Bitten by the mandolin bug

I got the mandolin bug much later than the Django bug. It started in around 1996, and came in a series of mini-”aha”-moments rather than one big one. 

Up till then, the extent of my knowledge about the mandolin was that

  • it was tuned like a violin
  • it was plucked like a guitar

(Which was interesting to me, as I played both violin and plectrum guitar. I just had to think violin with my left hand, and guitar with my right. So far so good). 

However, there were some much more important things about the mandolin, that I didn’t know or hadn’t noticed properly till then. 

Firstly, just how FABULOUS a mandolin can sound when teamed with an acoustic guitar. This realisation dawned while listening to the CD Tone Poems by mandolin maestro David Grisman and jazz guitar wizard Martin Taylor). Just have a listen to this track on YouTube – the intimacy and interplay of the two instruments is wonderful. 


The next realisation came when a friend played me the album “Mandolinquents” by The Simon Mayor Quintet. (I still think this is a really dazzling album, and it is still one of my all-time mandolin favourites). I had only dimly been aware that there is a whole family of mandolin instruments, of different sizes and pitches. This band were using all of them – playing music in parts! Sometimes it sounded like a string quartet; sometimes like a horn section. I was hooked.

Mandolin by Richard Bartram

After these aha-moments I paid a visit to the “luthier of the Fens” Richard Bartram to talk about mandolins. He showed me a prototype he had been working on, and as soon as I started playing it, I had the final realisation – that I had to have one! (here it is). 

This is still the one and only mandolin I have ever felt any need to own. It has a lovely silvery sound and amazing projection. You can play Vivaldi on it, or a low-down dirty blues. Or just about anything in between.

Well that was it, really. Never looked back. The mandolin obsession has been enormous fun ever since, and resulted in the formation of Cafe Mondiale, The Moonlight Mandolin Orchestra and latterly Hugh Boyde and Brian Cleary. It has also led to some composing work for Astute Music.