These guys. These well read, mild mannered, English village boys. They are a shockingly well oiled machine! Not a wave machine. No, that’s a more recent, more famous band that they sometimes get mixed up with. I honestly have no idea what the wave machines sound like, but with all due respect it is very unlikely that they can hold a candle to The Wave Pictures. This band is a finely crafted samurai sword of rock n roll. They’ve been smoldering for a long time now, pounded and hammered by that blacksmith thunder god called the road. And now they are perfectly shaped and sharpened. The legendary kind of sharpened that can never be dulled.
I just found this fan website url in a search for them online: http://fuckyeahthewavepictures.tumblr.com
And that’s exactly the level of enthusiasm I am talking about. This is like magic powers kind of business. Except it’s not. They just humbly go about their business like there is nothing out of the ordinary.
I’ve known them for years, I’ve seen them develop. Along with Herman Dune and Misty’s Big Adventure, they were one of the closest sister bands of Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard on this side of the Atlantic. Our bands toured together a few times, opened for each other countless times, joined each other on stage, crossed paths all over the world, slept on each others couches.
They started out pretty amazing. Guitarist Dave Tattersall was already playing masterfully fingerpicked blues guitar in his early teens (Listen to some of that style here). His childhood friend Franic Rozycki joined him on bass to form a rock band in their late teens. They were just those kids who grew up in a bubble, in a small village with parents who had great musical taste and record collections. They were still in university in the days when Jeff Lewis and Herman Dune were first touring around Europe. Dave gave or sent a home-recorded tape of their band and some fan mail to Herman Dune. When you are a touring band you get handed these recordings from young aspiring musicians all the time. You have to listen to them, but 90% of the time they are excruciatingly bad. But that 10% of the time that they are actually good, it’s so refreshing. Those CDs stand out like crazy. You don’t forget those albums. You keep them and wear them out. That’s what happened here. Herman Dune so endorsed the young Wave Pictures tape they made a copy and passed it on to Jeff. And so followed years of acquaintance and collaboration. Eventually they relocated to London, got Johnny ‘Huddersfield’ Helm on the drums, and sometime after that, signed to Moshi Moshi Records. All the while they kept writing songs, playing shows, touring, recording and putting out albums on their own, honing the craft, whittling it down.
I remember when Jack Lewis first got a copy of their album Instant Coffee Baby before it came out in 2008 and played it in the van on tour. The one two punch opening tracks of Leave that Scene Behind and I Love You Like a Madman! And so many other great songs. We thought, “that’s it, they’re going to be famous.” It made a splash and took them up a notch but even today, five or six albums later they are still criminally overlooked. Yet they’ve managed to survive, stick together and keep going. And the whole time they keep getting better and better.
Tattersall is a prolific songwriter. The songs usually stick to fairly simple formulas so he can churn them out at a pretty furious rate. A bit like the Rolling Stones, the focus is less on sophisticated musical arrangements, it’s more a case of the songs are vehicles through which to showcase their visceral band chemistry, their gritty funk, their pocket. Legend has it that when they came home after a tour in the US last year, Dave turned the scrawlings from his tour journal into around 40-50 songs in a period of about two weeks, many of which became the substance of their recent double album City Forgiveness. What’s remarkable about that is the album doesn’t suck, there isn’t a weak song on it.
Similarly, when they record an album, they don’t make a fuss about it. They show up at the studio, set up as few microphones as possible, as fast as possible, and then play the songs live. Done. Rarely an overdub or retake. They are purists like that. They want to hear the sound of a real band playing rock and roll in a room. And they are good enough to pull it off. From a session like that, they often have more songs down on tape than will fit on an LP. That’s why they release numerous EP’s, singles, and B sides. Have a look at the Discography here if you are interested.
They don’t fuss too much about their image or promoting themselves. They kind of naively hope and expect that the music will speak for itself, as well it would if given a fair chance at exposure. But unfortunately and heartbreakingly it just seems to serve as another piece of evidence for the argument that the main gatekeepers and channels of promotion in the modern pop music business are so obsessed with image and mystique, they seem to barely be interested in music at all.
Nonetheless, I am here to tell you, these guys are the real deal. I just recently went on a two week tour with them in Spain, where for some reason or other, they have a decent sized audience. I did a lot of the driving and I played percussion with them: shakers, guiro, tambourine and cowbell. I saw it with my own eyes from the stage… Night after night, never a dull moment, each show better than the last. They shred! These were seriously ecstatic musical experiences.
Dave Tattersall is certainly one of the best guitarists I have ever seen or heard. I’m talking about ever in the history of blues and rock and roll. He’s up there in the top 40 in my book. He does a lot of extended soloing, but it never gets old or boring. It never feels showy or overindulgent. It’s just that he has an endless flow of ideas, and the technical capacity to realize them, so it’s just so fun to go on the journey with him. And he’s enjoying it as much as everyone else. On 3 or 4 shows he broke a string early on in the set, but just didn’t bother to change it, and played on the rest of the show without it. He said it’s not that big a deal but I’ve never seen another guitarist do that. Also, he uses no effects pedals at all. Every night you could see some guitar nerds in the audience coming up close to see for themselves at his feet and marveling that there were none.
And the rhythm section… relentless! Unshakeable! Fran takes some pretty mean solos himself on the bass nowadays. As does Johnny on drums. And he pounds them so hard, it’s crazy. He’s got forearms of steel. He is soaking wet after the first couple of songs. He also sings with the most angelic voice, in an amazing Yorkshire accent.
On the way home from conquering Spain we stopped to play a show in Dijon France, where they notably do NOT have a decent following. It was a small Irish pub, with the bar taking up most of the room, tiny little triangle fenced off stage in the corner, international log splitting sports competition on the television. We just drove 16 hours. Some drunk Dutch guy yelling at us during songs. This was like walking into gig minefield. There was almost no way in hell this was going to be a successful gig. But everyone kept their head up and turned in towards one another for a good portion of the show and we played the most incredible music. It was so much fun! Such a thrill. After each song, only 5 or 6 people clapped and we just laughed at each other. Had it been recorded, it would have made a classic live concert album.
With a lengthy discography behind them now they have so many great songs to choose from. They stretch them out and jam them, but they know exactly when to stop them too. Those razor sharp senses they have now, that chemistry, you only get that from years of playing together on stage. You can’t fake that. Every year there are a hundred “hot” new bands that step out into the spotlight on the British music scene, and there are a hundred more that drop off like flies. A year later you can’t remember any of them. It’s bands like this who simmer in the background for decades, that’s who will be remembered centuries down the road. They don’t play to what’s fashionable, they don’t give a shit about that. They are playing the truth. They are playing what’s written in their soul. With all the hoopla surrounding the business of popular music in the last hundred years it’s easy for people to forget, but that is what music is for. That’s why we listen to it.
Their most recent album City Forgiveness is a double album and it’s great all the way through. It seems you can listen to it here, (but probably not forever). And here is a video of them playing a song from it at Toe Rag studios.
In the next couple of months they are releasing an album called Gin with our friend Stanley Brinks. I’ve heard it already, and it’s pretty great! I’ll have to come back and write about Stan some other time, he’s one of my favorite’s ever but that’s a whole ‘nother story. They will all be on tour together in the UK, look out.
You have to go see them live to get the full effect. The last show I played with them at the Lexington in London after we returned from Spain, was one of the best shows I have ever witnessed, let alone performed. In this day and age, it’s hard to justify the expense of a fourth band member who only plays percussion, but I very much hope to get the chance to play with them again sometime soon.