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Marvellous mandolins return to Newbury

Simon Mayor & Friends – or The Mandolinquents (more or less) at Ace Space, Snelsmore, on Saturday, January 20


Simon Mayor & Friends Pic: Brian Harrington
Simon Mayor & Friends Pic: Brian Harrington

I HAVE seen the Mandolinquents quite a few times and they are always a delight.

Tonight, guitarist Gerald Garcia was absent (in China) but replaced by Elias Sibley on guitar and mandolin, and with regular collaborator Florence Petit on cello.

The Mandos however delivered a wonderful, varied programme of beautifully played music including self-penned compositions, classical pieces, folk tunes and songs and one of Simon’s poems.

With eight microphones on a relatively small stage balancing the sound must have been challenging, to put it mildly, but the balance was perfect.

Opening with their own composition El Zarapito (Spanish for The Curlew) they rapidly engaged with the near capacity audience with their mix of (often self deprecating) humour – Richard Collins describing his pate as “eggshell blonde”. They also effectively informed with historical context.

Hilary James on bass mandolin with Simon Mayor & Friends Picture: Brian Harrington
Hilary James on bass mandolin with Simon Mayor & Friends Picture: Brian Harrington

They continued with Will You Come To The Bower, which features lyrics attributed to Thomas Moore. Hilary James’ pure vocals were on fine form tonight and she was also playing her brand new bass mandolin (with her own artwork) for just the second time in public.

There were several tracks from Simon Mayor’s excellent Carolan album released in March 2023, which celebrates the music of blind itinerant Irish harpist Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738), including Si Beag, Si Mhor, Carolan’s Devotion and the beautiful Princess Royal.

Simon’s poem The Stick was a beautiful, evocative, thoughtful interlude telling the story of a walk from Nidderdale to Pateley Bridge, while folk song Bruton Town (aka The Bramble Briar), which tells the tale of a gruesome murder and was famously recorded by Pentangle back in 1968, was amazing, as was Caravan, a jazz classic composed by Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol in 1936.

The well deserved encore was Can Love Be Controlled By Advice from The Beggars Opera.

A wonderful night of fine music played by fine musicians.

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