The Mandolinquents at The Stables

Last night we went to The Stables in Wavendon for the first of our three trips over the next couple of months. Neither of us had been there before, so we didn’t really know what to expect. Following their directions on the website, it was really easy to find and the car park was quite large, although we were there about 45 minutes before it started, so I don’t know how full it gets. It is a smart modern looking building, which has a spacious entrance area. When you go in, there were tables down the right hand side before you get to the bar area. On the left is their shop and then the reception desk is past the first entrance to the Jim Marshall Auditorium. It is carpeted throughout the reception area and really looks smart as do the uniformed staff. We got a couple of drinks at the bar before looking around the CDs in their shop. While we were looking around the shop, Jo spotted someone we know from the Dunstable Music Centre, and so we went and chatted with him and his wife before we went in.

Just a brief aside on the history of The Stables.

Wavendon Allmusic Plan Ltd (WAP), a registered charity, was founded in 1969 by the world-renowned jazz musicians Dame Cleo Laine and Sir John Dankworth, with an aim to provide a centre of musical activity which would break down barriers between music genres and introduce music to as many people as possible regardless of age or social background.

The vision was realised with the development of The Stables Theatre, in some outbuildings at their home, as a venue for concerts and education activities. In October 2000, the new Stables Theatre opened its doors on a 398 seat auditorium which now presents over 200 concerts and over 200 education sessions each year.

So about 5 minutes before it was due to start, we went through the entrance to the auditorium and made our way down to the front row. We had seats one and two and were sat about 5 foot from the stage. The stage was only slightly raised, about a foot, so you felt that you were almost on stage. They weren’t fully booked for the event, only the main seating area was full, the side areas weren’t used.

Anyway, we were here to see The Mandolinquents, who I had described in an earlier post as a quartet of mandolin players. I had subsequently, done some more reading about them and realised that that was not quite right. The Mandolinquents consist of Simon Mayor, Gerald Garcia, Hilary James and Richard Collins. Before I booked the tickets, I knew nothing about them, so I had to check out their website to find the following:

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 humourous anecdotes and off-the-cuff wit alongside dazzling musicianship. Gerald Garcia’s reputation is confirmed as one of the world’s finest guitarists. In September 1995 he toured four Chinese cities in a duo with guitarist John Williams. Hilary James may be best known for her fine singing, but she also takes her place in the Mandolinquents pounding the mighty mandobass. By his mid-teens Richard Collins was much in demand at bluegrass festivals and arts centres in his native Hampshire. Now highly regarded as a mandolinist and guitarist, he is also one of the hottest (and subtlest) 5 string banjo players around.

They came out on stage and without so much as an introduction, started into their repertoire. Wow, they can play. It was stunning. They started with Apanhei-Te Cavaquinho by Nazareth, but after that, I can’t remember what order anything was played or in which half, but it was a full selection crossing many genres. We had Pizzicato by Delibes, Song of India by Rimsky-Korsakov, Loch Lomad wonderfully sung by Hilary James, Rigaudon by Grieg, Will You Come to the Bower by John Clare sung by Hilary James, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy by Tchaikovsky, Beat Out That Rhythm on a Drum from the musical Carmen Jones, Cheek to Cheek by Irvin Berlin, Russian Rag and The Piccolino.  The songs were interspersed with bit about the tunes and songs from any of the members. There was also a lovely Chinese tune lead by Gerald Garcia and a banjo and fiddle piece with Simon and Richard.

They finished off with an encore of The Spider in the Shed. This is one of over fifty pieces that Simon and Hilary had written for children and is available through their website They even had us, the audience, joining in with the chorus.

At the break half way through, we bought some of the CDs and DVDs that were available. Jo wanted a copy of the New Celtic Mandolin and ended up getting the CD, DVD and book. We also got a copy of the current album Dance of the Comedians and Hilary James’ Love, Lust & Loss album. Jo asked Gerald Garcia about a support he had on his guitar. It is a gitano, and allows you to play with your feet flat and without a footstool by raising the guitar. He said it takes a bit of getting used to, but it is worth trying. We’ll have a look around and get one to try.

It was a very enjoyable evening and I would thoroughly recommend going along to see them if you get the chance.

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