B I O G R A P H Y
‘‘A stunning recital […] playing with immaculate control and precision, thrilling a packed audience. Wonderful mastery of the guitar."
– solo review, Sidmouth Herald (2022)
Versatile performer, recording artist, improviser, arranger and composer, James Girling is a twenty-seven-year-old British guitarist now living in Oslo and splitting his work between Norway and UK, following nine years based in Manchester. He graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music with Master’s (Distinction) and Bachelor’s (First-Class Honours) degrees, having been selected onto RNCM’s Accelerated Pathway as an eighteen-year-old. In 2021, he was conferred the honour of Associate Member of the RNCM after being judged to have achieved outstanding early career success. James was principally tutored by world-renowned classical guitarist Craig Ogden, meanwhile studying jazz and improvisation with pianist Dan Whieldon.
In 2016, James won the RNCM Gold Medal Competition: the conservatoire’s most prestigious award. As a result, he gave his Wigmore Hall debut solo recital on classical guitar in 2017. While performing Rodrigo’s Fantasía para un Gentilhombre annually with orchestras across England, James made his Concierto de Aranjuez debut with orchestra in 2019. He has been awarded the Biddy Baxter and John Hosier Music Trust’s Special Award, the Emscote bursary from Edward Dusinberre of Takács Quartet, Hilda Anderson Deane Award for all-round excellence, Countess of Munster Musical Trust Award, and Help Musicians’ Transmission Fund and Postgraduate Awards. James’ studies were further supported by the Craxton Memorial Trust, Martyn Edwards Jazz Bursary and Ian Spencer Fox Guitar Bursary. For jazz improvisation, he was awarded the RNCM Principal’s Prize (1st prize) and The Stan Barker Memorial Prize. Also twice a finalist in the RNCM Concerto Competition, James has performed in masterclasses for classical guitarists Elena Papandreou, Michael Lewin, Julian Byzantine, Gordon Crosskey and the Katona Duo, as well as for jazz musicians Mike Walker, Jason Rebello, Robert van Bavel and Julian Argüelles.
In recent years, James has recorded and been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 with the BBC Philharmonic, performed at Open Circuit Festival and The Tung Auditorium with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s Ensemble 10:10, and headlined Bluedot Festival with the Hallé Orchestra. For Chester Music Festival, he performed in a tango quintet comprising internationally acclaimed soloists such as South African cellist Abel Selaocoe. Uniquely, he also performed in concert as dep in the Aquarelle Guitar Quartet at Church Stretton Arts Festival.
James’ classical chamber music performances across the UK have also encompassed King’s Place for International Guitar Foundation’s London Guitar Festival and Guitar In London series, Leeds International Concert Season, Bridgewater Hall, Swaledale Festival, Fishguard & West Wales International Music Festival, Alwyn Music Festival, Manchester Cathedral, St. Paul’s in Covent Garden, and St. James’ in Piccadilly. James’ newest project is a collaboration with mezzo-soprano Lotte Betts-Dean alongside composer and producer Arthur Keegan-Bole. In May 2022, they premiered a unique programme of Keegan-Bole’s arrangements for voice and guitar of settings of Thomas Hardy poetry: including Britten, Finzi, Ivor Gurney, Imogen Holst, Ethel Florence, plus a setting composed specially for the project by Kerry Andrew. Central in the programme is Keegan-Bole’s new song cycle, ‘Elegies for Emma’: setting Hardy’s Poems of 1912-13. They are set to record the repertoire in 2023.
Since forming in 2013, James’ Meraki Duo with flautist Meera Maharaj have performed concerts year-round, been selected as International Guitar Foundation Young Artists, and advanced to the final of Royal Over-Seas League Competition (Mixed Ensembles). Meraki Duo are also Live Music Now artists, through which they take their performances into the wider community with interactive concerts and workshops in schools and care homes. Additionally, they have given concerts at Wigmore Hall in partnership with the Wigmore Learning programme. In summer 2022, they recorded their first commissioned works, composed for them by Rafael Mariano Arcaro and Effy Efthymiou. From autumn 2021 to spring 2022, Meraki Duo gave two collaborative tours: the first as a trio with Canadian double bassist Benjamin Du Toit; the second as a quartet with Norwegian soprano Susanna Solsrud and Scottish harpist Sophie Rocks, whose folk-inspired programme developed around Stravinsky’s ‘Four Songs’ for flute, voice, harp and guitar. With Spectrum Guitar Quartet, James recorded Edward Cowie’s work ‘Kandinsky’ in conjunction with the composer, released on Divine Art Recordings in September 2022.
James continues to be immersed in a diversity of musical traditions and disciplines in his professional work, and does so with ensembles that have garnered attention across the UK and in Europe. He is a co-founder of the Afrobeat/Ethiojazz-inspired, avant-rock-fun-psych 11-piece Agbeko. Since launching their debut E.P. in 2017 at their hometown Manchester’s Band on the Wall, Agbeko have played in the spectacular environments of Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains, Malta International Arts Festival, Paris’s Dauphine Jazz Festival, Austria’s Beserlpark Festival, Croatia’s Soundwave Festival and Milan’s Linecheck Festival. Among recent highlights in the UK, Agbeko opened Manchester Jazz Festival, featured at Oxford Festival of the Arts, Brighton’s The Great Escape and the Isle of Man. Their debut album, 'D.O.D’, was released in 2020, following the 2018 release of single ‘Leaders Of The Free World’ on Stutter & Twitch Records. In 2023, their sophomore album (which James helped compose) is being released by Band On The Wall Recordings.
James also appears across the UK with Prohibition-era jazz septet The Easy Rollers, whose speakeasy show is annually resident at Edinburgh’s The Jazz Bar and who have performed at Clonter Opera, Cheltenham Jazz Festival and Lake District Summer Music Festival. Their debut album, ‘Drop Me Off In Harlem’, was released May 2022. Since then, he has recorded for original soul, funk and disco collective The 7:45s’ forthcoming album, and for singer/composer/violinist Claire Victoria Roberts’ E.P. ‘Noir’. He has also toured with groups including Lieko Quintet, who released the E.P. ‘Amethyst’ in 2019, and short-lived poets-fronted offshoot Beats On Book - featured at Love Supreme Jazz Festival. Elsewhere, highlights include supporting Bill Laurance (playing with The Untold Orchestra), Marquis Hill 'Blacktet' and post-Bowie Donny McCaslin (with Artephis), playing at Manchester International Festival (with The 7:45s), performing with the late saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis after being selected onto his residency through Brighter Sound, and opening the Clapham Omnibus Theatre music season with James’ Quarteto de Bossa Nova. Since 2016, James has been the guitarist in the late composer David Fanshawe’s ensemble elect for his cross-cultural work, 'African Sanctus', led by Simone Rebello’s BackBeat Percussion Quartet, including performances for the Wimbledon International Music Festival and Oxford Bach Choir. As a session musician, he has played in the Côte d’Azur at the Monaco Historic Grand Prix and Château de Cassis, on TV series ‘Cold Feet’, and as the guitarist in WWII-set BBC One drama 'World On Fire'.
A keen arranger, James has written arrangements for Jacqui Dankworth and Craig Ogden, which they have toured and recorded together. Published by Astute Music in 2021-22, he has produced arrangements commissioned by composer Andy Scott for flute and guitar of a set of Scott’s works. He also recently arranged for Aquarelle Guitar Quartet as part of their forthcoming album with Brazilian pianist/vocalist Clarice Assad on Chandos Records. James regularly arranges repertoire for Meraki Duo’s innovative concert programmes. His latest arranging work has been for the Hallé Orchestra.
As guitarist in the RNCM Big Band throughout his conservatoire studies, James performed alongside eminent British jazz musicians including Tim Garland, Julian Joseph, Nikki Iles, Tina May, Laurence Cottle, Dave Hassell and Mark Nightingale, and European virtuosi Markus Stockhausen and Bart van Lier, and was broadcast live on Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’ programme. He played duets with Martin Taylor and Christian Garrick, and was the soloist in Fred Sturm’s electric guitar concerto ‘Steely Dan Suite’. In June 2019, James was invited to return as a guest soloist with the Big Band in Mike Hall’s final concert as its director.
The contemporary jazz quintet James led, Artephis, were Jazz North ‘Northern Line’ and ‘Introduces’ artists 2015-20. In 2020, they released the singles ‘Glow’, ‘Treading Water’ and 'Artephis with The Untold Orchestra', following their debut album 'All Change No Change' in 2017. Aired on BBC Radio 3 and on Radio 2 by Jamie Cullum, who called it a “brilliant new release that got my ears bouncing” and chose track 'Feroz' as a BBC Introducing highlight of the year, the album was awarded the Sir John Manduell Prize. Artephis performed at the major jazz festivals across the North, as well as at Kendal Calling, The Cavern Club and for TEDxRNCM. As composer, James also wrote for the filmed collaboration between Artephis and The Untold Orchestra, who in 2018 appeared together in a full-length original concert - newly arranged by the composers James and trumpeter Aaron Wood - at Brecon Jazz Festival. His composition ‘Chagrin’ is featured on Marsden Jazz Festival's first album of selected headliners.
An experienced educator, James has adjudicated competitions and given masterclasses and workshops across Britain including at The Sage Gateshead, The University of Liverpool, Charterhouse School and Dulwich College.