The Mandolin World Banner Facebok_3.jpg

The Mandolin in England : with Simon Mayor


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 humorous anecdotes and off-the-cuff wit alongside dazzling musicianship.
With his debut 'The Mandolin Album', he embarked on a series of recordings to realize 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).
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 theaters 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.
He 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 theaters and schools. They have also presented Play School and for six years were regular hosts of BBC Music Education programs. 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 they set up in 1999.
Simon Mayor and Hilary James have also written satirical and topical songs for BBC news programs including Newsnight. A huge fan of fellow Yorkshireman, the late, great Jake Thackray, Simon occasionally performs a special program of Jake's songs.


How did you meet the mandolin?

My three cousins had a mandolin that was in their house when I used to visit as a child. None of them really played it although two of them were very good guitarists. This is how I first became aware of the instrument, but it wasn’t until I was about 16 and heard it played really well in different styles that I wanted to play it. I think we all need some moment of initial inspiration to get us started on whatever instrument we choose to play.

How is your activity organized around the mandolin?

At the moment I’m doing fewer gigs and more writing and hosting Mandolin Retreats. This looks set to change from Autumn 2019 because the diary is getting busier. I’m as keen a guitarist and violinist as I am a mandolinist, so I try to stay on top of all three instruments. My work as half of a duo with (singer) Hilary James is every bit as important to me as my career as a mandolinist, and I love being an accompanist as much as being accompanied.

Can you tell us about the history of the mandolin in your country?

There are people more qualified than me to do this, notably my friend Paul Sparks who has written a couple of books all mandolinists should have: 'The Early Mandolin’ and ‘The Classical Mandolin’, both published by Oxford University Press. Paul gave a fascinating talk recently at one of my Mandolin Retreats in which he described the role of the instrument in ladies’ mandolin orchestras of the 19th century. It was an instrument considered respectable for women to play in an often starchy Victorian society. Throughout the 20th century the number of orchestras decreased, and those that remain are certainly made up of both sexes. As in most countries today, the mandolin crops up in many musical idioms, and we have excellent players in the UK in traditional, blues, swing, and classical styles.

How has the mandolin and its repertoire evolved in your country?

Probably in the same way that it has evolved in most countries, in that global communications have brought wider influences on playing styles and repertoire. The repertoire during the heyday of the mandolin orchestras in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was largely European, in particular the popular music of the period. The latter half of the 20th century brought us mass communication, and I would say that American playing styles have had their influence now. If you look at some of the younger players in the UK - and there are some excellent ones - you can see very broad influences in their playing styles. The use of the mandolin in folk music has remained constant; people play it in trad sessions and folk bands, but as a general comment I would say the level of technical mastery of the mandolin is higher among players around today than it was 50 years ago.

What is the position of the mandolin currently in your country?

It remains a musical backwater, sadly. When my first album came out in 1990 it was the featured ‘Album Of The Week’ on Radio 2 (one of the BBC national radio stations). That would be impossible now for an album of instrumental mandolin music because the mass media has moved ever more mainstream. However, the passion among those who play the mandolin is high. Probably this is true of ‘niche’ interest.

What is the most played repertoire in your country?

I would say traditional music / Celtic music. There is a significant bluegrass scene here too, and a small number of classical players.

Where is the mandolin taught?

Apart from private teachers (a good place to look is, to the best of my knowledge the only institution that offers exams is Victoria College Of Music (

If you had to choose a word that represents or defines the mandolin, which would it be?