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.
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 to talk, 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.
Willie’s story was full of surprises. He ran a record shop called Easy Rider for many years, and played bass in a band before becoming a roadie and Merchandise Guy for The Rezillos, a role he played for many years, but there were other sides to his character of which I’d been entirely unaware.
I had no idea, for instance that Willie once had a shop in Leith where he sold tropical fish. That was surprising enough in itself, but even better was the story about how one day he noticed a fish in his tank that he’d never seen before, and when he investigated further, it turned out that he had discovered an entirely new species!
In a similar vein, I learned that Willie had made another contribution to science. There is a butterfly whose Latin name is the Celastrina Argiolus, commonly known as the Holly Blue. Some years ago it was rumoured that climate change was causing it to extend its range further north. Alan knew the taxidermy guy at the museum, who is also a national expert on butterflies, which is how he, Frankie and the girls learned of its existence, and they were made aware that no one had yet seen or caught one in Scotland.
Frankie was the person who saw the first Holly Blue to reach this part of the world, and when Willie heard, he became determined to catch one.
As Frankie said, “Willie was usually a slow paced, calm presence, who sat smoking rollups on the garden bench. Suddenly he was like a Victorian lepidopterist. Every time a Holly Blue flitted by, it was very amusing to witness him shooting, bullet-like, into action with his large net. He spent weeks flapping around in the bushes to no avail – it was comical, but Willie had a terrier like tenacity, and he did indeed eventually capture one!”
That specimen is now in the Museum of Scotland donated under the name of ‘Wilburforce Thomas Forbes Taylor’ a name Willie he thought sounded appropriately like that of a Victorian nature explorer!
Willie was an extremely kind, shy man, who was an important part of many people’s lives.
I remember him telling me that he refused to be photographed because he believed that photographs steal the souls of the living, but he did sit for this great portrait by Robbie Smith, and he risked his soul by appearing in an advert I made with the help of Micky MacPherson of Plum Films and the team at the Union Advertising Agency to celebrate the long-awaited birth of the Indian Dakota 4.
Willie’s cameo appearance really makes the film: if you want to watch it, please click here.
Because Willie’s wishes were ignored, Frankie, Alan and their daughters, Lois and Cleo, came up with a clever way to return him to the elements. They found a suitably sized rock, and invited everyone who came to the memorial ceremony to write a message on it.
Then a few weeks later, they 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.