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Christian Garrick hardly Balkan at Highland hospitality

By Kyle Walker

Budapest Cafe Orchestra.
Budapest Cafe Orchestra.

Christian Garrick has pretty much gone native when it comes to the Highlands.

The violin maestro at the heart of the Budapest Café Orchestra has been bringing the Balkan folk troupe up north for years now as part of their extensive annual Scottish tours – this year marks the eighth in a row, seeing the group bring their total Scottish gigs to 150 so far.

The group have gone so far as to repurpose classic traditional songs for one of their albums, The Gaelic Chronicles – featuring the vocals of Christian’s now-wife, west coast Gaelic singer Emma MacLean.

But while the Highland connection is stronger than ever for Christian, there’s one thing he’ll never get used to.

Speaking from a mobile phone as he sits in a café down south, he’s currently waiting for the tour van to be serviced – “getting it midge proofed!” he laughs.

“Last year we went up a month earlier in May time, and people were like, ‘och, you’ll be fine – no midges in May. I mean, how wrong could they have been?

“We’re going out to the Outer Hebrides this year which we’ve never done before, and we’ve already got people saying ‘oh, there’s no midges out there’ – I can’t believe that’s true!

“But it’s good fun – the audiences don’t bite as much as the midges do, so that’s good.”

And those audiences are spread across the whole region. This trip to the Highlands alone sees the Orchestra visit venues big and small. Along with a big show at Strathpeffer Pavilion, the band are taking in village halls across the north.

Budapest Cafe Orchestra.
Budapest Cafe Orchestra.

And it’s those community halls that the Orchestra love most of all. “It’s such community-spirited music, that’s the thing!” Christian explains. “It’s really appealing to families – not just adults or kids but whole family groups come out and love it.

“I think the same goes for all kinds of folk music, it’s not specifically Hungarian, Romanian, Russian. Folk music is very easy to communicate.

“We try not to take ourselves too seriously – we take the music seriously enough, but we don’t think it’s going to be the end of the world if suddenly the band doesn’t exist, you know?”

That attitude has helped bring the admirers in from the Highlands – and beyond.

Christian has always been in demand as a session musician, most notably recently for his work with the music for BBC’s smash hit bodice ripper Poldark – “I don’t know if you’ve heard of it?” he asks modestly.

But the Orchestra themselves are getting television exposure too, with an upcoming appearance in the Karl Pilkington-starring Sky sitcom Sick of It. “They were needing a band to play Balkan music in a club in London, and they somehow got our names from somewhere so we spent two days filming it with Sky.

“I don’t know the date, but it’s coming in the summer time, so we’re looking forward to seeing that – I think we’re in quite a few scenes, it’s a wedding scene apparently.

So how was the experience of filming scenes for a massive sitcom? “Aw, soooo boooring!” Christian exclaims. “Sitting around for hours and hours, so many hours sitting about – I don’t know how people do it all the time.

“I suppose like anything else you get used to it – like the midges!”

Christian Garrick and the Budapest Café Orchestra come to the north for a string of dates: Strathpeffer Pavilion on Sunday; Melvich Village Hall on Monday; Carnegie Hall, Portmahomack on Tuesday; Achmore and Stromferry Hall, Achmore on Wednesday; The Ceilidh Place, Ullapool on Thursday; and Lochinver Village Hall on Friday, June 15. For more information, go to www.budapestcafeorchestra.co.uk

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