Across Britain from Shetland to Sark, and across the globe from Vancouver to Singapore, Simon Mayor and Hilary James have brought their special blend of dazzling musicianship. If they have a speciality, it's an ability to combine a truly diverse array of talents into a hugely entertaining stage show. There can't be many performers who slide easi≠ly from a beautifully evocative Irish ballad into a mandolin and guitar version of Handel's Arrival Of the Queen Of Sheba and then have the audience singing one of their own notorious comic songs, but it's this wry humour and an easy, informal stage manner that holds it all together.
The duo's musical diversity has led to an equally broad range of festival invitations from Henley Classical Music Festival (England) to the Stephen Leacock Humour Festival (Canada), the Vancouver Folk Festival and countless folk and Celtic festivals throughout the world.
'Linden Lea' Words by Dorset Poet William Barnes (1801-1886) Music by Mayor & James
Hilary James' "elegant singing" (Daily Telegraph) has received huge acclaim: quintessentially English but easily crossing the great musical divides from Celtic ballads to blues and Berlioz. She's famed too for an unlikely taste in bass instruments (she could turn up with her giant mandobass or slimline semi-acoustic double bass), accompanying Simon on guitar on anything from Vivaldi to bluegrass and even managing a step dance if the wind is in the right direction.
Simon Mayor started out as a guitarist and fiddler, but his current position as one of the world's foremost mandolinists (and composer for the instrument) has led to an ever increasing number of invitations to play and teach at festivals and conventions (most recently the Classical Mandolin Society of America in 1999). Since 1990, his Mandolin Albums have been applauded in Celtic and classical circles alike. "Just fantastic to go and see live. Do catch them if you can." Fiona Talkington, BBC Radio 3
'Sheer Musical Brilliance.' BBC World Service
"left you feelin lik you were floatin on a peerie cloud somewhar." Shetland Folk Festival
Simon Mayor is one of the world's leading mandolinists as well as a fine fiddle player, guitarist, composer and wit. His live performances are a riot of humourous anecdotes and off-the-cuff wit alongside dazzling musicianship.
With his debut 'The Mandolin Album', he embarked on a series of recordings to realise his longstanding intention to give the mandolin a uniquely British voice. The CD was immediately made Recording Of The Week on BBC Radio 2 and received huge popular and critical acclaim. Many albums later, his mix of original and traditional material alongside classical showstoppers has been heralded across the media from BBC World Service (Recording of the Week) to stations all over the USA and Canada and magazines as diverse as Q, Cosmopolitan, Living Tradition (Scotland) and Sing Out (USA).
His passion for the mandolin surfaces again in a wealth of teaching books and DVDs, including 'New Celtic Mandolin' and 'The Mandolin Tutor', which is now widely regarded as the standard work for the instrument. He is also a regular columnist for Acoustic Magazine.
In May 2000 he entered the UK's Classical Artist Top Ten with a major 'best of' release of his own compositions and classical works on Universal Records. His touring schedule has taken in festivals and theatres all over the world including the Rudolstadt International Folk Festival (Germany), Shetland Folk Festival, Vancouver Folk Festival, The Stephen Leacock Humour Festival (Canada), Cheltenham Literature Festival (England), Edinburgh Fringe (Scotland), The Classical Mandolin Society of America and many, many more.
His off-beat humour surfaced in his own series for the BBC, 'Marooned with a Mandolin' - "the best programme on Radio 2 this week" in The Independent on Sunday.
He now leads Britain's first modern mandolin quartet, the Mandolinquents. The quartet emerged from a 1997 line up, The Mandolin All-stars with multi-instrumentalists Maartin Allcock and Chris Leslie of Fairport Convention, and long time musical partner, Hilary James. Originally intended as an occasional all-star get-together, fast growing demand meant that a permanent line-up had to be found. The Mandolinquents now includes the renowned classical guitar virtuoso Gerald Garcia, UK banjo champion, Richard Collins and 'one of Britain's finest voices' Hilary James doubling on mandobass.
A fine fiddle player, he played swing fiddle on the album for the show Five Guys Name Mo, and he likes to keep his hand in playing occasional folk fiddle for country dances when schedules allow.
He now tours regularly with long-time partner Hilary James. The duo share a keen interest in children's music and have worked extensively with young people in theatres and schools. They have also presented Play School and for six years were regular hosts of BBC Music Education programmes. They have written over fifty children's songs, many for their own 'Musical Mystery Tour' children's CDs and the 'Musical Mystery Tour' songbook published by Faber Music. The songs have also featured on classic British children's series such as Play School, Listening Corner and Green Claws and are used extensively in education, including English language teaching courses for Danish schoolchildren. Alongside www.mandolin.co.uk they set up www.childrensmusic.co.uk in 1999.
Simon Mayor and Hilary James have also written satirical and topical songs for BBC news programmes including Newsnight.
A huge fan of fellow Yorkshireman, the late, great Jake Thackray, Simon occasionally performs a special programme of Jake's songs.
Hilary James has achieved one of those rare things, a successful career in music spanning almost thirty years. She was one of the first musicians to set up her own label back in 1979, and has since released a total of twenty two albums, as well as a catalogue of best selling music books and videos with long-time partner, mandolin virtuoso and multi-instrumentalist, Simon Mayor.
Possessed of "one of Britain’s finest voices" (BBC Radio 4) she is also a fine instrumentalist, self-taught on double bass and guitar, who rarely appears these days without her amazing mandobass.
Laughing with the Moon, a mix of traditional and original songs and tunes, is Hilary's fourth solo album, although it features Simon Mayor's mandolin on four instrumental tracks. Indeed, their names are usually mentioned in the same breath: they have played on each other's albums and run bands together since the mid 70s. Slim Panatella and the Mellow Virginians, Mandolinquents and, going right back to their first student project, Spredthick gained them early national acclaim with headlines in the Melody Maker, an appearance on the main stage at the Cambridge Festival and first place in a national music competition. Whilst Hilary has the vision driving the business, Simon is the technical brains running the Acoustics studio. Their albums have now been played across the media from Radio 3 and Classic FM to a Radio 2 Album of the Week and BBC World Service Recording of the Week as well as playlists on stations from Latvia to Seattle.
In 1996 they also set up their own production company to produce the acclaimed series Marooned with a Mandolin, described as "the best programme on Radio 2 this week" by Gillian Reynolds in the Independent. Captivating live performers, they have appeared at festivals and concerts across the globe from Seattle to Singapore, with the last four years spent in almost constant touring.They are currently finishing various recording projects.
Back in 1976, even with a degree in Fine Art and a post graduate teaching qualification under her belt, Hilary decided to pursue a career in music. She and Simon also determined to maintain a keen involvement in music for children, and still fit in schools performances whenever schedules allow. They went on to present and write for BBC Schools music programmes for six years and have now written over sixty songs for children and have produced five albums in their Musical Mystery Tour series. In 1992, Faber Music published a book of their songs which Hilary illustrated.
Although she chose music as her career, she is still a keen artist and illustrator and her cartoons adorn the covers of the Musical Mystery Tour CDs.