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.
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.