Stephen Tudor triumphs a band that are deserving of much more.
Some bands explode like supernovas from the very beginning, being granted adulation and acclaim despite only having a meagre clutch of songs to call their own.
Others slow burn into our consciousness, amassing a welter of material and tour-miles whilst gradually earning a modicum of respect beyond their small band of loyal devotees.
Weirdly quality plays little part in determining which fate befalls. It’s just the way it is.
The Wave Pictures can definitely be put into the latter category: after a decade of existence, five studio albums of varying aceness, countless live gigs ranging from the stadium sublime to shithole ridiculousness, and songs in their armoury that drip with hook-laden whimsy their name still evokes only a vague recognition from the music masses. As a recent convert I’ve been babbling about the trio’s arch brilliance to anyone who will listen and always get the same semi-perplexed response. Like the Balkans being mentioned to Olly Murs or lady parts to Louis Walsh – you know they exist but can’t quite place them.
Which is a shame – hell it’s a travesty! – because here is an outfit who knock out one perfectly crafted gem after another and do so to universal apathy save for excitable talk-ups on 6Music.
But all that is set to change with the band’s forthcoming double album City Forgiveness, a bluesy sprawling ode to travel born from six weeks touring through America’s heartland. From time immemorial British bands have been seduced by the U.S’s vast landscape, either penning love letters to it or changing their sound accordingly. But wonderfully and to their enormous credit the Wave Pictures defiantly retain their offbeat edge amidst the twenty song’s broader scope. Though the album exudes new-found ambition, muscle and muddied hands it is still very much an English take on exploring new horizons and is all the better for it.
“I’m not going to sing in an American accent,” singer and guitar virtuoso David Tattersall tells me when I meet them prior to a recent gig in Liverpool.
“I don’t think we’d go down the route of making an Americana album, I quite like how it’s subtle,” Franic, the bassist agrees.
Jonny, the likable, no-nonsense Huddersfield lad who beats seven shades of shit out of the drums with such frenetic majesty you find yourself gawping through most of the set is far more Yorkshire about it: “I would rate it as number one in the Wave Pictures cannon personally. I think it’s the best album we’ve ever done.”
And it is. City Forgiveness is an imperial collection of tunes – mature, searing, and darkly clever. But you have to wonder if Instant Coffee Baby, their instant classic baby from 2008 that was choc-full of catchy riffs, pop wonderment, and wannabe hits failed to dent widespread attention what hope for their opus? Are the Wave Pictures forever destined to chug along baptising a handful more a night to their cause? On your heads be it because while this amazing band struggle to be heard the nation’s CD trays are cluttered with the bland and the brands.
“It’s a terrible time,” David says about the current climate. “It feels topsy-turvy and you can’t make sense of it. You really feel like there’s not a lot going on that’s good whilst there are good things being ignored.”
Tattersall and Franic Rozycki grew up in Loughborough transfixed by Steinbeck, Ginsberg, and John Carpenter films. With blues and country their stereo staples they incongruously proceeded to self-record slices of suburban flights of fancy.
Franic – “We were just very young when we made those albums and we weren’t thinking of being in a band as a career. We just hung out, played in Dave’s bedroom and we played very loudly and annoyed the neighbours. We made albums not to sell but to give to bands we liked.”
David – “We threw one at Tom Verlaine from Television when he was on stage. We also sold them at shows and gave them to friends. I don’t know why we did that. You’re supposed to make a demo…”
Jonny – (dryly) “And send them to record labels”
David – “Jonny wasn’t in the band at that stage. Our voice of reason”
Before long the labels came calling and the intervening years have harvested a prolific spree of stellar vignettes about love, nail scissors and avocados with Tattersall gaining particular kudos amongst their cult following for his erudite lyrics and guitar solos. Yet that glass ceiling remains. “It’s still conceivable we could break through into the next level. You do see it happen but they’re rare, they’re really rare”.
Talk of a revival in pop appreciation – with the recent success of National Record Store Day and a resurgence in vinyl – brings a friendly rebuttal: “I tend to think that the opposition to the mainstream is less strong. When John Peel was alive he had a show on Radio 1 where he’d play weird music and we’d see American bands touring Leicester making a good living playing small venues. Now it’s sort of farmed out to Radio 6 and it’s like they’ve making a song and dance about it but the party is over. Record shops are closing all the time.”
If this sounds rather downbeat then it shouldn’t. There is frustration sure but quite frankly that frustration is well justified. But otherwise the lads are great company and in high spirits bolstered by the knowledge they’ve recently produced work of outstanding merit. Meanwhile at your fingertips – open up a new window now and see – are a potentially new favourite band with a back catalogue rich in ebullient, absurdist glee and cracking tunes. To paraphrase one of their singles its strange fruit, and the pickings are plentiful.