Shot! James Taylor at the Brighton Centre

The long-awaited return of a true musical legend playing an intimate gig with his impressive band creating an immaculate sound for an appreciative audience.

Gary Marlowe
8 min readOct 22, 2022

These days, major concert venues such as the Brighton Centre like to fill their booking diaries with legends. Punters living on the south coast, away from the big arenas that host the biggest mainstream acts, are offered performances by the likes of ABBA, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, the Beatles and Pink Floyd. Of course none feature the actual stars because they’re long gone, instead they have to contend with a tribute act, some of whom — like the Bootleg Beatles — have had longer careers than the artists they impersonate.

If it’s not a tribute act on offer, it’s more than likely to be a heritage act, a comedian or some other bizarre performance such as Neighbours — The Farewell Tour or even the Harlem Globetrotters.

Shows by authentic bands and artists are few and far between. It’s why I haven’t been to a gig at the Brighton Centre for what seems like ages. What got me back was a gem amongst the dross, a true living legend.

Having sold over 100 million albums, there’s no doubt that James Taylor lives up to that handle. Not only is he one of the best-selling music artists of all time, but he’s a six-time Grammy award winner and Rock n Roll Hall of Fame inductee. He’s also a recipient of America’s highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As far as living legends go, they don’t get much more legendary than the 74-year-old North Carolinian.

Having last visited Europe back in 2018, he was back with his All-Star Band on a twice-postponed tour thanks to Covid. The Brighton Centre was sold out, the show started at 7:30, there was no support act and the oldest audience I’ve ever seen at the venue were in their seats. I overhead one of them saying how nice it was that people of a certain age were still getting out!

Having seen him twice before — at the same venue back in 2014 and many years before that at London’s Royal Albert Hall — I knew what to expect. I’ve got to admit on the day I wasn’t overly enamoured by the prospect as the gig clashed with an Arsenal cup game as well as the final January 6 Committee meeting, both of which held appeal. But in the end, James Taylor won out. And by 10 past 10, I was won over.

Usually I tend to judge a gig by its production and the performance of the artist or lead singer. But this wasn’t one of those shows. There was no video screens and no staging to speak of, bar some vintage looking ruched curtaining and some free-standing lights. And as for the star of the show, well most of the time he was perched on a stool, wearing his trademark flat cap. Occasionally he stood up, and for one song in his 22 song set, he donned an electric guitar and moved around the stage.

But while he may be an awkward ‘performer’ he’s an effortless singer. Belying his advanced years, his warm baritone is still as strong and distinctive as it has ever been. No one else sounds like him and whatever he sings he instantly makes it sound like he owns the song. His is also a voice that lends itself to a wide range of musical styles, many of which were featured across the two sets he played.

What however raised the bar to another level was the sound. Taylor surrounds himself with the very best musicians — no wonder he calls them the All-Star Band. And to make sure they’re heard at their sublime best, he employs a sound crew that makes a James Taylor gig a sonic triumph.

Front of House mixing engineer David Morgan has to be applauded for once again producing a sound masterclass in a venue that was never designed for music. At 74, he certainly has the track record, having been responsible over the past 40 plus years for mixing the concert sound for the likes of the Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, Paul Simon and Steely Dan. If that sounds impressive, he’s been doing the same for James Taylor for the past 18 years!

When asked about his approach, he has a simple answer “It’s all about the sound being pleasing, not piercing.”

Thanks to him, the audio clarity was exceptional, with the crystal clear sound always coming from that part of the stage where the music was being played, rather than being somewhere in the overall mix. When you’re impressed with the drummer simply shaking a shaker — even if that drummer is one of the world’s best — you know you’re listening to something special. And that brings me on to the musicians occupying the stage, all eight of them. To a man, they all added hugely to the aural experience.

Complimenting James Taylor’s distinctive voice, were four vocalists. Arnold McCuller has been with James since 1977, Kate Markowitz since 1990, Dorian Holley since 1994 and Andrea Zonn, who also played violin, since 2003. Together, their voices produced gloriously rich harmonies.

Also adding their musical chops to the evening were four virtuoso players, all of whom have been backing James Taylor for many years. Keeping the rhythm was band leader and bassist Jimmy Johnson and 77-year-old drummer Steve Gadd — the man responsible for the legendary drum solo on Steely Dan’s Aja and who played on Paul Simon’s 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover. On keyboards and accordion was Larry Goldings and last but not least was guitarist Mikey Landau.

None of the twenty plus songs they played overstayed their welcome and whilst all the musicians were given time in the spotlight, relaxed restraint was the order of the day. Indeed, Taylor and his exemplary band managed to turn the soulless Brighton Centre into an intimate theatre and a treat for the ears.

Visually, though it was disappointing. There really wasn’t much to see. It was a shame, for example, that there wasn’t even a live image video screen so one could get a closer look at the musicians. And lighting wise it was about the least creative it could be.

That being said, James Taylor is a creature of habit — he wears the same outfit, is backed by the same band, plays the same venues and pretty much features the same songs.

His droll sense of humour comes to the fore when he introduces his songs. Teeing up Never Die Young, he quips “of course it’s good advice.” And on his cover of 1953's Teach Me Tonight he reminds people that the album it came from was released on the day Covid hit and its title— American Standard — was the US equivalent of our Armitage Shanks the ubiquitous toilet producer.

Pre-empting the interval, he questioned why they bother to have one as all they do is “just go back there and look at our watches!” In fact, he spent most of that time sitting on the front of the stage signing autographs.

During the second half, he donned a Fender Telecaster — which he told us was in Carolina Blue — swung his cap around and jumped around the stage making exaggerated rock star poses with Mikey Landau. Tall and gangly, for a moment, you could have been watching a John Cleese sketch!

In terms of audience reception, things hotted up with a run of his greatest hits including 1970s Fire And Rain, Carolina In My Mind, Mexico and an a-cappella version of Shower The People. By the time the band returned for a three song encore, many of the audience were up on their feet with some even filling the aisles.

Before he left, he spoke of his affection for Brighton calling it a “beautiful place, far away from home.” The love was clearly reciprocated by those present who knew they had witnessed something special: a bona fide musical legend.

Setlist: Something In The Way She Moves | Country Road | That’s Why I’m Here | Walking Man | Never Die Young | I’ve Got To Stop Thinkin’ Bout That | Sweet Baby James | Up On The Roof | The Frozen Man | Copperline | Long Ago And Far Away | Teach Me Tonight | Bittersweet | You Make It Easy (For A Man To Fall) | Steamroller | Fire And Rain | Carolina In My Mind | Mexico | Shower The People || Your Smiling Face | You’ve Got A Friend | How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) | Wandering

Behind the shot: These images were taken using the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with the M Zuiko 1.8 75mm lens and the camera’s built-in digital zoom. This was a really frustrating show to shoot. In many ways, it was the worst case scenario. I was restricted to the first three songs and one position — at the side of the venue towards the rear. Being unable to move meant that I was shooting across a seated audience and — more importantly — across the stage. Even worse, when it came to composition, it meant James was in front of a raised drum kit which was the only background I had. Ideally, you want to be either head-on to the performance, or at least close enough to the centre, or as I prefer, to shoot the artist effectively from side on. Being close and able to vary your position produced the best compositions, ones that shooting with a phone camera from the audience simply can’t achieve. For the most part, James was seated at a stool and wearing a flat cap while looking down at his guitar. That meant he hardly moved and his eyes were almost always in shadow. What’s more, the lighting stayed much the same, either solid blue or solid red, two of the worst colours for live music photography. As a result, no matter how many frames I took they all looked pretty much the same. Photographed in Brighton on 13 October 2022

About the author: Based in Sussex-by-the-Sea, on England’s south coast, Gary is a creative writer and image-maker. He specialises in creating out of the ordinary portraits of musicians and people with interesting faces, as well as photographing some of the world’s finest flowers and gardens, not forgetting an array of automotive exotica.

On the writing side, he has used his research skills to author deep dives into some noteworthy songs beginning with Bryan Ferry’s ‘These Foolish Things’ ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials and ‘All The Young Dudes’ by Mott the Hoople.

He has also written a biography of Robert Palmer and the stories behind Whitesnake’s blatant Led Zep rip-off, ‘Still Of The Night’ and Harry Styles’ anthem to positivity, ‘Treat People With Kindness’.

Most recently, Gary has penned the fascinating story behind George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’

All these can be found here on Medium, along with his reviews of gigs and events and chats with musicians including the likes of Royal Blood, Joe Satriani and Wolf Alice.



Gary Marlowe

Creator of images that are out of the ordinary, reviewer of live music and live events and interviewer of interesting people