Review: Hilary James and Simon Mayor at Ilkley Playhouse

THE Wildman Studio with seating in a semicircle was the perfect setting – and set-up – for Hilary James and Simon Mayor on Sunday evening. No strangers to Ilkley and part-time residents, they immediately engaged with their audience for an evening’s entertainment with several strands. First there was a short film featuring local landscapes and a few streetscapes from their main home in Reading. Technological sophistication allowed Hilary’s drawings, direct onto an iPad, to materialise before our eyes, with musical accompaniment. Then came the music, ranging from Brazil to the blues, via ballads and classical settings. Guitar, mandolin, mandola and mandobass all featured, giving full range to Hilary’s sweet yet powerful voice and Simon’s legendary dexterity. They created different moods apparently effortlessly and the whole performance was relaxed and inclusive. An absent set list and a telescopic mike with a mind of its own gave cause for banter – never in short supply when Simon Mayor is around. The third strand, as it happens, was poetry, in the shape of a collection of Simon’s writings illustrated by Hilary (whose initial training was in art). Of Death and a Banana Skin takes its title from a ballad recounting a walk on Ilkley Moor, fuelled by a banana, whose skin Simon conscientiously concealed beneath a stone. Returning some three years later, he sought out the banana skin, now in a sadly altered state and prompting sombre thoughts. Another poem reflects on the history of Low Mill, from poor weavers’ homes to desirable residences. But it’s not all gloom by any means; joy and humour abound, along with short pithy verses. The book features augmented reality, which, by similar wondrous technology, allows your device to bring the illustrations alive, as did the film which began proceedings. Altogether a brilliant evening, visually enhanced by Hilary’s saucy red shoes with bells on the ankle straps and Simon’s amazing footwear – baby zebra, allegedly.

Judith Dunn

* For recordings, publications and all other information, visit the Acoustics Records website,