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12th July 2016

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Extreme sounds: we get to know Extreme Cello’s James Rees

Extreme Cellists battle it out on Hasting Pier.

Extreme Cellists: James Rees (Left) and Jeremy Dawson (Right)

What gave you the idea of starting Extreme Cello?

Clare, Jeremy and I [James] had been friends for many years through singing, and were watching a TV documentary about Extreme Ironing. Suddenly the thought came to mind that we could do something equally surprising by playing our cellos in unusual locations. The music department at Clare's daughter's primary school had just been robbed, so we thought it would be a great opportunity to help out the local community through some fundraising too.

So you’re an extreme cellist by night- what’s your day job?

I'm Head of RS and Philosophy at The King's School, Chester and am also a Bass Lay Clerk at Chester Cathedral. Jeremy is Professor of Health Management at the University of Sheffield and is a Tenor Lay Clerk at Sheffield Cathedral. Clare is the Music Coordinator at Sheffield High School.

Where’s the most weird, wonderful and memorable place that you’ve performed?

The weirdest place I've performed was outside Buckingham Palace with the finishing line of the London Marathon in sight. Having already run 26 miles with my cello, it was quite an effort to kneel down on the tarmac, but the crowd cheered me on and I still managed a sprint finish ahead of a man in a rhino costume!

The most wonderful locations have certainly been out in the countryside. The views from the top of the mountains we played on as part of our 4 Peaks Tour were all spectacular and we were blessed with near perfect weather conditions. For me, Scafell Pike was most striking since it felt as if we were inside an exquisite oil painting.

There have been so many memorable performances over the years and the ones which stick out are often from our Cathedral Roof tour. We had some amazing views and gained access to parts of these amazing structures to which the general public don't usually have access. Our performance from scaffolding high up on York Minster was particularly memorable because of the number of photographers and journalists who joined us.

They do like to play by the seaside – the trio get their feet wet playing on the beach.

Have you ever found these surroundings distract from your playing?

The most distracted I've been was when I was playing cello in the middle of a paintball event! It's not something I plan on doing again, and if anyone else is tempted then I certainly don't recommend a fencing mask as ideal facial protection. Just in case anyone was worried about the cello, it was a broken instrument I purchased off an auction site, fixed, filled with expanding foam and spray painted. The only damage which was sustained were three broken strings and a few bruises! The nightmares I had consequently were not great preparation for the Sheffield Half Marathon which we ran the next day - with a different instrument!

Each performance you’ve done has been with a particular charity in mind. How do you decide who to raise funds for?

We try to pick charities who are associated with our events in some way, so, for example, we supported Mountain Rescue when we undertook our 4 Peaks challenge and the spinal injury charity Aspire when we played on the cathedral roofs.

For our Pier Pressure tour this year we are supporting CHICKS, who provide free week long respite breaks for disadvantaged children. When we think of the seaside one of the first images in our minds will be children playing. Sadly this is not a reality for all children and we were delighted to spend some time at a [CHICKS] retreat to see first-hand the amazing work they do. It cost just over £900 to fund a place for one child, so hopefully we will raise enough to support several children this summer.

All three of us also have first-hand experience of supporting friends and close family members with dementia. Because of this we felt very strongly about raising some extra funds for Alzheimer's Society.

No performance too far, the trio perform for charity in the Peak District.

What do you have planned next?

Well that is a bit of a secret, but if I tell you that it will involve a journey of about 1,000 miles and multiple modes of transport, then you might be able to fill in the gaps!

Visit our Extreme Cello page to find out where to catch James, Clare and Jeremy on their 2016 Pier Pressure tour.