Barry Mason, Major Figure in UK Guitar, Has Passed Away

Left to right: Maurice Summerfield, David Russell, and Leo Brouwer with Barry Mason at the West Dean International Guitar Festival, near Chichester, UK

BY MAURICE SUMMERFIELD (FOUNDER AND FORMER PUBLISHER OF CLASSICAL GUITAR MAGAZINE)

My old friend and colleague Barry Mason, who passed away April 14, 2020 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, was without doubt an important figure in the development of the classical guitar in the UK.

Born in Yorkshire in 1947, Mason was educated at the Hull College of Technology and went on to study classical guitar at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he studied with Anthony Rooley and David Munrow, specializing in early guitar and the lute. He made his concert debut at the Purcell Room in London in 1973, and after leaving the Academy in 1974, went to the Royal College of Music for a year to study with Diana Poulton. By this time, Mason was recognized as a leading performer of the lute, vihuela, and other early fretted instruments, which made him a natural choice to be named director of the early-music group Camerata of London.  In 1974 he also became a director of the first Early Music Centre. For many years Mason was a leading international recitalist and recording artist of early music.

In 1991, Mason—together with his wife, singer Glenda Simpson—founded and directed the first International Classical Guitar Festival of Great Britain at the historic West Dean College, a stately home near Chichester. He went on to direct the first ten festivals there. He had terrific energy and flair, and booked some of the greatest names in the classical guitar world to appear in the festival’s concerts, including David Russell, Leo Brouwer, Alirio Díaz, Jorge Morel, Paco Peña, Roland Dyens, Berta Rojas, Cecilia Rodrigo, David Starobin, Carlos Bonell, Juan Martin, Stepan Rak, Nikita Koshkin, Andrew York, and Ben Verdery. In 1998, Mason purchased the Spanish Guitar Centre in London—originally founded in 1952 by Len Williams, father of John Williams. He brought the business back to life, turning into one of the best classical guitar operations in the UK. He also was able to continue his connection with the festival at West Dean by running the festival shop there for several years. 

He decided to sell the Spanish Guitar Centre in 2008 after he was diagnosed with Alzheimers disease, but chose not to publicize his condition outside of his immediate family. With the help of medication, he was able to continue to live his life close to normal for a number of years. His wife Glenda was diagnosed with myeloma in 2014 and died in September 2016; her early death coinciding with the further decline of Barry’s condition. His children arranged for live-in caregivers at his home, but in 2019 he had to move to an assisted living facility, where he passed away.

Barry Mason will be missed by all who knew him, but his legacy will live on. He is survived by his son and daughter, twins Sebastian and Olivia.