Who would have thought that a quartet made up of three suits, one waistcoat and two lampshades would provide such a diversity of outstanding entertainment and musicianship?

I’m referring to the Budapest Cafe Orchestra (BCO) led by Chris Garrick (violin), Eddie Hession (button accordion), Adrian Zolotuhin (guitar, domra, saz) and Kelly Cantlon (double bass).

This is my first time at a BCO gig, but clearly not so for the canny folks of Inverness here at the impressive Eden Court Theatre as seats are filling fast.

Since its refurbishment in 2007, Eden Court has become a landmark for theatre goers across the Highlands of Scotland. Designed by Law Dunbar and Naismith, the stepped tiered seating plan is set against a backdrop of red panelling. The steel hanging cables with steel platforms each side of the stage add a feeling of strength and physicality to the building.

From the start BCO’s format is a winning formula for the audience. Their style incorporates a mix of Eastern European waltzes and Russian exuberance stemming from a mythical kingdom in deepest Harringaria.

Playing a selection of their own compositions mixed with more easily recognisable pieces, the set is goulashed together with humorous interplay between the quartet, resulting in a constant menu of humour and entertainment.

This, however, is the real surprise: The musicianship is world class.

Some of the comic greats are known to have practised routines over and over again to make sure their “mistakes” were executed without error. As Garrick’s violin jousts with Hession on button accordion and Zolotuhin on guitar, and I try to follow and match their scale challenges, I’m left pondering exactly many hours of practice have been worked to make sure the timing is spot on. This is very much a “how did they do that?” type spectacle. We are watching extremely skilled musicians at work and play here. No doubt they are enjoying themselves. You can’t kid an audience. Well, not for a whole show.

The Greek composition ‘Misirlou’ which gained worldwide notoriety when Quentin Tarantino used the piece in his film ‘Pulp Fiction’, is a particular favourite of the gathered Inverness faithful. BCO dip into their 2013 album ‘Lacrimoso’ taking down the pace with a selection of slower melodies. BCO have been touring the Highlands and Islands each summer since 2011 to an ever increasing fan base. This gig is part of the ‘Big Tour of Scotlandia 2015’. It is bonkers, but quaint. When Garrick introduces a medley from their album/opus ‘The Gaelic Chronicles’, the folks seated in the Highlands capital break into an appreciative round of applause.

Although humour and entertainment is clearly paramount when attending a BCO gig, the musicianship never takes second place. It’s a fine balance but the boys from Harringaria execute the task with assured aplomb. Greig’s ‘Squeeze Box Concerto’, a smattering of Stephane Grappelli, film scores and solo riffs demonstrate the vast array of talent on stage. Whilst Garrick’s violin virtuosity is a joy to behold, his three colleagues show they are masters of their instruments when allowed to let rip, as they often do during their solo spots.

There is no doubt this audience would have BCO play for another hour, but it’s encore time.

A Shetland lullaby slows down proceedings once again. Have no fear BCO know how to leave a crowd wanting more. With much hand-clapping, foot-stomping and a few cries of encouragement, Garrick’s bow dashes and darts across the violin strings as a frenzied finale is played out to a delighted audience.

Garrick agrees to an interview when back in Englandia (see he’s got me at it now!) for towns and village halls await as their tour rolls on through Scotlandia.

Although he’s on time, he apologises for looking a little ruffled. “I’ve been at Wimbledon this morning,” he explains, but not watching the tennis, just entertaining early visitors at the Pimm’s tents.

Garrick’s priority is water, followed by coffee. He’s relaxed. Time hasn’t begun to assault his youthful features. He carries an easy manner when in conversation.

I begin by asking Garrick when setting up the yearly tours what are BCO trying to bring to their ever increasing following?

“We enjoy playing the music. Our respective training allows differing pieces to be played. It also means we don’t get stuck in playing jazz, or classical. We mix it up. Ideally there is something in our performances everyone enjoys,” he enthuses.

Garrick graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in 1994. He became the first jazz violinist to be awarded the accolade, DipRAM. Johnny Dankworth said of Garrick, “He could emerge as one of the greatest jazz violinists of all time.” His peers Nigel Kennedy and Joshua Bell have openly quoted their admiration of Garrick’s violin skills. I’m intrigued why he hasn’t followed the route of classical violinist? “It was never for me. It’s too rigid playing the same pieces to such an exacting standard. It works for some people. For example, Nigel Kennedy he has the technical ability and work ethic to practice every day. I wanted to explore my own music, my own arrangements.”

Since the age of five Garrick has been playing violin. “In those early years I didn’t enjoy the experience. I wanted to get out and play football. It was a struggle right up to being 16. Only when I first heard Jascha Heifetz play, my relationship with the violin changed. I wanted to play the music he played, make it sound like he did. I began to work really hard at it rather than merely doing the bare minimum.”

On the subject of practice he tells me “These days it is maintenance really, not a full-blown practice regime. That is my daily pattern.” Thankfully he explains “maintenance” instead of me asking from which album was that taken? “Maintenance differs from practice. Maintenance is to keep the physical side together - all the muscles and little tendons et al - to keep them in check so I’m ready go and deliver what is required on any given day. It comprises around twenty minutes of slow, deliberate, measured and patient playing aiming at muscular freedom and tone. I’m changing styles and working in so many different settings. I sometimes need to reacquaint myself with particular pieces or disciplines required and/or come to terms with new music. That’s where practice comes in.”

Garrick is an outstanding violinist, but just how good is he, I ask? “You’ve seen me play,” he replies. Maybe it’s the way I phrased the question, I go again explaining I'm not a musician. I know what I like, but how good is that drummer, or pianist, in some cases I’m not sure. Hence the reason I ask where he ranks himself in terms of ability.

“If people enjoy what they hear, isn’t that the main thing?” he knocks it back to me (15-love).

I tell him, “You are probably one of the best violinists in the UK at this time” I wait for him to nod in agreement. Instead he waits for the rest of my question “So don’t you want an audience who have knowledge on the technicalities and skill being played out before them? (15 all)

“There isn’t any better feeling than playing music you want to play with a full-piece band or orchestra. But to play your own arrangements, to have created a composition and play in front of audiences as I do over the world, I’m fortunate in being able to cross over from so many different musical styles. I want audiences to enjoy the music they’ve come to hear. It’s really that simple.” Game set and match, Garrick.

Although Garrick has released six solo albums to critical acclaim (‘Different Strokes’ was described by ‘The Sunday Times’ as “The outstanding British album of the year”), it’s BCO which has allowed him the freedom to cross over styles and develop his own scores.

“I’m really proud on how we’ve developed and built a fanbase over the years, and now are playing to full venues on our tours. I think we are onto our seventh album, yes, seventh album, ‘The Gaelic Chronicles’ being our latest release earlier this year. We have plans to play more gigs, larger venues and engage with younger audiences more and more. BCO doesn’t cover an age range. Depending on the venue, it really can be an audience from 16 to infinite years old. We have talked about festivals as well.” He also has solo plans. Unfinished business as he describes one of the ideas.

“To some degree I’ve stepped back from playing jazz over the years. I’m in discussions with a variety of people trying to work out how to set up the right jazz format. My long-running small group has recently been developing a set of 70’s flavoured stuff with tunes from Moog, Wonder, Hancock, Gabriel, Corea and Pastorius - I’m a 70’s product after all - so that is something I am fast-tracking to the studio. I’ve harboured a dirty dark desire to make a bebop album for ages because I love the music of Bird and Bud Powell so much, so we’ll see if we can bring that one together too.”

On his love of teaching he says, “I am looking forward to our continuing quest to broaden the strings curriculum at the Royal Academy and Royal College of Music and at the Guildhall to embrace playing styles beyond classical. They’ve been much more open-minded about this in the US, but we’re inching closer and it is very exciting being at the pointy end of this.”















Related Links:

http://www.budapestcafeorchestra.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/budapestcafeorchestra


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