The utterly gorgeous trumpets made in Norwich and played by musicians around the world
PUBLISHED: 16:52 29 August 2020 | UPDATED: 16:52 29 August 2020
When you hear the music of Muse, Radiohead or Jools Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra you are likely to be listening to a trumpet made in Norwich.
Andy Taylor’s instruments are bought by musicians around the globe and his creations are played by festival headliners, chart toppers - and even for royal fanfares
Andy has been making trumpets (and flugelhorns and cornets) in a unit on the Sweetbriar Industrial estate for 30 years.
They have their own tone. Andy describes it as ‘Phatter, warmer, darker, browner,’ calling the sound of traditional trumpets more shiny and brittle.
And they have their own look. Andy has spent years honing designs which not only work musically, but also look fantastic. As a biker he uses biking imagery to describe them. “We make the glossy, glitzy, flamboyant, expressive instruments. The Harley Davidsons. The best looking bikes have these sexy curves.”
Many of his custom-made trumpets are finished by motorbike artist Ty Lawer of Pageant Paintwork in Snetterton. One is a masterpiece of Americana featuring the Stars and Stripes, the Statue of Liberty, a Native North American, an eagle and the New York skyline. Andy’s biggest market has always been America but he sends his instruments all over the world.
The bends in the bell (the tube that makes up the body of the instrument) are also works of art, sometimes sinuous curves, sometimes sharply angled, but always perfectly finished so that seams are imperceptible and metals and colours flow.
But Andy is not really one to blow his own trumpet. His instruments are world famous, but made in a workshop tucked away in an almost-anonymous unit. His customers come to him by word of mouth – and although he is a musician himself, and played trumpet and saxaphone at school, they are no longer his forte. He will demonstrate to people who might have travelled thousands of miles to find him but is a rock’n’ roll guitarist at heart.
When he left school, with a passion for music, art and making things, there was a job going in a French horn factory. And so he learned how to hand-make French horns. After 15 years he moved to Norwich and set up on his own at first making brass instrument components, but soon designing and making entire instruments. For the first few months he supported himself as a holiday camp session musician, until the trumpets he was creating began making a bit of noise internationally.
They are designed to create a stir. Rarely played by orchestral musicians because orchestras demand uniformity, they are beloved of jazz musicians. “If you hear Jools Holland, the trumpet section are playing them. If you hear Muse, Radiohead, the Hoosiers, the session guys backing them are playing my trumpets,” said Andy. They are also bought by collectors and feature in museums. Many days of labour go into each one. Standard Andy Taylor instruments cost £3-4,000; more for the spectacular customised and specially built versions.
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In a gloriously packed workshop Andy and his two expert members of staff work by hand, transforming sheets of brass, bronze, copper and nickel into works of art. They measure with rulers, cut, bend, weld and polish by hand, with the help of basic tools rather than computers. It means that every instrument is obviously, to those in the know, an Andy Taylor, but also unique.
They make 80-90 trumpets a year, plus flugelhorns (which produce a mellow sound between that of a trumpet and French horn) and some cornets. Andy is also constantly experimenting and it is the tweaks and flourishes, and entire new designs which emerge, that he loves creating.
“I like to think they are works of art, or even a flash piece of sculpture” said Andy. “I’m successful enough to give me the scope to have enough time to make what I want to make and then worry about selling it later.”
The sound always comes first, developed over Andy’s decades as a maker and musician, building on his natural gift for acoustics, with skills honed by world-class training, and his own feel for how each instrument should sound and how to make that happen. If he hears a trumpet played, he can usually tell whether it’s one of his. “There is a certain fluidity about them,” he said. And if turns out not to be a Taylor then he knows that it’s the kind of player who would probably love one because they are playing with the insouciant style which cries out for stand-out design.
They are beautiful from the flare, and flair, of the bell to the striking bends, those imperceptible seams and a gleaming finish as polished, precise and perfect as a piece of jewellery. Andy has made a trumpet which might almost have been carved from green-black marble, and show-offs flashy with glowing patina, glittering metal, rose-gold lacquer, or valves capped in sparkly blue or mother-of-pearl.
He names his instruments Piranha (his best-selling) or Chicago, Zeus, Orpheus or Terminator. Other customised trumpets and flugelhorns are inspired by Chrysler, Lamborghini, Batman... One remarkable horn was inspired by the iconic Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club cover. Artwork can be painted or engraved and colours range from, well brass, to the shocking pink, with added bling, trumpet that Andy created for American trumpet star Cindy Bradley. He has even made his own new instrument which he calls a Phat Puppy. Like every Andy Taylor it is a joy to look at, sinuous, sleek, glossy and based on his Phat Boy flugelhorn but smaller, travel-sized and utterly gorgeous.
He also makes components as collaborations with other instrument makers, including supplying the bells for all the trumpets used to play fanfares for the Queen at official ceremonies.
In a corner of the workshop a bike is under construction. Andy is customising it for himself. And padding bear-like between the benches is chow chow Jacks – a rescue dog with liquid brown eyes as perfect as the sound and finish of Andy’s trumpets. Andy’s livelier and noisier Jack Russell is back home in Cromer today but is usually part of the workshop team too.
Here metal and craft, natural talent and painstaking attention to detail have created instruments renowned worldwide for their signature sound and bold design - and heard by millions who might not have heard of Andy Taylor but have definitely heard an Andy Taylor trumpet.