IT was a show almost created out of necessity when the first lockdown was being enforced; a spin off from a highly-successful festival event and now it has become a sensation in its own right.

The Rock Orchestra by Candlelight sees some of the country’s leading classical musicians in specially created skeleton costumes performing some of the most iconic rock and metal tracks from the past 40 years against a backdrop of 1,000 candles. On paper it’s a concept which you’d probably think just wouldn’t work. But audiences around the country have been loving it.

And now the Rock Orchestra by Candlelight is to perform at King George’s Hall, Blackburn, for the first time next month.

Nathan Reed, the show’s creator said: “It really started as a spin-off event. We had been running the Festival of the Dead which we describe as a carnival come circus, come clubbing experience, But lockdown curtailed these big weekend events.

“The music theme to the festival is predominantly rock and metal and that was where the idea for the new show came from.”

From the outset, the Rock Orchestra shows exceeded all expectations.

“We knew we had put a good team together,” said Nathan, “but the reaction we got from the first show was amazing. We thought ‘wow we’re really on to something here’.”

So much so that the Rock Orchestra has rapidly overtaken the Festival of the Dead as the big event.

That’s partly down to the calibre of musicians - a 15-strong orchestra brings a totally new slant to classic rock songs.

“The musicians are amazing,” said Nathan, “our cello players were with Elton John and Dua Lipa at the Brits; they have performed with bands like the Specials and were Abba’s official orchestra in Europe. It is a chamber orchestra and is an ideal size for touring.”

Unlike a traditional orchestra, many of the musicians are using electric instruments and effects pedals and amplifiers are all part of their armoury.

“It’s a huge sound, it’s really powerful,” said Nathan. “We are amping it up and we get these huge walls of sound which people don’t expect. If you think it’s going to be a clean, classical sound you’re in for a real surprise.”

You might be forgiven for thinking that classical purists would hate the idea and avoid the show at all costs but the Rock Orchestra has a wide fanbase.

“There are fans of the original Festival of the Dead events and then there are fans of orchestral and classical music mixing together,” said Nathan. “On top of that you have the rock and metal fans. It all produces some lovely audiences.”

The Rock Orchestra is a big production.

“We have an 18-ton truck and two tour buses for every show,” said Nathan. “There is a 24-person crew attached to the show and they’ll start setting up at 9am aiming to have a soundcheck around 3pm before the show that night.

“We usually have around 1,000 candles as part of the set. Depending on the venue’s policy about naked flames these will either all need lighting or we do have electric candles if needed.”

Everything about the show has been produced in-house.

“All the costumes are made to measure for the players and all are slightly different,” said Nathan. “They are all masked but depending on what instrument they play these will be different.”

The orchestra has a guest vocalist Harrison Larner-Main - “We discovered him on The Voice” said Nathan - who sings on around a third of the numbers.

Putting a setlist together has proved a real challenge.

“You realise how broad rock and metal genres are when you come to tackle putting a setlist together,” said Nathan. “There are multiple decades and multiple genres to traverse. We’ve tried to take cornerstone tracks and put them together in a way that flows nicely. We’ve waved our magic wand over them so all the tracks been specifically arranged to be cohesive.

“If you played the original songs together it might leave you scratching your head a little but when you hear them played by the orchestra it makes sense.

“You also realise how special some of those songs are. Stairway to Heaven played by an orchestra is mind blowing.”

The shows allow the musicians to really stand out.

“The players are used to being side of stage and not being main focus,” said Nathan, “but people are coming to see the Rock Orchestra and they are the stars here.”

For anyone unsure about the idea of mask-wearing skeletons playing rock music on classical instruments, Nathan had some advice.

“For anyone with reservations about one facet of the show, just go and embrace the whole thing and experience it,” he said. “Treat it as an experience that can’t be pigeon holed.”

Rock Orchestra by Candlelight, King George’s Hall, Blackburn, Sunday, February 6 and Manchester Opera House, Friday, February 11