Melbourne Ska Orchestra

Melbourne Ska Orchestra


An explosive celebration of music unfolds on stage with some of Australia’s finest musicians, when the award winning 30 odd piece orchestra hit the stage. An 18 piece horn section, a mean rhythm section, percussionist, organist and 4 singers - conducted by NICKY BOMBA


In 2003, the time was right. A world-record attempt to have the largest number of horn players on stage at the same time playing the ska-skank saw a slew of musicians take the stage at St Kilda’s Gershwin Room, and although nobody remembered to check if the record had actually been set, from this sold-out performance the Melbourne Ska Orchestra was born. Assembled from some of Australia’s preeminent names in Ska and Reggae and fronted by inimitable frontman Nicky Bomba (Bomba, Bustamento, John Butler Trio), the soaring popularity of the band is seeing the MSO fast becoming a fixture of Australia’s musical landscape.

Now, after more than a decade of sold-out shows and electrifying festival appearances the MSO has come together to produce a different kind of record. Their self-titled debut album showcases the versatility of a genre that has influenced some of the most venerated names in music, from Bob Marley to Gwen Stefani, as well as demonstrating a uniquely Australian vision of the exuberance and freewheeling colour of contemporary Ska.

“I’ve always thought Ska was one of the most universal forms of music,” reflects bandleader Nicky Bomba, “I’d always had it in the back of my mind that when people heard it they would be instantly converted, but what I didn’t expect – like our first Bluesfest gig, for example – was that by the time the second gig came around word of mouth had really spread, and the audience was just massive, people dancing as far as you could see. I think the combination of the joy you get from the music and the activity that happens on stage – having thirty people on stage at once is its own wonderful, uncontrollable mayhem – is quite a spectacle.”

With this combination of on-stage energy, the support from a rapidly swelling fan-base and the encouragement from a record company, studio time was booked and the first steps towards recording an album were underway. Given the MSO is already composed of some of the finest Ska and Reggae musicians in the country, finding the right talent for such an undertaking was never a problem. How to capture that live atmosphere, however – that raw feel-it-in-your-bones energy – was the next concern, and it was solved simply by allowing a group of people united by their love of performing to sit down and brainstorm until the sound was right.

Sound engineer Robin Mai (John Butler Trio, Augie March), Nicky’s long time partner in sound crime, was a vital part of the process, experimenting with mic placement until the sweet spot became apparent. ” We always knew” says Robin ” that the secret to getting it right was capturing the harmonic energy in the room when the instruments combined. That was our first port of call when mixing the album too.”

“I have never experienced a recording session like it,” says trombonist Kynan Robinson, “full of passion, energy, positivity, generosity, incredible musicality but, most importantly, a collective love of Ska. Ska in all it’s different and diverse forms – a perfect metaphor for this orchestra. What an amazing experience this band is.”

Fellow trombonist, Wally Maloney, agrees. “The process was a new experience for me. Usually when you’re a horn player in the studio, it’s lots of waiting around to overdub parts. Instead, the method we used was everyone, all 25 plus of us in the same room the entire time. Nicky would sing the horn line, tell the rhythm section the chords, give us two minutes to work it out and hit record. Bam! Done. We were chugging through 7 or 8 songs a day, songs that didn’t exist in the morning, were finish products by that night.”

“There’s a lot of love there right from the start, and that counts for a lot,” Nicky explains. “[We're] all working musicians, and all understand that putting together something like this takes a lot of work, a lot of planning and a lot of respect for both the music and the process. It’s also very fresh. We haven’t just finished six years of touring and are at each other’s throats, so the whole thing felt like the start of a relationship. You have your honeymoon period… So I did my homework. I wanted to be as professional as possible, almost as a way of respecting that no one was going to get paid a fortune for this, so the more work I can do, the easier the recording process. As a result, a lot of the band came up to me and said, “That was actually the best recording experience I’ve ever had.” It was a really clean process. These musicians, I have such respect for them and their expertise, so there was always the idea of further expanding ideas once we stepped in the studio, to take a section of song and try something new with it. That’s where the magic happens.”

The resultant magic is an album that is brimming with unexpected arrangements and seductive harmonies, of powerful horns and foot-stomping drums. Each song is like a vignette from a Ska-infused storybook, full of cinematic colour and characters bursting to life from every verse. This debut f


> "Melbourne Ska Orchestra" (album, 8 March 2013, FOUR|FOUR)
> "The Diplomat" (single from "Melbourne Ska Orchestra, 2013)
> "Lygon Street Meltdown" (single from "Melbourne Ska Orchestra", 2013)
> "Best Things In Life Are Free" (single from "Melbourne Ska Orchestra", 2012)
> "Rude and Ready" Melbourne Ska Orchestra (festival bootleg)

Set List

Get Smart
Lygon St Meltdown
Time To Wake Up
The Diplomat
Dean Went To Mexico
Learn To Love Again
He's A Tripper
Third Time Lucky
While You Wait
Papa's Got A Brand New Ska
Time For This Monkey
The Best Things In Life Are Free
Singalong Day