James Taylor returns to the UK this year with a much anticipated tour
Yet as he returns to Britain for a headlining tour, and to support Paul Simon in Hyde Park in July, he remembers how much being in London was the catalyst for his long career.
“I arrived in London on January 2, 1968, basically to start travelling in Europe,” he remembers.
“I had some French and some German, and had dropped out of my band, and went over to London with the money left over from my college fund – I burnt through most of that as a mental patient as an adolescent.”
Before visiting the UK, Taylor had been living in New York and trying to get his band, The Flying Machine, off the ground.
I then moved to a flat in Notting Hill Gate and, through Albie, met some really creative people who kind of sponsored me
Not only was there no take-off for the group but Taylor had developed a serious drug habit. It wasn’t until his father, Isaac, picked him up from his flat in a terrible area of the city and took him home for six months to recover that he was ready to start again on a new continent.
“What I had left from my fund bought me a ticket to London and I started by visiting a friend of mine, Albie Scott, who had a wife and kid and was living in a small house in Twickenham.
“I slept on his couch for a couple of weeks until his wife, Marcia, had had enough. I read the papers and found a flatmate and went to live in Earl’s Court, which at that time had lots of Australians and Kiwis there, starting their version of the Grand Tour by coming to London first.
“I then moved to a flat in Notting Hill Gate and, through Albie, met some really creative people who kind of sponsored me and encouraged me and offered to shop my music around and help me make a demo.”
James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt performing last year
Taylor had arrived at the epicentre of Swinging London and met a lot of people who were at the heart of all kinds of 1960s creativity.
“They were graphic designers, set designers at the BBC,” he remembers. A BBC designer named Judy Steele was especially important to James; she had good connections in the music business and encouraged him to record his songs.
It paid off, despite Taylor admitting that when he first arrived, “I didn’t have any idea how I was going to proceed, I just wanted to play music and travel”.
His lucky break came when, via friends in America, he met Peter Asher, half of the band Peter and Gordon, who had just become a music business executive.
“Peter had just signed on with Apple Records and was looking for talent. After a number of years of disappointment, it was a great opportunity.”
Apple was, of course, the record label started by the Beatles after Brian Epstein’s death, so as opportunities went this was a biggie. After hearing Taylor’s demo tapes, Asher arranged for him to have an audition with Paul McCartney and George Harrison.
James Taylor and his wife Kim Smedvig with Sir Paul McCartney
McCartney liked what he heard and asked Asher to produce an album with Taylor. The result, James Taylor, was recorded in the Trident Studios downtime when the Beatles were recording their White Album. McCartney and Harrison contributed bass and backing vocals to Carolina In My Mind, a song that became one of his signature tracks.
The album wasn’t a commercial success but its high critical praise led to a record deal with Warner Brothers when Taylor returned to the States. Fifty years after his first visit to Britain Taylor and his band are again touring, supported by Bonnie Raitt, and he hasn’t lost his love of performing.
Asked about Paul Simon’s announcement that the Hyde Park show will mark the end of his touring career, Taylor says with a smile: “I’ll believe it when I don’t see it. He’s still at the top of his game and physically still in great nick.”
Can Taylor, who recently had his 70th birthday, see the day when he will turn his back on his own live career?
“I may draw a line under touring if people stop showing up but I can’t imagine getting sick of it.”
Both highly unlikely, I suspect, as he’s still drawing the crowds as much as ever, with original fans bringing their children to gigs to enjoy both new and old songs.
Musician James Taylor can not imagine getting sick of touring
The songwriting scene has changed since then, he muses: “I long for a simpler time when people had way more privacy and isolation and boredom, which allows you to have more thoughts. I miss that and I miss that for my kids.”
Taylor has four children: Ben and Sally from his marriage to Carly Simon, and teenage twins Rufus and Henry with current wife Kim Smedvig.
But he is still down with the kids; he recently performed guest vocals on Change, a track by pop sensation Charlie Puth, which Puth dedicated to the students who were killed in the Florida Parkland school shooting and performed (sans Taylor) at the March For Our Lives anti-gun protest in March, something that no doubt pleased Taylor, who has long been involved in left-leaning politics.
And neither does Taylor object to that massive bugbear of many gig-goers, people using their mobile phones to film the show or update their Facebook status.
“If some people are using [the gig] as background music it’s fine, as long as enough people are paying attention.
“But when you do a show and you get a connection with the people who are listening to your music, there’s some kind of vital energy.
“It can be a celebration, wild abandon… whatever it is, there are moments when it all really hits home.”
James Taylor and his All-Star Band with special guest Bonnie Raitt tour from July 9-17: ticketline.co.uk