Plymouth’s underground music scene has been on a bit of a downer since the ‘legendary’ White Rabbit closed its doors some time ago, so it was nice to be able to review a home gig for a change when The Picturebooks bought their unique sound and style to ‘Britain’s Ocean City’ at the weekend.
The Junction is a spit and sawdust music pub. Good ales on tap, and a tiny stage at one end, which, when we were finally let in, was oddly empty at the start time. Eventually, there was frantic activity as a band set up and ran through the worlds quickest sound check before welcoming the crowd with the immortal greeting, “Hello! We aren’t Gorilla!” It turns out the first band on the bill hadn’t turned up, so we were straight into the main support act, Grifter. Led by guitarist/vocalist Ollie, they take no time at all to whip up a surprising amount of enthusiasm from a crowd that had only just escaped the storms outside. Their sound is dirty, heavy, raw and loud, and before they had even finished the first song, I was being whipped by the flailing hair of my small, blonde co-reviewer. On the opposite side of the stage, bass player Phil is more restrained than the constantly gurning and posing Ollie, but lays down some intricate and lively bass lines that add depth to the sound. Driving them all along is sinewy drummer Foz. His drumming is enthusiastic to say the least; a whirl of hair, sticks and tattoos. Stand out songs in the set were “It’s Not Me, It’s You”. A gorgeous, Deep South chugger that begged the audience to start to let go, “Failing Asleep” that kept up the energy and “Alabama Hotpocket”, a slower, dirty rhythmic blast with a sing along chorus. Mixed in with the odd punk blitz they left the stage to good appreciation and the heat levels had risen appreciatively. A haze of steam, rather than dry ice, filling the room as the rain evaporated off the audience.
Set up for The Picturebooks was possibly the fastest I have ever seen. The drum kit was already in place to the side of the stage, so readying the stage meant clearing Grifter’s kit and plugging in an amp! Guitarist Fynn and drummer Philipp take the stage. Fynn presses himself against his amp, guitar wailing with tortured feedback, Philipp begins a tribal rhythm on his unusual kit (no cymbals, a large brass bell, and thick mallets instead of sticks) and we are off. It’s fair to say The Picturebooks are unique. Their sound is blues; swampy, lots of slide, delta blues, with feedback; howling, screaming feedback, and catchy hooks, with a rhythm that is utterly primitive battered out on an abused drum kit by a flailing, sweaty percussionist. However you describe it, its raw and entrancing.
In between songs, Fynn regales the audience with stories that show how humble they are. The roadie/lighting engineer/sound engineer is his dad. They seem genuinely pleased to be in a tiny pub in Plymouth, and love the audience reaction. Their rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle is a series of Travelodges, and they seem to quite like that, especially watching daytime TV and Jeremy Kyle, who they got addicted to! They tell us that they had to cancel a couple of gigs due to Philipp having bronchitis and coughing up blood, and then rip into another song where he not so much plays his drums as assaults them, leaving you wondering what the heck he plays like when 100% fit. Their unique sound peaks when, several times during the set, Fynn sings through his guitar, an other-worldly sound as the pickup uses his voice to play the strings and mix the result into a howling banshee wail of feedback and lyrics.
The set features songs from new album “Home Is A Heartache”, such as “Seen Those Days”, “Fire Keeps Burning”, “Zero Fucks Given”, “Bad Habits Die Hard”, “Home Is A Heartache”, and my favourite song of the whole evening (and on my driving playlist) “I Need That Ooh”, with a glorious slide accompanied chorus. It’s a long set, 14 songs, and by the end, both are utterly drenched in sweat. When they return for an encore, Fynn says that Philipp is in an oxygen tent resuscitating, which would be no surprise whatsoever, and plays an acoustic version of “On These Roads I’ll Die”, which is rather haunting. The last note is held for ever and Fynn says that he pushes it every night and gets close to blacking out. He wants to give the crowd something to remember. The band where the singer actually blacked out he held the note so long! Philipp returns for the last song, the superb “These Bridges I Must Burn” and to great applause, the Picturebooks say their thanks and walk through the crowd to sell their own merch!
I don’t think I have ever encountered anything like The Picturebooks, but their unique energy and style had me utterly captivated.
Review and images: Rob Wilkins