Balkans journey that started out in Berkhamsted

Budapest Cafe Orchestra at the Victoria Hall, Tring
Budapest Cafe Orchestra at the Victoria Hall, Tring

When the wild and passionate music of the Balkans strikes up in Tring’s Victoria Hall on Saturday night, few will suspect that the journey to such a joyous sound was triggered by a trip to Berkhamsted library.

But that’s how violin virtuoso Chris Garrick first added the Balkans to his bow.

Chris, a leading light in the four-piece Budapest Cafe Orchestra as well as a string of other groups, first heard the passionate music through vinyl albums in the library collection.

“It was my first taste of this kind of music,” he recalled. “It had lots of violin in the sound and I really liked the passionate playing and fantastic melodies.

“I wanted to try and play it so we formed the Budapest Cafe Orchestra.

“Although we do not have the blood we do have the music of the folk and gypsy tradition of the Balkans – Hungary, Romania and Moldavia – so our band is musically, rather than culturally, connected.

“We have even been applauded by Hungarians living in the UK for keeping their tradition alive.

“Having their endorsement means a lot to us and we are very proud of that.”

Although best known for his jazz playing, Chris loves to stretch himself in all directions.

He said: “Music is a universal language and the violin is versatile and popular enough to straddle the lot so I just really enjoy the variety. Each strand – jazz, classical, Celtic, gypsy, tango – feeds the next and I find that rhythmic excitement in particular is the commonest denominator.”

Although he grew up in Berkhamsted, Chris has only recently returned to the area after more than 10 years based in Spain.

Alongside him on the stand are Kelvin Cantlon from Hemel Hempstead on double bass, Adrian Zololuhin who has Russian roots and he takes care of balalaika and domra duties. and accordion expert Eddie Hession, who has toured the world with Luciano Pavarotti and Chris Rea.

Chris said: “The orchestra is full of unusual instruments some of which may be unknown to Tring audiences.

“The saz, for example, is a seven-stringed Turkish folk instrument with a characteristically long thin neck.

“The darbuka, or doumbek, is a goblet drum found in North African played by hand and tucked under the arm while balanced on the knee.”

It all adds up to a special night of music, and the critics have been impressed. According to The Times “the fiery vivacity and awe-inspiring musicianship of the finest purveyors of Eastern European gypsy music this side of a Lada scrap heap will leave you with a grin on your face and rhythm in your feet.”

Chris is looking forward to bringing the band to the Victoria Hall, which isn’t one of Dacorum’s regular music venues.

He says: “It is a beautiful venue with a nice stage and an auditorium which can hold over 200, so why not?

“Venues like the Victoria Hall could and should be used far more if only folks would turn off the TV and go out and hear the amazing talent performing on their own doorstep instead.”

If you’d like to be in the audience on Friday night to get a feel of the Balkan beat, tickets are £15 and you can book them on 07776 185581.

They will also be on sale at the door on the night.

Find out more about this musical treat by visiting the BCO website

Get a flavour of the music they play by clicking here