Tennis with The Betties

Dutch alt-rockers Bettie Serveert might have gone further if it wasn’t for the unpronounceable name they saddled themselves with — it means "Bettie serves" and was taken from a "How to play tennis" manual written by 1970s Dutch tennis icon Bettie Stove. They certainly deserved to after their fantastic debut Palomine, which, 13 years after its release, sounds as strong and as beautiful as ever.

Though no-one would deny the contributions of the several drummers who have played with the Betties, nor stalwart bass man Hermann Bunskoeke, who has been with them since day one, for most fans, the Betties are all about Peter Visser’s guitars and singer Carol van Dyk’s at-time heartrending, at-times uplifting vocals.

The opening track, Leg, starts with a wonky-sounding guitar riff that is echoed by Carol’s nervous-sounding lyrics: "Tuesdays and Fridays I wait at the bus stop and guess who won’t show up, I’m tired of waiting for you."
With the benefit of hindsight, the first line of their first song is incredibly revealing. Over the course of half a dozen albums, the Betties have written song after song after song about broken promises, broken hearts and unfulfilled dreams, each as beautiful and life-enriching as the next.
The song gradually picks up pace and Carol starts to show her fighting spirit. First she sings: "I wish you would untie the knot" then shortly afterwards: "You won’t have me worried, I can still take care of myself somehow". Notice the "somehow". She’s never less than insecure and uncertain, but you still get the feeling you wouldn’t mess with her.

All the while, the guitar is picking up in the background, with Peter upping the pace and taking the song off in a new direction, culminating in a breathtaking solo. After 6 minutes and 12 seconds, it’s all over, and as you pause for breath, the song segues indistinguishably into the next, the title track, which is as soft and as gentle as the first was hard and raucous. Only the tunefulness binds them together.
The rest of the album is peppered with great tracks. Brain Tag, another typical Betties tune, the way it starts incredibly slowly, then turns a corner in the middle when Peter gets bored of lurking in the shadows and steps into the spotlight.

Balentine, Sundazed to the core. Just great tune after great tune.
If you find yourself in Holland, you might find, as I did, a remastered version of the album with three bonus tracks. They’re all good, but Get the Bird is the best, a driving, relentless rocker with a great riff, culminating in the inevitable, top end of the fretboard, headbanging solo. He just can’t help himself.
When I got my first MP3 player and did a search for Betties songs, I came across a version of The Carpenters For All We Know on a tribute album and downloaded it. It’s a nice version, but even when they’re doing The Carpenters, they are so obviously the Betties doing the Carpenters. You can hear them in the heavy, guitar-soaked intro to the song, in Carol’s doleful, plaintive vocals. Most of all, though, you hear them at the end of the song.  Two minutes and 23 seconds in, and Carol signs off with the line, slowly delivered: "For all we know" and you think, yeah, nice version. Then just as she sings the word we and you’re about to take the headphones off and do something else, you hear this noise, in the background, a sort of high-pitched whine, and then you realise what it is. It’s Peter of course! He can’t just let the song finish without doing his bit, so for the next 56 seconds,  you get Peter, going mental on the guitar as only he can.

I played the song to my mate Griff, the UK’s other Betties fan, and his reaction was the same as mine. He just laughed – that’s what makes the Betties great. They just do what they do and if you like it, fine, and if not, well they’ll keep doing it anyway.
That’s why they got dropped by Matador after their third album – not commercial enough. That’s why they still spend half their lives touring the States, where they have a cult following, and mainland Europe. And why I, for one, hope they’ll never stop doing it.
You can get  all their albums, plus a few Fan Club ones that never got a general release, on their website:

David Murphy

Bettie Serveert – Palomine (Matador) 1992


2 Responses to “Tennis with The Betties”

  1. robb Says:

    i was a huge fan of this band. the second album (lamprey) was 97% as amazing as this one. i still have yet to purchase the last two records. are they any good? i have dust bunnies and the velvet underground one.

  2. David Murphy Says:

    It’s hard for me to be objective but Log 22 is defintely worth buying. Some great tracks, best of which is the very Velvetsy White Dogs.

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