It was 1987, when I was lucky to live in a big city with two import records shops, where on daily basis I was snooping around to grab as quick as I could potentially new arrivals.
That day I was immediately attracted by that cover with a picture of a football player on a green background, a red shirt, long hair and sideburns, like a muddy hippy at the Glastonbury festival in a Manchester United shirt, I knew him he was the crazy George Best! As a Liverpool fan I was fond of English football, I had a close look, mmm The Wedding Present?, I had vaguely read about them but it didn’t matter; I was hooked.
From that magic moment The Wedding Present are like my best friend, I could’t listen to them for months, but when I needed to listen to some essential indie music, with witty lyrics and noisy guitars, or I had to fill a playlist or think about my favourite ever indie songs ‘Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft’, ‘My favourite Dress’ are always there.
Over the years the band has never been afraid to re-invent itself and to challenge its fans, and tomorrow will be releasing its ninth album titled ‘Going, Going…’ (North America, Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records), an ambitious experimental music/video concept of twenty linked tracks, each one accompanied with a beautiful film.
Once again the fans, and hopefully many young ones, will be bewildered at first but completely satisfied and seduced at the end. After all The Wedding Present are like our most faithful best friend: they will never fail us. David Gedge, the core of the band provides the answers to our questions.
My relationship with your band started because of that George Best cover; I’m sure I’m not the only one to be snared by it or to ask you why you decided on that particular cover? Were you able to easily put a Billy Bremner picture on it or was this for what Best symbolized?
I’m often asked why I chose ‘George Best’ to be the title. This happens mostly whenever we play in Leeds because people can’t understand why the Leeds-born leader of a Leeds-born group would choose a Manchester United player for their record sleeve!
Well… firstly, I just thought it was a fantastic name for an album! The words ‘George Best’ somehow looked and sounded great to me. Secondly, I actually support Manchester United so being able to put a picture of him on our sleeve made me happy, of course. I became a United fan when I was growing up in Manchester but my father’s from Leeds and my mother’s from Manchester so I have a fondness for both cities. This causes consternation in the football world [and with those Leeds-based Wedding Present fans] because of the bitter rivalry between the two Uniteds.
But, more than this, George Best was always something of an icon to me. I grew up in the 60s and 70s when he was the star of a brilliant team in a glamorous era… and it was really fantastic being a United fan when George was playing.
I think I was also attracted to the fact that he was just so… ‘cool’! There was an endless parade of pictures of him in trendy nightclubs, hanging out with The Beatles, dressed in the latest fashions…
And, of course, I admired his rebellious nature… his notoriety… and the fact that he often refused to play by the rules. That look of his… the beard, the long hair… the shirt hanging outside of the shorts when everybody else’s was tucked in. In fact, in an age where the dreadfulness of footballers’ haircuts was legendary, George had the only really cool one. Trendy, insubordinate, irresponsible… he was the wild man of the game and I used to love it when he’d get into trouble for not turning up for practices because he’d been out late with a Miss World the previous night. For a growing lad, to see someone flouting the rules like that was, of course, very inspiring.
I’ve recently interviewed Tom Greenhalgh from Mekons, another legendary long-lasting band from Leeds. Many 80’s unforgettable bands, all with a strong independent DIY attitude, are still in the game, among which are Leeds bands Gang of Four, The Sisters Of Mercy and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. What do you think – is Rock and Roll an old man’s game now? In the 80’s it would have seemed obscene thinking about a 60 year old still playing rock ’n’ roll, but now just the dead or the insane ones are not doing it. What’s your opinion about that?
I don’t think that’s correct. I think you probably think that because you liked younger bands when you were the same age and those bands have grown up with you… but I can remember lots of old rockers going strong in the 70s and 80s! I think that if you’re driven enough to want to do this in the first place it’s hard to shake off the obsession at any age.
1992 was your breakthrough year, jumping in a certain matter of time from a promising obscure indie band from Leeds to gaining wide international recognition with top hits singles, “Top of The Pops” appearances, pictures on a number of popular magazine covers. What do you personally recall of that time and how did you deal with the pitfalls of fame and the music industry?
That Hit Parade series was a particularly ‘media friendly’ concept and so it might have appeared that we were getting a lot of attention around then but, in truth, the band’s popularity had been growing steadily from the release of our early singles. So, in a way, we were prepared for the attention that we received in 1992. It also helped that we were older… I was already in my mid twenties when our first single came out so it wasn’t as if we were idiot teenagers who’d be letting fame go to our heads!
Maybe the greatest merit of John Peel is teaching listeners to be free from any music genre boundaries, and the choice of your cover versions has always showed that you have perfectly learned his lesson, so much that you have become the best example of how they have been interpreted. Could you please tell us about any treasured moments with ‘the Maestro’?
I’m not sure I have the time to properly answer that because there have been so many treasured moments! From the late 1970s onwards I was obsessed by John Peel’s programmes… and one of the main ambitions I had when forming The Wedding Present was to have a record played on his show. I hardly missed a program up until his death. We went on to record many sessions for Peel and obviously enjoyed his support. People say that I’m fortunate to have had that but, really, The Wedding Present were the archetypal Peel band, in a way. I’d absorbed what he was playing on the radio… it influenced me in moulding the band… and so I was just kind of giving it back to him. We were so influenced by the music he used to play that it would’ve been very odd had he not liked The Wedding Present!
Another thing I can blame your band for, is to feed my collector’s disposition with the ‘Hit Parade 7” series’. Since then my house had been submerged with boxes full of singles and my wife hated me. It was a period with far less information and facilities, but I guess with more mystery and romance. What’s your take on new technology and media like iTunes, Soundcloud, mp3s…? Are we in the middle of an era of re-defining the artist/labels/fans relationship? What do you think about the current situation and possible future developments?
On the one hand I feel fortunate to work in an industry that’s changed… and is still changing… so radically and excitingly but then there’s a part of me that feels that streaming and downloading isn’t quite as romantic as going into a shop, buying a 7” single, taking it home out and playing it on a record player while you study the sleeve! But I do love the interactive relationship that you’re talking about… I’ve always chatted with Wedding Present fans at concerts but now I can do it online as well. And, growing up, I would have loved to have been able to play videos of my favourite bands any time I felt like it… on my ‘phone!
I wonder, looking back, if the songs and albums of yours that are the most beloved by your fans and your audience correspond to the ones that you love the most? Or are there any that have sort of slipped through the cracks for you?
It’s impossible for me to decide which of our albums I like the most because they’re all so different. It kind of depends what mood I’m in. I think ‘George Best’ probably sounds the most dated but the songs are great fun to play live… it’s a real workout. It’s the 30th anniversary of that album next year and we’re doing some shows where we’ll be playing it in its entirety, so I’m looking forward to that a lot.
The three-part cycle life (writing, recording, touring) of a full-time musician is exciting and demanding but could also lead to dangerously falling into routine, but your band’s nature since the beginning is to push the boundaries of your creativity. The last challenge is the multimedia music experience of the recently released new album. Could you please explain to our readers how ‘Going, Going…’ came about and developed? Did you follow a straight pattern or was some improvisation involved?
The concept evolved over the last couple of years and, at the beginning, I had no idea how the finished thing would look. It’s loosely based on a road trip that I took across the USA from Maine to California along with photographer Jessica McMillan. We travelled through twenty states and so it seemed obvious to work on twenty pieces of music and twenty films to accompany them. Each of the titles is a location that we visited on the trip and all the lyrics to the songs are also linked. So the whole thing tells a story, basically… musically and literally. It wasn’t until we started recording demos that I realised that it wasn’t all going to fit on a single LP! In the end it’s five tracks per side of vinyl… and the geek in me likes the symmetry in that!
The album starts with a bursting and unexpected cavalcade of four dark, noisy, intense instrumental tracks in a row before transforming into a more usual song format. Why did you choose to do things this way? Did you, thematically, have an all-encompassing vibe you wanted to convey?
The four opening instrumentals came about because, once I’d decided on the idea of recording twenty tracks, I realised that I had the space to incorporate a lengthy introduction. So the idea of those tracks is that they set the scene while, at the same time build some kind of feeling of expectation. I do think there is an overall mood to the record but I’d prefer the listeners to discover that for themselves rather than giving my take on it.
A good part of pop lyrics is often about the feverish excitement and the heartache of being in love with a juvenile miserable state of being. Many of your lyrics deal with those subjects. Over the years, how has a supposed ‘sentimental maturity’ or maybe a slightly dose of cynicism or disenchantment changed your perspective? In your new song ‘Fifty-six’ you sing ‘Your picture in my phone / Reminds me I’m alone’, it seems to me that your soul still hasn’t or will never find its place? At least keeps you from talking about life and death… What do you think?
I think the stuff I write about… relationships, basically… transcends age. Sure, with maturity comes experience but… those feelings associated with falling in and out of love and all the other stuff in-between… I don’t think it matters if you’re sixteen or fifty six… they still have the same resonance and they still make for the perfect pop lyric.
If I have to think about the best lyrics I’ve listened to this outgoing year, I can think of Nick Cave and the sad recent departure of Leonard Cohen (another master capturing the pain of love). What’s your opinion about the lack of remarkable young lyricists these days?
To be honest I’ve always found most pop lyrics to be of a ridiculously low standard and I don’t think they’re particularly any worse these days. Pop song writers get away with murder because of the nature of the medium so when a good lyricist comes along every decade or so they stand out a mile!
I’m the first to admit I’d need more than an extra life in order to realize all my interests but, judging from all your activities (music, writing, also your own comic book, and recently your video making) you would need a dozen lives at least! So about the stressful but satisfying experience of touring, how will you be taking this audio-visual concept on stage?
It can be tiring, obviously… but, ultimately, what I’m concerned with, is communication… the telling of stories set to music, basically… and the most direct way of doing that is to sing them to an audience. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of that. We’re not playing ‘Going, Going…’ in its entirety on our current tour or the forthcoming North American tour, so there’s actually no visual element. But when the album came out we did some shows in the United Kingdom where we played in front of a big screen onto which the films were projected and that worked really well. Photos of the set that I’ve seen are really beautiful…
Many thanks for your time. As a final question, I’ll not ask you the usual ‘what’s next’ because it will surely be a surprise, but instead, what artists and songs are you excited about at the moment?
I’m looking forward to seeing Colleen Green play every night when she opens for us in North America next April. It’s kind of punky pop music which has a late 1970s new wave feel to it.
Photo credits: Jessica McMillan (1st one), The Wedding Present (2nd one)