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Buenos Aires to Blackburn

September 30th, 2016


Ex-Hilliard Ensemble

October’s concerts start with a trip down memory lane with my old Hilliard Ensemble colleagues. On Wednesday  5th we’re taking part in a charity concert in St Paul’s Covent Garden. The plan is to sell off the group’s remaining stock of albums in aid of  Music For Open Ears which supports classical music in primary schools. We’ll be singing Tallis, Brumel, Dufay and Leonin among other composers. So come along and see if we can still cut it! If we’re still alive and kicking we’ll all be at the Singer Pur 25th anniversary concert at the Prinzregententheater in Munich on March 8th next year.

The Hilliards’ recording of Roger Marsh’s Poor Yorick, commissioned for the anniversary tour with us ex-members,  is hot off the press and available from the Lawrence Sterne Trust.

'Alas Poor Yorick' CD by Roger Marsh

and Miserere and Officium are now available on Vinyl! Though the picture accompanying the Officium catalogue entry is a little misleading…

Goodly Ayres in Buenos Aires and Tenerife


Palacio correos BA 2015.jpg


At the crack of dawn the next day I set off for Argentina, and a recital with Ariel Abramovich in the fabulous CCK hall in Buenos Aires on the 8th. It’s a programme of Dowland and Campion with one or two surprises thrown in (and will be my first visit there). I then have a week off before meeting up with Ariel again in Tenerife on the 21st (my first visit to the Canaries since playing in a lava tube in Lanzarote with the Dowland Project a while ago). This time we’ll be featuring Johnson’s Shakespeare settings alongside Danyel, Campion, Dowland and Tony Banks at the Festival de Música Antigua La Laguna .

Amores Pasados news



Then it’s swiftly to Germany via Madrid for Amores Pasados in Murnau at the Grenzenlos world music festival on the 23rd  and  Enjoy Jazz in Heidelberg’s Heiliggeistkirche (above) the following day. We’ll be adding Jacob Heringman’s new transcriptions of Butterworth and the elusive Peter Pope, and having a first rehearsal of John Paul Jones’ Blake Lullaby which he’s just finished for us and which we’ll probably unleash in Madrid or Trieste in March (it’s going to be a busy month). We’ve just agreed to do the Swaledale Festival next June and hope to slot in more UK dates before recording the next album.

Northern Song

I’ll be making my way to Blackburn on the 30th to join my ex-Swingle colleagues Linda Hirst and Catherine Bott on the panel for the Kathleen Ferrier Junior Bursary. I was unable to make the recent Swingle reunions (one of them coincided with the Hilliard reunion gig) and I don’t think the three of us have sat down together in the same room for decades so we’ll have a lot to catch up on as well as listening to some of the brightest young singers of the year. Very appropriate, having started the month raising money for primary school music, to end it hearing what talented first year conservatoire students can do.




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Amores Pasados in Blaibach

September 11th, 2016


rehearsing in the Konzerthaus

It was great to kick off the new season at the Kulturwald festival in Blaibach – our first appearance in Germany – and to play in a hall voted by acousticians as one of the top 10 in the world. It was perfect for us – we could get the balance between voices and lutes absolutely spot on. A big thankyou to Thomas Bauer and his very efficient team, and thanks to Klaus Wenk for this picture from the concert:


The programme was our now usual mix of Jacob Heringman’s versions of English song (we’re big on Warlock and Moeran at the moment) with the new music by Sting, Tony Banks and John Paul Jones. We’re back in Germany next month for the world music festival in Murnau and Enjoy Jazz in Heidelberg  and in the spirit of early music we’ll be performing at least one piece that hasn’t see the light of day since way back in the last century (and not quite as the composer intended).

No news yet, sadly, of the release of Secret History or a possible new recording.

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Autumn gigs

August 27th, 2016

It’s going to be an interesting autumn with the first Amores Pasados concerts in Germany, and recitals in Argentina and the Canary Islands with Ariel Abramovich. I’ll also be getting together with my old Hilliard Ensemble colleagues for a grand charity concert at St Paul’s Covent Garden, and Jacob Heringman and I will be doing a lutesong course at Benslow (the first time I’ve been there since the days of Tragicomedia and the Hilliard Festival of Voices eons ago). We hope to encourage participants to think beyond the 30 year window that is English lute song.

Here’s what I’ll be up to in the next two months:

September 10 Blaibach  Kulturwald Festival Amores Pasados

September 19 Benslow Music Hitchin Secret Lute Songs recital with Jacob Heringman

September 20-22 Benslow Music Hitchin lutesong workshop with Jacob Heringman

October 5 London  St Paul’s Covent Garden ex-Hilliard Ensemble charity concert

October 8 CCK Buenos Aires lutesong recital with Ariel Abramovich

October 21 La Laguna (Tenerife) lutesong recital with Ariel Abramovich

October 23 Murnau World Music Festival Amores Pasados

October 24 Heidelberg Enjoy Jazz  Amore Pasados


There are no Conductus dates in the diary at the moment, but we have a newly revamped webpage here.

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fining universities for bad teaching

August 18th, 2016


I tend to keep quiet about the inanities of government educational policy these days, but I couldn’t help getting a bit exercised by the proposal to penalise bad university teaching by lowering the fees. As usual, they completely miss the point by focusing on the teaching (impossible to measure) rather than the learning (which is at least quantifiable according to some very broad criteria). Thinking back to my own time as a university lecturer I’m pretty sure I never taught anybody anything (just as my own teachers from O level onwards didn’t ‘teach’ me), but I hope I enabled students to discover their innate ability to be creative with their own learning. I was incredibly lucky with my university job: when I started out I had a free hand to teach what I liked however I liked. There were no specified ‘aims and outcomes’  – and the very idea that you could reduce the results of a course to three outcomes when you had maybe twenty students all with different expectations would have sounded completely mad. I’m probably seeing it through rose tinted reality goggles, but it seems like a glorious golden time in retrospect. Then the government decided it needed to measure everything, and it went downhill after that.  Now students are customers who expect ‘value for money’. It’s no good just hoping to inspire your students to be creative – you have to tell them how to do it, and they have to do it according to a set of rules (and as was made clear to me towards the end of my time as a lecturer, the Music criteria had to be the same as those for the Biology Dept).

I won’t bang on any more about it as there will be plenty of bile in my new book (assuming I can find a publisher that way inclined), but I can’t help thinking there might be an opportunity here for poverty stricken arts students to indulge in a bit of sabotage of the government’s obsessive educational monetizing. A cheap bad teacher – one who lets you do your own thing – may be preferable to a highly measurable expensive one. You get to be creative and your loan goes a bit further.

Normal service will be resumed with the autumn gig list shortly.

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Conductus complete

July 20th, 2016

nb: new Conductus webpage here

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The performance element of the Conductus project reached its climax at the 5th annual course on medieval music inBesalú  at the weekend.


Concert pic


Funded by the AHRC, led by Mark Everist at the University of Southampton, and known officially as Cantum pulcriorum invenire (‘Finding a finer song’), the project has involved Christopher O’Gorman, Roger Covey-Crump and me in more than a dozen concerts and workshops in five different countries as well as three CDs. Our repertoire consists of some fifty pieces and is continuing to expand.  A big thankyou from the three of us to the AHRC, all the Southampton team, our manager Robert White and those workshop organisers who did such a great job. We’re looking forward to future collaboration (and, of course, the book). For those interested in the complete story – the venues, the repertoire, the name changes… there are more than 30 posts on this site charting our progress over the last few years.

We had a terrific time in Besalú – a great bunch of students from all over the planet (Mexico, the USA, Japan, Canada, France, not to mention Catalunya…) and a relaxed, friendly,  efficiently organised course.


Workshop pic


Mauricio Molina‘s vision will surely carry his project forward to great things in the future.  Part of our concert was featured on the local tv station (the final shot, somewhat embarrassingly, featuring an edition that was more Australian than Southampton…). We ended our last workshop with an open rehearsal of Exiit sermo, a virtuosic three voice organum which we’re performing in Gloucester next week.


Cantum image

One of the conditions of the AHRC grant was that we should reach beyond the higher education community, and we tapped into the wider audience this implied by engaging with festivals and concert series, some of which had never had a medieval experience before. Now that the research project is complete we’re able to take a sideways step into academia, so if there are universities out there interested in our post-Conductus projects do please get in touch…

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The Hilliard Ensemble and the Art of Tidying

July 12th, 2016


David James   | Rogers Covey-Crump | Steven Harrold |

 Gordon Jones | John Potter

LONDON: St Paul’s Church Covent Garden

Wednesday 5th October at 7:00pm


To quote Mirjam James…

‘After retiring at the end of 2014, the former members of The Hilliard Ensemble (one of the world’s foremost male a cappella ensembles) have had time to tidy up their shelves, lofts and drawers and discovered a number of unsold cd-treasures. Realising that they don’t really need to keep multiple copies of their own cds and not wanting just to sell them they have kindly offered to donate their hidden stocks as part of a fundraising concert to support the charity ‘Music for Open Ears’. Music for Open Ears gives children of primary school age the opportunity to develop their active listening skills and fosters a love for classical music. Supporting the spirit behind Music for Open Ears – that the most exciting music is performed live – five members, David James, John Potter, Rogers Covey-Crump, Steven Harrold and Gordon Jones, will perform a selection of pieces from the cds to be sold at the concert. The one hour concert will include works such as Viderunt omnes by Perotin and the first part of Tallis’ Lamentations and will be followed by a reception and the opportunity to purchase cds. ‘

This should be a terrific occasion – not just the five of us resurrecting ourselves which should be entertaining in itself, but a chance to meet lots of old friends and make some money for Open Ears, a wonderful charity that supports music in schools. Oddly enough, before Steven Harrold took over from me permanently we had a brief incarnation as an occasional five-voice group (and we three tenors even joined Trio Mediaeval for a Scandinavian tour with Gavin  Bryars’ Second Book of Madrigals which he wrote for the six of us). The last time I appeared in the Covent Garden piazza Sean Williams and I were  busking John Edmonds’ and Nigel Osborne’s Paganini. Ned was about five and has never quite recovered from seeing me leap out of a coffin brandishing a cardboard violin.

In the meantime Rogers, Chris O’Gorman and I are off to Besalu for the final AHRC Conductus event. When we get back we begin charting a slightly new path, still exploring the conductus but branching out into organum at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester. Coincidentally, this programme will also have a Hilliard connection as Rogers and I will be doing Perotin’s Dum Sigillum which, like Viderunt Omnes, can be found on the Hilliards’ famous Perotin album.

More info on the reunion concert from Mirjam James musicforopenears@gmail.com or 0759 0657 025.

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Profumo di violetta

June 27th, 2016

What do you do when the world seems to have gone mad? I watched the TV pretty well round the clock for two days (a year’s worth of TV watching for me). Then eventually I found the wherewithal to listen to some music – Gianluigi Trovesi all’opera.  Italian music performed for centuries all over Europe and recorded by a German record company (one that I, born an English person, record for). It’s the most joyous expression of the universality of music I know (read the liner notes by Trovesi and Renato Magni and you’ll see what I mean). I also sits well with my prejudices about the relationship between popular and ‘classical’, and the dreadful damage the early music movement has done by focusing on the work rather than the humans who enact it.  Who wouldn’t want to be part of a culture that has produced such music making over so many centuries?

As the music played – Monteverdi, Cavalli, Verdi, Mascagni – and the wine bottle emptied – I realised that I believe in the concept of Europe in much the same way as some people believe in god. It’s an unshakeable faith, and nothing said or done by this pathetic bunch of political nonentities will dent it.

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I am a European

June 25th, 2016

I am a European



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We’re all immigrants…

June 14th, 2016


I was recently reminded of my refusal to show my passport at the Aldeburgh border when I heard that a world-renown academic had declined to show his at the University of York and was a persistent thwarter of the UKBA’s insidious policy of assuming everyone is here illegally unless they can prove otherwise. It gave a new twist to the referendum immigration debate. If I were to be offered a paid engagement at the university here I’d have to produce my passport. I’m not only a foreigner in my own country but an immigrant in my own town.  Thank heavens I can still go to a Chinese or Polish supermarket without a visa. It’s OK for the Poles and Chinese of course – they really are living in a foreign country – and I suppose it sort of puts us all on an equal footing if I have as little right to a passport-free job here as they do.

Unsurprisingly, the music profession knows nothing so banal as national boundaries. The Hilliard Ensemble was, unusually, an all-British group, though you probably wouldn’t have to delve very far to discover that half of us were descended from Johnny Foreigner (and we worked with a Norwegian saxophonist, a German violinist and an Austrian cellist among many other international musicians). Almost every other permutation of musicians I’ve worked with has been a rag tag assortment of nationalities. The Sound and the Fury, for instance, records in Austria, but apart from me are all Germans and are sponsored by Austrian Israelis. The Dowland Project currently has an American lutenist who lives in the UK, a British sax player who lives in Sweden and a Slovakian fiddle player of no fixed abode. For the Amores Pasados project we have a Swedish soprano, American and Argentinian lutenists, with another American lute player for our Josquin project. I’ve recently been in Canada working with one other Brit and two Canadians. I record for a German record company staffed by Europeans; I’ve never had to produce a passport for any gig in Europe.

We enjoy what we have in common and relish our differences. I used to think that a musical ensemble was a kind of microcosm of an ideal society, with everyone contributing and supporting each other –  and when things are going well I’m sure that’s true. When I meet up with my German friends we don’t discuss the economy or migration – except on the one occasion when Angela Merkel’s open door policy came up, and my great German friend said that for the first time in his life he was proud to be German.

None of this will change if we leave the EU, and if the pound collapses I’ll actually be rather better off. But there are no circumstances in which I could vote to leave. Europe is a vision to which we should all subscribe – surely the grandest and most human geo-socio-political concept of the late 20th century. I’m a European and have been since I was old enough to know what the word really meant, and I’m going to say a European.


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Amores Pasados at the NCEM

June 11th, 2016

There’s something really special about doing a gig on your own doorstep. Apart from doing concerts with students at the university I’ve only ever performed in York courtesy of the NCEM and the Conductus Project, and it was great to be able to do Amores Pasados to the most friendly audience imaginable, largely made up of family and friends. It was also special because it was the first time my granddaughters Emily and Grace had been to a ‘proper’ concert, and it made the heart sing to see them there (and Grace making a beeline for John Paul Jones’ leg shows she’s already heading in the right direction).  We were privileged to have both John Paul  and Gavin Bryars up to hear their pieces for the first time. John Paul spent a lot of time with Jake and Ariel discussing tunings and scales for his new piece (and did some exquisite busking on the piano). It’s going to be  quick, he says (somewhat alarmingly).




Twitter was alive with Zeppelin-inspired names of the superlute group these three might create…

Gavin Bryars’ Sonnet 128 from his Nothing Like the Sun is one of my favourite pieces. The original (the recording of our Adelaide performance is about to be released) has a rich texture of Gavin’s signature string quartet (2 violas, cello and bass) plus piano, guitar and cimbalom, and I was a bit worried he might find Jake’s miraculous two lutes arrangement a bit of a shock. He loved it and we managed to persuade him to join us for the postlude. I’d had the idea that as we got near the postlude, an old bloke would get up out of the audience and approach the piano, which he would then play. And sure enough it came to pass. Gavin didn’t knock over any chairs or glasses on his way, but apart from that it was a nicely successful surprise. We’re used to either grand Spanish churches where the lutes really carry or big theatres where we have to use PA, so we enjoyed the intimacy of the NCEM (though I suspect it wasn’t quite resonant enough for the lutes).

We continue to accumulate repertoire. The Warlock and Moeran pieces worked very well this time round, and there are more to come. Our next performances as an ensemble are in Germany: a late night in Blaibach on September 10th, then the Weltmusikfestival Murnau  October 23rd and Enjoy Jazz Heidelberg October 24th. That’s all for this year at the moment. We hope to return to the UK next year, and we  have concerts in Spain, Italy and Argentina in the diary at the moment.




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