Masterclass: Mike Smith (Gorillaz’ MD)

4 May, 2016

Here at BIMM, we truly believe that talent inspires talent. We recently welcomed acclaimed instrumentalist, arranger, and musical director Mike Smith to our Bristol campus for a memorable Masterclass on live performances.

Mike Smith has been Blur’s go-to keyboardist ever since their seminal Great Escape album in 1995. Since then, he’s lent his talents to Damon Albarn’s many solo projects, including The Good, the Bad & the Queen album and Gorillaz.

A group of lucky BIMM students were invited to take part in a three-hour seminar and workshop with Mike to find out more about the role of a musical director. A position he took up on Gorillaz’ now legendary 2010 Escape To The Plastic Beach tour.

So, what does a musical director do? As MD for the show, Mike’s job was to oversee the production of the whole tour from start to finish.

A mammoth task, when you consider the tour featured individual performances from some of the biggest names in music, including Mark E Smith, Bobby Womack, Lou Reed and De La Soul. Not to mention a Syrian string section and around eight other key musicians.

On top of this, there was also the small matter of syncing live music with the Gorillaz’ animated film, which was beamed onto a 42-foot wide screen. In short, every single performance had to be time synchronised and perfect for the whole show to be a success.

Our students were given an illuminating behind the scenes insight into the show, which was nothing short of epic.

To help give them a better understanding of the process, Mike shared the original production notes and plans for the 2010 tour.

It quickly became apparent just how complex Mike’s role actually is. So how does he keep on top of such a huge set? The acclaimed MD said of the importance of maintaining “good relationships” and keeping a positive mood backstage.

Following the seminar, Mike handed over to our BIMM students. The group was given the task of performing and managing a live performance of Otis Redding’s ‘Dock of the Bay’.

The performance was a great success, and our students were able to show off their talents as both managers and performers. Watching from to the stage of the stage, Mike gave directions, tips, and advice throughout the performance.

We caught up with two of our BIMM students afterwards to get their thoughts on the session.

BIMM Bristol student Brodie called the session the “best Masterclass we’ve ever had.”

Echoing his comments was fellow BIMM classmate Rob, who said: “I’ve learnt so much from this.”

Inspirational, interactive and at all times interesting, our Masterclass with Mike gave the comprehensive account of the role of a musical director, touching upon the endless preparation that goes into a live production like Gorillaz’ Plastic Beach tour.

A special thanks to Mike for taking the time to work with our students on such a unique project. We hope to welcome him back to BIMM Bristol very soon.

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