Simon Mayor: Music from a Small Island
(Acoustics CDACS 055, 2006)
It would be easy to criticise Simon Mayor - he plays too many instruments (mandolin, guitar, fiddle, etc); he plays too many styles (swing, Celtic, classical, old-timey, etc) - if it weren't for the fact that he does them all so very well. His latest CD offering, Music from a Small Island, is a case in point; Simon plays all the instruments wonderfully, with his partner Hilary James taking on lead vocals (although even here he gets a look-in, adding backing vocals recurrently). In the title of the CD, Simon suggests a unifying theme in the traditional music from Britain. In fact the album is divided into three distinct sections sandwiched by two of Mayor's own compositions. The first of these is 'Midnight in Manchester', is a pyrotechnic display of musical tricks and Mayor trademarks: arpeggios, extensive slides up the neck, and so on. It works very well, and is an excellent opener for the recording.
Then comes the first of the inner projects, THREE ENGLISH SONGS which musically and lyrically tell of a bucolic England of another age. Rosebud in June opens with heavenly sensitivity, the acoustic textures combining perfectly until, more than two minutes into the piece, Hilary James's beautiful vocals describe a rural idyll. 'Bold Reynard' is a song I've listened to for years from such singers as Martin Carthy. Simon and Hilary do it justice, I'm glad to say, using the instrumental passages to cradle the verses. Mayor's accomplished tremolo effects can be heard again in 'Linden Lea', by 19th century poet William Barnes set to a lovely new melody specially composed by Simon and Hilary.
The next segment on the album is THE WHARFEDALE SUITE, four original Simon Mayor compositions in tribute to the countryside around his home. 'The Strid' isn't so much a simple tune but a complex exploration of various themes and textures, changing tempo and sonic colour frequently. This sets the scene for an absolute treat, the faultless blending of instrumentation creating a glorious musical landscape. This is Mayor exercising his considerable creative talents and, possibly more importantly, having fun! You can hear the joy and pleasure that the musician got from designing and playing these tunes.
THE SCOTTISH COLLECTION includes three single tunes and a medley, and might be considered a brave choice, the Scots sometimes being critical of outsiders' attempts at their culture. As one such Scot, I'm aware that Simon Mayor is fond of investigating Scottish music, and I'm delighted that he gets as much out of it as he apparently does. 'The Laird of Drumblair' is an old warhorse by celebrated Scottish fiddler James Scott Skinner, and shows off Mayor's guitar playing skills before the mandolin comes in and shows who's boss. In ne of my all-time favourite pieces, 'Parcel of Rogues', each member of this band is given a solo: a duo-style mandolin introduction, then the guitar takes up the baton, followed by the fiddle, both solo and double-tracked. Then you remember that it's all Simon Mayor! Another of my favourite tunes, 'John Stephen of Chance Inn' is included in the medley and once again displays the musician's skills on solo guitar. There is a misattribution, though - while Simon calls it a traditional tune, it was actually composed by the late Dundee fiddler Angus Fitchet.
I said it was easy to find something to criticise Simon Mayor for, but as long as he produces albums like this, it's going to be more and more difficult. The sound quality is as usual excellent, but it's Mayor's consummate skills as a musican, combined with his creativity and taste, which make this album special, in my opinion. Thank you, Mr Mayor - keep doing what you're doing!
Nigel Gatherer, 11 Dec 2006Back to top