Café Culture at the Corn Hall

I can imaging it might come as a surprise that an evening of Balkan gypsy jazz tunes could fill the Corn Hall to bursting, but it wouldn’t  to anyone who had previously spent time in the company of the Budapest Cafe Orchestra. I first saw them at the Corn Hall ten years ago and they’ve lost none of their energy or showmanship. If anything, they’ve managed to broaden the set list, offering up their spin on music that ranged from the classical to 80s synth pop.

Christian Garrick, serving as the group’s Master of Ceremonies, chatted amiably to the audience in between tunes, but otherwise played violin and darbuka with bewildering dexterity. He was joined by Eddie Hession on button accordion, the two of them frequently indulging in a Balkan version of duelling banjos, one instrument attempted to mimic the other. Kelly Cantlon provided solid backing throughout on double bass, while Adrian Zolotuhin occasionally put down his rhythm guitar to spend time in the spotlight. His skilful handling of the saz, domra and balalaika was astonishing, albeit matched by the virtuosity of his fellows. With delightful shifts in pace and mood, they cheekily mixed the like of Grieg and Faure with music from Nancy Sinatra and Manuel de Falla – with folk tunes such as Maids Of The Sheiling and I Want Candy acting as a musical sorbet, before rounded the evening off with a rousing Russian singalong.

Whether it was Dick Dale’s Misirlou, Blancmange’s Living on the Ceiling or Tchaikovsky’s Squeezebox Concerto,  there was a lightness of touch as befits a group that, I was pleased to note, still have their revolving standard lamps on stage. Make no mistake, though. For all their levity, these were musicians at the top of their game, playing music they obviously admired, lovingly adapted to suit their signature sound, and performed with consummate skill.