A GUEST POSTING by PHIL H
The Wave Pictures consist of Davy Tattersall (vocals and guitar), Franic Rozycki (bass guitar) and Jonny Helm (drums).
The Wave Pictures are a little difficult for some people to get their heads round. They are a properly independent band, self-releasing many of their records, constantly touring the indie clubs and pubs of Britain, Europe and the world, and embodying a truly punk ethic in terms of doing things their way (e.g. improvised recording sessions, single mic set-ups, vinyl-only issues on obscure labels). But they are at odds with much of what’s come to define the ‘indie’ sound: whilst some of their early recordings exhibit the kind of lackadaisical attitude and jangly guitar work that has come to exemplify “indie”, their later releases exhibit a virtuosity that those who think that the guitar solo in ‘Rip It Up’/’Boredom’ is the high watermark of civilisation will probably find a bit much. I know friends who find Davy’s increasingly lengthy and bluesy guitar solos a bit of a turn-off, and their metamorphosis from Leicestershire’s answer to The Modern Lovers to a blues rock trio isn’t everyone’s idea of progress. ‘Instant Coffee Baby’ – their 2008 breakthrough album – is fundamentally different in style than their two 2018 LPs (‘Brushes with Happiness’, ‘Look Inside Your Heart’), with the jangle of the former giving way to a bewildering mix of late-night stoner blues, 60s power pop and faux country-rock. But throughout there are some constants, most notably the oblique and surreal lyrics, delivered in Davy’s thin, tremulous voice, which some have compared to other non-singers like Reed, Richman, Goddard.
Did I mention they are prolific? Since 2008 they’ve released a dozen or so ‘proper’ albums, collaborative efforts with Stanley Brinks and Darren Hayman as well as four albums covering the songs of artists as diverse as Bruce Springsteen, Jason Molina, Herman Dune and Daniel Johnston. Coupled with their early self-released CDRs, that makes something like 300 different songs to choose from when compiling an imaginary album, plucked from albums varying in style from the semi-improvised late night blues of ‘Brushes with Happiness’, the power punk of ‘Great Big Flamingo and Burning Moon’, and the lo-fi genius of ‘Sophie’ and ‘Instant Coffee Baby’.
The ten tracks I have plumped for are a little obvious – mainly singles and live favourites – with only a couple of curveballs thrown in. They come from 10 different records/years so give a fairly good overview of the band’s career: presented in no particular order, this then is The Wave Pictures, Britain’s only indie rock blues power punk trio.
Whilst this might sound corny, this opener from 2011s ‘Long Black Cars’, pretty much summarises what The Wave Pictures are about: good tunes and good times. For a moment, the guitar solo threatens to break into Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits, but Davy just pulls it back in time, thank God. With its call and response refrain, this is a live favourite and one that asks the urgent and insistent question – just who is going to look after the chickens? Music to put a smile on your face.
Recorded with Sir Billy Childish, ‘Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon’ is the Wave Pictures most incendiary album where they filter the sound of the Medway delta through their own warped world view to produce something that is visceral and insistent but still cerebral and witty. Pea Green Coat doesn’t make a lot of sense to me – just who is the woman in a Pea Green Coat, and just why do they owe Davy £3000? – but it’s got a killer riff. The Wave Pictures show they can rip it up.
The b-side to the single Strawberry Cables. The a-side is pretty good and demonstrates Davy’s preoccupation with fruit (see also: Avocado Baby, Strange Fruit for David, Apple Boy) but this is arguably even better: the lyric about the jet plane’s wing stretching out just like a diving board gets me every time.
This is a little bit of an outlier in the Wave Pictures’ discography, a northern soul stomper complete with a horn section. In an alternative universe people I’d like to imagine people dancing at weddings to this rather than “Come on Eileen”. The lyrics about staying with your in-laws at Christmas and your partner wanting to plunge a pair of nail scissors in your neck because you’re being a dick resonates with me for reasons I can’t share here.
Named after a US blues musician (nicknamed the Honeydripper), this track from 2018’s “Look Inside your Heart” is more inspired by the afrobeat of the Bhundu Boys or The Four Brothers than delta blues (see also: ‘Red Road’ parts one and two). A joyous little tune.
A track that wouldn’t be out of place on ‘Transformer’: three chords, syncopated ba ba bas and unabashed sentimentality as Davy proclaims earnestly, “I love you”. Elsewhere the Wave Pictures have covered Lou Reed’s ‘I Love You’, just in case we missed the Velvety reference points. Rock and roll plagiarism for sure but an absolutely wonderful song: is there any middle-aged man out there who can’t relate to the lyric about a ‘beer belly bouncing in the afternoon’? From City Forgiveness, the 2013 double album rightly regarded by some as a career-high as there’s very little filler amongst its 20 tracks.
In which The Wave Pictures set down the blueprint for the gentrification blues. As one reviewer notes, it sounds defiant, as if the Wave Pictures would play on even if the venue around them was torn down brick by brick. A great single from 2016’s excellent ‘Bamboo Diner in The Rain’, which followed hot on the heels of the less essential vinyl-only acoustic album ‘A Season in Hull’.
From the bluesy, drunk, improvised ‘Brushes with Happiness’ (2018), the story of a drift through an unidentified European city where Davy loses his blue purse, takes a tram ride and meets a female boxer who agrees that all national anthems are basically horrible. Meandering lyrics and a slight tune, but it’s enchanting and entrancing nonetheless.
A stomping, piano-driven track that seems to be about a club that has a raffle every Friday night, where a boy burnt his tongue by drinking soup straight from the urn and where tortilla dip accompanies every round. First released in lo-fi form on ‘Sophie’ in 2006, this version is from the Pigeon EP released in 2008.
Another live favourite. Possibly a song about falling in love with the girl at the shoe shop on the day Johnny Cash dies. There are two versions of this, and the version sung by drummer Johnny “Huddersfield” Helm is worth checking out too. The refrain – ‘It’s not like Elvis’ – is both joyful and heart-breaking, and speaks of disappointment and unrequited love: the final acoustic guitar solo and strings are very redolent of The Go Betweens too, and there’s no higher recommendation than that.
Orange Juice by Stanley Brinks and The Wave Pictures
Not about that Orange Juice, sadly, but the reparative value of vitamin C, alcohol, caffeine and love. This is a song that my kids like because of the verse about there being so much shit on the streets you can’t even move (hence the Itunes warning of ‘explicit lyrics’ ahead). This is another one that can’t help but bring a smile to your face, and it seems a good place to finish.