Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Joyous Sound

Being a teacher of English Literature, I am often asked by students why everything they study is so miserable and serious. Happy and funny doesn’t make for greatness, I patronisingly say. And I have mostly thought that what applies to literature, also applies to music. Then I saw The Wave Pictures at the De La Warr Pavilion and I knew I was wrong. The London-based three-piece of David Tattersall on guitar and vocals, bassist Franic Rozycki and drummer Jonny Helm have a stripped simplicity, with their lack of effects pedals and crash cymbals, combining with witty and bittersweet lyrics to create a life-affirming sound – the joyous sound of greatness.

In January this year, Marc Riley’s radio show put me onto their single, Orange Juice, a collaboration with Stanley Brinks. With its defiant refrain of “But I’ll get by with a little bit of you”, it became an anthem to spite the endless wind and rain of winter and was played constantly in our house to the point that my seven-year-old daughter could sing every word. (I did have lie to her about some of the lyrics, though.) The single sent me to The Wave Pictures albums in their own right. They have been prolific since the start of the century and there are about a dozen of them. How could I have missed this band? I started with the two most recent albums, 2012’s Long Black Cars and last year’s City Forgiveness; and then I got lucky on two counts. Firstly, as I was playing the albums to death, the wonderful Music’s Not Dead record shop announced they were bringing them to Bexhill; and when they played on Friday night, most of their set was taken from these two albums.

There cannot be many better backdrops for a gig than a calm, millpond sea in the fading summer sunlight but, in the upstairs bar at the De La Warr, that is exactly what The Wave Pictures take the stage to. They immediately begin a running joke about Rozycki’s fondness for Bexhill as the place where he once spotted Keith Chegwin in the street. But the humour is not just confined to the between-the- songs chat, of which there is much. On the gorgeous Missoula, Tattersall sings “You make me feel like dancing/Naked across the motel room/My beer belly bouncing in the afternoon”, and the bathos is matched on latest album opener, All My Friends, beginning “Once I dreamed I saw your face on a carton of milk/Once I dreamed I spilled the milk all down my shirt”.

When it comes to the music, The Wave Pictures are very accomplished and simple does not mean samey; the guitar sound is at times clean and chiming, at others dirty and swampy, sometimes capacious and sprawling but all perfectly complemented by Rozycki’s meandering high-end bass runs. At various times in their set I am reminded of the Violent Femmes, Television, the Velvet Underground, Jonathan Richman; all great, all American - the City Forgiveness album was written on a six-week road trip around the States and it shows.

What is so incredible about the band is their infectious enjoyment of what they are doing. They never seem to stop smiling and nor do the audience. When the refrain in Spaghetti, from the Long Black Cars album, rhymes the title with “forget me”, I realise I am grinning like an idiot every time. And to add to the mood, in the middle of the set up pops a cover of the colourful and schizophrenic Texan musician Daniel Johnston’s Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Tattersall has an engaging and heartfelt voice but when Helm takes the vocals on the plaintive Atlanta, he shows that he too can be soulful and emotive; and even more so when he steps from behind his kit to sing two ballads. The swapping of roles does not end there: Tattersall takes bass (“I’m not very good on bass”) so that Rozycki can do a noodling guitar solo which he mostly gets right - their humour is also considerably self-deprecating.

My third stroke of good fortune may not be luck but judgement; two songs of theirs that I adore feature at the end of the set: Never Go Home Again, with its Bhundu Boys guitaring and visions of life on the road “There are bed bugs in my bed/There’s a headache in my head/Everything is in its proper place/And we wear the last town on our tired faces”, ends with a mass audience singalong. And when they return for the encores, their final song is the magnificent The Woods, a Modern Lovers guitar riff overlaid with near-hysterical lyrics taut with sexual tension.

This was my gig of the year so far; but with Music’s Not Dead and the De La Warr Pavilion bringing such good music to Bexhill there could be more greatness to come - but I’m pretty sure none of it will make me feel as happy as The Wave Pictures did.

Picture by Dave Stubbings

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