Leaving Leicestershire On A Tide Of Song: The Wave Pictures Interviewed

Our man Lewis G Parker hails from the same benighted corner of the Midlands as David Tatersall. Here, they talk about how leaving these flat lands shaped the Wave Pictures' sound

David Tattersall formed The Wave Pictures with a childhood friend in the tiny village of Wymeswold, five miles from Loughborough, on the northern border of Leicestershire. In fifty years of pop music the titans owing their success to the wider area include, but are limited to, Kasabian, Corner Shop, Mark ‘Return of the Mack’ Morrison, Showaddywaddy and Englebert Humperdinck. Despite their handicap of birth, The Wave Pictures have gone on to release three mildly successful albums on an independent label, and earn just enough from their music to live modestly in their adopted home of London. I grew up in a similarly dour Leicestershire village, whose main selling point is being intersected by the A47. My memories of the area and my time spent there are predominantly boredom, frustration and dirty humour; the same colours which David uses to paint the songs of The Wave Pictures.

At his one bedroom flat in Leyton, the un-gentrified part of East London, David takes a very long pause before explaining to me the role of location in his song writing, and why so many of his songs are littered with references to what he earlier described as "The worst place on Earth’: "Songs need to have something specific in them. It gives them a sort of grain of truth. It puts a very specific image in the mind of the person listening to the song, or just in my mind."

But when push comes to the boil, "Awkwardness, sadness and regret make for richer songs." And the place of our childhood certainly has plenty of those things, for me anyway, so that seems fitting. We both grew up, and have moved away from a place so unremarkable that it doesn’t really have an accent that anyone can put their finger on, and has no cultural identity besides its sports teams and the manufacture of savoury snacks. What do you say when people ask where you’re from? "London," says David assuredly. And then if they say where did you grow up, I say where I grew up." But nobody asks where you grew up, they ask where you’re from. "When they say ‘where are you from?’ I say London. In London, if they ask where you’re from it assumes they know you’re not from London. So maybe then I’d say Leyton. A Londoner always wants to know where you’re from; if you’re an outsider who moved here, or if you grew up here. There’s quite a big difference."

Summon the image of teenagers across the country listening to John Peel on their radios at night underneath their covers; I’m too young for John Peel; David, a few years older, remembers him more vividly. He got to play on his radio show once, shortly before he died, as a player on his friends Herman Dune’s session. Anyway, with or without John Peel, in small towns across the country, a minority of teenagers will find solace in the strange tones of Lou Reed or Bob Dylan, and the other rebel singers whose voices seem a million miles away, but whose words are ever present. It’s not just difficult to find people who want to be your friend in those situations, but also tricky to use a background of gas works and pie factories as a blueprint for roaring the spirit of the delta blues or the New York punk scene. A songwriter like David channels those influences from far afield into his own life, and into the lives of others whose memories are stacked on all sides by an architecture of dullness.

As a reaction against the bleak Englishness of their existence, disaffected British youths can became obsessed with all things American, be it Jay-Z or James Dean. But just as there’s something hideous about a Ramones jacket and jeans in the Loughborough branch of Baker’s Oven, there’s something very phony about English bands doing an American accent, no matter how much they love the Ramones. "I never thought about doing an American accent", says David. "If you’re from Loughborough, and you hear a song by Hank Williams, who’s singing songs about Texas, and you’re influenced by it, it would be stupid to sing about Texas. I think it’s really thick, and it’s stupid, but it’s very common. Bands do it. A very odd thing about so many bands is the way they copy the style of things, but they don’t copy the spirit of things at all."

"The weirdest thing about The Wave Pictures for us, is when we started getting press we were described as being ‘quintessentially English,’ but it’s not in any way how we ever thought of ourselves. I can understand why people think that, but it’s not something we ever intended to happen. Nearly all our influences are American. My song writing heroes are Lou Reed, Bob Dylan and Jonathan Richman. And when we’re rehearsing, we’ll say, ‘let’s try and play like Neil Young and Crazy Horse’, or ‘let’s do this song like The Stooges’. But those are never the references that anyone ever hears, so you just get compared to The Smiths or Belle and Sebastian."

They do get compared to The Smiths and Belle and Sebastian, but that’s only when they’re being compared with anyone at all. Just as I moved to London because there are more publishers, newspapers and magazines to write for, The Wave Pictures gravitated to London and quickly signed with Moshi Moshi records. "I didn’t know when I moved here I’d still be here four years later," he says. They haven’t returned home crying to mummy, as my mummy thought I would. But they haven’t become anywhere near as huge commercially as a song like ‘I Love You Like A Madman’ should have made them, either. Their shows are generally attended by anything between 30 and 300 people, and throw a bed sheet over a dozen people on Oxford Street and you’d be very lucky to have trapped one person who’s heard of The Wave Pictures.

"I don’t understand why we’re not played on Radio 1. But some of the best musicians I’ve ever heard never even got a record contract. And an awfully lot of people who I think suck, and I’ve seen them before they were famous, and I thought ‘These guys are useless, why have they even formed a band?’ Six months or a year later they’re on Later with Jools Holland, they’re on the front of magazines. I’m not naming any names, but all I’m saying is that it doesn’t make any sense to me."

In his lyrics, David has begun to reference Canary Wharf and the Whitechapel welfare centre as well as the Leicester Mercury and his village cricket pitch. But the process of inspiration, as many writers worth their salt will tell you, is never straight-forward. There are so many sources and contrivances that it becomes like explaining the origins of language itself. And for David, it’s both a conscious and conscious decision, a mixture of thought and memory. So while he relies on memory, there is always an awareness of the present in his songwriting which prevents it from ever being labelled as nostalgic or overly derivative. So, even though there’s a certain poetic quality to his use of words, and a breadth of allusion and reference which goes from Emily Dickinson to Leadbelly, I want to know if David thinks his songs stand alone as poems.

"I think they’re a lot better than a lot of poems, but I think they’re worse than any really good poem. And I suppose it’s not something that I’ve ever thought about. I’m much more interested in songs than I am in poetry. I’ve never tried to write a poem. I don’t like music that’s not got interesting lyrics. I don’t write out a poem and then set it to music, either. I have lots of words, and then I edit them into a song so it seems like a poem at the end, if you see what I mean. It’s got that structure. It’s got lyrical structure.

"But just because they’re interesting lyrics, it’s still a part of the music. It’s much more to do with writing songs than it is to do with writing lyrics. That’s something that people tend to underestimate, when the lyrics are interesting. I think Bob Dylan would always complain about that, because people are very focused on his lyrics, but they’re a part of the music, a part of his way of being musical.

"Whenever a song writer gets really good, all of a sudden he’s called a poet. So call Townes Van Zandt a poet, they call Bob Dylan a poet, or they say Morrissey’s a poet, but these are all just good song writers. And all the song writers who don’t write like that just aren’t very good at writing songs."

I leave through the door which I entered, and David tends to his girlfriend in the next room, who has sat patiently with a broken leg. He has no intention of moving back to Leicestershire to live, and neither do I. But as we carry with us the dust of everywhere we’ve ever been in our memories, anecdotes and photographs, the place of our upbringing leaves the most debris cluttered around inside our heads. Even when we’re walking down the streets of London or New York, there’s no use erasing the memories of that other, smaller place. We just need to know how to live with it, why we decided to leave, and how it affects us, and perhaps then we can feel safe in our own place in the world. And if you listen to David’s songs, maybe his memories and thoughts, which come twisting out of the verses "like a pack of orange spaniels", will affect you too.

The Wave Pictures play the following dates this week:

Wednesday 16th June – Bush Hall, London

Thurs 17th June – Freebutt, Brighton

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