Mandolin Café – ‘Mandolin Mondays’

May 13th, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Closed

Rather chuffed to feature on Mandolin Café’s ‘Mandolin Mondays’ series this week.
I’ll be in the USA summer of 2020 with Hilary James – giggin’, teachin’ and sight seein’.

John Reischman and the Jaybirds – and a mandolinists reunion.

May 3rd, 2019. Posted in General, Music | Comments Closed

Absolutely wonderful to hear John Reischman and the Jaybirds last night in Fleet – what a great band! Strange coincidence – Radim Zenkl and family came to stay and it was the first time the four of us had been in the same place since Vancouver Folk Festival in 1994. Pictured: Simon Mayor, John Reischman, Radim Zenkl, Hilary James

Kenwood Hall, Sheffield 2018

October 18th, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Closed

Oh dear! I see my last blog was 2016; is it really that long since I posted? It’s my New Year’s resolution to do this more frequently (somebody’s New Year must start on 19th October…???) The now annual Mandolin Retreat at Kenwood Hall Hotel in Sheffield went off with a bang again a couple of weeks ago, with the resultant mandolin orchestra of 25 players sounding as sweet, if not sweeter than ever. We have many regulars at these gatherings, who enjoy not just the mandolin playing but the social side of things too. Where else do you get so many like minds in one place?!

This year threw up a surprise special guest in the form of bluegrass mandolinist Jordam Ramsey, a superb American player over on tour with his band Ragged Union and taking a few days holiday too. Jordan gave us a short tutorial on the technique of crosspicking.

Here are some videos of proceedings…

Kentucky Waltz.

Nellie The Elephant.

Jordan Ramsey discusses crosspicking

Interview with special guest Jordan Ramsey

Scarlatti Sonata


Kenwood Hall, Sheffield 2016

October 15th, 2016. Posted in General, Music | No Comments »

“Didn’t we have a lovely time, the day we went to Kenwood!” wrote Phil Nixon afterwards. Yes we did! The hotel lived up to our expectations: comfy beds, good food, smiling and helpful staff. Twenty-five of us gathered in the magnificent setting of the Terrace Room and played our hearts out. Here are a few stills; a bigger batch can be downloaded here.





Halsway 2016 – retrospective

April 27th, 2016. Posted in General, Music | No Comments »

halswayIt all turned out well in the end, but at just twenty-four hours notice, the mandolin workshop weekend I was supposed to be hosting last January was postponed due to an outbreak of norovirus at the venue, the otherwise idyllic 15th century Halsway Manor, nestling at the foot of the Quantocks in Somerset. Norovirus aside, it gave rise to symptoms of acute ‘mandolinus interruptus’ among the forty disappointed musicians who were due to attend and indulge in a weekend of group playing, nerdy chat (why not?) and a little light alcoholic refreshment. As host and tutor, it felt particularly galling as I had put in a lot of preparation arranging tunes in parts, making sure all participants had received the music and sound clips in advance and generally psyching myself up to answering questions about plectrum thicknesses, string gauges, action heights, performing in the concert with Hilary James on the Saturday night, and generally being ‘on duty’ all weekend. 

I had been at Halsway for a similar event in 2015 and had found it immensely enjoyable despite the sense of responsibility, so I was relieved when the venue suggested we reschedule for Easter weekend. I was available, but inevitably some people were not. We still managed to number about thirty, and, as before, the combined forces were sounding like a half-decent mandolin orchestra by the Sunday afternoon. The mandolins were helped by a couple of mandocellos, a liuto cantabile (an Italian five course tenor-voiced mandolin) and one participant who had travelled all the way from Belgium with mandolin, mandola and mandocello, and even played mandobass (borrowed from Hilary James) for some of the time.

If there is one thing that makes me particularly apprehensive about leading such a large group, it is that the range of abilities will almost certainly be wide. This was indeed the case; no fewer than six people described themselves as complete beginners and were just about able to run up and down a major scale, read tablature to a speed of one note per bar, all the time still feeling uncomfortable holding a plectrum. At the other end of the scale were people who were already experienced in playing in mandolin orchestras, bluegrass bands, or just very good amateurs who played at home or with friends. My previous experience had been that the beginners rise to the occasion, surprising themselves at how much they achieve as the weekend progresses. Nevertheless, I took the precaution of including one very easy part in all the tunes I arranged. Hopefully, nobody felt left out.

Nobody was expecting high French cuisine, but, as before, the food was good and the staff were a delight. In the end, despite the norovirus, a great time was had by all, and it’s in the diary again for January next year.

Marooned With A Mandolin

January 25th, 2016. Posted in Music | No Comments »

I just dug out these MP3s of three half hour programmes I did for BBC Radio 2 back in 1996. You can listen to the full programmes here – but please bear in mind that much of the information given is now out of date.

Programme synopsis… If mandolin maestro Simon Mayor were marooned on a desert island, there’s no doubt about the one luxury he’d take. In this series of three programmes he goes in search of the origins of the mandolin, looks at what’s happening the world over, and tries to find out why players from Naples to Nashville go wild about it! The series features interviews with many of the world leading players, choice examples from disc, and some amusing anecdotes.

   Marooned With A Mandolin – Programme 1 (broadcast 21st February 1996)



   Marooned With A Mandolin – Programme 2 (broadcast 28th February 1996)



  Marooned With A Mandolin – Programme 3 (broadcast 6th March 1996)

Back at Acoustic Magazine

January 22nd, 2016. Posted in General, Music | No Comments »

After a couple of years break, it’s great to be contributing a mandolin column to Acoustic Magazine once again. My first offering is in the current issue (as I write), No 114. It’s an unusually slow version of the beautiful traditional tune Golden Eagle.

     Golden Eagle – mandolin solo

Future columns will be in alternate issues – the even numbered ones. The magazine caters mainly for acoustic guitarists, but with nods towards other fretted instruments.

Halsway 2015 – retrospective

November 11th, 2015. Posted in General | No Comments »

Amazing what a nice hot bath and a good sleep can do! It’s the day after… and I’m feeling human again. What an enjoyable weekend! It was so lovely meeting mandolinists from all over the country, and a big ‘thank you’ to all for your contributions both musically and socially, for your sheer enthusiasm, kind words and of course bottles of beer.

Hilary James was indulging in some drawing. Here are the fruits of her labours; if you click on any of the images you’ll get a high resolution version.

The setting, the wonderful staff, the roaring log fire, the late night cocoa… all made for a memorable couple of days. Very much looking forward to a return visit in 2016.

Maxine_LO-RES SallyAndBruce_LO-RES Jane_LO-RES Helen_LO-RES Ian_LO-RES

A Tale Of Two Mandolins

November 11th, 2015. Posted in General | No Comments »

As a musician – a mandolinist and violinist (fiddler) – I find it strange how one can live on a street for over seven years without meeting a neighbour who lives about 100 yards away, a talented professional violinist who, to my great delight, is keen to learn the mandolin and who has acquired a couple of rather splendid looking old Italian instruments, albeit not in playing condition. Being English, we were both waiting seven years to be introduced, but now the ceremonial formalities have been undertaken we’ve been making up for lost time by playing some fiddle tunes together and she’s threatened me with Mozart next time we meet.

On the mandolin front I had to break the bad news to her that the majority of old Italian mandolins in the UK were made for the tourist trade and are pretty nasty instruments suitable for wall decoration and little else. However, I’m a player and not a historian, so I volunteered to check out the makers’ names with my friend Paul Sparks, international authority on the subject, author of two mighty tomes for Oxford University Press, and as I was reminded the other night over a beer and a pizza, infectiously enthusiastic for his subject. I had suspected that one of these mandolins, the more modestly appointed, was a good instrument. Paul confirmed my suspicions. Although not the most highly prized round-backs, the mandolins of Umberto Ceccherini are very well respected, and definitely worth restoring. Fortunately for my neighbour this particular instrument needed little work and is currently in the very capable hands of our local maker and repairer Mick Johnson.

Interestingly, it has a second soundboard, a ‘tone producer’ suspended just a couple of millimetres below the top, and visible through the sound hole. It’s a feature I have rarely come across, although for a brief period many years ago I played an old Radiotone mandolin which had one. The Americans refer to this device as a Virzi, after the brothers who patented the idea in the USA in the 1920s and offered them as a retro-fit to violins and mandolins, but the occurrence in my neighbour’s Ceccherini, which predates the Virzi patent by around twenty years, indicates the idea was already prevalent in Italy.

Players have always been unconvinced, and my old Radiotone certainly wasn’t a great mandolin. Many have had them removed, ironically to improve the sound, and to my knowledge no luthier is currently using the idea. Nevertheless, the Ceccherini remains a significant piece of musical history and should, and I’m sure will, be kept in its original state. I have every hope it will emerge from Mick Johnson’s workshop sounding sweet and inspire my neighbour to become as good a mandolinist as she is a violinist.

As a postscript I should add that the other mandolin, an ornate sea of pearl and tortoiseshell (I think there may be some wood in there too), with exquisitely fluted ribs, is also to be restored despite the fact that the maker, Carlo Rinaldi, is of little repute. This will be a significantly more time consuming and expensive job, risky too in case it doesn’t sound great, but the good news is that two musical instruments will be played again, and that is exactly why they were made.

American Mandobass History

November 11th, 2015. Posted in General | No Comments »

Author Paul Ruppa has kindly given permission to use this article: fascinating reading for anyone interested in the history of the mandolin family.
It’s in PDF format – please click here to view.

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