After spending 30 years and almost 1000 miles apart in England and the south of France, The Two Sisters Hilary James and Janet Giraudo have recorded their debut album Songs & Chansons with multi-instrumentalist and producer Simon Mayor.
Hilary James and Janet Giraudo were born in Stoke-on-Trent, the family later moving to Worcestershire. Hilary remembers: “ours wasn’t a musical family but I sang all the time... in the bath... at school...in the park... in the street. Janet and I only started to sing together in the year or so before she disappeared to France. I taught her a few songs but then she was gone”.
At twenty, Janet had decided to blow a small inheritance and hitched a lift south in search of sunshine and a new life. She found both in France, forsaking Evesham’s apple orchards for the vineyards and olive groves of Provence - and who could blame her! Nowadays she even dreams in French and laughs at herself when she can’t remember an English word, but the French experience adds a major dimension to ‘The Two Sisters’ repertoire.
Back in England, Hilary James was already establishing her career as a singer. Many albums and concerts later she continues to appear regularly with long time partner Simon Mayor and as singer and mandobass player with Britain’s first modern mandolin quartet, The Mandolinquents.
No musical style was off limits for Songs & Chansons. Hilary’s early interest in English folk music and memories of hearing Robin & Barry Dransfield and Tim Hart & Maddy Prior gave rise to My Faithful Johnny and I Live Not Where I Love. Three songs - L'Auberge Au Crepuscule (The Inn At Twilight), Tout S’Efface (Everything disappears) and Plaisir d’Amour (The Joy of Love) - stem from the repertoire of Rina Ketty, a classic French chanteuse of the pre-war era (although Italian by birth).
Hilary had sung a cameo of Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabelle (Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabelle) on one of Simon Mayor’s early mandolin albums and suggested this version of the lovely French carol. Janet knew Vivaldi's Gloria from choral singing in France and suggested the duet Laudamus Te; it's heard here in a special mandolin quartet arrangement by Simon Mayor. Simon also composed two settings of English poems especially for the album: Christina Rosetti’s simple and beautiful Lullaby, and John Masefield’s evocative Sea Fever.
Spiritually rooted in folk song she may be, but her superb voice easily crosses the great musical divides and is equally impressive singing blues, torch songs and classical pieces by Fauré and Handel.
Hilary James is an accomplished double bassist, guitarist and mando-bassist. Her giant bass mandolin is now her trademark. She appears in concert regularly with long-time partner, mandolin virtuoso and multi- instrumentalist, Simon Mayor. You’ll usually find them as a duo, but they’re also half of Britain’s first modern mandolin quartet with Richard Collins and Gerald Garcia collectively known as The Mandolinquents.
As a teenager Janet headed for the South of France where she met and married Robert Giraudo, a local man from a village twenty miles inland from St Tropez. She only discovered her singing voice last year and at the same time discovered she shared the family talent for painting. She has two sons, teaches English and runs gym classes in what must be the fittest village in the Var!