MSC Big band is a 26 piece live band formed of students from the University of Manchester and the Royal Northern College of Music, and professional musicians. They are about to release their first EP “MSC Big Band Tapes: Vol 1”, featuring five cover songs. I spoke to Joshua Mellard, the musical director of the band about how he got involved with the band and the direction its going in.
MSC Big Band is composed of roughly half students and half graduates, and is run by a team of five. The band itself has been going for about five years now, although it has experienced a change of creative direction in the past two years. They have previously played venues such as Squirrels and Antwerp Mansion, but they have recently performed at Band on the Wall. Their musical style is branching out away from the traditional big band sound. “If we are going to set ourselves apart from other big bands we need to move in a more specific direction, more towards UK jazz and hip hop”, Joshua tells me, “we see ourselves as trying to push what generic big band style is.”
The band is certainly going from strength to strength in terms of success. They have moved away from the student circuit and are now venturing into larger, more well-known venues. On Friday the 14th of September they played at Band on the Wall with underground acts K15 and SNO, enabling them to expand their audience and introduce more people to the MSC experience. The new EP further reflects their ongoing success; it’s the first time they have recorded music.
However, trying to fit a 26 piece band into a recording studio was not the easiest of experiences, “Logistically it was a very big challenge”, Joshua reveals, “it was difficult to make sure everyone was free. Obviously big bands are not recorded often, so there is not a standard procedure.” The band worked in a studio based in Withington and run by Matt Brown, who helped them throughout the process. The business side of things proved difficult too, since all the songs were covers, “we had to spend a lot of time double checking whether things were legal,” he says.
Joshua has been involved in MSC for nearly four years now, he started out just playing in the band during first year, then took over running it in his second. During his time at university he also played in the Not Quite Big Band and the Tom Barber Trio. Joshua tells me that when he started running it, he had specific ideas of where he wanted the band to go and now these ideas are coming to fruition, “we wanted to create a scene, not just a unique experience. The focus is more the environment it creates, rather than the music itself. We don’t see the performances as gigs, more as a general event. Like a 26 piece DJ.”
In terms of current students wanting to get involved with music, Joshua advises them to get involved with the Manchester University Music Society as they have lots of opportunities. “If you’re setting up your own thing, find a group of people and see if you gel. Go to gigs together, see what direction you want to go in. Make sure everyone’s on the same page. If you become a member of MUMS you can book rehearsal spaces.”
After the EP release, where do the band want to go next? Joshua is keen to push the band further and get more involved with the larger Manchester scene; “A goal of the band is to branch out into the community, maybe start working with charities. Music as a degree is not incredibly diverse, so if we’re going to reflect Manchester, which is a wonderfully diverse place, we need to get more involved with the Manchester community at a deeper level. The main aim musically is to carry on what we’re doing as people enjoy it.”
You can see what MSC Big Band do next on their Facebook page: MSC Big Band.