As one of the UK’s most prolific and beloved bands, it has become expected – nay, the fans have demanded – that The Wave Pictures release several albums a year. This year, they are releasing two albums and they’re kindly letting us know well in advance, so that we can set our calendars and save our pennies in anticipation. Starting with the spontaneous, recorded in one-day, minor-key, epic masterpiece that is Brushes with Happiness in June, the trio of Jonny Helm (drums), Dave Tattersall (guitar and vocals) and Franic Rozycki (bass), will be following up with Look Inside Your Heart in October.
Brushes with Happiness sees The Wave Pictures in contemplative and expansive mood. Mellower and more reflective than last year’s rock’n’roll surf-garage-rock collaboration with Slow Club, as new band The Surfing Magazines, or 2016’s blues driven Bamboo Diner in the Rain or 2015’s Billy Childish-produced Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon. This album is more akin to 2016’s acoustic release A Season in Hull, which, like Brushes With Happiness, was recorded live in one room in a single January day.
Guitarist and songwriter Dave Tattersall explains the process of recording Brushes With Happiness: ‘We recorded this album live in a small room to tape on one night in January, playing music into the wee hours. Listening to the album feels like being in a ceremony. It takes you to that place. This is music that emanates from one group of people in one place in space and time. Listening to it is like being let in on a secret.’
They wanted to make an album that was as spontaneous as possible, emulating the jazz, folk, blues and live albums that they love so much. As Dave explains: ‘As music fans we treasure spontaneous recordings. When we put an album on we want to hear a little of the human spirit.’
There were steps taken to ensure that this was a magical album:
– Tattersall didn’t write any music prior to the recording sessions, just lyrics.
‘The lyrics were written in advance, but the music was an improvisation, completed in one night. You can thus hear how in tune we are with one another after ten years playing together in bars.’
– Everything on record is a first take and mostly material that Jonny and Franic had never heard before and Dave had never played.) None of it existed in any shape or form before they put it to tape.
– They recorded it late at night so as to be as relaxed as possible.
As Dave explains: ‘Lots of bands pretend that they have made their Tonight’s The Night or Astral Weeks, that album that is recorded in those special, late-night, pressure-free circumstances; that loose collection of inspired jams. They haven’t done it really. They’ve spent bloody ages working on the thing. They’ve lost their nerve. This is the real thing. A genuine shitfaced improvisation.’
– They got extremely high and inebriated.
‘We wanted to get rid of any self-consciousness together,’ says Dave.
– The songs are predominantly in minor key.
Dave explains: ‘I cannot help how I feel – for me this is the happiest kind of key to play in.’
For an album recorded in this way, Brushes with Happiness really does surpass all expectations. From the languid guitar licks to Dave’s faltering vocals, every note oozes emotional truth. The synchronicity of the band is evident in tracks like Laces, where you can hear the very process of composition or the Django Reinhardt-inspired Red Suitcase. The Burnt Match is the kind of song they would have tried to do many times in the past but wouldn’t have been able to pull-off as they would have over-thought it. Yet in this live environment it turned out perfectly. As Dave explains: ‘We just improvised these songs on the fly, on the spur of the moment. So you can hear them come together with a lot more vitality than they would have done in the past.’
The album title double meaning is a nod to Jonny Helm’s completely original approach to drumming with brushes. As Dave enthuses: ‘The way he does it seems to me to come out of the natural world, like waves crashing on rocks, rather than to come out of some school of drumming textbook.’ Dave also praises Franic Rozycki’s bass playing, saying, ‘He uses the bass guitar as a vehicle for personal expression, which is virtually unheard of outside of the jazz world.’ Dave Tattersall himself has been hailed for his musicianship, with Marc Riley calling him ‘the greatest guitar player of his generation’.
Brushes With Happiness sees a band at the top of their game. No other band could just improvise an album out of thin air, no trouble at all, and have it sound THIS good.