Singer-songwriter, Jane Taylor, is an award-winning indie artist. She explains how following her heart and breaking rules helped her build a successful music career
It’s unlikely you’ve heard of Jane Taylor: a critically acclaimed and award-winning singer-songwriter.
Despite her talent, she’s never had a number one hit or a record deal. Instead, she’s navigated the mercurial waters of the music industry independently for 20 years, relying on fans to fund her albums.
Is she frustrated by this state of affairs? Not one bit.
“Everything I’ve ever wanted has come to me, but in an unusual way,” she says from her home in north Somerset. “I haven’t had fame but I’ve had freedom. I’ve stayed true to myself and made it my own way. It means more to me than if I’d gone to a label and had it all laid out for me.”
Taylor joined the music industry in her late 20s after working at a record label and in marketing. She took a place at musical theatre school, but when she blew an important audition after arriving late, it prompted a rethink.
“I was late because I was in a café writing a song. I thought: ‘That’s what I really love doing, that’s what I’m going to do’. So I quit to become a singer-songwriter. I had no idea how it worked; I just made it up as I was going along.”
Taylor started writing and gigging around Bristol and things fell into place. She wrote Blowing This Candle Out, which won her the UK and International Songwriting Competition in 2003.
She made a crowdfunded album, Montpelier, and sent it to BBC Radio 2. “Everyone said: ‘Don’t waste your time, it doesn’t work like that’. But if you don’t know what the rules are, you can find your own way. You can make magical things happen.”
Presenter Johnnie Walker listened to it, loved it and played it on air. The response from listeners was overwhelming. Taylor spent the next few years touring, supporting the likes of Jools Holland, Bill Wyman, Seth Lakeman and Paolo Nutini. Her next album, Compass, was funded by two fans – Taylor calls them “Angels” – and won Best Album in the Folk / Singer-Songwriter category at the 2011 Independent Music Awards.
By this time, Taylor had a young son and she had started teaching songwriting. She also had a new goal: to see a children’s book she had written come to life as an animated musical.
The book, Mr Claus, imagines Saint Nicholas homeless and living on the streets. The first track, Oh December, came to her when she was walking through Bristol at Christmas time and observed a homeless man. She says: “The song inspired the story and the story inspired more songs.”
Taylor recently recorded a complete soundtrack for Mr Claus at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios and is touting it to well-known animators. The project has taken several years but she’s confident it will happen.
“I’ve had experiences in my life where I’ve seen something in my mind and I know it’s going to happen. When I get that, I just walk towards it. I felt like that with this project.”
In the meantime, she’s still performing and running two-day songwriting workshops covering structure, lyrics, melody and tips to spark the creative process.
She says one of the biggest stumbling blocks for songwriters is lyrics. “Often people come to me because they feel their lyrics are superficial and they want to get deeper, more poetic. The most important thing is to take the listener with you, to show them the images, the memories that you are seeing in your mind.”
Songwriters can also be constrained by their own vocal limitations. “Some people sing in a restricted place. Singing coaching can help. I get students to do vocal exercises, to slide up and down a scale and dance between notes and feel the space. It’s important you don’t restrict yourself to singing certain notes and don’t repeat melody lines too much; you need repetition but you also need change and movement.”
Has she ever been tempted to knock out a few pop songs to boost her coffers?
Taylor is aghast. “There’s enough meaningless pop in the world; it’s not my role in life to do that.
“My fans keep me going and give me faith. I get people crying at gigs and writing to tell me they played my song at their wedding or when they were giving birth. Your songs become the wallpaper to someone’s life; it’s really special.”
Taylor’s weekend songwriting workshops run in March, May and June.