, the rock star driven mad by his own success.

Eventually achieving some sort of equilibrium in the late 80’s, Taylor ultimately found peace as an aircraft mechanic in Switzerland (he had qualified as a pilot as a teenager) before dying of a heart attack at the early age of 52.

Two tracks from Taylor. The first, ‘Brand New Cadillac’, is his best recording, a genuinely exhilarating slice of early rock and roll that he wrote himself and features bass and drums from future Shadows Brian Locking and Brian Bennett. The second, ‘Jet Black Machine’ is a variation on the theme, but is still pretty good at playing on Taylor’s leather, chains and engine oil image, and is also an old favourite of Unmann’s Mum. This one’s pour vous, Mrs. U.

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