I’ve been remiss. I’ve only recently become aware of The Wave Pictures and on the evidence of Wednesday’s gig at the Portland Arms this represents a rather serious case of cultural oversight on my part. They’re a trio from somewhere in Leicestershire who have it seems been regularly releasing collections of witty and infectious deconstructions of personal relationships and neuroses (with particular reference to household condiments) for the last ten years or so. Their wikipedia page lists The Smiths, Jonathan Richman, Darren Hayman, Jeffrey Lewis and The Mountain Goats amongst their influences and collaborators, which places them so firmly in my ball-park they’re practically sitting on my lap and nibbling on my burrito, and if the two or three albums that I’ve heard are anything to go by their songwriter David Tattersall deserves to be as celebrated as any of the above. Musically they come over initially as classic jangly indie-pop, but close attention reveals a rare fluency and judgement in the arrangements and playing. This date was the first on a tour to promote a new album City Forgiveness (which curiously their record company are not going to be releasing for another couple of months) which will be something like their thirteenth…difficult to believe given Tattersall still looks like he’s in the sixth form.
Support is provided by Mammoth Penguin, who would be worth a mention just for their splendid name even if they weren’t a pretty good power trio in their own right. Their pleasingly diffident and self-deprecatory stage manner contrasts nicely with the crunchy vigour of their performance and the distinctive full-throated delivery of the singer and the crowd get behind them enthusiastically. A short set of short but eventful songs, just the way I like it.
In what must be a first the main act takes to the stage slightly before the advertised starting time and without any ceremony kick things off with a nimble take on Spaghetti. It’s clear straight away that this is one talented band. Drummer Jonny Helm is all over his kit, managing to hold down a light funky beat at the same time as providing backing vocals while the seemingly unflappable Franic Rozycki (who I saw in June on this very stage playing mandolin in The Jeffrey Lewis and Peter Stampfel band) plays his bass like a master, throwing in unexpected melodic runs up and down the neck but never straying into irritating muso territory. It’s David Tattersall’s guitar playing however that’s the real revelation: slightly obscured on record by his defiantly English vocals and wordplay it’s actually a bit of a wonder to behold, with full-on bluesy solos, crisp choppy chord-work and delicate picky bits being effortlessly despatched, all on a slightly battered looking Les Paul with no effects pedals anywhere in evidence. I really hadn’t expected anything half as accomplished, and that he’s also able to find his way through his sometimes knotty and tongue-twistery lyrics without fouling up once makes it even more impressive.
From the first song on you know that you’re in safe hands and the evening flies by. They play songs old and new, including one from the forthcoming album that features high-life style guitar playing that recalls Paul Simon’s Graceland, and a couple (Now You Are Pregnant and Sleepy Eye) that afford Jonny Helm an opportunity to emerge from behind his kit and treat us to his soulful lead vocals – honestly, he looks like he’s having his very heart torn in two while he’s singing them. The material ranges from old school indie stompers (Leave The Scene Behind) through ballads (Red Wine Teeth) and even something that sounds a bit like a proper respectable blues. One of the most striking aspects is the band’s willingness to leave space in their material (instruments often drop out and sometimes Franic’s bass is the only sound to be heard) and to be, you know, quiet. On a couple of occasions Tattersall mutes his guitar right down and starts singing a song softly off-mic – at first the chatter from the back of the audience drowns him out, but it doesn’t take long for people to catch on, shut up and give him their full attention. You can’t imagine ever witnessing this kind of dynamic at Wembley Stadium.
After ninety minutes or so they leave us with the rowdy Friday Night In Loughborough and the house lights come on…except they don’t leave us, they go straight to the back of the room to man the merchandise stall. This gig was a rare treat. If you like your pop quirky and literate and English you should go see this group as soon as you can, and even if you don’t you should probably go anyway just because they’re such damn good musicians.