‘He went on to command everyone`s attention with his virtuosity, rich quality of tone and deep understanding of the music.’

– concerto review, Lichfield Sinfonia

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Versatile performer, improviser, arranger and composer, James Girling is a twenty-six-year-old, international guitarist currently based between Oslo and 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. This autumn, he accepted conferment as an Associate Member of the RNCM after being judged to have achieved outstanding early career success. At RNCM, James was principally tutored by internationally renowned classical guitarist Craig Ogden, in addition to which he studied jazz with pianist Dan Whieldon. He has been selected onto the International Guitar Foundation’s Young Artist Platform (with Meraki Duo) and is a supported artist through Help Musicians’ Transmission Fund.

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. Following performances of Rodrigo’s Fantasía para un Gentilhombre, James Girling made his Concierto de Aranjuez debut with orchestra in 2019. James has been awarded the Biddy Baxter and John Hosier Music Trust’s Special Award, the Emscote bursary from Edward Dusinberre of the Takács Quartet, Hilda Anderson Deane Award for all-round excellence, a Countess of Munster Musical Trust Award and Help Musicians 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 performed with the BBC Philharmonic live on Radio 3, at Open Circuit Festival with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s Ensemble 10/10 (who specialise in contemporary chamber music), 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 a concert as dep in the Aquarelle Guitar Quartet at Church Stretton Arts Festival. 

Having been self-taught on guitar from an early age, prior to conservatoire James was awarded the Advanced Young Musician Scholarship by the Warwickshire County Music Service to study classical guitar with Martin Högman, and within a year achieved the ABRSM Diploma in Music Performance.

Today, James leads a busy lifestyle performing in a range of styles, influenced by diverse traditions of improvisation, with ensembles that are attracting attention across the UK and in Europe. He is a co-founder of the adventurous, afrobeat-inspired rock-funk-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, Austria’s Beserlpark Festival, Croatia’s Soundwave Festival and Milan’s Linecheck Festival. Among recent highlights in the UK, Agbeko have opened Manchester Jazz Festival, been invited to 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 release of single ‘Leaders Of The Free World’ on Stutter & Twitch Records in 2018. In 2022, their sophomore album is being released by Band On The Wall Recordings. 

James also appears around the UK with Prohibition-era jazz septet The Easy Rollers, whose theatre 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. He has also toured with groups including Lieko Quintet, who released their ‘Amethyst’ E.P. in 2019, and 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’ Brazilian-inspired 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 plays the guitarist in WWII-set BBC One drama 'World On Fire'. 

Meanwhile, James’ classical chamber music performances across the country include King’s Place for London Guitar Festival, Leeds International Concert Season, Uppermill Summer Music Festival, 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. With the newly formed Spectrum Guitar Quartet, in August 2021 he recorded Edward Cowie’s work ‘Kandinsky’ in junction with the composer, for release on Divine Art Recordings. 

Formed in 2013, his Meraki Duo with flautist Meera Maharaj advanced to the final of Royal Over-Seas League Competition (Mixed Ensembles). Alongside their year-round concert schedule, Meraki Duo are 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.

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, he has written 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 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 double A-side single ‘Glow’/'Treading Water' as well as '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 a filmed collaboration between Artephis and The Untold Orchestra, who in 2018 appeared together in a full-length original concert at Brecon Jazz Festival. His composition ‘Chagrin’ is featured on the first ever CD of selected performers at Marsden Jazz Festival. 

As an educator, James teaches privately and held positions at Stockport Grammar School and St Bede's College (Manchester). He has adjudicated competitions and given masterclasses and workshops around the country including at The Sage Gateshead, The University of Liverpool, Charterhouse School and Dulwich College.

James plays on a 2013 Paul Sheridan, 2021 Felipe Conde, Gibson 339.