Chris Garrick and the Budapest Cafe Orchestra

Chris Garrick in the Wagon

Musician Chris Garrick’s impressions of Glenelg and Arnisdale

Recently on tour with the Budapest Café Orchestra, Chris Garrick - highly acclaimed musician & composer- shared his first impressions of Glenelg & Arnisdale:

It was unanimously one of the tour highlights. Right from the moment we stepped off Skye onboard the lovely and quaint turntable ferry, with its friendly boatmen and their dogs; our visit to the Wagon cafe; the welcome and reception we found at the Ceilidh House; not to mention the FANTASTIC goulash; it was a winning combination!”

It doesn’t take long to discover that Chris is a fairly mellow bloke who doesn’t shy away from his own sense of modesty.

He admits that he has no time for a lot of commonly despised annoyances – such as folk talking loudly on their mobile phones, littering, robot voice telephone switchboards – all of which “makes his blood boil!”

Having sampled the band’s recipe for Goulash (available here on the BCO website), it is not at all surprising either to learn that he also enjoys growing hot peppers and is inevitably a bit of a “foodie”.  Fine ales feature highly on the list of “likes” too.

Being on tour in the Highlands must have been a blessing for Chris. In many respects Glenelg & Arnisdale offer something fundamentally different due to our remoteness; we have limited mobile phone coverage (for one thing) which means that on the odd occasion when individuals may be heard talking loudly this is more likely to be directed towards deafening elders, sheep, NHS24 or 118118.

On the face of it we also do not suffer from “rush-hour” traffic (except during livestock transfer, when overtaking lone cyclists or during The Dirty Thirty) and perhaps should celebrate the precision at which we (most of us) drive backwards at speed, around bends and over hills.  The latter skill is no mere feat and must surely mean something to someone who likes Formula One?


Chris Garrick at The Ceilidh House



Having been connected with music all of his life through his parents (both musicians), Chris began violin aged five and has been playing in public almost from the outset.

His autobiography is testament to his immersion in and dedication to music and he acknowledges, without refrain, those who have inspired him: Nigel Kennedy, Jaco Pastorius, Olivier Messiaen to name but a few.  He recounts at the age of 8, meeting Stephane Grappelli and considers this exposure to have affected him greatly, both personally and professionally.

Chris has worked with many different artists including Wynton Marsalis, Julian Joseph, Bireli Lagrene, Dolly Parton, All About Eve, Simon Mulligan, Van Morrison, Luka Bloom, Brian Ferry & Marina Laslo and his violin can be heard on many film soundtracks including The Imaginarium of Dr Parnasus, Chocolat, Brideshead Revisited, La Vie En Rose, Chicago, The Edge of Love, Borat, An Ideal Husband, Tomorrow Never Dies and Big Fish.

chris garrick in concert

Chris studied at London’s Royal Academy of Music between 1989 and 1994 gaining first-class honours in his Performers’ Degree and winning the DipRAM in his post-graduate year and was later made an Associate of the Royal Academy.  He has recorded six solo albums of which Different Strokes was called “The outstanding British album of the year” in the Sunday Times.

In his time he has been nominated for and won several prestigious awards including the: Benjamin Doniger Jazz Scolarship, Lansdowne Studios Award, Modena Prize, and the Cleo Johnson Composition Award.  He has been hailed as the “the best young violinist in jazz today” by the Observer and “he could easily emerge as one of the great jazz violinists of all time” (Sir John Dankworth).

As Balkan Bob, Chris leads the The Budapest Cafe Orchestra (BCO), the gypsy-beat specialists from Harringay.

BCO is a hugely popular touring 4-piece acoustic combo who performs traditional folk music from Eastern Europe and Russia and they have now recorded three albums.  If there was an award for “Ingenious composition of music and humour” then these guys would win it for their jaw dropping, belly clutching and toe tapping performance.

Van on the Ferry

On finally arriving in Arnisdale after a crossing on The Glenelg Ferry, Chris and the BCO crew jigged out of the back of their touring van (a dusty but much loved blue VW LT35 1998 just a hair over 5m long).  The activity that followed can only be likened to something from “Mary Poppins” when she settles into 17 Cherry Tree Lane and swiftly produces an array of home furnishings from her carpet bag; as in a not too dissimilar fashion the BCO crew steadily decanted Victorian lampshades, titfer hats and curtains from their van and set up home in The Ceilidh House .

The average onlooker witnessing this flurry cannot but question “what have we here?”  However, this eclectic and vintage vanload of props routinely accompanies the band on their tours and confirms that “variety” is central to their performance but also key to their own enjoyment.

Inspired by the music of the Balkan gypsies, the BCO plays an impassioned, but often tender mix of Hungarian Czardas, Russian and Ukranian folk songs and dances from Romania and Moldavia, as well as their own electrifying compositions. The musicianship is outstanding and is firmly supported by their quirky, yet stylish appearance.  The only way to fully appreciate a Budapest Café Orchestra performance is to go and experience it where you can feel in your own bones, the magic. 

Chris claims that the people, the travelling and the music are all necessary components to make life as a musician very exciting and rewarding.  He considers it a privileged profession and admits to finding the gaps between tours frustrating, yet a necessary must (if only to allow for practice and planning of future tours!)  In the last five years he feels that he has been continuing on the road to developing into a better musician through the process of gaining more and more experience.

We took the opportunity to tease out a little more info and asked:

  • IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY? Be a better and more patient student in the earlier, formative, years. I would now be a more technically proficient player and one with less physical trouble from playing the violin.
  • WHO ARE YOUR HEROES? Loads, and from all different places too, so I’ll just list a few at random: Freddie Mercury, Mark Cavendish, Jascha Heifetz, Keith Floyd, Harpo Marx, Charlie Parker.
  • HOW HARD DO YOU PUSH YOURSELF? I’m fairly moderate in this regard and try to pace myself energy-wise, verging on lazy.  I was always more of short-burst athlete on school sports day – favouring the sprints over long-distance running – so I tend to make sure I’ve enough in the tank during the day for the evening gig (which is normally more akin a sprint than a marathon!)
  • WHEN ARE YOU COMPLETELY SATISFIED WITH YOUR WORK? When playing it with the musicians I wrote it for in front of an engaged and appreciative audience. There’s no better moment of satisfaction.

Each of the musicians in the BCO is named accordingly: Balkon Bob, The Dragon, Kelvin the Klaw and The Sultan.  These hand stitched characters form the quirky visual component that makes the band a growing success.  Fine tailoring and screaming ties are combined with healthy servings of humour, style and musical agility.

Enquiring as to the difference between Balkon Bob and Chris Garrick, the answer is simply: “one watch’s and chuckles while the other goes on stage wearing a silly hat!”

Chris Garrick dressed up as Balkan Bob



WHAT’S THE MOST UNBELIEVABLE RUMOUR EVER PRINTED ABOUT YOU?  It’s terrible.  The Italian press once billed me as “Chris GARLIC.”

As well as spending a lot of time practicing violin and piano when he’s not working, Chris also enjoys collecting edible wild mushrooms, classic Citroens, cooking, growing and cycling.  He believes that the magic formula for success is “everything in moderation, except moderation” and considers trust, determination and modesty vital ingredients to the mix.   You can’t help but warm to him when he shares the wisdom that “the key to being a good communicator is listening” (hear hear!)

Poising further questions revealed more about the bloke behind Balkon Bob….

  • IF YOU HADN’T BEEN BORN IN THIS CENTURY, WHEN AND WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE LIVED? Crikey! I recently saw the film ‘The Man From Earth’.  I guess being John Oldman would just about cover all the bases.
  • DO YOU MAKE FRIENDS EASILY? Like to think so but I still seem to have managed to make a few semi-enemies on the way…
  • WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PIG-OUT FOOD? Has to be pizza, homemade pizza. Everything from scratch – the bread & the tomato sauce – topped with lashings of chilli, rocket and buffalo mozzarella.
  • WHAT WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT DAY OF YOUR LIFE? Give me a lifetime to answer that one!

Memories, McEwan’s and the future

Chris’ sole encounter North of the border, until touring here for the first time in 2002, was aged 15 on a week’s activity holiday in Glen Coe – abseiling, Nevis climbing and the whole general outdoors experience – nothing whatsoever musical about it (in fact his fiddle stayed at home for the week).  He remembers it well and recalls that it was during this visit he developed a taste for canned McEwan’s Export!

This year BCO aptly dubbed their tour the “2012 Olympic Jubilee Highland Tour”.  They witnessed many weird and wonderful sights and peculiar native encounters on their merry way as they travelled around 1600 miles in their beloved blue van and spent a whimper inducing £450 on fuel en route to our neck of the woods:


  • WHAT MAKES A GREAT VENUE AND MEMORABLE AUDIENCE – IN YOUR OPINION? It’s the people more than the place really and it’s all down to the local promoter. If the person in charge of bringing all the strands together is motivated and passionate then their staff, and in turn, their audience will respond to that and be galvanised and a real and memorable event can take place.
  • BEST/WORST THING ABOUT THE HIGHLANDS? It’s all good and six tours will testify to the extent I appreciate the place. Can even stomach the inflated fuel prices most of the time. Take the midgies out of the equation and life would be perfect!!
  • WHAT IS YOUR FUNNIEST MEMORY ABOUT YOUR TOUR OF THE HIGHLANDS? It’s not actually that funny – more macabre – but performing surgery on Kelly’s tummy to remove a friendly tick is somehow unforgettable.

The next 5 years for Chris

Commenting on what the next five years might bring, Chris shares with gusto his plans:

“Everything’s hopeful for yet more interesting and exciting touring, recording and writing.  A new BCO album is in the pipeline and a commission for a book about jazz violin playing too. The development of courses to teach non-classical strings at Londons’ Royal Academy and Royal College gradually continues to evolve. Also, celebrating the legacy of my Dad (musician & composer for 60 years & passed away 11/11/11) will become more and more predominant in the schedule. We have a concert at this year’s London Jazz Festival in his name.”

Returning to Glenelg and Arnisdale

WHEN DO YOU PLAN TO RETURN TO THIS AREA? Plans are to return in June 2013 with the BCO and we can’t wait!

Cheers Chris, neither can we!  With the sell out performance at the Ceilidh House breaking all time records, it was a joy to join forces with LOCHAN and host such fantastic musicians locally!

News ,

Review are closed.

Website Sponsors

Follow Us