Revered as a Holte End hero in his distinguished Premier League days with boyhood club Aston Villa, ex-midfielder and leisure time DJ Ian Taylor is creating a buzz with his own brand of audio products, a far cry from the days when he couldn’t afford to buy records!
Teaming up with Bluechipworld of Cannock after a chance meeting in the Far East with the company’s owner Simon Hassell, a Villa fan with offices in China, Ian was offered the opportunity to collaborate with them in their launch of a new range of headphones.
Lending his initials and former kit number to the ‘iT7’ range, Ian assisted in the sound and design of the Bluetooth personal audio products and after a launch at the CES show in Las Vegas the accessories went on sale last month.
The range includes wireless sports earphones, headphones and a Bluetooth speaker system, and with hip-hop icon Dr. Dre’s ‘Beats By Dre’ becoming such a staple part of music culture in recent times Ian believes ‘iT7’ have their own immensely unique quality to set them apart in the market too.
“Obviously the fact that they’re wireless is important, also the sound quality is absolutely amazing. I’ve listened to ‘Beats (By Dre)’ and their brand is massive but in my own personal opinion these are better.
“We’ve teamed up with CSR (responsible for the Bluetooth stereo connectivity) who are really top dogs and the technology involved is all there to see. Once people listen to them they’ll be amazed and we just have to get the name of them out there and on people’s heads.”
The Birmingham-born ex-Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday man names one of his home city’s most famous ever exports as the first record he ever bought and coincidentally the dub-infused reggae band’s lead singer Ali Campbell was one of the earliest musical voices I ever remember hearing.
“I know this one, it was ‘One in Ten’ by UB40. Before that I was into ska and I was one of the rudeboys (listeners of the genre during its ‘waves’ of revival in the 70s and 80s), I was a fan of bands like The Specials, Madness and The Beat but I couldn’t afford to buy records!”
Now with r&b, hip-hop and funky house amongst his favourites, Ian chose ‘The Light’ by US hip-hop star Common as the soundtrack to his pre-interview highlight reel when he last appeared on Saturday morning programme Soccer AM two years ago.
With hip-hop the hugely dominant genre in my own collection since childhood I discussed the much talked about change over recent years in prevalent ideologies found in the style’s most-heard songs.
“I don’t think the lyrics are as good now, there used to be a lot more messages and songs about political themes and where people were coming from. The topics are different and it’s more about money now isn’t it?
“I used to listen to a lot of De La Soul, Common and A Tribe Called Quest. I can’t really name specific tracks that stand out but their albums (A Tribe Called Quest) are just brilliant.
“I like a lot of urban music, r&b, Drake who’s obviously massive at the moment. I like Jay-Z, I think he’s probably the best rapper there’s ever been, and (The Notorious) B.I.G., he was the best until he passed away.
“On r&b I’d say Ne-Yo, and Usher would be my favourites. (On disliked music) probably heavy rock, I don’t really like that genre, and trance as well!”
Scorer of Villa’s second goal in a 3-0 Wembley win over Leeds United to win the 1996 Coca-Cola Cup (League Cup), Ian has spent time DJing before and he was also one of the many footballers who relished the explosion of UK garage music around the turn of the century, something I talked about on here with ex-Chelsea defender Michael Duberry.
“I used to spend a lot of afternoons in record shops, I was a big vinyl collector and I took it upon myself to buy some decks. I used to put CDs together for the dressing room and I used to make them for holidays with my pals for the ghetto blasters on the beach!
“Danny Dichio was one of the biggest DJ-wise (out of ex-teammates), Spoony (legendary UK garage DJ) is a big pal of mine and I was going to Ayia Napa and places like that when I was at Villa so I got into a lot more garage. Also a big rugby pal Martin Offiah still DJs now.”
As something of a musical curveball to throw into the mix after those examples he also recalls a particularly memorable gig he attended, and it is a definite contrast!
“The best gig, I’m not a massive Prince fan but to see him live was amazing. That was at the NEC in Birmingham.”
In 1992 as a 24-year-old, Ian was signed from local non-league side Moor Green by Second Division (now League One) Port Vale and he was an instant star for John Rudge’s team, scoring 19 goals in all competitions as the Valiants won the Football League Trophy but lost the play-off final to West Bromwich Albion.
He was named in the PFA Team of the Year and though he appeared twice at Wembley in his first year as a professional the surroundings were very different to the Premier League days he would enjoy soon after.
“Yeah I definitely wasn’t doing it for the money in them days! I actually took a wage cut from working part-time to sign for Vale and it was totally different to today, we were playing on mudheaps at times, it wasn’t glamorous.
“To win the Autoglass Trophy and to play in the play-offs in my first league season was great and we got promotion the season after at the second time of asking.”
Summer 1994 brought about Ian’s first foray into the top flight and it was with Sheffield Wednesday who regular readers may be aware that I am a supporter of.
Trevor Francis used £1million of his budget to bring the 26-year-old Vale star to Hillsborough and when I brought it up with Ian I mentioned seeing his sticker in the 1995 Merlin Premier League album when I was a kid!
After finishing 7th in the first two Premier League seasons and reaching both domestic cup finals in 1993 hopes were certainly high for the 1991 League Cup winners and Ian was drawn to Wednesday despite admiring glances from elsewhere.
“I had a choice of a few clubs but I spoke to Wednesday and it wasn’t actually until I went up there that I saw how big the club was. They had some great players at the time, a really, really good team and a lot of internationals so it was a no-brainer.
“I was really excited about playing with players like John Sheridan, Brighty (Mark Bright) who I still speak to, David Hirst, Chris Woods, and Des Walker took me under his wing as well. I was only there for six months but I really enjoyed my time there.
“Carlton Palmer had just gone so I was signed as a replacement for him – even though I’d like to think I was a bit better than Carlton! Due to circumstances though I was playing on the right wing which didn’t suit me at all.”
Last year, Ian’s ex-Wednesday midfield teammate Chris Bart-Williams told me how his music was banned from the dressing room and the mention of his former nickname ‘Shabby Ranks’ (in reference to musician Shabba Ranks) raised a few laughs from Ian, though he did say that ‘Bartman’ was not the worst offender for song choice.
“Yeah he liked more of the dancehall stuff didn’t he, I think he went down that route with it? Andy Pearce was into dodgy music, I think he was a bit of a rocker, Hirsty (David Hirst) had a bit of dodgy taste I think too.
“Des Walker was into a bit more of what I was into – I think he might have liked Shabba Ranks!”
Ian scored his only goal for The Owls in a 2-1 defeat against Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United before moving on to his beloved Aston Villa part way through the campaign.
After such initial excitement at joining Wednesday I had often wondered if there was a feeling of unfulfillment at departing so soon, albeit in order to represent the club he had always dreamed of in Villa.
“It was a mix – disappointment that Wednesday fans hadn’t seen the best of me but it was still exciting playing with those players. (Aston Villa manager) Brian Little had tried to buy me before I went to Wednesday (while Leicester City boss) and I had been in and out of the team, Wednesday needed a striker and when they bid for Guy Whittingham Villa asked for me as part of the deal.
“It was another no-brainer because it was Villa and things weren’t going well. If it hadn’t have been Villa I don’t think I would have gone.”
Ian’s time at Villa Park is often referred to at his every mention and after helping them narrowly avoid relegation in his first few months he scored the opening goal in the 3-1 win over Manchester United in August 1995, the result which prompted the unforgettable Alan Hansen quote, ‘you’ll never win anything with kids’.
The 1996 Coca-Cola Cup win touched upon earlier was a highlight and nine years of industrious displays, crucial goals and a unique relationship with the fans secured his place among the club’s best loved former players.
During his playing stay in B6 the England managers were Terry Venables, Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan and finally Sven-Goran Eriksson, and international honours were not a million miles away from coming to fruition.
“I heard from the press at the time that I was close and there was a moment around ’98 when I was in really good scoring form but I got injured just before the squad was announced. People were talking about it and I know was close so it was gut-wrenching to miss out.”
After 290 appearances and 42 goals for Villa he moved to fellow Midlands club Derby County in 2003, with The Rams avoiding relegation and reaching the Championship play-off semi-final in his two seasons at Pride Park.
“I had a really good time, I was brought in as an old campaigner to steady the ship. Derby had just lost the likes of (Fabrizio) Ravanelli and other players who were on a lot of money and I came in to help the younger players along.
“I scored 12 goals in the first year to help keep us up, which was good because some had thought I was past it! Next year we pushed on and got into the play-offs under someone I thought was a very decent manager (George Burley).”
He finished up with two years at Northampton Town and it was a successful way to round off a great career as the Sixfields outfit were League Two runners-up in 2005/06 before undefeated relegation warrior Ian struck again in League One the following year.
“Colin Calderwood, my old teammate, spoke to me and said ‘we can get promotion’ and I looked at who he was bringing in and it was a mix of experience and youth. The first year we got promotion and it was brilliant and to get on the scoresheet as much as I did (7 goals in his first season) at 37, I was pretty chuffed.”
An ambassador for Villa, among Ian’s post-playing ventures is the company Stadia Sports and Lifestyle which he started with his former Derby County colleague and another previous interviewee on here, Michael Johnson.
The Birmingham-based company merges the sport and business world and has been targeting the organisation of concerts at football grounds and numerous commercial deals across all sports with business trips to the USA, Barcelona and China having already taken place this year, and Dubai coming up next month.
“We’re looking at organising a football match in Birmingham, we’ve had a successful golf day and we’re working with top sportsmen commercially. We’ve found that most people seem to be football fans and have seen how it can bring people together.”
The ‘iT7’ range of audio products is available at Tesco and MobileFun with Play.com, Dixons, Sainsbury’s and Asda set to follow suit in the coming days.
When the brand overtakes ‘Beats By Dre’ in the headphone market it may become difficult to remember that Ian was such an accomplished top level player so if anyone reads this a while from now, here are the four players he would choose alongside him in his fantasy 5-a-side team!
“Peter Schmeichel in goal, then I’d have to have…Paul McGrath, Paul Merson and Dwight Yorke. No Wednesday lads unfortunately!”