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The Wedding Present interview: I'm From Further North Than You

Marko Kutlesa chatted to lead singer David Gedge about soundtracks, comic books, John Peel and plenty more as the band look forward to a Leeds show in aid of the National Autistic Society.

Skiddle Staff

Date published: 26th Mar 2018

Image: The Wedding Present (credit)

David Lewis Gedge's songs of love, lust, revenge, relationships and regret have been a singular and highly lauded part of the English rock must canon for over 30 years. Formed in Leeds in 1985, his band The Wedding Present, of which he is the sole constant member, have released several brilliant albums including George Best (1987), Tommy (1988), Bizarro (1989), Seamonsters (1991), Watusi (1994), El Ray (2008), Valentina (2012) and Going, Going (2016).

One of the most enduring indie rock bands to have emerged in the mid 80s, The Wedding Present continue to tour internationally playing their material and, constantly in good form, many live recordings of their shows have also been issued.

Currently on tour in north America, David Gedge took some time out from tour bus tomfoolery to answer Marko Kutlesa's questions prior to the band heading back to the UK for gigs.

George Best was such a well received and much loved album upon its initial release. What were you trying to find in the album by re-recording it with Steve Albini?

I wasn’t trying to find anything, really! We were in Steve’s studio recording our El Rey album in 2008 and everything was going so well that we found ourselves with half a day of studio time to spare. We’d recently done a tour playing George Best for its 20th anniversary so it was fresh in our minds. All the equipment was mic’d up and the band was sounding great so I just told Steve to press the record button on his tape machine and we essentially just played it ‘live’.

What's in the newer recording for you that wasn't there before? 

It has a dissimilar sound and feel, which is what you’d expect from a totally different line-up, of course. It’s actually played quicker than the original, which is kind of hard to imagine! At the end of the day it’s just a different way of looking at a set of twelve songs. Some people prefer the new version; some people prefer the original... you pays your money and takes your choice!

What, if anything, do you most miss about living in Leeds and Manchester? Though it's obviously difficult and not good to generalise, how would you describe to friends back in the north any general differences in the mindset between your old neighbours there and newer ones you've since had in America and near England's south coast?

I suppose people are a bit less... pretentious, maybe... in Leeds and Manchester. They’re certainly not scared of letting you know how they feel and sometimes that mistakenly comes across to southerners or Americans as sounding a bit rude, ha, ha.

In the last year we lost Mark E Smith whose band, The Fall, like yours, was championed by the late DJ John Peel. Upon reflection, what do you think we have actually lost with the absence of these two figures and is there space, viability or even need for their likes in today's music industry?

I think they’re both irreplaceable figures, in their own very distinctive ways. Peel was simply a giant in the world of radio broadcasting and though there have been some gallant efforts to fill his shoes no-one will ever come close to his depth of knowledge and expertise and his sheer likeability and humility. As for Mark... well, you’re asking a person who’s seen The Fall more times than any other band! They seemed indestructible... always challenging their audience, the media and the music industry itself. They both had a compelling rebelliousness and a mischievous streak, didn’t they?

In the late 80s you recorded three John Peel sessions that contained Ukrainian folk music. Since that time, have you ever played in Ukraine or did the project ever establish any connection between the band and the country, other than Peter's The Ukrainians project?

The Wedding Present have never played in Ukraine, no, but after Peter left the band in 1991 he started another band called, with chilling inevitability, The Ukrainians and I’m pretty sure that they’ve played there...

Although you have ignored most of the trends happening in British music over the length of your career, I think The Wedding Present are perceived as being a very 'English' band - particularly your early stuff. How do you feel about that and when you tour overseas do you ever feel there is an expectation for you to represent some manner of 'Englishness' (whatever that might be) in your music or otherwise?

People do talk about our ‘Englishness’ but, if I’m honest, I don’t really understand it. I mean, obviously I am English so that will affect the writing in some way... but I like anything from the French Yé-Yé scene to Australian punk via North America indie rock and 1970s Prog and Ennio Morricone soundtracks! All these and many, many other types of music have influenced the sound of my own records.

What are your favourite five movie soundtracks?

I’d probably just have to say any five of John Barry’s James Bond soundtracks!

In recent times I saw The Wedding Present mentioned in the same breath as two other bands I like but who, at first glance, might not seem like obvious bedfellows to your band, because your musics are so strikingly different; Cardiacs and Cud (members of your band were linked to a fundraising campaign to provide healthcare for Cardiacs’ Tim Smith and you played several live dates with Cud). What are your connections to these bands and what do you like about them?

Cardiacs, I’m not too familiar with... but Cud are very old friends. The Wedding Present released their debut single on our label, Reception Records, and, as you say, we’ve played with them loads over the years. I put on my own little festival in Brighton every August... this year it’s the tenth edition... and we had Cud down to play that, recently. They were brilliant... really great live band.

When touring or living in America did you ever have any memorable music fan boy moments (for example visiting Sun Studios, Graceland, Hank Williams birthplace, meeting a famous musician or similar)?

I was all excited when The Wedding Present were invited to play at CBGB in New York City in 1994 because of all the artists that had appeared there during the heyday of Punk... bands like The Ramones, Television, Patti Smith and Blondie. But the club was an absolute dive and not really the kind of place in which you’d want to spend any length of time... which was unfortunate because we did two nights there!

You said in the past that, as a kid, you always imagined or hoped that you would end up being in a band or being a DJ. Had you ended up being a DJ and not in a band, do you think you would have maintained your enthusiasm in new music as much as you have maintained your interest in songwriting?

I’d like to think so... but, to be honest, I’m often disappointed by new bands, these days, because they always seem to sound like... an old band... a 60s psychedelic band or a 70s disco band or an 80s new wave band, or something. Maybe we’ve now done everything we can do with guitars, bass and drums but, nowadays, I don’t get the feeling I got when I first heard Punk or The Velvet Underground or The Pixies... the feeling that here is something innovative.

You worked on a biographical comic. Which are your favourite comic book characters and stories?

Oh... I love pretty much anything and everything... I’m currently working my way back through Marvel’s Silver Age – reading the comics as they came out, in chronological order - but I like a lot of the recent Image stuff, too.

You've written a lot about relationships between men and women. But, being a man, you've always had to do so from a male perspective. How has that perspective changed over the time you've been writing and do you always feel comfortable in performance revisiting the perspective of your much younger self?

I have a personal style and, because I’m essentially writing about my own feelings, that has obviously evolved through the years as I’ve grown older. Some of the early stuff does sound a bit “woe is me” teenage angst-ridden to me, now. When we perform the early stuff I wouldn’t say I feel uncomfortable, as such... but I do feel like I’m playing a character rather than myself... which is slightly bizarre because that character is just a younger me!

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