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  • Miles Hedley


If you want a quick-fire guide to world music the Budapest Café Orchestra is just the ticket. In a 90-minute set at Blackheath Halls the band gave us their unique take on western classics, Asian dances, east European and Gipsy melodies, Russian folk songs, traditional Ashkenazi tunes, pioneering soul and even Hollywood film scores. And it was hugely enjoyable.

The Orchestra has been been making music, making merry and making their mark for ten years and now have a devoted following.

Their current tour, to promote their latest album Sultan’s House Party, features Christian Garrick on fiddle and doumbek goblet drum, Eddie Hession on the fiendishly hard-to-play button accordion – which the band calls the enigma machine - Adrian “The Sultan” Zolotuhin on guitar, mandolin-like domra and baglama, a long-necked Turkish balalaika, Richard Price on double bass and Demi Garcia Sabat playing a bewildering array of percussion. They were also joined by Czech dancer Aneta Ka.

They opened the Blackheath Halls’ gig with the title track of the new album before giving us a stunning version Ravel’s Bolero and an amazing baglama version of Misirlou, which was such an iconic part of the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.

The first half ended with a fascinating medley that saw JS Bach segue into a Turkmenistani tune and a fabulously joyous klezmer piece called Shalom.

We went back to the movies at the start of the second half for a lovely take on the theme to the award-winning Johnny Depp film Chocolat. Both Garrick and Hession had played on the original soundtrack recording.

Garrick took centre stage for Anthem To Nikolai but this time instead of being dazzled by the finger-blurring speed of his playing we were dazzled by the way he played passages with a single strand of horsehair from his bow.

There followed a Russian interlude, with a Borodin composition and a selection of folk dances interspersed with a witty guide by Zolotuhin to the Russian names of the band’s instruments.

Anna’s Theme from the movie The Red Violin was followed by the uptempo Sway and a Bolero-Like Spanish dance.

And the Orchestra rounded off the gig with a gorgeous version of You Don’t Know Me – a huge 1962 hit for soul legend Ray Charles - and, in total contrast, a flurry of wild Gipsy dances.

That contrast encapsulated everything that makes the Orchestra such an attraction because they really do have something for every taste.

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