The Wedding Present
|Track||Album / EP / Single|
|Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft||George Best|
|My Favourite Dress||George Best|
|Give My Love To Kevin||George Best|
|Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now?||Reception REC 011|
|At The Edge Of The Sea||Tommy|
|You Should Always Keep In Touch|
With Your Friends
|Don't Talk, Just Kiss||Brassneck EP|
The Wedding Present (l to r): Simon Smith (drums), David Gedge (vocals, guitar), Peter Solowka (guitar), Keith Gregory (bass)
Contributor: Gareth Youngs
Anyone who knows me knows about my addiction to the Wedding Present. Even if you didn’t know me back then, I was always seen wearing my Bizarro, Seamonsters or All The Songs Sound The Same T-shirts during non-uniform days or through a week at college. The Wedding Present is a band that has been with me since the age of 15, growing up, right through to the heady age of 41. So, 26 years give or take, of this Leeds-based band being pretty front and central to my musical preference. They have taken me through the most important parts of my life: births, deaths, marriage, divorce … always there to share the good times and the bad.
My Wedding Present experience started in 1990; 3 years late to the party, as always, just starting my final year at school. My brother was in his first year at university and I remember him bringing back a tape with George Best on one side and bits of Tommy on the other. I was still trying to find my feet, musically, at this point with the ‘Madchester’ scene starting to make waves. This tape sounded like nothing else I was listening to. David Gedge’s unrefined northern growl and tinny jangly guitar along with Peter Solowka’s high velocity distorted strumming and Keith Gregory’s tuneful bass had me hooked. I always remember a Weddoes fanzine called ‘Invasion Of The Wedding Present’ and it pictured Peter “Grapper” Solowka playing his guitar – all you could see of his hand was a blur, that boy could play!
From the reviews in the press at the time they were seen as a second rate band compared to, say, The Smiths. But to me they were far better. I used to hate The Smiths for all the publicity they would gather. I didn’t like Morrissey as a person, and I still think he’s an idiot. Don’t get me wrong, though. I have a lot of time for The Smiths now and that’s down to the musical influence of my girlfriend. She can sing Morrissey better than Morrissey!
John Peel once stated that “the boy Gedge has written some of the best love songs of the rock ‘n’ roll era – you may dispute this, but I’m right and you’re wrong” and I, for one, completely agree. The majority of his songs were written from the perspective of an optimistic but always unlucky-in-love fella. The excitable indie boy dreamer turned bitter by a flight of fancy, then to see his girl out with someone else. If I was ever going to try and break someone into the Wedding Present gently, I would always try this album, George Best (1987), first … and that’s because I don’t think indie music gets any better than this.
Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft is the perfect starting point. As soon as you hear David Gedge’s intake of breath followed by its jangly guitars and catchy lyrics, you get the impression that you are reliving a youthful Gedge experience. Having recently met the man at their Brudenell Social Club gig in Leeds, I sent a picture of the two of us to my brother … the reply was simply, “Oh why do you…”. This is a song that always comes to mind first when thinking of Wedding Present lyrics.
In My Favourite Dress, the song that sits on top of my Wedding Present list, a young man is watching the object of his desire with a new boyfriend. Anyone who has been in that situation instantly remembers how it feels to have “a stranger’s hand on my favourite dress”. Devastating! The guitar riffs are as raw and wistful as the woes of the songs throughout, but it’s Gedge’s “Ohhh” at the end of the song that caps the story off with a proverbial kick in the nuts. During a recent radio interview on BBC Tees, the presenter Bob Fischer told everyone that this was the main song that got him through dark times at university. He said that “it was comforting to think that someone out there was having a worse time than him.”
In my mid teens I always used to stay friends with failed love interests. Looking back now I’m sure it was because the foolish and naive youth that I was, thought he was still in with a chance … and the lyrics to Give My Love To Kevin always hit home and make that song pretty special: “Why should I want to know his name? / What difference does it make?” / “I just can’t imagine you sharing a bed with him” kept that useless feeling always bubbling along under the surface.
With Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now? you get the feeling that you’ve just walked slap bang into the centre of an argument between a man and his girlfriend. He has assumed that the relationship is over but then is suspicious when it looks as if his girlfriend has done a u-turn and she starts being reasonable. “No-one can change that much in three days” and he makes the decision to end it, even though it would have been much easier if she had stayed angry. This leads to the line, “The last thing I need is part twelve of the row, but just why are you being so reasonable now?” and then the fading, “How can you do this to me?”. For me, though, it’s just not where the cleverness of Gedge ends with this one, it’s the fact that he layers his lyrical argument against a quite bouncy and happy melody that makes the song stand out.
At The Edge Of The Sea and You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends can both be found on Tommy, their 1988 collection of early singles and B-sides. This is still my go-to album for my Wedding Present fix; songs packed with failed love conquests and jangly guitars that instantly take me back to a carefree time in my life where nothing mattered more than spending time with my mates … playing football with jumpers for goalposts … summer afternoons messing about on bikes in the North York Moors … new exciting friendships … solidifying old ones … all wrapped up in Gedge’s lyrics. These songs are like a comfort blanket when times are hard. If you are ever angry, pissed off, heartbroken, lost in romance, don’t look any further than David Gedge and the Wedding Present to see you through!
The second album, Bizarro (1989), was the first with the big label backing. RCA were looking for hits, and in Kennedy and Brassneck they definitely found them! Bizarro has a bigger rock sound than its jangly indie predecessor. The fast guitars are still there – and then some – but the production edged towards showcasing the pure noise of the guitars.
The album version of Brassneck, although really good, will never live up to the re-produced Steve Albini EP version that saw release as a single. Albini’s production gives a significant change in mood, punctuated by beautifully timed feedback that would fit right in with the emerging shoegazing scene.
Nestled within the same EP is probably my favourite B-side of all time, Don’t Talk Just Kiss. From the moment Simon Smith lets fly with his drumsticks, this song played live and blisteringly loud had the mosh pit bouncing – beautifully preserved Adidas Sambas ruined in seconds, but worth it.
The guitar work throughout the album is a step up from George Best and particularly on Kennedy where you can get so lost in the frenetic guitar swirls and rumbling bass that the lyrics don’t seem to matter … although “Lost your love of life? Too much apple pie” will always be a fan’s favourite lyric. The song is a tribute to the over dramatisation of JFK’s assassination and was set to become a B-side until the Industry men made it the first single off the album. It became their first Top 40 hit – but certainly not their last.
Seamonsters (1991) has become a bit of a holy grail album in some respects – mainly by Weddoes enthusiasts – as the album didn’t have the desired effect in the charts that RCA was after. They wanted, and demanded, chart hits and to break the new markets that the Wedding Present were not touching; typical record company greedy swagger to aim for more than they had. What they did have, though, was a loyal following and this album was a beaut!
Producer Steve Albini who before re-recording Brassneck had caught Gedge’s eye from his work on Pixies Surfer Rosa album. “Surfer Rosa is probably my favourite album of all time,” says Gedge. “On the one hand, it was kind of in your face and you can hear the band in the room playing, which I think is how pop music should be. On the other hand, it had that sort of weirdness to it and an atmospheric quality.” To be honest, the same could be said about Seamonsters.
This was the first Wedding Present album where I had the pleasure of anticipating its release. Having been won over by George Best, Tommy and Bizarro in the previous year, I found out that they were releasing a new album – and it was different. It was dark, brooding, and emotional -and it was excellent!
The album is full of one-word song titles and is drenched, as usual, with the stories of relationships, love, and more than anything, loss of that love. Nothing unusual for a Wedding Present album then. However, what seems to have changed here, is that Gedge has moved more towards bitter nostalgia. And bitter this album is … One of the most bitter, repressed and angst-ridden albums I’ve ever listen to. The relationships are more intense; passionate affairs, far beyond the youthful crushes that were talked about in George Best. That being said, Gedge’s lyrics manage to find a lot of optimistic fodder in the use of irony and sarcasm, and by the end of the album he comes over as a clever and witty lyricist.
Seamonsters opens with Dalliance and typical chiming indie guitars, then as each chorus and verse takes its place the guitars get more riled up, another distortion pedal is stamped on, until by the end of the song you find yourself in a thunderstorm of layered assault-melodies. Tracks 2 and 3, Dare, and Suck, delve into previously unknown territories involving sensual encounters with women that Gedge was struggling to even write about in the first two albums. With RCA demanding chart hits, Lovenest seemed a strange choice as a single and I would guess that Wedding Present fans would think similarly. It has a use on the album though, if only as a great song to pick up the pace, with the perfect build up of distorted feedback to lead into my final choice.
Corduroy is one of the best songs I have heard live; the growl of the guitars – the Albini “soft to loud” – all make for an amazing experience. The song itself is about re-acquainted love and reminiscing about their great days of yesteryear … and about getting rid of “those” photos: “I’ll make you laugh, when you see this photograph, it’s not from that day, I threw all those away” Corduroy could quite easily be “an ode to” George Best/Tommy. It is one of the only songs on Seamonsters that reverts back to a similar feeling of happy nostalgia in between the darkness. By the way, this isn’t “dark” in the gothic sense of the word. When you look at them they are simple, melodic pop songs, but oh how they sigh and heave and cry with guitar noise. My kind of music heaven.
Recently, I gave a similar playlist to this toppermost 10 to someone who had never heard anything by the Wedding Present. They are now the most played band on their Spotify account. It’s great for me that they are still surprising people.
This might be where my musical selection ends but it is by no means the end of the Wedding Present.
Following Seamonsters they had the idea that would push RCA Records to their marketing limits and would splatter Gedge and the band all over Top Of The Pops every month, sticking two fingers up at the record labels that didn’t think of the idea first.
To some, releasing a new 7″ single every month for a year may seem a bit crazy; with the amount of time needed to write a song, produce it, market it and distribute it, this must have been a brain melting scenario. They limited the run of each of these singles to 10,000 and deleted them from the catalogue straight after release. Consequently, every record sold out on the day of release which catapulted them into the top 20, equalling Elvis Presley’s record of having 12 successive top 20 hits in one year.
What they produced didn’t have the same impact as what had gone before, but I used to beam with indie pride and even laugh at times seeing so much of them on the telly. I would love to know if there is anyone out there that started following The Wedding Present after seeing them on TOTP.
The singles from January to June 1992 along with the six B-sides later formed the album Hit Parade 1. The singles from July to December were collected in Hit Parade 2 (see also Footnote).
All of them were, in fairness, full of indie pop with a good Wedding Present twist; it was all much brighter than Seamonsters and looked and sounded as if they had fun with the whole project. From the majority of reviews at the time, the records got more praise for their covers rather than the actual star attraction. For me, though, they were all little gems featuring their only top ten hit to date, Come Play With Me, and songs like California, Boing! and Blue Eyes. David Gedge had returned to the youthful and somewhat inexperienced romantic interludes that were ever-present on George Best.
Throw in to the mix the fun of Silver Shorts, Flying Saucer and Love Slave and you have a brilliant set of songs to attract the usual chart listeners. A challenge to anyone would be to watch the video for Love Slave without it leaving mental scars for life!
Subsequently, Watusi (1994), Mini EP (1995) and Saturnalia (1996) arrived amidst many changes in band line-up. All of these are well worth a listen, although Saturnalia is the one worth exploring a bit more, especially the single 2, 3, Go – and Montreal and Jet Girl. It’s a real marriage of old Wedding Present and new.
For the next nine years David Gedge’s side project with his then-girlfriend Sally Murrell and his love of film scores blossomed into what we know as the band, Cinerama. They released around a dozen singles and three albums in this time, Va Va Voom, Disco Volante, Torino, with the latter album sounding a lot more like the heavier guitar found with the Wedding Present. Then, a shock split between Gedge and Murrell saw the end of Cinerama and the re-emergence of the Wedding Present. After swapping Leeds for Seattle, new material was written that seemed to encapsulate the end of Gedge’s relationship with Murrell.
The next Wedding Present albums, Take Fountain (2005), El Rey (2008) and Valentina (2012), all offered something a bit different. Take Fountain basically seemed like old Cinerama songs with a heavier sound which is probably why it is the Wedding Present album I like least.
El Rey was their return to form and reacquaintance with producer Steve Albini. I Lost The Monkey, Soup, and Boo Boo are standouts for me, with the latter being a proper end of evening epic for the drunken indie boy stood on his own on the dark dance floor, singing along in his loudest voice, left all alone, his mates having gone home with someone on their arm.
Valentina was recently revamped and re-released as a Cinerama album. It did always feel like a 50-50 split between both bands with only Back A Bit…Stop and bonus track Pain Perdu really jumping out at me.
This brings us up to their final release thus far, the aptly titled Going, Going… (2016), an idea conceived by Gedge during a road trip across America. This album starts like no other and to be honest is like no other. It’s a visual album concept and people that I have spoken to that have been lucky enough to see them perform it have been blown away by the whole live experience. The opening fifteen minutes is spread over four songs and although Katharine Wallinger’s delicate vocal on Marblehead and the musical arrangements on Sprague are beautiful, it isn’t until the guitars kick in on Two Bridges that you realise that this is a Wedding Present album.
After reading reviews from Wedding Present purists, the early front runner for highlight on Going, Going… was Bear, a song straight out of the Seamonsters handbook with the addition of catchy indie harmonies with Wallinger. It isn’t that I dislike the album, there are songs on there that I really like. Broken Bow, for instance, is a brilliant 2 mins and 40 secs worth of swirling sonic guitars that always leaves me smiling. The problem for me is that Going, Going… is a massive 20 songs where I think 10 might have done.
David Gedge has not lost any of his swagger though. Having met him again recently I still feel in awe of the man, and the Wedding Present still sound amazing live.
Thirty years on and they feel like a really good friend that has never left; albeit we lost touch for a few years. When we found each other again, it was as if we’d never been apart.
In 1992, The Wedding Present released 12 x 7″ singles, one a month in the calendar year: Blue Eyes, Go-Go Dancer, Three, Silver Shorts, Come Play With Me, California, Flying Saucer, Boing!, Love Slave, Sticky, The Queen of Outer Space, No Christmas.
Each one had a limited run of 10,000 copies and all 12 RCA singles made the UK Top 30, famously equalling Elvis Presley’s record for the most UK hits in one year. The B-sides – in the same order as above – were all cover versions: Cattle And Cane, Don’t Cry No Tears, Think That It Might, Falling, Pleasant Valley Sunday, Let’s Make Some Plans, Rocket, Theme From Shaft, Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family, Go Wild In The Country, U.F.O., Step Into Christmas.
All of these 12 singles (A-sides & B-sides) can now be found on The Hit Parade CD on RCA Camden.
It seems to be an unwritten law in rock that when the going gets good, the drummer gets sacked. Luckily for Gareth, he was the bass player. Unluckily though, the drummer was a drum machine. You can’t sack a drum machine! This is how his only stint at musical fame ended in college in the mid 90s. Since that day he has turned his attention to seeing as many live bands as he can and sharing his experiences with other people, if they will listen. He is on Twitter @theedgeofthesea and his blog can be found here.