Tag Archives: 1991

REVIEWS // The Fest Yet (1991)

I’ve never counted how many gigs and live shows I’ve been to in my life, but it could easily run into four figures. The very first one I remember was at the tender age of 15, seeing a band called Rodgau Monotones somewhere in Germany at the behest of my penpal of the time. I wasn’t particularly impressed with them and all I recall is thinking that they sounded a little like ZZ Top.

The first one that I went to by choice, probably not long after, was Julian Cope. I was 16 by then and Cope was touring the ‘Saint Julian’ album, his comeback collection after having ducked out of the scene whilst he recuperated from having fried his synapses a little too much for the pop mainstream. The key gimmick on this particular tour was a scaffold-like mic stand that Cope clambered on and which swung around as he kicked through his set. I left the venue, Cardiff University, as he was going through his seventh encore, a feat I’ve not seen replicated by any performer since. I guess by then I was hooked.

In the first half of my twenties, I substituted the desire to go abroad and explore foreign lands for standing in muddy English fields to watch as many bands as I could possibly squeeze in to three days. This was a time when the British festival scene was considerably smaller and there were only really two main events to go to – Glastonbury and Reading. Just attending these two was enough to stretch the limited student finances to breaking point, so it was probably just as well that there weren’t a lot of others going on. My first of the era was Glastonbury in 1990 and the last major festival I went to was WOMAD in 1995, having finally started branching out from solid indie rock.

At the end of it all, I swore to myself that I wouldn’t go back to the likes of Glastonbury unless I was playing there in my own band and set out on my efforts to put such a combo together. Still haven’t made it back yet. One day though, who knows?

I did however get a crack at being a music journalist, when I wrote up a review of the 1991 Reading Festival. This was published in college rag The Printed Image and can be found in full glory below.

The Fest Yet

What does every journalist open a festival review with? Yes, a quick recap on the weather, of course. Naturally, arrival at the site was heralded with seriously heavy rainfall. Memories of last year’s Glastonbury Festival came flooding back, of having to cross oceans of mud to reach anywhere resembling a good view of the main stage. However, the mud soon ceased to be a problem, as you would cease to be too if you were trampled on by 30,000 pairs of Doc Martens.

It is very easy to find your way to the site if you’ve never been to the festival before. All you need to do is follow the long flow of greboes heading in the same direction. The festival goers took on the form of a funeral procession. Almost everyone was clad in black, but I suppose with The Sisters Of Mercy headlining the Sunday night, it was to be expected. For a finishing touch, the procession was complete with an array of flowers (admittedly all on James T-shirts though).

Friday 23rd

BABES IN TOYLAND delivered the first excitement of the day, and were obviously eagerly anticipated, judging by the mass migration towards the stage. Spearheading the new wave of all female US hardcore bands, the Babes set out to prove that they could make as much noise as the boys on the bill.

SILVERFISH turned up next to thrill us with their screaming guitars and blistering noise. The guitarist Fuzz, was clad in a tuxedo while Leslie happily swore at the audience as if she hated them. And with songs like ‘Total Fucking Asshole’, who’s to argue?

NIRVANA followed Silverfish, sounding even harder and grittier. Nirvana have recently fled the Sub-Pop nest to join the elder statesmen of hardcore, Sonic Youth, on Geffen. A major label doesn’t mean any compromise on their sound either. Introduced by John Peel as ‘another dandy little combo’, they kicked Reading into a higher gear in preparation for the bigger names that were to follow.

You can always hope for something special about the day when DINOSAUR JR grace the stage. J Mascis looked a little bored but that didn’t undermine their combination of soaring guitars, brilliant noise and great melodies. ‘I Live For That Look’, ‘The Wagon’ and ‘Freakscene’ all helped to drag out the sun, kicking and screaming, to brighten the day and the moods.

For all those suffering from hardcore fatigue, there was either the comedy tent or POP WILL EAT EATSELF, who changed the mood by giving the crowd an opportunity to dance instead of slam. The Poppies made a very spirited attempt to put on a good show, with smoke and backdrops, and they succeeded in being entertaining if a little tacky. All the PWEI classics were rolled out including ‘Def Con One’, ‘There Is No Love Between Us Anymore’ and material from the recent ‘Cure For Sanity’ LP. They really brought the crowds to their feet.

SONIC YOUTH, Friday’s co-headliners, were out to kill. By the second song, Thurston Moore was already hurling his guitar around the stage. This was a band who clearly belonged up there in front of an audience where they could take their fusion of experimentation and extreme noise considerably further. They slugged their equipment around so much that they had to tune up between most of the songs. Kim Gordon ended the set by jumping up and down on her bass guitar as if the instrument had offended her family, while Thurston Moore continued to hurl his guitar over the edge of the stage like a dog on an extending lead. It’s times like these that you’re grateful not to be one of Sonic Youth’s guitars! Highlights of the set included ‘Teen Age Riot’, ‘Mary Christ’ and ‘Dirty Boots’ (surely the theme song of the day).

Suffering blistered ears and a battered body from Sonic Youth, IGGY POP, Friday’s headliner, started out as a real anti-climax. He failed to make very much of an impression, despite his prancing around like Mick Jagger on heat, his claims of having been ‘sent here to rock this shit’ and the removal of most of his clothes (often dropping his jeans too). There was little distinction between the songs and there had been far more powerful bands on earlier. Still, I suppose even ‘living legends’ must have their time to warm up and Iggy Pop is no exception. ‘China Girl’ (yes, that one) broke the pattern by sounding different, and had me on my feet; ‘Real Wild Child’ got everyone dancing, while ‘The Passenger’ was even granted an audience singalong. By ‘Lust For Life’ the boredom had been forgotten. He encored with two Stooges songs, ‘No Fun’ and ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. When we thought that it was all over he came back for one more song, the old R ‘n’ B classic that he had retitled ‘Louie Fuckin’ Louie’. It may have taken a while, but Iggy Pop showed us why he was up there at the top of the bill.

Saturday 24th

Saturday turned out to be an altogether more varied day with the emphasis on ‘pop’ music on the bill. The first (and only) disappointment of the day were FLOWERED UP. Imagine a third rate Happy Mondays with Cockney accents and all the songs sounding the same and you’ll get the picture.

That left the brilliant TEENAGE FANCLUB to make the first good impression on me and give me reason to stand up. They succeeded. Kicking off with the classic ‘God Knows It’s True’ and ending up with the rolling ‘Everything Flows’, they managed to pack in as much serious fun as possible. Teenage Fanclub were clearing playing for themselves and having a whale of a time while they were at it. They gave a more diverse element to the day’s billing with their swaggering Dinosaur Jr/Neil Young guitar sound.

Seeing as this year’s festival seemed to be full of those who’ve hit the limelight very quickly (Neds, Babes, Fannies), this gave a great excuse to put BLUR on. This is a band who both want to be big and who will be. Damon, the singer, loped on stage looking completely stoned and proceeded to spend the entire set falling all over the place like an Orang Utan with his spine removed. From catchy pop ditties to swirling hippy anthems, Blur smothered the audience with adoration and were loved in return. Damon must have been watching Sonic Youth (albeit in slow motion), the way he was knocking things over, including himself. If this man had a guitar, he would be dangerous. Whenever a roadie ran on to put back an unfortunate mic stand or Dave’s cymbals, Damon tried to mount him. Future headliners?

DE LA SOUL were so bad at Glastonbury last year that I decided to skip them this time, making THE FALL the next band to grace the stage. Even the existential miserable bastard Mark E. Smith seemed in high spirits today. He was actually smiling when he kicked the roadie off stage! Keeping with the band’s tradition of barely ever playing anything more than a couple of years old, this year’s ‘Shiftwork’ LP was really brought alive. This is quite sad because it means a largely excellent back catalogue gets ignored, with virtually the only ‘old’ song they played being ‘Big New Prinz’. Still, Mark does like to keep himself on his toes. An encore was called for and delivered in the shape of last year’s Festive 50 chart topper ‘Bill Is Dead’ and the title track from the ‘Shiftwork’ LP. ‘Always different, always the same, they are the reason I listen to pop music’, John Peel is quoted as saying when asked to describe The Fall. They are now in a league of their own.

That left two bands to round up the day and the best were (naturally) left till last. Simply put, CARTER THE UNSTOPPABLE SEX MACHINE were brilliant. Rock festival purists would undoubtedly have been horrified at two guys running around on stage with a drum machine and backing tapes for accompaniment. Despite the fact that Carter are better suited to slightly more intimate venues than a 30,000 capacity outdoor arena, they didn’t let this spoil their set and their sound was far from lost in the open air. They were also very well received. The set was opened with ‘Surfing U.S.M.’ and continued with many faithful renditions of tracks from their last LP ‘30 Something’. When Carter play live, the songs sound no different from their vinyl counterparts, but that is testimony to how good their records are. That’s why it’s better to see them live; because you look stupid stage-diving in your bedroom. ‘Sheriff Fatman’ and ‘This Is How It Feels’, the Inspiral Carpets number, formed the first encore and ‘G.I. Blues’ closed the set completely.

Watching JAMES in concert is always both a pleasure and an experience. Tonight’s spot at the Reading Festival was no exception even though my view was mostly obscured by the large gut of a front row security guard. James have now reached a stage where you have to have an opinion on them. Every third person you pass on the street is wearing a James T-shirt. For a band that have been together in various incarnations since 1983, it’s a surprise that it has taken them so long to get this far. James have a back catalogue that many bands would kill to have written themselves. From the opening shot ‘What For’ (a single that deserved to be a massive hit), through to the end ‘How Was It For You’ (their first taste of Top 40 success) and the encore of ‘Come Home’, there was never a dull moment. All the old songs were revitalised and sounded as fresh as if they had been written yesterday. The new songs were all gems in their own right. Tracks like ‘Hymn From A Village’ tend to lose their vulnerability under the expanded line-up but that’s not to say that the song wasn’t done justice to. The band put so much energy and vitality into their performances, it’s as if each one is playing for the last time and is trying to outdo the other while still staying in complete harmony. Tim puts so much into it that he appears to be hyperventilating between each song. Of course, even bands of magnitude have their problems. The early part of the set was brought down by bad sound. It took times trying to start ‘Walking The Ghost’ before Tim gave up and went for another mic. But there are always the highs with the lows. After they played ‘Sit Down’, the crowd broke up the order by singing the chorus back to the onstage assemblage at such a volume that the band couldn’t carry on. It is moments like seeing the look of elation on Tim’s face as he sat and surveyed the mass of singing faces that make it all worthwhile. ‘Lose Control’ followed, stripped down completely to acoustic guitar and vocals. They manage to keep their stage shows fresh and alive by constantly changing their set around and making each show unique. James have finally arrived and they are untouchable.

Sunday 25th

Seeing as the Main Stage had such a patchy line-up, I decided to spend most of the day in the Mean Fiddler tent. Naturally, it took a few bands for the atmosphere to warm up. WELL LOADED did nothing for me at all. They in fact sent me to sleep. TOASTED HERETIC were marginally better, yet still not enjoyable. LOVES YOUNG NIGHTMARE were fairly good, or worth applauding anyway. The tent packed out for the next artist, CAPTAIN SENSIBLE, appearing in trademark red beret and round shades. He was great, giving us a run through his greatest moments, including old Damned favourites ‘New Rose’ and ‘Smash It Up’, and ‘Glad It’s All Over’. He left the stage with a cry of ‘Buy my records, you fucking bums!’

THE POPINJAYS sprang up next to inject a bit of fun into the proceedings with bouncy melodies and catchy choruses, after legions of Damned fans left the tent. The girls didn’t look as if they expected to go down too well. Despite this, they were very well received.

Swansea’s very own indie favourites, THE POOH STICKS, followed some out of place jazz band. They were really good, even though I knew none of the songs. Amelia Fletcher guested to add some sugar to the harmonies and Hue finished off by squirting the audience with a water pistol!

FATIMA MANSIONS were the next band that I saw in the Mean Fiddler, who were just fascinating to watch. Cathal Coughlan has enough venom in him to put a charging rhino to sleep, while his excellent choice of songs showed that it is possible to sing about political matters and not come across as a load of pretentious toss like THE GODFATHERS (Main Stage). He must come off stage completely exhausted after his performance of a marionette in a cyclone. Fatima Mansions closed with the epic ‘Blues For Ceausescu’.

NEDS ATOMIC DUSTBIN were the only band on the Main Stage that I bothered to see anything of, and that was only about twenty minutes worth. The Neds played a selection of new songs and their hit single ‘Happy’ in the short time that I saw them. They were as energetic as ever and looking as if they were having a great time, which is what it’s all about really.

NEW FAST AUTOMATIC DAFFODILS proved themselves to be as effortlessly brilliant as ever, exuding their gritty funk grooves to the point where the tent felt more like a club than a gig, and everyone was dancing. New FADS are not as raw as they used to be but that does not make them mellow by any stretch of the imagination. Tracks included ‘Big’, ‘Fishes Eyes’ and ‘Man Without Qualities’. The crowd were seriously disappointed when the band left the stage and didn’t come back on. Because there were so many bands on at this tent, they all had to play condensed versions of their normal length sets.

The choice between the headliners was easy. It was either a case of standing in a field amongst a bunch of preening goths listening to the pretentious drivel of THE SISTERS OF MERCY or packing myself like a sardine into the Mean Fiddler to experience Bristol’s finest, THE BLUE AEROPLANES.

They were well worth the wait. People who were pissed off about New FADS short set soon forgot their grumbles. As is always the case with The Blue Aeroplanes, there seemed to more people up on the stage than down in the crowd. Their mixture of ‘beat poetry’ with layers of guitars (and a weird Polish dancer) seems to work every time now. The band rolled off such favourites as ‘Jacket Hangs’, ‘…And Stones’, ‘Yr Own World’ and their Paul Simon cover of ‘The Boy In The Bubble’. Even the indecently young looking guitarist Rodney Allen got his own singing spot. Gerard looked like Rodney’s father next to him, placing a firm parental hand on the young lad’s shoulder. Are The Blue Aeroplanes pretentious or brilliant? Probably a bit of both, but that’s OK because sometimes pretension works. Tonight, The Blue Aeroplanes soared. But they do prompt the question: Was Gerard Langley born with those shades on, or what?

If you want to know what the festival was about; not being able to shower, shit or shave properly for five days, eating cold junk food and drinking warm beer, but being able to see loads of brilliant bands, don’t ask me or take notice of any of the reviews. Get yourself a ticket for Reading ’92 and experience it for yourself!

(all pictures courtesy of www.musicpictures.com except for Iggy Pop, courtesy of Reading Evening Post)

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Filed under 1991, Reviews

INTERVIEWS // That Joke Isn’t Bunny Anymore (1991)

Of all the indie bands from the early 90’s that I interviewed as staff writer and Music Editor for college rag The Printed Image, very few of them actually made it into a written article. One of the rare ones that did was conducted with a fellow called Noel Burke, who was in the musically unenviable position of having stepped into the shoes of Echo & The Bunnymen‘s departed singer Ian McCulloch.

To be fair to him, he did a sterling job of fighting his corner in what has since proved to be a losing battle, that of making his own mark in a very difficult situation. As a fan of the original band, I was actually quite taken with the tunes that the Burke-led Bunnymen came up with too, although they didn’t really do the name justice in this fan’s eyes. Still, respect was given to him for trying.

This interview was one of the times when I was left with a tale to tell from getting it that was almost equivalent to the subject itself. As best I can remember, I took the bus from Cardiff to Bristol where the band were playing that night. It was cheap option and as I was knee-deep in usual student debt, a train wasn’t really going to be on the agenda. Befriending a couple I met on the back of the bus who were also heading to the same show, I may well have gotten my mind a little befuddled with whatever they had with them to pick themselves up or slow themselves down and duly shared with me.

Having been into the Bunnymen for a few years by then but gotten into them after their heyday, it was the closest I’d got to seeing one of their shows. There were at least two of the original members of the band playing and ‘two out of four is better than none’, I thought to myself.

After the show, I went backstage to talk with Noel. By then, the band were not getting anything like the press they’d received in their heyday and given that he was new to being a Bunnyman, seemed glad to have someone want to know what he had to say – even if it was some big-haired ‘A’ Level student that wasn’t likely to give them a great deal of exposure in his rag.

Noel bought me a beer too, which added to the sense of congeniality I was feeling about the evening. He was a very pleasant subject to interview and we spent quite a while talking. Might have even had another beer together too.

Once it was all over and the tape recorder was switched off, I bid my farewells and exited an empty venue. Not really that aware of the time that had passed, I got to the bus station only to find that I had missed the last one back to Cardiff.

No money for a hotel. No desire at all to sleep on the streets of Bristol. Too tired by the exaltations of the evening, I wasn’t of a mind to try and stay awake wandering around the darkened streets until the first bus of the morning. There was nothing for it but to hitch back to Cardiff.

I don’t remember a great deal about the journey back now, but I know that hitching after midnight in a deserted city doesn’t equal prime chances of being picked up. I had to wait a good couple of hours to get a ride, probably from some night-shifting trucker that saw it as a way to break up the tedium of what he was doing. It would have been somewhat close to dawn by the time I got back home, so there certainly wouldn’t have been any college gone to the next day.

I’d barely ever dream of hitching these days. Suppose it’s something that if you ever do it, and I’ve certainly done it enough in my time to not want to have to do it again now, you can tick it off your list of things to experience in a lifetime and leave it at that.

Ian McCulloch eventually rejoined a reformed Echo & The Bunnymen. Noel left the band in 1992 and became a teacher. He later got back together with his first former bandmates St Vitus Dance and released an album called ‘Glypotheque’ in 2008.

That Joke Isn’t Bunny Anymore

In 1987, Johnny Marr left The Smiths and, thankfully for the band’s sake, they split up after considering replacing Marr. Imagine now if Morrissey had left and the band had continued, with a replacement for Morrissey, under the name of The Smiths. To say that they wouldn’t have been the same would have been an understatement. Neither would The Wedding Present without David Gedge. Or Happy Mondays without Shaun Ryder. Or Echo And The Bunnymen without Ian McCulloch.

Ian McCulloch left Echo And The Bunnymen during an American tour in 1988. Bravely, Will Sargeant, Les Pattinson and Pete De Freitas decided to soldier on, still carrying the Bunnymen flag. A replacement for Mac was found in Belfast-born Noel Burke. They received further setback when drummer Pete De Freitas was tragically killed in a motorcycle crash (the new album ‘Reverberation’ is dedicated to Peter) the following year.

Will and Les made it clear that it was their intention to persevere under the moniker of Echo And The Bunnymen. Initially, Mac hit back, suggesting that they rename themselves Echoes Of The Bunnymen. Last year, 1990, the new Echo And The Bunnymen album ‘Reverberation’ was unleashed in the face of adverse criticism. I only remember reading one good review and that was only a good review, whereas in the past an Echo And The Bunnymen album should have received an excellent review. The main problem that most writers seemed unable to come to terms with was the name. They didn’t seem to look further, to the music on the album.

Having said this, ‘Reverberation’ is actually an excellent album. Noel Burke is a rare find indeed and a very talented songwriter. Unfortunately, this is possibly the worst light he could be seen under, for he will constantly be living under the shadow of Ian McCulloch, a daunting prospect. ‘Reverberation’ on the other hand does not stand up very well against the real Bunnymen albums, such as ‘Heaven Up Here’ or ‘Ocean Rain’. One wonders whether he is being himself in his song writing or just a pale imitation of Mac.

I’ve talked to a few people who say it’s not the same and I say it’s not meant to be the same. I’ve got my own preoccupations with singing, and lyrically I’ve got enough to be going on with myself to worry about what was going before.

I see it as an integral part of the band. Obviously, a frontman has certain duties and in the whole scheme of things, the spotlight’s on you. It’s silly denying that, but as far as anyone else in the band is concerned, songwriting or whatever, everybody’s got an input and that has always been the way with the Bunnymen. It was like that when Mac was in the band. Will and Les did a hell of a lot of the songwriting. Mac wrote the lyrics and he did his own vocal parts and that’s exactly what I do with the band.

Previously to the Bunnymen (Mark II), Noel had been in a band called St. Vitus Dance who had split up and Noel had moved to Liverpool, getting a job at Waterstone’s book shop. This is where Will and Les found him after having decided on him as a replacement for their departed singer.

Burke had been a fan of the band up to ‘Ocean Rain’. Had they been amongst his influences as a member of St. Vitus Dance?

I saw them in Belfast. There was a bomb scare and we had to go out into the freezing cold for about an hour before we were let into the gig, so they were dead late, but it was good. I enjoyed it. At the time, I wasn’t even in a band. I liked them, but they wouldn’t have been an influence. Lyrically, it was people like Costello and Cathal Coughlan, out of Microdisney and Fatima Mansions now. Musically, it was mostly 60’s type stuff, like The Zombies and Wire. Basically, it was the same sort of thing as this band in that it was very democratic and everybody had different tastes. I’m only speaking from my point of view. Everybody had a different input.

Although a lot of their live set consists of the new songs that they have written together, a selection of old songs have crept in, such as ‘Silver’, ‘All That Jazz’ and ‘Bedbugs And Ballyhoo’. Having been a fan of the band, surely it would have been strange for Noel to have been playing those songs?

It’s not that weird because I’m so familiar with them. Obviously, I prefer to play the songs that we’ve written, but as far as the old songs are concerned, they’re Will and Les’s songs and they were Pete’s as well. He was in the band when I first joined.

For Will and Les, this is like a new band. There is one respect though in which they are not a new band. They have kept the name, which is going to invite criticisms and comparisons to Mac’s Bunnymen.

I’ve got a theory about that. The people who are going to compare will be about the same age as myself, about 27, and they’ll be looking back to what they were doing when ‘Heaven Up Here’ or ‘Ocean Rain’ were out. People have fonder memories of an album because it’s buried in their past and they’ll associate it with losing their virginity or whatever. I don’t think it’s fair to compare it on those terms because it’s something you know and love and it changes. Certainly people are going to have a lot of preconceptions and be sceptical. I would have had that attitude. If I had been an outsider, I would have said that it’s bound to be crap. I think that people, when they look back in a year or so, they’ll think it’s a really great album. I think it is a pity it has come out in such circumstances. People look at it in its historical perspective now and see it in this so-called ‘bad light’.

Once the fans have been won over, the next hurdle is the press, who can destroy a band’s career and haven’t been too warm to the new Bunnymen yet. Does Noel get upset by the press reactions?

Who gives a shite? There’s room in the world for everyone. The music press only tend to be interested if they think there’s going to be a slanging match and we’re not going to do it. We’re not going to come out and slag Mac off. My philosophy in life is ‘those who can do, those who can’t work for the NME’. I know loads of people who work for the NME who were in bands who never did anything. So they got into the NME with a chip on their shoulder.

So, provided Echo And The Bunnymen don’t take too much notice of those cutting journalists, what plans are there for the future?

I just want to do as many weird and wonderful things as possible. I want to put out loads of singles. I want to do stuff outside of the band. Everybody wants to do stuff outside of the band. We’ve all got such diverse interests. I don’t mean anything like a solo career, but working with other people. Maybe singing or getting into production. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing.

There is a question that is always asked of Paul McCartney or George Harrison. It is, in fact, asked of any band members or bands who have gone their separate ways. Are there any plans for a reformation?

I don’t think that (Will and Les) have any regrets. It’s just that things went the way they did and I think they’re happy now. The whole thing had soured and they weren’t getting on. It was like a marriage and everyone had got used to each other but they weren’t getting on and it was a question of who would send the boat out first and Mac did; he left. I don’t think they’ll ever want it the way it was. I know for a fact that they don’t see it now as second best.

Since I interviewed Noel, the band have been dropped from their record label. Time will tell if they win the press back over. Bring on the dancing reviews.

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Filed under 1991, Features, Interviews

INTERVIEWS // All The Songs Sound The Same (1991)

The first time I remember dabbling a little more seriously with writing was accepting an assignment for the high school newspaper, aged 11. Excited as I was to have the opportunity, as an avowed pacifist even then I was dismayed that my first ‘proper writing job’ was to be a review of a boxing match! The piece in question may not exist now, but I do remember that I watched the match and went ahead with writing about it.

It took something like another ten years before I would really have something to get my teeth into. Taking an ‘A’ Level in Media Studies at a Cardiff college, I gravitated towards the setting up of a new magazine, that came to be named The Printed Image. I was given the position of Music Editor, which felt quite prestigious at the time. It certainly gave me a dose of life as a ‘blagging’ music journalist, as I spent the good part of a year calling up record companies under this guise and convincing them to allow me to interview the artists that spent so long on my turntable at the time.

While I met many of the indie heroes of the day and got a feel for the mysteries of backstage life, I rarely turned any of the resulting interviews into articles. I guess that this was partly down to the drag of spending many hours trawling through a cassette to transcribe what I’d come up with to turn it into something readable. However, the first one of these interviews formed the article that appears below.

Following on from the demise of The Smiths and in the days when anything that John Peel gave his thumbs up to got a listen by my pals and I, The Wedding Present became the ‘band du jour’ for a good few years. Founder and frontman David Gedge was my first interview subject and despite my initial fanboy nerves, he was the most genial of hosts.

The interview took place at the Newport Centre and must have lasted for up to an hour. At the time, the band had a habit of selling bootleg tapes of their shows at gigs and I was keen to put this possibility to the test. After the interview, I asked Gedge if he didn’t mind me making a recording, given that the horse’s mouth was on a plate (so to speak) and I had the gear to do it with. To my pleasure, he said yes and even agreed to give me written permission.

After the interview, my gang and I headed for the front row where we would bear the crush of the crowd to get closer to the band. I had the tape recorder stuffed down the front of my trousers (not the easiest of circumstances), a wire trailing along my sleeve and the mic in my outstretched hand. It wasn’t long before a security guard came up to me and told me that I couldn’t make the recording.

Promptly, I whipped Gedge’s permission slip (‘To whom it may concern, please let the bearer of this letter…‘) and showed it to the guard. There wasn’t much he could do in the face of it and he might even have bristled a little at my audacity when I asked if he would put my machine on the stage so that I could get a better recording, but still went ahead and did it.

The days of black jeans, Newcastle Brown and getting crushed down the front row seem long behind me now, but they were certainly fun times. My meeting with David Gedge turned out to be quite a useful masterclass in how to go ahead and put your own music out yourself, without going through the machinations of the music industry. It helped that he was a very nice bloke too.

All The Songs Sound The Same

David Gedge being honest.

On Thursday 15th November, The Wedding Present played to an elated crowd at Newport Centre, mixing a set of choice oldies with new songs from their coming third LP. I spoke to the band’s mainman, David Gedge, finding him to be very pleasant and talkative.

He told me about many aspects of the band’s five year career, their transition from a small time independent band to one of Britain’s top ‘alternative’ groups and many other aspects of the music industry that the band operate in. I asked David about the band’s beginnings and how they managed to finance the first single ‘Go Out And Get ‘Em Boy’.

We were all on the dole apart from Peter (the band’s guitarist) who was a teacher and we just basically saved £5 out of each of our dole cheques and started a bank account. It’s surprising how much it adds up really. Something like £10 a week, £500 a year. It cost about £100 to record and £400 to manufacture.

We did a couple of demo tapes and sent them off, but no-one is really interested in demos. We did this other tape which we decided was good enough to record and we took that around to see if anybody wanted to put it out and again everybody said no so we decided to put it out ourselves. And we called it Reception Records because we were called The Wedding Present and it seemed like an obvious word.

A lot of The Wedding Present’s influences have been among the most revered underground guitar bands of the past twenty five years. David told me what he and the band listen to and how their tastes have changed.

There’s four people in the group and I suppose we’ve all got different tastes, especially Peter who’s into folk bands and stuff. I’ve always been a fan of guitar bands really, like The Membranes, The Velvet Underground, Postcard bands. It probably has changed, although I’m not sure what to. I’m quite fickle really, one record that I like today, I’ll probably hate in a week.

I like Ride because I went to see them in Sheffield and they dedicated a song to me, so I was really touched. Afterwards, they told us they formed the group after seeing us play. So Ride are probably my favourite group at the moment.

They have also worked with producer Steve Albini recently. Had David listened to any of Albini’s other bands since recording with him?

I’m not really a fan of the bands he tends to work with, to be honest. I like The Breeders and I like The Pixies but most of the bands he works with just go ‘chrrrrwhrrrrchrrrr’ and I just don’t like it. I think it’s quite boring and I don’t think they’ve got any real songs. I think Big Black (one of the bands Albini has been in) were a bit like that but the guitar sounds were great. I saw them live in Leeds and thought, this is the man for us, really.

He’s very much a person who’ll remain in the background, or with us anyway. He’ll just set the stuff up and he’ll fiddle around with your amps a bit and your drumkit and say ‘How do you like this sound?’, and it’s usually a really good sound. He’ll just record it. When you come away from that and you’re writing at home again, you use that knowledge to write songs and I’ve probably got more money now, so I can experiment with guitars and amps. It’s all getting more technical. We used to just have these guitars, plug them into an amplifier and play, whereas now I’ve got all different weird tunings and effects pedals which just make it more varied.

While a lot of The Wedding Present’s early indie contemporaries such as Primal Scream and The Soup Dragons seem to have jumped on Manchester’s ‘dance’ bandwagon, the band have stayed true to their course and kept up the guitars. Although Gedge isn’t completely dismissive of the whole scene, he remains slightly sceptical.

I think it’s always interesting to experiment with things like that. I can’t really imagine us doing it now because people would just say ‘bandwagonning’, Primal Scream or something. And I’m probably the only one in the group who’s interested in that type of feel anyway. I’ll wait till my solo career, like Holly Johnson, all those Hi-NRG records. I think it’s a quite interesting phase of music, definitely.

The Wedding Present themselves have often received criticisms of the songs all sounding the same, of being the ‘Status Quo of indie’. They’ve actually named a recent 10” EP ‘All The Songs Sound The Same’. How does David react to these criticisms?

We’ve always tried to change the direction. To me, I suppose ‘Bizarro’ sounds different to ‘George Best’, and I know in retrospect it’s probably not as different as I’d imagined it is. Once we’d made ‘George Best’, there was no point in making that LP again, so we immediately set out to make a different type of record. Ultimately though, I suppose it’s not that dissimilar but now I think after five years of experience and also after having worked with Albini, we’re finally managing to escape from that. I think a lot of it is that we’re quite shy and quite conservative really and it’s very difficult to get a new idea which is good on that situation, because we’re always scared thinking that it’s different, but is it any good? I think finally we’re actually getting over that now and starting to mess around, and obviously we’ve got a bit of money now.

What about reviews?

It depends what mood we’re in really. If I’m in a mood where I’m considering that the music papers are out for a week and then a new one comes along that’s completely disposable in the same way that pop music is, then it doesn’t bother me. I can just take it like a ‘pop comment’. It’s really weird because if someone criticises me and they think the work’s good, then I think ‘oh! thank you very much’, but if they think that it’s bad, I think ‘you’re wrong!’ It’s quite a personal thing to me.

Gedge was in a band whilst studying for his Maths degree at Leeds University called The Lost Pandas, an early version of The Wedding Present. I asked him his opinion on the student environment for fledgling bands.

It’s a really good place to start a group, obviously. Principally because you can put an advert up in the union and there’s going to be a lot of like-minded people hanging around, so it’s quite handy. But it’s probably better to be as far away from University as possible because it’s not a particularly trendy place to be, is it?

The Wedding Present have now made two memorable appearances on one of Britain’s longest musical institutions, Top Of The Pops. Firstly with their particularly lacklustre performance of ‘Brassneck’. Secondly, confusing the audience with its false stops and starts, their version of the old Cockney Rebel song ‘Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile)’. Was ‘Brassneck’s lack of enthusiasm intentional?

Oh yes, it wasn’t serious, although a number of people thought I was the proper act. I had my brother ring up, who’s not a fan of the band, say ‘What was wrong, had someone died?’ I’m surprised I got away with it really, because I was getting more and more bored. You have to rehearse about eight or nine times during the day to get the camera angles right and every time I was getting more and more deadpan, and I thought that some director’s going to say ‘Come on, you can’t do this’. But he didn’t. I honestly thought we wouldn’t get asked on again after that.

The single went down ten places after that.

I don’t think any single’s gone down further after a Top Of The Pops appearance!

Somebody who gave The Wedding Present a lot of support earlier on and who still does is Radio 1 DJ John Peel. Did David consider The Wedding Present to be a ‘John Peel band’?

I think we probably are. He’s the only person who plays us on national radio. It’s a very much over-used word. I consider ourselves to be an independent band. I know that means about four different things now. To me, about four years ago, it meant being uncompromising. Now, it means you’ve got to treble your guitar or something. Obviously we are in that category of groups, alternative really.

After having been own their own independent record label for so long, they recently signed a deal with a major label. Had the band lost any of their artistic control since signing to RCA?

God no! I think it’s actually the opposite, because we’ve got more money now. We’ll go into the studio and try something and if it doesn’t work, we can have extra studio time to do it again. I think it’s given us more freedom.

There was of course the case of the band’s compilation video, which the group wanted to call ‘Spunk’ and the record company insisted on putting it out as ‘*punk’.

That was RCA’s video department which was a different kettle of fish. I don’t think they really understand us there, whereas to the people who signed us, we said ‘Look, we’re glad you like the group and that you’ve given us all this money, but we should make it clear that we’re not someone you can push around, so if you can’t handle that fact, then go spend your money on someone else’. And they said, ‘All right, fair enough’. I mean, they always advise us and say that if we put the name of the band on the sleeve, we’re going to sell more records, etc, etc. Ultimately, it’s our choice. I can’t imagine it lasting forever. They’ll probably drop us.

For the second year running, The Wedding Present have played at this summer’s Reading Festival, having moved up the bill this year.

If someone had said ten years ago ‘One day, you will be playing the Reading Festival and The Buzzcocks will be on before you’, I would have laughed. But it was a nice day, that was the main thing. The year before it was raining.

Unfortunately for the band, bass player Keith Gregory had his amplifier blow up!

The worst two minutes of my life! Normally, I can think of something to say, but I was so nervous. So many gigs in Britain, Europe and America and nothing like that has really happened before. Guitar strings, they break all the time, but we’ve never had an amp blow up! The biggest audience you can imagine, 20,000 people. I was terrified!

David Gedge is a man who comes over as very satisfied with where he is, describing the band as ‘like a giant hobby’. Talking about music journalism, he questioned ‘how can you describe something that affects you physically?’ Reinforcing the fact that he’s at where he likes and he likes where he’s at, and would be comfortable nowhere else. The band have a good relationship with their fans (‘I think they’re quite nice people in general’), Gedge still hasn’t paid his poll tax (‘I haven’t, but I’ve not been asked yet’) and they can only go from strength to strength.

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Filed under 1991, Features, Interviews

INTERVIEWS // Buds Wiser (1991)

The first time I can recollect writing for a publication was aged 11 in my first year at school. I was given a chance to write for the school newspaper and had a useful lesson in journalism from it. I could write for them, but not on any subject of my choosing.

I was given a Barry McGuigan boxing match to review. As an avowed pacifist even then, I wasn’t best pleased about the assignment, but put something together anyway as I wanted to get my name in print. I don’t even remember if it was printed in the end or not, but I certainly no longer have a copy of the fight review.

Almost ten years later in a different educational institution, I became Music Editor at my college magazine (The Printed Image). It’s useful to be somewhere at the beginning as it’s easier to pick the role you want for yourself. It turned out to be a great role too, as I learned what a cunning blag being a ‘music journalist’ was – just give your name and the publication you write for, tell the record company/band/manager what you’ll do for them and end up getting showered with goodies!

I ended up using the position as an opportunity to meet many of my musical heroes of the time and interview them. The list of early 90’s British indie bands that I got through was pretty extensive – including The Wedding Present, Ride, Teenage Fanclub, Silverfish, The Fall, Carter USM and the ones who appeared in the article below, The Darling Buds. I ended up getting to know them a little too, as I would often bump into them on the South Wales gig scene (which was pretty small then).

Not long after this time, Wales ended up with a place on Britain’s musical map just as I moved to another town and my tastes diverged pretty solidly from those indie roots.

The Printed Image, if I recall correctly, only ever made it to a third issue. The Darling Buds themselves fell apart shortly after their third album, partly down to record label disinterest.

What it is about things coming along in threes?

Buds Wiser

Manchester – so much to answer for, South Wales – well, not much really (with the obvious exception of Tom, Shakey and Shirley). How many well known/successful Welsh bands can you think of? Yes, you don’t need the other five fingers. The Darling Buds should be high on your list.

They are a four piece band hailing from Newport (Caerleon to be exact), with the exception of their drummer, a Liverpudlian. The line up consists of Andrea (vocals), Harley (guitars), Chris (bass) and Jimmy (drums).

The band have been going since 1986. Andrea had moved to London and Harley was still committed to another band then as well. He worked in a recording studio and whenever he had a spare hour, the band would go in and record something. Harley had some money from a pension he’d taken out and invested that in the pressing of The Darling Buds first single ‘If I Said’. It was released on their own Darling label.

Harley: ‘Why do a tape? Everybody does a tape. Why not spend a little more money and do a single which is more accessible and can be easily played?’

By 1987, there was enough interest in the band from the single via the music press and a healthy John Peel interest, that the group started to take it all more seriously and signed to independent label Native Records.

One of their first gigs together was supporting The Butthole Surfers at Newport Centre. The next year, after a couple of singles on Native, they signed to Epic Records, a branch of CBS (now Columbia).

Andrea: ‘When you’re signed, you get an advance and you’ve got to work out how much you’re going to spend on the album, because this is an album a year; how much on each of you living.’

Harley: ‘I could earn more working in a bar!’

Andrea: ‘We live on the bare minimum and the rest goes back into the band. There’s always perks. When we go off on tour now, before we were in cheap little Bed and Breakfasts and now we can stay in some nice places and make it a bit easier for us. We don’t have a luxury lifestyle at all.’

They had a blitz of popularity when they first signed to Epic, with a Top 40 single, a Top Of The Pops appearance and countless front covers. Unfortunately for the band, the label didn’t know what to do with them, and when The Darling Buds wanted to release new material, Epic would insist on pushing the album (‘Pop Said…’ their debut), by releasing more tracks as singles etc, all against the band’s wishes.

Andrea: ‘The thing is, within the company, it is so huge and there are so many bands that are so different to us. You’ve got a whole bunch of people trying to get their heads together around these bands and a lot of them don’t understand The Darling Buds at all and get things completely wrong. All these silly things happen and we feel really annoyed and we feel let down by it all. But there are people within the company then, that are really good for us. Probably about five people who we really do trust and we do really like, but then all the others are just people who are doing a job and that’s what gets annoying because they do things wrong.’

They also went from press darlings (ahem!) to last year’s thing pretty soon too. The press have never been too keen on Wales as a potential musical force.

Harley: ‘Wales is just not on the map in a lot of places.’

Andrea: ‘I think it was in Washington. We walked into this radio station and there was this DJ on the air. His assistant let us into the studio and she said we’ll be off air in a minute and he’ll be straight into chatting away to you. So we walked in and found a chair each. He was on air and he said (adopts American accent), ‘And they’re here. The Darling Buds have just walked in. Hi, it’s The Darling Buds…from Manchester, England”. (several groans)

Harley: ‘And we were going ‘Hang on a minute, no we’re not!”.

Andrea: ‘And he was saying ‘Well, Wales is right next to Manchester’. Yeah, right next to it mate!’

Harley: ‘I mean, we’re all Welsh.’

Andrea: ‘Except Jimmy.’

Harley: ‘And he’s closer to Wales than Manchester! We’re all Welsh and it’s just something that’s totally overlooked. We found out that when we were starting out. We couldn’t get gigs outside of Wales. No one was interested. Half of the time they think you’re a heavy metal band. John Peel has done a lot for Wales. He’s really tried, but there’s no encouragement from anywhere else.

They have a lot of S4C (Welsh TV channel) programmes, don’t they? Welsh pop programmes. I can’t understand them because I don’t speak Welsh (laughs from around the table).

I was never taught Welsh at school. I was watching one the other day and they had several great bands.’

Andrea (tongue in cheek): ‘That Manchester scene’s great though, don’t you think?’

Harley: ‘There are a couple of good bands. Like The Stone Roses first album. That is a really good album. When I put it on, I can hear The Who, I can hear all these other bands. But you know, what’s wrong with that?’

Andrea (sarcastically): ‘I can’t fault it. I love the whole scene.’

Harley: ‘The thing is, I got the Happy Mondays album and I can’t get into it. Ride, that’s a really good album. That’s an album I listen to a lot. I think the guitar is definitely going to come back. Well, it’s never going to go away!’

Andrea: ‘ I think it’s people’s tastes that change, not so much the music. We were part of that guitar thing. Before that, there was the C86 thing. Then the very guitar orientated thing, with the blonde singers. There were also a lot of bands around with boy singers. I mean The Wonderstuff, The House Of Love. They were all sort of poppy, guitar bands. Then it went into The Stone Roses with their retro guitar sound, and the dance stuff. It’s peoples’ tastes really. And then Ride happened and I think people were getting so sick to death of the dance scene and of the summer of love, that they’re going back to guitars.’

Harley: ‘That’s the thing with this country, fashion goes really strongly with music. The fashion at the time was Soul II Soul, who were wearing all that stuff and then The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays with the flares.’

Andrea: ‘I think they’re fantastic, I do. I love them.’

Harley: ‘Don’t be so sarcastic.’

Asking them about their influences, and realising the many, many different bands that they take their sound from, the general consensus is of ‘guitar bands…with good melodies’. I asked them about their own songs.

Harley: ‘I don’t want to be really, really famous. I think the band still want to write a really good song. I don’t think we’ve written our best song yet.’

Andrea: ‘There’s things we’re really proud of. You get excited about everything that you write and maybe a couple of years later, you go back and think it’s crap and you rip it to pieces and start again. Then again, you write a song and you’re dead proud of it and you get really excited about recording it, the same as you did when you did your first record. All that comes back again and that is brilliant.’

Harley: ‘There’s several off ‘Crawdaddy’ that I just don’t like at all. There’s one or two off the first album. ‘You’ve Got To Choose’, I hate.’

Andrea: ‘We were in the studio the other day and he had his portastudio out and was playing lots of early demos. There was ‘Hit The Ground’ on there and it was so gorgeous. It was just us doing it on the portastudio and it sounded so naïve and really simple.

I think also we do get a bit disappointed when we record things in the studio, then listen to them and we’re quite happy. Then six months later, we listen to them and still think that hasn’t captured us live. There is a lot of atmosphere at the gigs and on records we just seem to be losing that.’

We talked to The Darling Buds for over two hours in the pub that we met in and covered many other topics.

Harley: ‘I don’t think that the Manic Street Preachers (the only other Welsh band with any press) would get on with us. A slight clash in…did I say Clash!?’ and the demise of Sounds (defunct music weekly) to which Andrea sarcastically replied ‘I’m going to miss that!’ Harley is getting some money from publishing and is hoping to put it towards setting up a record label that will be geared towards getting bands in this area recognised. The band themselves are currently writing material for their third album which is due out in the Autumn. They are hoping to produce this LP themselves. The meeting ended with a discussion on Harley’s prowess as a guitarist.

Harley: ‘The guitar is an extension of the penis, yeah? But at the moment, the guitar has still got me. I’m not in control yet.’

Andrea: ‘Must be a peculiar shape, Geraint (Harley’s real name)!’

Harley: ‘The guitar is a very personal thing to a lot of guitar players and when you’ve got control of it and you feel like you’re playing with it, this might sound pretty weird, then that’s great. But at the moment, the guitar is still laughing at me, which makes me think I’ve still got a lot to do!’

He described the band as ‘just pissheads’. May these ‘pissheads’ continue to bloom.

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Filed under 1991, Interviews