SA music’s in a pretty good state
Merseystate to prove that in debut city show
F OLLOWING months of radio and television exposure, Capebased, internationally-leaning band Merseystate are to perform an inaugural live gig, the next step in a plan that includes a restaurantstudio and European tours.
Merseystate are the latest in a line of South African bands to suffer the half-compliment, half-insult of having their songs played by fans to friends only to have the latter exclaim, “I love that song – I didn’t know it was South African!”
It’s one of those curious hurdles a band faces – along with, say, fans who’ve heard the band’s singles,
New Jersey Girl and Say Say Say, and searched for them in shops, only to find them, eventually, misfiled under Mercy State. Fortunately these are the perils, largely speaking, of success, as Merseystate have exploded on to the South African music scene with hit radio singles and television – and, now, a rare live gig.
Merseystate has its origins in Fahrenheit, Shai Caleb’s former band with his brother, Wayne Joshua (you may recall Pieces and
“After our final gig of a countrywide tour, ending in Durban, we got back to the trailer to find that all of our equipment had been stolen,” he says, and the pain is still palpable.
“We pretty much had our studio on tour with us, so that was R100 000’s worth of gear. We had nothing, and the other two members of the band called it quits. Wayne and I managed to salvage some money from the insurance and we forgot about bands for a bit; we put all that into a new recording studio that we call Dreamspace.
“In a way, Merseystate really started when a guy called Marcel Fuchs came to our studio to look at recording an artist there. We played him New Jersey Girl – Wayne and I were always recording demos – and within a few seconds he said, ‘I want to work with you guys.’
“We started a partnership called Rivendal Records – we had been working hard on the songs, and we had the music, and now we had the marketing push to do things like sign with SABC3 and get exposure on things like Top Billing and Showbiz Report.”
For the band’s live shows to launch their debut album, The Lucky Ones, they draw on seasoned veterans in the for m of Jason Reolon (keys) and Gorm Helfjord (guitars), both well known in jazz and session circles, and bassist Rob Nel who, among other duties, is part of the Flat Stanley touring outfit. A new song, Blood On The Water, is poised for renewed radio success, and the Say Say Say video is about to be flighted across prime-time television.
Many have compared the band to South Africa’s other success story, Watershed. “If there’s a link or a comparison to Watershed, I guess we’d both be classified as adult-contemporary rock, even though the Merseystate live shows are much more rocking than the usual ‘adult-contemporary’ label,” says Shai. “I’d take it as a compliment – that band has done stuff like we have, like touring in Germany, and really earning their colours, so I’d look on the good side and say, ‘Thank you’, even though I don’t think the music is similar.
“Then there’s the Mersey beat, back from The Beatles’ time, but with more of a New York or LA swagger vibe to it.”
In addition to recording The Lucky Ones, touring the UK and Europe, and running Dreamspace, Merseystate moved their studios from a small location in Clifton to the CBD – and re-launched it with a tandem restaurant in a studiomeets-social-space concept called The Mersey Bar.
“We want to create a place for industry people to hang out; a nice environment for media, music, advertising and television people, and a bit of a trendy spot for everyone where you can, one day, take a look into musicians recording,” says Shai. “It’s a restaurant com- plex with an upstairs chill-lounge attached to the studio. We’ll be doing something called ‘Session@Watson’ where people can be enjoying a drink or the restaurant food and there’s, say, Arno Carstens in the recording booth and you can look in on it.”
The band’s debut gig today (The Assembly, 61 Harrington St, District Six, 021 465 7286, R80) carries with it a curious appeal from the band – punters and fans are being asked to bring with them old clothes which will be donated to charity. “We are lucky enough to be sponsored by Ben Sherman Clothing, and we suddenly thought, ‘If we’re getting our clothes for free, there are lots of people out there who need clothes.’
“We donated all our old personal clothes to charity, and now we’re asking people to bring items of old clothing to the gig, and there’ll be a collection box at the show for that – and we’ll offer them a R10 discount on the ticket price,” says Shai.
IT’S TIME TO ROCK: Merseystate’s Shai Caleb and Wayne Joshua get ready to perform at The Assembly tonight.