Whenever Ricky Chatto travels on public transport with his cello, there’s always someone who’ll shout “That’s a massive violin!” So when he decided to form a band of cellists, it wasn’t hard to think of a name. It began nine years ago when Ricky and his wife Ruth had been to see the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. The idea of doing something similar with cellos was just too tempting. It helps when your daughter happens to be a cellist, fresh out of college and in a band that’s only doing the odd gig. Said daughter (Grace) then recruited a number of her musician friends from college and before long the band was seven-strong.
Photo by Max Colson
Nine years on, the Massive Violins are a unique act with a big fanbase in London and beyond. (And Grace’s band, Clean Bandit, aren’t doing too badly either.)
This month the MVs are back at the All Saints Centre after virtually selling out there last Christmas. So what’s the Lewes connection? “Grace has been friends with Beatrice Philips (who runs the Lewes Chamber Music Festival, which we love coming to) since they were teenagers,” explains Ruth, “plus Guido Martin-Brandis grew up in Lewes and was a student at the East Sussex Academy of Music at East Sussex College.” Ruth is full of praise for All Saints as a venue, with its raked seating, cosy atmosphere and “a stage wide enough for seven cellos!”
If you associate cellos solely with classical music, you’re in for a surprise. The Massive Violins’ programme is based around classic pop and rock covers – think Queen, Abba and Adele – which they perform in their own arrangements. All the players also sing, and each gets a solo or two. Occasionally they’ll throw in the odd operatic aria for fun, and to showcase their different voices. “Camilla does a brilliant ‘Queen of the Night’” says Ruth, “and Guido’s ‘Elvis’ is better than the real thing.”
A typical set is exuberant, joyful and pure entertainment. Ruth is enthusiastic about the MVs and their ability to delight the audience. “The band just radiates joy. Young people are especially fascinated by the cellos – you just don’t see these instruments that often in pop music.” At least three of the seven cellos were made by Ricky, a fact that sometimes amazes people.
Details are still being finalised but we’re promised “a feast of Christmas music, so classics such as Last Christmas and Blue Christmas, plus Ricky and Grace performing Fairytale of New York which will be great fun. There’ll also be some audience carols.” The group decides its repertoire and works as a collective. Ruth says that officially she used to be the manager, but admits with a laugh, “they’re totally unmanageable!”
Tuesday 17 December, 7.30pm, All Saints Centre, tickets £15 from massiveviolins.com