Graeme Taylor, (seen here second from the right), British guitarist and songwriter, chats with Kevin Cooper about opening for Yes at Madison Square Garden, playing guitar at the tribute concert for the late John Martyn, touring with Gryphon and their latest album Get Out Of My Father’s Car!

Graeme Taylor is a British guitarist, who currently plays lead guitar with rock band, Gryphon. He has also played with other leading rock bands such as The Albion Band, formed with John Tams. Taylor went on to form Home Service in 1980 which included current Gryphon member, Andy Findon. The Albion Band played together until 1987 when they disbanded. However, in 2010 they reformed and continue to tour, winning the coveted Radio 2 Best Live Act Award the following year.

Taylor also played a major role in the creation and performance of the music for The Mysteries at The National Theatre in 1977. With text adapted by the poet Tony Harrison, the production was revived in 1999, with Taylor in the role of musical director, arranger and the composer of all additional music.

In 2019 Taylor was asked to play guitar in the house band for The Grace & Danger: A Celebration Of John Martyn concert which celebrated the tenth anniversary of John’s passing.

Whilst busy working in his recording studio during the Covid-19 pandemic, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Good afternoon Graeme, how are you today?

Hello Kevin, I am very well thank you. How are you?

All things considered I am doing okay and before we move on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not at all, it’s my pleasure. It is always an absolute pleasure whenever we get to chat.

And I have to ask, how is life treating you in these strange times?

I have to say that actually, I hate to say it really because so many people had a terrible time last year, but I actually didn’t have too bad a time. I was very lucky in the fact that I had set-up a studio. I have got a new studio set-up in the garden. In fact, that is where we made the latest Gryphon album; in fact, we have made the last two Gryphon albums in there. Thinking about it, it is also where we made the last Home Service album (laughter). So, I have had work that I have been able to do. I have been writing stuff, together with remote work for people. Looking at it, I had a lively year actually (laughter). On the other hand, it has been very disappointing in the fact that we have lost a lot of gigs.

Home Service would have been playing at Cropredy, Sidmouth and several other festivals, and most probably we would have been playing to seventy thousand people in a field somewhere (laughter) had it not been for Covid-19. So, that was a bit depressing, but all in all I have been busy. I have found things to do. That is the worst thing when you are sitting around twiddling your thumbs when you have nothing to do.

I think that we can say that you really have put your downtime due to Covid-19 to good use, haven’t you?

Yes, I have, I really have. The thing is that there is little point really sitting around moaning and complaining. You have got to put your mind to do something really haven’t you? And let’s not even start on Boris Johnson (laughter).

(Laughter) being serious for a minute, we have got to speak about the latest album, Get Out Of My Father’s Car! But what I would like to ask you is, in 2018 you released what really was your comeback album, Reinvention. Were you happy with the fan’s reaction to the album?

Yes extremely pleased. I suppose that you could say that it was actually a sort of an experiment, testing the water to see if we could actually come up with something that would be credible. After all it was forty-one years since the last album, Treason back in 1977. So, it really was a shot in the dark to be honest, but we were having a good time writing and recording the album, so we all thought, ‘let’s see’. We got some great reviews, and it sold pretty well too. If it hadn’t have gone down reasonably well then we wouldn’t have recorded another one. We would have taken that as a no (laughter). People really do seem to love it. I have to say that the new album is going down well so far. It has only been out for six weeks or so, but it has already sold enough copies to almost cover its costs. We have lots of pre-orders for the vinyl copies, so we are all really happy with life at this moment in time.

Staying with Reinvention for a moment, you mention that it was forty-one years between Treason and Reinvention, so I have to ask, after such a long time apart, did it feel natural for you to once again be an active member of Gryphon?

To be totally honest with you I would have to say that it has been a bit of a slow burner, I suppose. We had talked about getting back together much earlier on; back in 2005 we were talking about it at that stage, simply because of what had developed with the internet really. I honestly think that we all thought that it was well and truly dead and buried, after all of that time. I’m sure that I did. We were all doing a multitude of other things, and then suddenly, we became aware of a guy in Portugal who had put a Gryphon fan site, a shrine to Gryphon if you like, up on the internet, and people were signing into it and positively responding to it like wildfire so we thought, ‘bloody hell, there is a market for this; maybe we should give some thought to putting it together’ (laughter).

On the subject of me once again being a part of Gryphon, I have to say that it wasn’t easy to start with. We did our first comeback gig in 2009. We hired the Queen Elizabeth Hall (QEH) on the South Bank of the Thames, and I am happy to say that we virtually filled it and I have to say that was a shot in the arm. However, for various reasons and one thing and another, it took us five or six years to really start to dig in again, and to start even thinking about making an album. We had one or two problems; there were a few personal problems, together with some business problems as well. It really wasn’t as easy as that.

Having said all of that, we seem to be on track now. In order to properly answer your question, with the latest line-up of Gryphon, I feel happier than I have ever felt with the exception of the first year or two which were pretty heady days back then. We were all very young back then; in fact, I was barely twenty years old when I made the first album with Gryphon (laughter). But now, yes, I am very happy.

Prior to the release of Reinvention, I spoke to Dave (Oberlé) who told me that the one thing that he was hoping for was that you could increase the Gryphon fan base. Do you think that you achieved that?

Yes, I do, I definitely feel that we have achieved that. I would say that, even though the new album has been released for six weeks or so, the Get Out Of My Father’s Car! album seems to be selling much quicker and getting even better reviews than Reinvention. I personally feel that Reinvention paved the way, and that people have started to accept the fact that we are back (laughter). We are back and we are not simply repeating the old ideas, and that we are coming up with new things. If you literally look at the figures on Facebook, you will see that the number of people who are responding to our posts on there are increasing day by day.

I recently spoke to Rick Wakeman and he told me, “I loved them to bits back then and I love them to bits now”.

(Laughter) oh really. That’s nice to hear especially from someone of Ricks standing within the business.

Rick said that he has always thought that Gryphon came along too early. Would you agree with that?

In some ways, I have always thought to myself on occasions that Gryphon most probably came along too late. I think that bands like Yes, Gentle Giant, and Caravan, those kinds of bands who were most definitely Prog bands had established themselves a little bit earlier than Gryphon and therefore they had a larger fan base already at that stage. Whereas, we hadn’t quite reached the point where as a band we would be remembered by the public. I feel that if we had been around a few years before, we may have stood more of a chance of surviving really. Having said that, all of those bands took a hit at the end of the 70s when the Punk movement came in and suddenly, the long-haired hippies became yesterday’s news (laughter).

Nobody wanted to listen to a track on an album that lasted the whole side of the album (laughter). Things started to change then. So, in answer to your question, I am not really sure that I agree with Rick on that.

No doubt at some stage in the future I will be speaking to Rick again and I will let him know your feelings.

(Laughter) send him my love as well would you; I think that Rick is fabulous, and he is a lovely guy. I loved the work that Rick did with the late David Bowie. Rick had the big decision to make, did he stick with David or did he go with Yes . He probably made the right choice (laughter).

You have mentioned Yes a couple of times so let me take you back to 1974 and Madison Square Garden, when you opened for Yes. How was that?

(Laughter) do you know what, I am sure that I did it, but I haven’t really got a memory of it (laughter). Everything was so mad around that time and if my memory serves me correctly, we were over there in the USA for around five weeks, and we played virtually every day to audiences of at least twenty thousand, sometimes more. What I can remember is playing the gig, hotel rooms, cabs to the airport, almost every single day. Flying just became like getting onto a bus for us and quite literally you simply didn’t know where you were (laughter). We hardly saw anything of the towns where we played. It was simply hotel, cab, gig; it really was crazy. We would walk into a place, look around and think, ‘here we go, here’s another one’ (laughter).

I suppose if I had my time again, I would be paying more attention, but as I say, it was such a weird trip; it was totally divorced from reality. It literally felt like you were on an acid trip or something like that. We were all in a completely different world (laughter). I think that it was a kind of way of protecting yourselves against the nerves. We didn’t even look too hard, if you know what I mean. If you really thought about it, you would have been so terrified (laughter). I was pretty terrified to be honest. You have to remember that back in those days we were only playing acoustic instruments on that tour really. The PA’s back then were simply not equipped in the same way as they are nowadays for the kind of great sounds that they create at numerous festivals with acoustic instruments.

Today, you can hear yourself clearly in the monitors whereas back then I couldn’t even hear myself playing (laughter). For me, doing that intricate finger picking stuff which I used to do a lot of at that time, it was a total bloody nightmare (laughter). We were lucky in the fact that we only played thirty-five minutes or so, and then we could relax and watch Yes. That was the good bit (laughter). We did go down very well, I do know that, and they were a really warm crowd, the Americans. They really did love Gryphon. The whole thing was a truly amazing experience; however, I can’t specifically remember walking into Madison Square Garden, but I’m told that I did (laughter).

When I asked Dave what he could remember, he said that as he was walking onto the stage, he looked up and saw a banner which said, ‘New York City welcomes Gryphon’.

Well, there you go, I don’t even know if I can remember that (laughter). I’m glad that he has reminded us of that (laughter). I think that I remember the Houston Astrodome a little more, simply because that was so ridiculous. It must be the largest arena that we played, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra were on the bill as well. From what I recall, that was the only gig that they played on the tour. It was an absolute mind blast. All of these different bands in different corners of the building, all on different stages; it really was phenomenal.

Coming right up to date and Get Out Of My Father’s Car! I have to say that I have been playing it for a few weeks now and I absolutely love it.

Oh good, well that’s good news (laughter). That’s very good news.

Are you pleased with it?

Yes, I am, I am extremely pleased with it actually. I really think that on this one, we have managed to get a quintessential Gryphon ethos and sound. It’s like somebody was saying to me the other day, who hadn’t heard any of our earlier stuff, “is the new album like any of the earlier stuff” and I thought, ‘well, it is more like the third album where we were influenced by Yes, a little bit more Proggy, in yet it contains a lot of the humour which can be found on the first album’ and I think that the humour to me, and to all of us, is very important. I liked a lot of the Prog stuff but what I really began to dislike about it as it went on was the fact that a lot of the bands began to take themselves far too seriously.

A lot of them became very pompous, whereas I think that Gryphon always had this element a bit like Monty Python where Graham Chapman comes on towards the end of a sketch and says, “stop it, it’s getting far too silly now” (laughter). There was always a feeling amongst the band that there was a filter in place when someone would say to us, “it’s all getting a bit too serious, let’s do something a bit more light-hearted and keep the humour going” (laughter). We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and the humour part of it is so important, and, as you know, we have got that on the new album, probably more so than on Reinvention.

I think that the latest album combines all of the good elements of Gryphon, and as I was saying earlier, the new line-up helps. We have brought in a female singer for the very first time. She is a brilliant violinist who just so happens to be my daughter (laughter). Before you say anything, it wasn’t my suggestion that she joins the band, someone else suggested that which is great. And I have to say that it really does feel like a happy family now, more so than it has done since those very early days.

I have to ask you, where did the title come from?

(Laughter) that came from very early memories of the band which we have always referred back to. For some reason, we all found it hilarious at the time but I’m not sure that it translates in telling, but I will tell you briefly what happened. It was back in 1972, and at that time we were signed up to Transatlantic Records. The band was travelling back after having had a meeting with the record company, and at that time, none of us had a car of our own. So, we used to use Brian Gulland’s dad’s car; his Austin 1100 (laughter). We were chugging along heading back down south, just about to go over the river at Wandsworth, and Brian Gulland who I have to say is a wonderful lovely guy, but he does have some quirky little ways, and he used to be the butt of the bands jokes.

You have to have somebody, and it is usually the drummer but, in this case, it was the bassoonist. So, we were all taking the piss out of Brian, who was driving the car. I remember that I was sitting in the back of the car and I must put my hands up and admit that I was most probably the main protagonist in all of this. I remember really giving him stick, but I can’t actually remember what it was all about, I wish I could. Brian was getting really riled; he really was quite cross, and he got so cross that just as we were going to turn left after Wandsworth Bridge, he was fuming and he got so cross that he slammed on the brakes, the car stopped by the kerb on the bridge, something that you couldn’t do nowadays.

Brian stopped the car and shouted, “get out of my car” to which I said, “but Brian, it’s not your car, it’s your father’s car”. There was a deadly silence in the car for a few seconds, and then Brian turned around and balled at me at the top of his voice, “well, get out of my father’s car then” (laughter). It is just one of those things where after that, everyone collapsed in heaps of laughter. It really did defuse the situation. It was only a laugh anyway, but he did get a bit cross (laughter). It was just one of those things that we always refer to. Even when we reformed it was just about those memories of the old times that we had. It came up in conversation about a year ago when we were thinking about the new album, and someone said, “well, why don’t we call it that and we can have a picture of a car on the front” and that is how that all started, so there you go (laughter).

I have to tell you that I have three go to tracks at the moment. They are Parting Shot, Krum Dancing and Suite For ’68. I personally feel that those three tracks stand head and shoulders above the rest of the album.

Thanks, that’s great to hear and I have to say, very interesting choices (laughter).

(Laughter) perhaps I should have told you that I do have a very eclectic taste in music.

You must have to be enjoying the album so much (laughter). The album is certainly very different and there isn’t anything quite like it out there.

Do you have a favourite track on the album?

I honestly can’t say that I do really. Having said that, I love the opening track which also happens to be the title track of the album. I think that track defines the whole spirit of the album. There is so much diversity on the album; I love it all, and I think that it is all great.

From writing to recording, how long did it take you to put the album together?

I suppose that around six months after the release of Reinvention, which was back in 2018, we started thinking, ‘well, this has gone well, it has been received well so we should start thinking and planning for another album which should be released in around eighteen months or something like that’. So, it was then that we started planning it, and we started writing immediately. Thinking about it, I would have to say that from writing to recording it took us around eighteen months. Let’s just say that some people write faster than others (laughter). Andrew Findon, who wrote Suite For ’68 for instance, actually rearranged that from a piece which his sadly deceased brother had created back in 1968.

There were a few virtually completely written pieces that we decided to use, which kicked off the procedure. We didn’t have to start from a completely blank canvas. Parting Shot for instance, had been around for a long time, whilst the lyrics came along quite a lot later. I just felt that it had never been done justice to; that tune as a song particularly, and I just thought, ‘well, I know what I will do with that’ (laughter) Everything in Gryphon is so complicated; there are not many of the tunes that stay in the onetime signature let alone key signature for very long (laughter). They are chopping and changing the time signature all the time.

So, I thought, ‘I know what we will do, this will be different, I will write a song that is in 4/4 tempo all the way through’ (laughter). Believe me, it is a nightmare trying to play the stuff on stage, especially when you don’t get that many gigs. You must have a massive amount of time for rehearsals whenever you get a gig due to the number of notes that you must play (laughter). I thought that I would make life a little easier for us with this one. Whilst I wouldn’t say that some of it was rehashed, some of it was certainly heavily re-orchestrated, rearranged and changed for it to work for Gryphon. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of it was written from scratch, which the older stuff inspired us to do the new stuff. So, I suppose the whole process took us around eighteen months.

You have mentioned Clare (Taylor) and Andy (Findon) and if we add Rob (Levy) to that ensemble, how have they settled into life as we know it within Gryphon?

I would say that they have all settled in brilliantly. Andy has been with us the longest now; he has been with us for over three years and I have to say that he absolutely loves it. He says that he has always dreamt of being in a band like this, and the closest he got to it was playing with the Michael Nyman Band. That was a different kettle of fish, but it was still a band and he loved that element (laughter). Andy has also done a hell of a lot of session work, and whilst it earns you money, it soon becomes a rather tedious lifestyle; turning up at Abbey Road Studios at nine o’clock in the morning, someone puts a piece of paper in front of you, you play the dots, say thank you very much and go home. It’s not quite the same as the experience of being in a band. Since he joined us, Andy has taken to it like a fish to water.

With Clare, I have personally been amazed at just how she has managed to fit in so well with a bunch of old codgers like us (laughter). She certainly brings down the average age, by quite a large chunk, and she is lovely as well. I have to say that she found it hard work doing the keyboards; she is a great violinist, but not quite as accomplished a keyboard player. She really did have to do a lot of work on that. Having said that, I think that she was thrilled to bits to get a couple of her own compositions on the album. And Rob, once again, I have known Rob for a long time from various things and various groups. I can remember seeing Rob in the West End when I have done a few things in the West End.

Obviously, we lost Rory McFarlane, who was the bass player on Reinvention. Unfortunately, Rory was diagnosed with a neurological problem, which was tragic. Working with Rory was wonderful; he loved the band, but he developed something called Focal Dystonia which is a strange brain problem, whereby the brain gives out the wrong signals to the fingers, either the wrong finger moves or the finger that you want to move, moves at the wrong time. So, sadly after a whole lifetime of being a professional musician, he had to give up, otherwise we would still have had Rory. However, Rob stepped into the fray and he is an old mate of the bands as well, and I think that he has really enjoyed it too.

When it’s safe to do so, will we see you back out on the road promoting the album?

Absolutely. I have personally been sending out press releases and phoning venues already, to try and get something together. I must tell you that we have got three dates in the book already for November. The nearest one to you being The Robin 2 in Bilston on the 10th November. So, at this moment in time, our Nationwide Autumn Tour consists of three dates (laughter). We have played there a few times now and we always have a good time there.

You mentioned that some people write slower than others. How was it for you writing now compared to forty odd years ago?

I must be totally honest with you and say that I found it quite different writing today than the way that we used to write some forty years ago. In the olden days, we mostly wrote whilst we were in the studio, which was a bit naughty really because it was the record company that was paying for our studio time. We always tended to leave everything right until the eleventh hour and we would often leave it until an hour or two before we recorded it, plus we did it all in little bits (laughter). We would write a few small things down on scraps of paper in those days, not much, but what we do now is totally different and much more organised, because we are all grown up now (laughter).

What we do now is, we use this thing called Sibelius which is music scoring software. So, nowadays pretty much everything, all the parts, are written out very carefully and thoroughly. Sibelius gives it the polish which it comes over with now. The software plays it back to you with not bad imitations of the sounds of the actual instruments that you are writing for, which gives you a really good idea of what it is going to sound like. Each writer now virtually arranges it totally as well, although I have to say that I will change a bit of the guitar parts, simply because Brian writes my guitar parts which are totally unplayable. So I ask, “can I do it like this because I can’t play that chord as there aren’t enough strings” (laughter). So, I would have to say that we are a bit more organised nowadays (laughter).

Are you finding it as enjoyable working together now as you did back then?

Obviously of late, we haven’t managed to be together that much. However, when the first lockdown finished, up to then we had virtually been doing everything on-line, exchanging files, and I had been putting stuff down on my own, and I think that the odd person would pop up here and there. However, when the lockdown ended, for quite a while, just towards the end of making the new album, we did all get together and it just felt like the old days in the studio. We really did have an absolute ball (laughter). We were in tears of laughter all the time; it was just fantastic; I really did enjoy it. And, of course, we are now recording in my studio, which is even better because there is no pressure, and we can do everything exactly how we want to do it. We no longer get told by some dumb engineer or producer that, “‘a guitar should sound like this” and not how I want it to sound (laughter). So, what can I say, it is all good.

As you pointed out earlier, the new album has been out for a matter of weeks now. When does the mind start thinking about the next one?

Well not quite yet I don’t think. Obviously, it is always there at the back of your mind, but I have to say that I don’t have any big ideas for it at all at this moment it time. Having said that, I think that Brian, who I have to say left his writing to the very last minute, but once he finally got going the floodgates really did open, and in fact he has got too much (laughter). I think that he has got a bit in reserve that might be used on the next one. I have to wait for the inspiration to hit me like lightening (laughter). It was the same with Get Out Of My Father’s Car! When you finally come up with a title such as that, it kick starts everything else. At the moment, there is no inspiration, but as with the last one, there will be a new album out within the next couple of years, but there are no firm plans at the moment.

Putting you on the spot, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

Phew, what can I say, I have done so many different things over the years; in that forty-one years in-between the time spent with Gryphon and the time spent with Home Service and John Tams (laughter). I think that the best thing that I can do is to choose three or four things at random. The first major and wonderful thing that happened in my career was what we were talking about earlier on, the tour of the States back in 1974. I was literally twenty years old when I did that. What an incredible thing that was for a twenty-year-old to be doing. It lulls you into a false sense of thinking that this is what it is going to be like from now on; I’ve made it (laughter). But of course, it doesn’t work like that.

Three years later the band had folded, and I didn’t have anything to do at all, I was out in the street until I joined The Albion Band a couple of years later. The next high spot for me, I think, was doing the Mystery Plays at The Royal National Theatre in London with John Tams and the Home Service together with the Bill Bryden Company, with all of those fantastic actors most of which are dead and gone now. Having said that, Sue Johnson and Brenda Blethyn are thankfully still with us. They were a brilliant company and the band played such a large part in the trilogy. Sometimes we would be playing three shows in a day, right through from eleven in the morning to eleven at night, with the same crowd of people in the audience.

They were Prominade Productions, so they weren’t sitting down, they were moving around with the action. That was just amazing. A couple of years ago I suddenly received a telephone call out of the blue from the venerable and wonderfully brilliant and talented lovely guy, Danny Thompson, the bass player, and he said, “we are looking for somebody to play the lead guitar in the house band for the tribute gig to John Martyn.” Danny was organising the whole event, which took place in the Glasgow Concert Hall, which I have to say is a most fantastic place. It is a wonderful two thousand-seater hall. Danny had hired ten young singers, plus Paul Weller and Eric Bibb.

So, we had ten young singers singing John Martyn songs and John Martyn’s old band who I was playing guitar with, together with a fourteen-piece string section, all on stage together. I remember that some two hours after this concert was announced, it had totally sold-out. They took me up to Glasgow, we rehearsed all week for it, and I have to say that it was amazing whilst very nerve-wracking. It was great for me being amongst these people, amongst the stars, it was an incredible experience when it happened. Danny used to tour a lot with John Martyn, in the old days, just the two of them. They were incredible to watch. That, for me, really was a high spot.

The other most wonderful thing that I have got to do in the past few years is actually exactly what we have just been talking about, the privilege of being able to sit in my own studio, produce, record, mix and do everything that used to be done for previous Gryphon albums. Ever since I have been doing recordings, that’s around twenty-five years now, for me to be in a position to record Gryphon or Home Service in my studio, I thought that I would possibly never achieve. But hey, I have, and everyone seems to like what I am doing, so I really have reached a high spot with that.

Testing your memory, what was the first record that you bought?

That was She Loves You by The Beatles.

Who did you first see performing live?

Well, if I would have had my way it would have been The Beatles (laughter). However, I was too young, and my parents wouldn’t let me out of the house (laughter). The Beatles were playing about two miles up the road from where we lived, when I was about twelve or thirteen, but I wasn’t allowed to go. I was so furious and upset about that. Funnily enough it is hard to remember who the first band was that I saw (laughter). Thinking about it, I would have to say that it would have been a pub gig and I am pretty sure that it would have been The Groundhogs. The first major and larger gig that I went to was to see The Incredible Sting Band. I have to be totally honest with you and say that I didn’t actually go out to see a lot of stuff.

I remember making the trek up to The Krumlin Festival at Barkisland in Yorkshire. It was one of the first real attempts to put on an outdoor festival of any size, here in the UK, and true to form, it was washed out, it was rained off (laughter). All sorts of people were there, people like Pentangle and Fairport Convention. In those days, I didn’t go out to see many people really. The first would have to have been Tony McPhee and The Groundhogs in a pub in Tooting (laughter).

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

Oh my god, dear me, where the hell did that come from (laughter). Let me think, I think that the last track to which I shed a tear was in fact Bob Dylan’s Murder Most Foul. However, I have to say that watching the final reunion scene of War Horse always used to cause tears to well up.

On that note Graeme, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me again today, it’s been great as usual.

It is always nice to talk to you Kevin. It’s nice to talk to someone who likes the music and knows what they are talking about (laughter). It has been really enjoyable. You stay safe and hopefully I will see you in Bilston.