Bernard J. Taylor

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South African versatile and prolific composer of powerful, romantic musicals since the late '80s.
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b. 16 December 1944, Cape Town, South Africa. A versatile and prolific composer of powerful, romantic musicals since the late 80s, Taylor’s early musical tastes ranged from rock ‘n’ roll to the works of the great theatre songwriters. Taylor’s only formal musical education came when he spent a year in the South African Army. At the Army’s musical school, he learnt to read music, and play flute and piccolo. After establishing himself as an arts journalist, he moved to Britain in 1969. Unable to break into the world of theatre, he worked as a writer and editor for the Shell Oil Company for more than 10 years. His first musical show, Neighbours And Lovers, for which he wrote both music and lyrics, failed to arouse any interest even from amateur dramatic groups, so he produced it himself at the Oast Theatre, Tonbridge, in 1987. Although it attracted a good deal of attention and favourable reaction, Taylor decided to abandon it in favour of creating a musical based on a universally known story. He selected Emily Brontë’s classic Wuthering Heights, composing the music, and collaborating on the lyrics with Eric Vickers. A concept album was released in 1991 with an excellent cast, including a former Phantom Of The Opera, Dave Willetts, as Heathcliff, opera diva Lesley Garrett (Cathy Earnshaw), Bonnie Langford (Isabella Linton), Clive Carter (Hindley Earnshaw), Sharon Campbell (Ellen ‘Nellie’ Dean) and James Staddon (Edgar Linton). The romantic, sweeping score contained several appealing melodies, particularly the impassioned ‘I Belong To The Earth’. Endorsed by the Brontë Society, Wuthering Heights was initially beset by contractual difficulties, but eventually received its world premiere in Holland. Around the same time, two more musical adaptations of Brontë’s saga were on the boards in small off-off Broadway venues, while the long-awaited Heathcliff, starring UK pop star Cliff Richard, was still in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, Taylor turned his attention to something entirely different. Success! was a backstage musical, loosely based on Faust, and set in New York. Peppered with parody and pastiche, with additional lyrics by Vivian Wadham, its typical, and often cynical, view of the ups and downs of showbusiness was accompanied by a jazzy and sometimes tender score, with Claire Moore, Lon Satton, Kathryn Evans, Jessica Martin and Maurice Clarke forming the CD cast. By the time Success! made its debut at the Civic Theatre, Rotherham, in September 1995, Taylor had returned to the classics, in the form of Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice. With Claire Moore as Elizabeth Bennet and Peter Karrie in the role of Darcy, the concept album also featured Gay Soper, Janet Mooney, James Staddon and Christopher Biggins as Mr. Collins. Stand-out tracks were considered to be ‘Through The Eyes Of A Child’, ‘Good Breeding’ and ‘Thank God They’re Married’. Pride And Prejudice was introduced to US audiences, complete with five new songs, by the Public Theatre Company of Peoria, Illinois, in January 1995. Taylor’s musical interpretation of the Austen novel was considered to be closer to its source than the 1959 Broadway version, First Impressions (Austen’s original title for the book), which starred Hermione Gingold. In direct contrast to the subtleties of Pride And Prejudice, Taylor’s Nosferatu: The Vampire (lyrics with Eric Vickers) proved a haunting, sombre affair. It was based on the silent black-and-white film of the Dracula tale by the German director F.W. Murnau. Prominent in its sung-through score was the opening ‘Wild Talk Of Vampires’, along with mysterious and unsettling items such as ‘And Sheep Shall Not Safely Graze’, ‘Worms Feed On My Brains’, ‘Ship Of The Dead’, ‘Blasphemy’ and ‘Somewhere At The Edges Of Creation’. Once again, the album cast was led by Claire Moore (as Mina) and Peter Karrie (as Nosferatu), supported by Mario Frangoulis, Mark Wynter, Barry James, Annalene Beechey and Simon Burke. The world premiere was staged at the Madison Theatre, Illinois, in September 1995, and the show had its first European performances a month later in Eastbourne. Both productions were extremely well received. Having achieved considerable success with his adaptations of Brontë and Austen, Taylor did what several other composers, notably Cole Porter (Kiss Me, Kate), and Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim (West Side Story), had done before him - looked to the works of William Shakespeare. In this case it was the bard’s Much Ado About Nothing, abbreviated to Much Ado (additional lyrics: Vickers), that came in for the Taylor treatment. Once again, there was a stellar CD cast, which included Paul McGann (Benedick), Claire Moore (Beatrice), Simon Burke (Claudio), Janet Mooney (Hero), Barry James (Leonato), David Pendelbury (Dogberey) and Peter Karrie (Don John). Once again, Taylor’s skill in writing convincing period music was apparent in songs such as ‘If I Could Write A Sonnet’, ‘I’ll Never Love Again’, ‘The Sweetest Kiss’, ‘Now I Hear Symphonies’, and ‘This Strange Affliction Called Love’, as well as the humorous ‘The Officers Of The Watch’ and ‘Never Satisfied’.

As the 90s drew to a close, Taylor, in collaboration with orchestrator Gareth Price, attempted ‘to portray some of the key developments in the advance of civilization over the past 1, 000 years’ via his Millennium Suite. Released on CD and performed by the Polish State Philharmonic Orchestra of Latowice, conducted by Jerzy Swoboda, the suite comprised ‘The Birth Of Chivalry’, ‘The Age Of Oppression’, ‘The Enlightenment’, ‘The Road To Democracy’ and ‘The Triumph Of Democracy’. The climax of the programme came with ‘Victory Overture’, a celebration of the end of World War II. After featuring on the majority of Taylor’s concept albums, Claire Moore, who has starred in the West End in shows such as Aspects Of Love and The Phantom Of The Opera, released the solo albums Songs From The Musicals Of Bernard J. Taylor and Child Of The Earth. The latter comprised Taylor compositions, apart from John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’.