Ever wondered what it’s really like to do a national tour with your band?
Get the inside info on playing sax on tour from Ska sax pro and Sax School tutor Dean Hilson.
Dean is touring Australia right now with his band, the Melbourne Ska Orchestra. We asked Dean to share his experience and tips on playing sax on tour.
Q: Where will the tour be taking you?
We will be playing major cities all around Australia, in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. We’ll be spanning the country from as far north as Cairns, and as far west as Freemantle.
Q. Describe a typical Melbourne Ska Orchestra gig
The MSO plays a lot of festivals and large room venues, so we are usually playing in front of reasonably big crowds. The biggest to date was Montreal Jazz Fest, which was over 50 thousand.
It is very much an “all ages” kind of act with lots of audience participation and general mayhem onstage, conducted, )if you can call it that), by the entertaining and charismatic band leader, Nicky Bomba. The music we play is always very danceable and every gig is a lot of fun, for everyone involved!
Q. What’s the set list like?
The band has a very large repertoire of original songs. We also have a comprehensive catalogue of Ska classics from the first wave, (from the sixties in Jamaica), and the subsequent Two Tone era (from Britain in the seventies and eighties). But we play mostly originals with a couple of classic covers thrown in.
The audience will typically come away from an MSO gig having gained a bit of knowledge and understanding of what Ska is, it’s history and how the music works. This is all seamlessly worked into the show. It’s definitely not like a lecture!
Q. How does the band prepare for a tour like this?
The logistics of touring a 20-something piece band around the country is like a military operation. A great deal of work is done behind the scenes, well before a note is played.
We have a booking agent, travel agent, management and tour management, as well as input from our record label ABC Four Four.
We will sometimes have a rehearsal at the venue or the hotel, on the day of the first show, if there is new material to be played.
Q. How do you, as a sax player, keep yourself gig ready when you’re touring?
I will generally try to get in an hour or so of practice each evening for about the two weeks leading up to a tour. And if I’m disciplined enough, I will also work on my physical fitness.
Q. How long have you played with the band and how did you come to be part of it?
The band is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. And whilst I wasn’t there from the very beginning, I was around in the early days. I was there when when this current line-up got more serious about the whole project.
The band originally started as a joke. It was a Guinness World Record attempt to get the most amount of horn players ever, on stage, all skanking at the same time. This gig went off!
And it was timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the release of the song ‘My Boy Lollipop’ by Millie Small, which is considered by many to be the first Ska song.
Q. What’s the best and worst parts of touring?
Being on the road with your mates is a blast! As a professional musician, it’s what I live for.
The MSO is also a really easy band to tour with. Everyone gets along and the whole thing runs as a well oiled machine. We have been very fortunate to have been able to travel the world, from America and Canada to Europe and the UK, New Zealand, Japan, Pacific Islands and a few years ago, a wonderful 2-week stint in Istanbul.
The worst part of touring would be the sometimes horrendously early lobby calls, to get to the next gig. That, and interminably long and boring sound checks. (But hey, that’s a small price I’m more than happy to pay it!)
Playing sax on tour: Dean’s Tips
You need to be easy to live with, on the road.
Whilst there’s a lot of fun to be had on tour, there will also be a lot of very stressful situations. This is when you have to just roll with things and not let anything get to you.
Stay good humoured and don’t be a drama queen. That way, you’re more likely to get invited back for the next tour.
Find out about Melbourne Ska Orchestra’s future tour dates here.
Ready to level up your saxophone skills to get that gig? Get a 14 day free trial of Sax School PRO here.