Back to musical roots

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David James returns to his musical roots when he performs with The Hilliard Ensemble by candlight in Chichester Cathedral for the Festivities (Wednesday, July 6, 8.30pm).

“I was a school boy at Chichester Cathedral,” David recalls. “I went to the Prebendal a long, long time ago, in the early 60s.

“I loved it there. It started me off on my musical journey really. But it was all quite by chance. I came from a totally non-musical family, and it just happened that my primary school discovered that I might be musical. They knocked at my mother’s and father’s door one night and suggested that they should find a special school where I could sing.

“My father knew nothing about it, and they were advised which ones we might try, and Chichester was one of them.”

After he finished in Chichester, David continued his education in north London, but then returned to teach sports and Latin for a year at the Prebendal. Since then he has maintained friendships in the city, where the Hilliards have played several times before.

This latest concert sees the vocal quartet continue their association with Norwegian saxophone master Jan Garbarek.

“It’s a long collaboration and rather wonderful,” David says. “We met through our record company in Munich called ECM. The chap that runs the company rather sees musicians as like one glorified family. He always has a fanciful idea that artists might like to collaborate with each other.”

He asked the Hilliards whom they might like to work with; one of them suggested Garbarek but nothing happened until one day the record company boss, with two CD players in his car, put on both Garbarek and the Hilliards simultaneously. He saw the potential, and so they assembled at a monastery in Austria, no one quite knowing what to expect.

“We started singing and then it was one of the most extraordinary moments of my musical life. Suddenly we sensed that there was something else going on. Jan had taken out his instrument and just joined in. No words had been said. We were singing and he was playing, and it was the most extraordinary feeling that this instrument was almost coming from us.”