Willie the Wizard, Indian Willie, One Match Willie, Oor Willie – whatever you called him, there is no doubt that Willie Taylor was an unforgettable character. At first glance, he was a bit like a tiny, Edinburgh version of Lemmy from Motorhead, so it seems a appropriate that his main interests in life were music and motorcycles.
I don’t know what Willie believed about life after death, but in his elliptical way, he did make his intentions about his funeral clear. “Landfill, NO bonfire!!” was the phrase he’d bark out, so it was with more than usual sadness that we gathered at the Salisbury Centre for a memorial ceremony in his honour, because Willie’s brother had ignored his wishes and organised a private cremation.
Willie worked for many years alongside Alan Forbes, restoring vintage Indian motorcycles at Motolux, my neighbours in Scotland Street Lane, but I didn’t know – until Alan told us – was that when Willie first pitched up to repair Alan’s jukebox, was that Willie had no experience of working with metal. That didn’t phase him in the least. He just spent three months silently observing every move that Alan’s then engineer made, and when he moved on, Willie moved in, and never left.
I like memorial ceremonies because they give you time, and we had contributions from a wide range of his friends. One of the most touching was this haiku by fourteen-year-old Callum, who also composed a pipe tune which he played for us.
A quizzical Wizard.
Willie had a rich and varied life. He ran a successful 2nd hand record shop, called Easy Rider; he played bass in a band and he was both a roadie and ‘the merch guy’ with The Rezillos. He loved tropical fish, so much so that he opened his own shop to sell them and in the process, he discovered a previously unknown species.
Once, his friend Frankie spotted a butterfly that she didn’t recognise in her garden, and after speaking to the butterfly expert at the Museum of Scotland, she learned that it might have been a Celastrina Argiolus., or ‘Holly Blue’’.
If it had been, said the expert, then it would have been the first ever sighting in Scotland, and when he heard the story, Willie was determined to catch one.
Over the next month, accompanied everywhere by a large butterfly net, he spent many days in her garden until he finally caught one.
It’s now in the permanent collection in Chambers Street, and if you look carefully at the description, you will see that it was donated by one ‘Wilburforce Thomas Forbes Taylor’ – because Willie thought that sounded like the right kind of name for a Victorian nature explorer!
I didn’t know Willie that well, but I am glad that I spent a fair bit of time in his company one way or another, usually watching him doing something intensely practical. As a mechanical ignoramus, I regarded him as a towering genius of engineering. His scent of choice was undoubtedly machine oil.
When my motorbike wouldn’t start, Willie was the first person I’d turn to. When someone stole my treasured New York Department of Transportation parking sign from my garage door – the one that said ‘Don’t even THINK about parking here’ – Willie was the man who fixed its replacement with bolts that will probably never be removed ever again.
At other times, Willie would often sit on the bench outside the garage and we’d have a chat as he smoked his roll-ups, and sipped his ever-present can of Special Brew. He was an honoured guest at my impromptu barbecues, and when I threw a 45th birthday party in the mews, Willie was there, playing with the kids, for whom he had all the time in the world.
He always seemed to me to be an extremely kind, shy man. The kindest thing he did for me was to risk his soul by appearing in a short film I made with the help of Micky MacPherson and the team at the Union Advertising Agency to celebrate the long-awaited birth of the Indian Dakota 4. Willie’s cameo appearance really made that film for me, and given that he usually refused to be photographed because he believed that photographs steal the souls of the living), that was a very generous gesture indeed.
We told many more stories about Willie that evening before going outside to stand by a bonfire and watch the sparks fly up into the night sky. We also took the time to write messages to him on a suitably rugged piece of rock. Then a few weeks later, Frankie and her daughters took the rock to the bridge over the River Almond, where Willie had spent most of his happy childhood years, and dropped it into the river, where it will remain forever.