The Melbourne Ska Orchestra – Bellfield Tavern (Kilmarnock) 11-08-06

It's a small world, but I wouldn't want to have to paint it.

Steven Wright

The quote from the comedy genius initially isn’t going to make much sense, but bear with me.

Nicky Bomba, ex of the John Butler Trio, is the leader of what is the undisputed largest ska band in the world.
So large it has to be called an orchestra.
The Melbourne Ska Orchestra
It is so large that it features a twenty piece brass section.
Just think of that in all its glory.
Add in the rest of the musicians and it has to be accepted that there are not that many stages that could handle having them.
There are surely a festival band rather than a club one.
The logistics of rehearsing, never mind touring, must be a nightmare, but thankfully when a band features so many talented musicians a combination of them are fully capable of turning up and doing the business.

Even in a club, or in this case a small pub in Ayrshire.

Yes you heard that correctly.

While in the UK to do the Edinburgh Fringe Festival the band took time out of their busy schedule to do a hit and run date in what most would consider the middle of nowhere.

But why the hell would they?

And the answer is that there is a band connection to the area with one of the line up originally coming from Stewarton, another Ayrshire town, and a hometown gig was of course an attractive proposition.

It really was as simple as that.

And if you are going to travel all the way from Australia to Scotland to do some shows then a hometown visit has to be on the cards doesn’t it?

Especially because ignoring your Scottish roots can have dire consequences.

After all it’s not that long ago that AC/DC drew the ire of Scottish fans, and the Scottish press, by missing Glasgow out on a tour which led to a semi boycott before the Young brothers were accepted back into the tartan fold.

Unfortunately for Stewarton it has never been considered as Ayrshire’s rock and roll Mecca, and without any viable options to play there it was nearby Kilmarnock that was the only real alternative that was available.

So it was lucky for the band that the town has what most are now calling the best live venue in Ayrshire in the pub that is the Bellfield Tavern, and that it is heavily supported by the local scooter boys who would provide a custom audience for the sweet ska sounds that the band deal in.

Anyway, to jump on from the why and the how it happened it has to be said that it did actually happen in fine style.

Calling the Melbourne Ska Orchestra a ska band really only manages to scratch the surface of what they do.

Add in some rocksteady and reggae with the ska and they are covering everything that Jamaica gave the world.
Flavour it all with some swing and calypso and it all becomes an ear orgasm.

Classic covers rest easy with original material and the band groove through everything.
I mean really groove in the organic sense that the band are all akin to separate limbs of the one beast.
All connected, all working together in unison as they comfortably build up or slow down the tempo.
It’s sort of like how you get a family harmonising on vocals.
They just know where everything sits, who comes in where and when, and how everything should compliment each other from their being related and knowing each other inside out.
It’s when a band can do this that the magic is released and they can take an audience to another level.
One that feels like it transcends that of the normal gig going experience.
It is a rare moment of beauty when this happens, and when it does you know it.

You feel it.

A good indication of it happening is if you glance over and you catch the sound guy lost in the moment and dancing to the band.

Do you want to know just how good this was?

Well I’ve seen Jimmy Cliff do Miss Jamaica, but the Melbourne Ska Orchestra gave him a run for his money with their rendition. I’ve seen Toots and the Maytals take the roof off with Monkey Man, and while it might seem like an obvious cover, in the competent hands of the band it get a solid work out with tempo changes and a delivery that gave it a whole new lease of life that Toots didn’t manage to do.
Rudy Mills John Jones was sublime, and the set closer of My Boy Lollipop - coincidentally the very first single I bought, but not in 1963 obviously - was the icing on the cake for me.

If a band was to create a set list around what I wanted to hear then this was it, and it was probably the same set list that everyone else wanted to hear too.

Everything clicked
So all hail the mighty Melbourne Ska Orchestra.

Thursday nights in the sticks has no given right to be this special, but it happened.

A ‘you had to be there’ night if there was ever one that deserved the accolade.

And the Steven Wright quote that this started with?

Well in one of those strange cosmic coincidences when the gig ended and I started chatting to the Scottish band member Stevie Montgomery - who had been the catalyst for the Ayrshire show - we had a double take moment and it turned out that we didn’t just go to the same school, but shared the same classes over thirty years ago.

Like the other Steven said. A small world, but I wouldn't want to have to paint it.

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