The next season of Bradford Cathedral Coffee Concerts begins in January, starting with singer James Gaughan. James is an experienced baritone soloist, specialising in the song and concert repertoire. He gives regular recitals throughout the year. Past performances include at Southwell Minster, Derby and Wakefield Cathedrals. In the coming months, he is due to perform at Manchester and Sheffield Cathedrals and elsewhere. We spoke to him during his busy Christmas period to find out more about his career and what to expect in 2020 from him.
You’re based in York. What is your favourite thing about the city?
It’s such a beautiful old city, that’s why I love it so much! I felt welcomed as soon as I turned up seeking Universities. I was looking around when I was eighteen for somewhere to study and York just seemed the perfect place for it, and as is the case with a lot of people I just never left!
Could you give us an introduction to yourself?
I started singing when I was about five or six, in that spontaneous way that small children do, and was essentially told pretty early on that if I insisted on singing I was going to do it properly. I got a teacher, and mostly sung with choirs in the early years as a treble. Then I took things more seriously after coming to York. I was in York as an economist rather than a music student, but I was always involved in various societies: I was in the Gilbert and Sullivan Society and the Glee singers for example.
Then in about 2010-11 I found a new teacher in York who was recommended to me and I was able to extend things much further, and took on this twin track of giving recitals, like I will be at Bradford Cathedral, and also oratorio work, singing with choirs and choral societies. Plus I could still do the economics as well!
Do you like the variety of the different styles and performances?
Yes, absolutely. It’s also a really nice way of going to a lot of places as well. It’s useful to have that rounded experience, in terms of singing works by lots of different composers, but also in having that experience of performing with one additional person in the role of the accompanist, or with a full choir and orchestra behind you, everyone working together to achieve something huge. They’re quite different experiences, but both really interesting to do.
Could you give us a flavour of what you’ll be performing at your Coffee Concert?
The programme I’ve prepared is based around the poets, rather than around the composers. I think it’s become quite normal these days to have the historical concerts, where you go from composer to composer and knit them closely together. What I’ve tried to do with this set-up is to place little sets from different periods of poetry, which means I can have quite a varied set of three songs which could theoretically be from three different centuries which gives a lot of variety for the audience, but still have some coherent link to it.
I don’t want to particularly highlight which pieces I like most, so I’ll point out some wildcards – It Is Enough, the one oratorio piece that I’ve included, from Elijah. I always enjoy performing that, as It’s a gloriously dramatic work. It’s also quite rare to have a notion like despair in an oratorio piece, especially in the bass roles. They tend to be angry or consoling, but not unhappy, so I think it’s really interesting what Mendelssohn does with this. There’s also a contrast in the Fauré later on, in the quintessentially French-sounding waltz-style. That’s my main take away really about what you can expect: as much variety as I can cram into the concert!
You’ve played at many places in your career; are there any particular highlights?
One of the best places was in Wakefield Cathedral which I sang in last year. That was a beautiful space to sing in. Derby, as well; that was wonderful. Possibly, in part because it’s so recent and fresh in my mind, I particularly remember a Messiah I gave in early December in Holmfirth. That just felt superb from beginning to end, partly from being that mid-December, so a part of people’s Christmas. Plus everyone was on top form. It was a really fun thing to be part of.
Finally, after your coffee concert, what are your plans for 2020?
The biggest event so far is that I’ll be performing Sea Pictures in Sheffield in July, and I’m really looking forward to that, alongside all the various recitals and oratorio work that will be coming along as well.
You can hear James Gaughan (Baritone) at Bradford Cathedral’s first Coffee Concert of 2020 on Tuesday 14th January from 11am, with refreshments from 10:30am. You can find out more about him on his website (jamesgaughan.com) or on Twitter (twitter.com/JMGSings).