adage that ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’ does not apply
to the review recording. Without listening to even a note of
music one is initiated into an environment, a harbinger of aural
treats to follow.
the liner-notes guitarist James Boyd speaks with reverence of
the landscape of East Anglia that ‘has informed everything
that he has done’. Boyd states: ‘the world between the tides
which belongs to no-one, is like the place of sleep. It is a
place of withdrawal, of disturbing images, of solitude.’
review recording entitled Shapes of Sleep centres thematically
on music from the Elizabethan era and modern times that reflect
aspects of the title.
muted photographs of seascapes and surging tide provide visual
images of impressions conveyed by the poet Irene Noel-Baker
And when I see
The white sand-bone of beach
Its sinews solid beneath the grazing wind
That stirs the surface only ...
1996 to 2000, James Boyd studied guitar at the Royal Academy
of Music with Timothy Walker and Michael Lewin, and there won
the Julian Bream prize. After forming a partnership with tenor
Robin Tischler they shared a win in the Robert Spencer Memorial
Award. Boyd also studied singing with counter-tenor Charles
recall very few guitar recordings comprising such a complementary
combination of components that shape, develop and dignify the
noted are the presentation and the liner-notes written by James
Boyd; from these we learn much about the guitarist: his temperament,
sensitivities and disposition. To understand history one
must first know the historian.
recording was made in the Snape Maltings concert hall of which
Boyd said: ‘walking on the stage and looking out into the empty
hall, the whispers of its past, cradled in the golden warmth
of timbers, create an atmosphere that is curiously uplifting
and at the same time humbling.’
significant component is the instrument played. Much of what
we hear from any guitar is directly attributable to the musician,
viz a capable guitarist can make even an average instrument
sound good. However on this occasion the balance, power and
tonal beauty of Boyd’s instrument are particularly memorable.
The guitar used on this recording was made by Kazuo Sato Simon
in 1989. It reflects attributes and characteristics of those
earlier guitars made in England by David Rubio with whom Kazuo worked
for a while.
states: ‘I have never played an instrument as responsive as
this - it comes alive as soon as it is touched. Having played
it for over eight years I am still delighted with it.’ These
sentiments are manifested in the beauty of sound, ebb and flow
of the music and the dynamic range that Boyd produces on the
the key focus of this review, commentary on the guitar playing
has been left until last because much of it transcends words.
The overall sound reminds one immediately of that heard on recordings
made by Julian Bream. It is lyrical, often serene and intimate
yet powerful and embracing when required. The dynamic range
achieved in Transforming  from The Blue Guitar
by Tippett , is impressive and, as already noted, augmented
by a very responsive instrument.
experience with singers such as Robin Tritschler is evident
in his approach to phrasing. It was Julian Bream who indicated
that accompanying tenor Peter Pears changed his whole approach
Boyd notes: ‘Dowland knew how to make the lute sing in a way
that few modern composers have ever achieved when writing for
the guitar.’ Intrinsic though this may be to the music it is
incumbent on the musician to extract it in performance; this
Boyd achieves admirably not only in the Dowland but all the
music he presents.
may be more than coincidental that an all-English programme
spanning several hundred years is so well interpreted and executed
by one with a deep love and attachment to that fair land. Although
there is much to suggest it but nothing in any available resource
material to confirm, may we assume that James Boyd is playing
music from his country of birth?
particularly fine recording, among those more recently released
Shapes of Sleep is hard to beat in this area of repertory;
until the next recording by James Boyd this status may be sustained.
the liner-notes make no reference to the instrument used, I
thank James Boyd for his spontaneous and comprehensive response
to my request for information.