Before we moved to Nice we never realised how vibrant a live band scene there is here. Around the Old Town several live acts of varying degrees of quality can be heard warbling as you wander through the dusky streets. The band which grows from strength to strength over the last few years is Merla. Headed by David Zincke, with cover boy looks and a dulcet voice, the band tends to hide its light under a bushel.
There’s certainly no PR machine at work when you talk to them – just four decent lads who prefer to let their music do the talking. "Nice is a musical town day and night. That’s why we came here and that’s why we're good at our jobs. We get to play constantly, and that’s what we love to do."
When I get excited about their music, David simply smiles sheepishly. He’s always quick to point out that they are hardly the next big thing and that they earn their crust by singing as a covers band by night. "I can't dress it up more than that really. That's our job and it pays the bill."
Despite such modesty, Merla’s second album is impressively sophisticated for a band which writes its own material. Song in a Suitcase has varied tracks with a leaning towards the Beatles, The Levellers, their favourite band Gomez and (though I think they will hate me for saying it) Take That’s recent comeback album.
The local bars seem keen to sign them up and this must be due to their wide audience appeal. They love some of the classics and their covers include Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Eagles, Beach Boys, Bill Whithers, Ray Charles, Sting, Otis Reading and Marvin Gaye.
The two original band members are cousins from Doncaster UK. Nick Dawes is the elder of the two. He is also the entrepreneur with the launch of his own old town recording studio, Cave Studio, which opened for business in December 2007. They also have a small business in the events sector with a growing reputation to adding finesse to weddings and events by a band session and potential DJing services as well, if required. With almost nightly gigs in the Old Town bars, they have a lot going on and its full credit to them that they have managed to get this superbly mature second album released.
Founded in Doncaster in 2003 by 2005 Merla consisted of Dave and Nick along with Didier Kwo from Mauritius and Vince Foissard from Corsica. It was with the band complete that Merla won both the Battle of the Bands Rock Garden competition and the Local Heroes Band competition in 2006.
Advice is plentiful that to succeed properly they should return to London, but with two albums behind them they are quick to point out that their move from London to Nice has been a well calculated one. David says "Nice is a musical town day and night. That’s why we came here and that’s why we're good at our jobs. We get to play constantly, and that’s what we love to do."
Whilst they know they could play in more well known venues in the big smoke and have more chance to be “discovered”, the flip side of living here (besides the obvious climate and way of life advantages) is that it gives them the space to let their creativity grow. As Nick points out, “the scene in France is really so vibrant and the atmosphere has bred the creativity in us that Doncaster just couldn't quite match”. Dave agrees, “London doesn’t pay musicians, it starves them. Depressed musicians write depressing songs, something we’d prefer not to do”. The band are also aware that contrary to popular opinion, bands can be signed in Nice. The evidence of this lies in the recent signings of “Medi”, “Rose” and “Pascal Mono”.
With some English festivals and charity events behind them, Merla are keen to secure more open air live gigs. They hope to play in various French festivals this summer. They have played at the Fêtes de Music in June for the last two years and loved it. Last year found them featured on the front page of the Nice Matin playing to a grateful crowd of 10,000. They will no doubt be playing again this year outside the infamous Wayne’s along with Breathe – the institution Wayne’s band headed by Justin Jamieson.
Perhaps soon Merla will outgrow their current venues. They are already hopping back to the UK to play at various festivals and charity events there. If this happens, I’ll be very pleased for them but will mourn the loss of being able to watch them play so close to home. I only hope that they continue to play at festivals across the Riviera and remain the humble and grounded individuals they currently are.
You can currently catch Merla at Wayne's Bar on rue de Prefecture, Ma Nolans on the Cours Saleya. They also play periodically at Sansas and the Shapko jazz bar off Place Rossetti.
For details on venues and to hear Merla’s new album go to www.myspace.com/merlamyspace