I remember walking around in the late eighties and sneering at the “30-somethings” wearing old Stones tour shirts. Threadbare and ridiculous, given that the Stones had ceased to be relevent, I was comfortable knowing that I was far hipper wearing my new Wedding Present tour shirt. Twenty years later, the music has held up far better than my shirt.
David Gedge and company started releasing brilliant singles in the mid-80′s. After getting noticed by the legendary John Peel, their popularity grew as they released their first album ‘George Best’ in 1987. While a multitude of bands released one good record and then vanished, the Weddos continued to evolve and release masterpieces for the next ten years. Gedge then formed Cinerama while continuing to write great pop music. With scores of band mimicking and crediting them for their genius, The Wedding Present reformed in 2004. They are one of the few bands of that (or any) era who can still play with the same zest of their early years.
Captain Sensible AND David Gedge in one week? Yes, things are going well at TDOA. When you’ve been a fan as long as I have, the questions are difficult to edit. David was kind enough to wade through the muck and answer a few quesitons for us.
TDOA: When they started releasing Peel sessions on vinyl, The Wedding Present were one of the first to be released. What memories do you have of John Peel? What were the sessions like and do you have any fun stories from any of the sessions?
DG: I literally grew up listening to John Peel’s programme. From the age of about 17 until he died I hardly missed a show. You might think that sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s true. Even when I was away from home I would get people to tape the programs for me. I was possibly a little bit obsessed, but he was an enormous influence on ma and my music. And to my great pleasure, he turned out to be a very nice person as well… when I finally got to meet him.
But because of the respect I held for him I was always quite nervous in his presence. But fortunately, I guess… he wasn’t usually there when you recorded a Peel session. You just went to the BBC’s studios in London’s Maida Vale area for the day and worked with their brilliant engineers and producers. It can be quite stressful because you’re only allotted a certain amount of time… so you can’t afford to waste it. People say that this gives BBC recordings an urgency and live feel that you often don’t hear when bands go into a commercial studio with unlimited time.
Having said that, we also did a couple of things live from his house after a room there had been converted into a make-shift radio studio… and that was great fun. You’d have people sat on staircases, dogs and cats roaming around, and John’s lovely wife Sheila handing out glasses of red wine. But it was still absolutely nerve-wracking.
TDOA: I remember hearing of disagreements on the production values on George Best and that the band ended up mixing the album. Obviously, it was a great decision because the record was brilliant and well received. How different was the original version of the record and are there any copies of that version in existence?
DG: It wasn’t remixed, it was just mixed without the involvement of the producer Chris Allison… so there are no other versions in existence. I think Chris misunderstood his brief and thought he was supposed to take us “to the next level”, production wise… but we didn’t feel comfortable with that and we had our own ideas. So there were just too many conflicts, really. I’m not blaming him, and in fact we went on to work with him on Bizarro a couple of years later, but by that stage I think we all had a much better understanding of how the relationship would work.
TDOA: During interviews at the time, you seemed to despise the C86 tag. What about it bothered you? Did you (correctly) perceive that it was going to be a passing fad?
DG: Initially the C86 scene helped The Wedding Present because it spewed out loads of new guitar bands and, because we were lumped in, it made it easier for us to get media attention and offers of concerts and stuff. But then after a while, as an artist you don’t want to be categorised with other bands, especially when you don’t share any musical or philosophical values. So it became a bit of a millstone. People think “Oh you’re a C86 band” – and so they have a preconceived notion of what you’re doing… and that can be quite annoying.
TDOA: Is my perception that the songs seemed to “slow down” with the departure of Shaun Charman accurate? I love both periods equally, but it seems like the post-Charman music had a bit more atmosphere, where pre-Charman was more about speed.
DG: You’re absolutely right. And Shaun definitely did play a major part in defining that early frantic Wedding Present sound. But I think even had he stayed in the group we would have developed musically and experimented with other, different ideas. That ‘playing as fast as you can’ thing was interesting and challenging for a while, but you wouldn’t want to do it on every single album, would you?
TDOA: Can you talk about the experience of recording with Steve Albini? Seamonsters is my favorite Wedding Present album and I’d love to know what impact Albini had on the writing of that album.
DG: Steve Albini didn’t have any impact on the writing of Seamonsters. He doesn’t even consider himself to be a ‘producer’. He’s much more of a recording engineer in the old school definition. He sees his role as just being to capture the sound of the band in the most appropriate way… so he doesn’t really offer any ideas or make any contributions… unless you specifically want him to. I remember asking him once if he thought my guitar was too loud and he replied that he did, but thought that it sounded ‘awesome’. So I said: ‘yes, but it’s kind of overpowering the track’ and he replied: ‘and it sounds awesome’. When I asked him if he could perhaps turn the level of the guitar down slightly he said: ‘sure… I could make the track sound less awesome if that’s what you want’.
Having said that, he’s one of the best engineers we’ve ever worked with. With George Best and Bizarro, while I don’t think they’re poor albums, they do sound somewhat one-dimensional. What I mean is that they don’t really reflect how the band sounded live at that time. Albini managed to add an extra dimension to the recordings.
TDOA: Reportedly you were reticent to sign with a major label early on. What were your reasons and what convinced you to sign with RCA?
DG: We came from an independent label background. We cherished having total control over our recordings and all our favourite bands were all on indie companies. But after we’d recorded George Best we decided that it would be beneficial to sign to a major label because there would be substantially more money for recording and better distribution for the resulting album. We were getting letters from all around the world from fans saying that they couldn’t buy the record in the shops… and that was the major limitation with working with a small British distributor, I suppose.
So we pretty much talked to every major record company in existence but we never really got on with any of them! There was this prevailing attitude of: ‘well, you’ve done OK so far, lads, but to make the next step you’ll have to be guided by us’ and it was an attitude that we found quite patronising. They said you’ll have to take this out and stop doing that. If we’d've done everything they’d wanted we would’ve had nothing left! Then RCA came along and said: ‘just continue what you’re doing… make the records the way you want to do them… we’ll just sell them for you. Oh, and by the way, here’s a ton of money’. So it was a bit of a no-brainer really! Especially since our independent distributor was in the process of going out of business…
TDOA: The Weddos were huge in UK, yet never got enough media attention in America. Why do you think the label didn’t make more of an effort to promote you in the U.S.?
DG: I don’t really know why we have never been more commercially successful in North America. I’m not really the one to ask! Some people have said that we’re too ‘English’ sounding… but then other people have said that we’re not ‘English’ sounding enough!
I’m sure both RCA and Island Records did as much as they were able. But sometimes decisions are made for political or financial reasons; maybe promotional funds were allocated elsewhere? I don’t know. I have absolutely no idea…
TDOA: The eighties were considered the MTV age here in America. The band never seemed interested in doing videos or at least they were never promoted by the label. Was this a conscious decision of yours or happenstance?
DG: We’ve actually done loads of videos… but perhaps they weren’t considered appropriate for MTV? They might have been too low budget looking, or something. But I agree that I can’t really say that making pop videos has been an integral part of Wedding Present culture over the years. We’ve always viewed them as a sort of necessary evil.
TDOA: When I interviewed Simon Reynolds, we talked about the fickle nature of the British music press. Melody Maker was grossly unfair when reviewing Seamonsters. Do you know why MM reacted that way? Is there a good story of you spilling a drink on one of the editors or something?!
DG: It was largely because the NME was championing The Wedding Present at that time and the two magazines were rivals. The Melody Maker couldn’t ignore us because we were obviously having artistic and commercial success and so it sold their magazine… but at the same time they didn’t want to seem to be agreeing with the NME. The only way they could do that was by putting me on the front cover and attacking me in the feature. It was all a bit silly really. And now The Melody Maker doesn’t exist anymore… does it? Interesting…
TDOA: We interview a lot of new/young bands who are riding the current media hype-wave. When we ask them if they’re concerned about the fickle nature of the music press, they generally shrug their shoulders. Any advice for the young bands who don’t realize what they’re about to get into?
DG: You can’t really give young people advice on that kind of thing because… a) no one knows how it’s going to go in the future and b) they won’t listen to you anyway! If they’ve already had some press they’re usually so full of themselves they think they’ll be adored forever.
The only advice I habitually give to new bands is to forget about getting a record deal, or a manager, or an agent, or a publicist, or going to the right clubs… and just concentrate on writing great songs and making outstanding recordings.
TDOA: What bands are you listening to these days? Favorite albums of 2009?
DG: I’ve always been more of a singles person really. But it’s good to see Sonic Youth back. And I’ve really been enjoying Lily Allen’s new stuff, which is kind of right at the other end of the spectrum. Oh, and British Sea Power from Brighton are going to release a brilliant project they’ve been working on. They have recorded a new soundtrack to a very old film called The Man of Aran. I saw them do it live recently and it really was enthralling, so I’m looking forward to the release of that on DVD.
…and in case you were wondering how they sound now, here’s a terrific live performance from last year.