JAMES BOWMAN (1941-2023)

Truly one of the greatest singers of the second half of the twentieth century, and one of the most delightful, charming, mischievous, kind, generous, human beings that you could ever hope to meet (writes Robert King).

I first met James when in 1972 I was recording the treble solos (aged 12) for Purcell’s Te Deum and Jubilate. Next to me stood this towering figure who made the most extraordinary sound, so utterly compelling that when the LP came out I wore out the tracks on which he was singing. He also, early on in the sessions, cracked a rude joke which had all of us hysterical with laughter – the first, as fate was happily to decree, of hundreds of times over the next thirty years that James was to put me and my colleagues at our ease with a well-chosen, sometimes quite risqué, but always perfectly placed, remark.

In 1986, our paths crossed again. James and TKC made a recording for a small British label, including Handel’s “Eternal source of light”, a track which then was not the staple that it now has become. We did it in one take, plus a small edit at the end to allow the trumpeter a fresh lip for the final phrase, and the recording producer was apparently so moved by the sound that he wept during the take. It became a cult recording. That was the start of an amazing eighteen years of James and TKC.

From 1986 up to 2003 there was hardly a month when James and TKC didn’t perform or record together. In concerts, we travelled all over the world, also on the way staging Handel opera productions in Japan, France and the UK. And then there were the recordings: James made just short of fifty discs with TKC – our three ground-breaking Purcell series plus some single Purcell discs alone total two dozen CDs, plus a whole series of Handel oratorios and operas, two solo Handel CDs, and a wonderfully wide range of other baroque repertoire from Bach to Vivaldi, Couperin to Schütz, Dowland to Schelle and much in between. Those discs of James and TKC sold more than a million copies.

But that’s only the music. James as a person was a giant in every way. Six foot four inches, and a personality that was utterly unique. He had amazing powers of recall, which was a joy as he had worked with all the greats, and the stories he told were extraordinary. As a raconteur, he was without parallel, and his timing was millisecond perfect. And he was kind, and incredibly supportive of his friends and colleagues.

James, you were truly one of the greats, and the world today is so, so, so much the poorer without you. Thank you so much.

Requiescat in pace.