A look into the uncanny lifestyle of a musician in Dublin
By Heather O Sullivan
Taylor Byrne is chaos. Wild, thick hair. Strong bone structure, large facial features, the largest of them being his mouth. Once he started talking, his wide lips and slightly crooked teeth took over his entire face. His stream of consciousness fell out of his mouth, so energetic and captivating. It seemed clear to me that as a showman, he felt he had to entertain me as I spoke to him.
In this cafe we were sitting in, he sat properly with crossed legs. But his laughter was freewheeling and childlike. He immediately confesses to me that he wants to embrace his childish traits. “One thing about music that gets you to your inner child; it is play. When you’re up on stage, it’s play. The idea of being up on stage and prancing around, and singing songs, that is inherently a bit ridiculous! If I get up right now, ‘are you ready to rock?’ ”; he laughs as heads turn to view the impromptu concert. “It’s so silly! But it’s play, I’m playing on stage. I’m playing a character but I’m also having fun. We need more play, we take things way too seriously.”
His career as a musician to this point had been shaped by talent, luck, and comedic nature. The desire for music began with his English teacher, Paul Walsh, who was the lead singer of the band RoySeven. Walsh was teaching a guitar lesson, and Byrne stumbled into the classroom, unintentionally. “Ever since that really, I couldn’t put the guitar down.” The singing came a while after, following an awful choir audition in school. “I was only told how bad I was a couple years later by Paul. He was like, ‘you could not sing, and I never thought you’d be able to sing.’ But the only way I got a voice … It was just a war of attrition. It was just like singing, and singing, until I essentially just broke my voice and built it back up again.”
He laughed and rolled his eyes, mocking himself. “It was a bit like finding God for me. My musical education starts and ends with The Beatles.”
We shared the opinion that Dublin is a city with a unique personality, but like many European cities, a core attribute is the sound of buskers on every corner. Every five metres down Grafton Street and Temple Bar, there stands another person playing a guitar, as the uninterested Dubliners pass by. Taylor quit his job to join them.
“I was very intimidated. I thought they would be very territorial and very possessive, y’know, ‘this is my street, this is my job, who are you, you little blow in.’ But it couldn’t have been further than the truth. They’re such a welcoming community. And it’s music. It’s a bunch of musicians, and musicians tend to be a bit more compassionate and empathetic. It’s so good for networking, getting to know people, and getting to know Dublin. I mean, the best way to get to know a city is to just stand on its main street for an hour or two a day and watch the people walk by. For Dublin in particular, the busking culture is very important to the city’s character and identity.”
I admitted to him (guiltily), that I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to listen to a busker in Dublin. From many peoples perspective they’re viewed as a nuisance; an obstacle standing in between them and their destination. He wasn’t offended, and even agreed with me, saying that he hadn’t given change to a busker before becoming one.
“Nobody is there to listen to you. No one wants to hear you sing anymore Lewis Capaldi! It’s so much easier to play a gig to a couple hundred, a couple thousand people, because they paid to go to a gig! When you’re walking up Grafton Street, you’re not there to listen to music. That’s why busking is so good for any musician, because it builds up the way you connect to a crowd. If you can connect to someone who has earphones in and they’re walking up the street, you can connect with anyone really.”
For the first time he ever went busking solo, he decided it would be a Tuesday, the perfect day, when very few people would be out, on a corner in Temple Bar. This was before committing to buying an amp or a microphone, so that day it was just himself and his guitar.
“I went there, took a deep breath … and left Temple Bar. And walked around. I walked over the Ha’penny Bridge, and I was like ‘ah c’mon.’ So then I went back, took a deep breath, took the guitar off my back … and then put it back on and walked around again. I think it was my third time when I was like, just do it. So I took the guitar down and just started playing, and it was unbelievable! I remember there was somebody walking by with a camera and they were doing street photography and took some photos of me, and some woman came up to me and was like ‘I’d love to paint you,’ ” He scrunched his nose and laughed. “That’s the thing about busking, you just never know who you’re gonna meet.”
He paused after I asked him about a strange connection he made while busking, the first moment of silence since we began, while he flipped through the catalogue of memories in his head trying to find the one that would baffle me the most. Running a hand through his hair, he smiled to himself when he landed on one particular experience.
“Some guy came over to me, and asked could he sing with me. I was like ‘Ah, yeah, go on’, and we sang ‘Crazy little thing called love’ by Queen. And he told me his name was Gil Bellows, and he was with this girl called Margarita.” (He assured me this was a true story.) He ran into Margarita in Stephens Green a couple weeks later, and was asking her about Gil.
“She told me he was Tommy in Shawshank Redemption! So Gil was in Dublin a couple weeks later and I met up with him in this lovely Turkish restaurant. And he was telling me, ‘yeah man, I wanna start a band and do a tour, and I wanna end the tour in Ukraine. Because of the war, y’know, and I wanna call the band ‘Army of Love.’ And he said, there’s something about you, you’re my George Harrison.”
After going to a hippie bonfire on a beach in Rush, (“there was a didgeridoo there, that’s all that has to be said”), and laying on Gil’s couch, playing music together all weekend, he said to Taylor that in the next couple weeks they’ll get a plan together for the band. But he never heard from Gil Bellows again.
Listen to Taylor :