David Gedge has spent the best part of thirty years as the main mouthpiece of The Wedding Present. Originally formed in Leeds back in 1985, the band's first long player George Best is still regarded as one of the finest debuts of its time, while the follow-up Bizarro launched them unwittingly into the mainstream. Since then, The Wedding Present have released six more albums. Three each side of a seven year hiatus from that initially appeared to put the band's long term future in jeopardy.
Nevertheless, having regrouped with a brand new line-up in 2004 and released the impressive Take Fountain the following year, Gedge and co.'s creative light shines brighter than ever. Having commemorated the twentieth anniversaries of Seamonsters and the twelve-singles-in-one-year The Hit Parade project with a series of shows playing the records in their entirety, the band are out on the road this month taking 1994's Watusi down a similar path.
Last month also saw the release of eight warts and all deluxe reissues of the band's output from their first ten years. Each one, comprising of the five studio albums from that era (George Best, Bizarro, Seamonsters, Watusi, Saturnalia), early singles compilation Tommy, The Hit Parade and 1995's Mini EP/mini-album comes complete as a triple CD/DVD package in a hard backed sleeved booklet which tells the story surrounding each respective release.
DiS caught up with Gedge between rehearsals and found him only too willing to discuss the past, present and future of the one and only Wedding Present.
DiS: Are you looking forward to the Watusi tour?
David Gedge: We start rehearsing on Friday, and then we have a 6 Music session on Monday and the tour starts on Tuesday so it's really crept up. I'm looking forward to it very much. We've been playing some of our albums in full now but I'm probably more excited about this one than any we've done so far. It was quite a departure from what we were doing at the time and we've got an additional member in playing keyboards. It will be quite a challenge but Watusi has always been one of my favourites to play.
DiS: I remember listening to Watusi at the time and thinking it was quite a departure from what The Wedding Present had done up to that point. Even now twenty years on, it sounds quite adventurous alongside your other records.
David Gedge: If I say so myself it was quite a brave move really. We'd established a similar style - not that I'd ever say all of our early records sounded the same - on the first three albums in that we used aggressively played, loud and fast guitars. We were very much a guitar band up to that point and then for Watusi we decided to not do that for once and see where it took us. A lot of people didn't like it. I remember people saying, "This wasn't how The Wedding Present should sound," at the time and I think we lost a few fans there. But I'd already made George Best, I'd already made Bizarro, I'd already made Seamonsters, so why would I want to make them again? It was a bit of an adventure. The weird thing is now when I speak to people, they say to me they didn't really like it when it came out. But then over the years, they've gone back and had another listen and really like it now. I actually think some of the best Wedding Present songs are on that record. In terms of good pop songs anyway. There's some really clever ones on there and it's a lot more melodic.
DiS: Had you been planning to take Watusi on the road for a while? After the success of the George Best, Bizarro and Seamonsters anniversary shows, was it always your intention to do a similar thing with Watusi?
David Gedge: Not really, no. To be honest, I never planned to play any of the albums in full live. When Sanctuary put out The Complete Peel Sessions one of the guys there said we should maybe think about playing some of our albums live in their entirety because a lot of bands were doing it. Initially, I said no. As an artist I'm looking forward to the next album. Why would I want to go back to where I was twenty years ago? Afterwards, nearly everybody I spoke to - people in the band, friends and fans - all said it would be incredible if we played George Best in full. I was still a bit unsure but eventually I changed my mind after a lot of persuasion and decided to do it. I'm glad I did because I loved it in the end. It was such a great experience. It gave us an opportunity to re-analyse and re-invent it in a way because The Wedding Present is a different line-up now from the one that made the record. It was surreal in a way, but also quite nostalgic too. I spent a lot of time looking at old diaries and notebooks, comparing how we wrote songs in those days with how we do today. It became quite an enjoyable process in the end, so eventually we ended up doing the same with Bizarro, Seamonsters and The Hit Parade. Now it's time for Watusi so why not? It happens to be twenty years since that came out and it's only a short tour.
DiS: Looking at the tour dates, there are very few in the Midlands or North of the country. Was there a reason for that?
David Gedge: The main reason for that is because over the last couple of years, we've played an awful lot of live shows so we purposely wanted to make this tour as short as possible. And secondly, we have played a lot in the North and the Midlands. We did a festival in Manchester in May, and then we did one in Wakefield, so I've deliberately missed some of the places out where we've played quite recently. Whenever we plan a tour there's always some places that inevitably get missed out, so this time we looked to try and play towns and cities where we haven't been for a while.
DiS: Also, as well as playing Watusi in full, you've stated the sets will comprise of forty minutes worth of other material. Will that include songs from throughout your back catalogue or songs specifically tailored for this tour and will the sets vary each night?
David Gedge: It won't change every night because we've honed it down to include specific songs, and it's got to work in tandem with the album we're playing. We want to give people an overall experience and if everyone's happy with a set, it's worth sticking to it. If we changed it every night it probably wouldn't work as well. The Wedding Present normally play for 85-90 minutes and when we do an album it tends to be around 45-50 minutes mark - half a set really - so the rest of it we tend to work around that using material from all the eras. We have an idea going into rehearsals but don't really know what works best until we start playing them. It can change once we get going because Watusi forms the main part of the set and everything else has to fit in with that.
DiS: Are there any songs which have been omnipresent throughout every show? For example, I can't remember ever seeing a Wedding Present show where you haven't played 'My Favourite Dress'.
David Gedge: No, there's definitely no songs that are always in there. There's obviously some that are more... I wouldn't say popular but kind of staples, really. 'My Favourite Dress' is one of those. It's always a reliable one. I think it's a really good song, very simple really, so it kind of fits anywhere. It's one that always seems to work if we have a hole in the set that needs filling. There's a couple like that. 'Kennedy' and 'Dalliance' too. But in general, the setlist changes all the time. To be honest, I don't actually write the setlists. Our drummer, Charlie (Layton) does them. I find it very helpful because I always struggle to write one, especially having over 250 songs to choose from. It takes a long time for me to do and it's always a thankless task. I've lost count of the number of times we've come off stage after a blinding twenty song set and someone's come up to us asking why we didn't play some of the other 230 songs from our back catalogue instead. You can't really win. So it's nice that Charlie does it as the sets tend to be a bit more eclectic as well. He wasn't in the band from the beginning so he has that distance to look at our material more objectively, and it seems to have worked so far.
DiS: So in 2016 can we look forward to a twentieth anniversary Saturnalia tour?
David Gedge: I think that would have been on the cards but I'm now getting a bit sick of doing this. I don't want us to be seen as this group who just plays their albums. So I'm thinking maybe we should give it a bit of a break. Having said that, I do my own festival in Brighton every year - 'At The Edge Of The Sea' - and next year we're going to play Saturnalia in full there over the course of the weekend. Whether we do it anywhere else I've not quite decided yet. I'm not sure I want to do a full tour of it again. I'd like to go away and make a new record sometime soon. We've got a lot of half-finished songs knocking around that I've just not had time to work on. Partly because this re-release project has taken a lot of time. Now that's all over and we've this short little tour to do, it would be nice to go back in the studio and work on those songs again. That's one of the reasons we were in France last weekend. We started recording a few of those so I'm really excited about that to be honest.
DiS: When do you hope to have the album ready?
David Gedge: We're working on that now. There's a lot of ideas and about half the songs are almost ready, so I'm hoping it will be sometime next year. It's hard to quantify how long it takes to write a song. It could take a day or it could take a month. It's just a matter of getting down to work and putting everything together. I don't feel planning and creativity go hand in hand to be honest. When you're in a pop group it's nice to have the freedom to not have a schedule. If something comes along like an invitation to play somewhere then you're not tied to a schedule because there isn't one. I'm always of the mindset a collection of songs will be finished when it's finished.
DiS: You've just released deluxe editions of Tommy, George Best, Bizarro, Seamonsters, The Hit Parade, Watusi, Mini and Saturnalia_. Each package is spread across three CD/DVDs and is pretty comprehensive in its content. How long did it take to put together and do any recordings exist from those eras that haven't yet been released?
David Gedge: I'm 95% sure there are recordings lying around that haven't been released. There's a few things I know of where we couldn't get the licensing to release them. For instance, we played 'Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah' live on American television... in fact, it is our only ever live appearance on American national TV so that would have been a good one to put on the deluxe version of Watusi. But the television company wanted too much money, far more than we could afford so we left it off in the end. There's probably others I've forgotten about as well. It took the best part of a year to put the whole project together. I spent most of that time going through archives and boxes of tapes, listening to radio sessions and demo recordings. I'm sure there might be things I've missed. The whole idea was to put together a definitive package around each release, and the good thing is Edsel Records who are releasing the deluxe editions are owned by the BBC, so they already held the licenses to the Radio One sessions and Top Of The Pops appearances. I'm very meticulous and I always want to make sure everything is right. It's bad enough when you've got one album's worth of test pressings, live shows, radio sessions and videos to go through but to then multiply that by eight takes quite a bit of work. It was very time consuming and it sounds weird, but I'm the only person in the world who can do it because I'm the only one that's played on all of the records. We've been through so many line-up changes. You can ask people about certain albums but I'm the only one that's been there the whole way through. The licensing took a while too, especially when you consider how many different record labels we've worked with and how many we had to individually approach to make this happen. It took about six months before we even got the licensing to do everything. We wanted to release them on vinyl as well but some of the labels wouldn't allow it, so we've just got vinyl editions for about four of them I think.
DiS: I remember your fanclub used to sell live bootleg tapes dating back to the beginning of the band's existence. Did you go through every single one before deciding which shows to include one each of the deluxe editions?
David Gedge: We tape every concert we possibly can through the mixing desk and then listen back to them afterwards. We'd then choose the best ones and they became the live tapes which you could buy from our fanclub so I went back to those and chose the ones I remember being good, so 'Rotterdam 1988' for example which is on one of the George Best CDs. I didn't have time to listen to every single live recording as there are too many so just selected the ones that stood out for me really. Then we had to get them mastered onto CD. Again, several of the live performances were originally broadcast on the BBC, so I knew they'd sound good anyway.
DiS: Chris Allison worked on the first two albums but by the time 'Brassneck' came out as a single, you decided to re-record it with Steve Albini. What inspired you to work with him?
David Gedge: There's two reasons really. George Best and Bizarro are good records and I'm happy with them, but they never sounded as big as I wanted them to. They sounded more like studio recordings - which obviously they were - but never really captured the live sound we had at that time. We were predominantly a live band, and one of my objectives when recording was always to try and recreate that live sound. And I thought both records were good but not quite where I wanted them to be for some reason. At the same time, I heard Surfer Rosa by the Pixies and thought this was destined to become my favourite record of all time. The sound was so fantastic and the songs were great. The sound of that record had something in there. Lots of different textures that made it three dimensional almost. So we decided to try and see if we could work with Steve Albini. The label thought he was a bit of an odd choice but they wanted a second single off the album so let us re-record that with him to see how things worked. And it worked really well. We recorded four songs with him which became the 'Brassneck' EP. Not that I think the version of 'Brassneck' on the album is terrible. I don't. I think it fits in with the rest of the album but here was a great opportunity to experiment and work with someone new and we were very happy with the results. He gave it that extra texture and a bigger sound so we asked him to do Seamonsters and we've worked together on a few projects ever since, both with The Wedding Present and Cinerama.
DiS: It's interesting that Seamonsters came along at a time when a lot of UK guitar bands were embracing dance music, whereas you want in completely the opposite direction. Did you deliberately go against the grain with that record?
David Gedge: We've never been influenced by the fashions of the time. When The Wedding Present started in 1986 we were in the middle of the C86 scene. That was the only time we really ever fitted in with the zeitgeist. Since then we've always ran our own little path outside of the media and whatever's been fashionable at the time. Obviously we were aware of the whole Manchester scene at the time and some really great bands came out of it but I didn't think it was necessary for us to go down that route really. I've always been proud that we've had our own little universe. Historically I've always admired bands like The Fall or New Order who exist on their own in a way with no kind of element to what's trendy at the moment, and I think we fall into the same category.
DiS: That also seemed to be the time where founder members were leaving and new personnel came in and ultimately the band's sound was developing as a result. Did you think that in order for the band to keep progressing the band's line-up would probably have to change as well?
David Gedge: It would have been nice in some ways had if the same four people who started the group were still together. Quite romantic in some ways. It's an odd thing because it's quite an intense relationship. In the studio, on tour, on top of each other twenty-four seven, and then people become disenchanted with it. That's why people join a band in the first place. To write songs, make records and travel the world. And it is a very exciting thing to do but at the same time it's also hard work being away from home for long periods of time. So the first time you go to Japan is absolutely amazing, the second time is brilliant but then by the third time it's like, "Do we really need to go to Japan again because I'm missing my girlfriend loads?" It's easy to see why some people become disillusioned and some people stay three years, others fourteen years. Everybody's different. But if I'm honest with you, it's always difficult when people leave. Obviously something's not right for a reason so they've had to go. So you have to get someone new and hope they fit in and all the rest of it. But at the same time, without meaning to sound heartless, I think it's helped the group in a way because you've got this new person with new ideas, new influences and new inspirations and ultimately the band goes through a rebirth. It's meant that every record has been different. It's helped us evolve and modify our sound over the years.
DiS: The Hit Parade was an ambitious project and probably something we're never likely to see again in the current climate. Were you aware of Elvis Presley having the most UK chart hits in one year and were the twelve songs always going to be singles or initially intended to form the basis for an album?
David Gedge: It was always going to be a collection of singles, though at the time we didn't know they were all going to be hits. Originally it was intended to be similar to what Sub Pop and Rough Trade were doing with their "Singles Club" projects. Let's release twelve singles and see what happens. I didn't know that much about Elvis's record to begin with but when I found out I thought it was a fantastic idea. It became a very media friendly idea in the end but that wasn't the motivation. I've always been a big fan of the single anyway. Even as a kid I had loads of seven-inch singles.
DiS: It wasn't long after that when Britpop arrived. Did that have any impact on the band or derail you even for a short period of time as many artists who'd emerged at the same time as The Wedding Present were instantly dismissed as irrelevant by some sections of the media?
David Gedge: Not really. I was a bit jealous of some of the Britpop bands because they were seen as indie/alternative/guitar bands or whatever you want to call them, working in the same scene as us and then some of them became commercially huge overnight. It was purely down to timing for a lot of them because it just happens to be at this point in time people focused on that kind of music. Also radio, television and the rest of the media also gave them a big platform whereas we never had that opportunity. It's not that big a gripe really. We trod our own little path and we're still here now. It was just interesting to watch.
DiS: It was around that time when you recorded Watusi with another fresh producer, Steve Fisk. What did he bring to the sessions and was he influential in how the album eventually turned out?
David Gedge: Steve (Fisk) was actually suggested by the label, Island Records. It was a genius suggestion. We wanted to move away from a more guitar-orientated sound. We were trying to work out how to do it. How to bring new sounds in without having to use distortion pedals. So we set up in the studio with some new songs and Steve Fisk was suggested to us. He was perfect because of his background. He is a keyboard player and he introduced us to these new avant garde ideas and showed us how to do it. We had some songs we were working on which we wanted to go in that direction but weren't quite sure how to do it. It's one of my favourite records so it definitely worked.
DiS: Next came the six-track EP Mini. Whose idea was it to make a concept record about cars?
David Gedge: It was actually a line-up change we had that inspired it. Keith (Gregory) our original bass player left, and we got a new one in called Darren Belk and he was very interested in American motor car culture. Drag racing and all that kind of stuff. I quite liked the idea of having a car theme, and originally it was mentioned that we'd maybe do a full album's worth. By this time we'd changed labels again. We were on Cooking Vinyl and they insisted it would work better as a mini-LP. I agreed as we already had the title (Mini) and Darren had the concept. We took some photos of a mini for the album artwork and the owner was actually selling the car, so we convinced Cooking Vinyl to buy it. Then we placed raffle tickets into so many copies of the record and the winner actually won the car itself. John Peel pulled the winning ticket out live on air one evening and I drove the mini down to the winner's house in Shropshire.
DiS: Do you still keep in touch with the winner of the mini?
David Gedge: Not as much now, but he's called Simon and he contacted me about ten years later. He said it had been a really great car but he was selling it and buying a new one, so did we want it back? And I said, "No, it's yours." So I guess he must have sold it.
DiS: Saturnalia became the final record of the first era of The Wedding Present. Did it feel like a swansong for the band at the time?
David Gedge: Kind of, yeah. It was a very different record again, mainly because of another line-up change. Some new people came in that were from a very experimental background, and the recording sessions went really well. But then after we'd finished I felt like I needed a bit of a break. Everything had been full on pretty much from when The Wedding Present first started really, and it was only after we'd finished recording the last song that I started working on my new side project which became Cinerama. So I decided to extend the break but in a different way for a while. A couple of years later, Cinerama had become a band in its own right. We'd recorded three studio albums so at the time, it did seem like Cinerama was the next step, the right way to move on from The Wedding Present. Obviously it didn't end like that but at that moment in time was the right thing to do.
DiS: Was it difficult concentrating on playing Cinerama material at shows knowing there were fans present continually shouting for Wedding Present songs?
David Gedge: Not really because I just ignored them! When you start working on a new project with new ideas you tend to become very focused on it. You tend to shun off criticism. We did end up playing a few Wedding Present songs in the live set mainly because I missed them. But ultimately, my motto was if you don't like it don't come. This is Cinerama not The Wedding Present. The first Cinerama LP came out on Cooking Vinyl as well, and the label wanted to put a sticker on the front, "Featuring David Gedge from The Wedding Present." And I said, "No, I don't want that." It was a different project and nothing to do with The Wedding Present. In hindsight, it probably was a foolish thing for me to say because nobody knew what it was. So nobody was really that interested whereas if they'd known it was me, they might have been. I've met people down the years who've only just realised I had this other band called Cinerama. I just didn't want it to be seen as The Wedding Present part two.
DiS: Looking back over those first ten years of The Wedding Present, would you be able to pick any one record as being the most definitive or your favourite?
David Gedge: No, because they're all my children and I'm proud of them all. And also because they're all different. If you play them all in chronological order starting with George Best and finishing on Saturnalia it sounds like a different band. Obviously it's still my voice and my lyrics have always been a certain style but everything else has shifted around quite considerably. That's possibly one of our downfalls. Maybe if we had retained a certain sound we could have become a bigger group. That's what people tend to want. If they buy a record and it has a certain sound they'll buy another one. It's like buying a box of cornflakes. You wouldn't buy any more cornflakes if they tasted like a box of Weetabix.
DiS: Was commercial success influential in The Wedding Present changing record labels so many times?
David Gedge: No. To be honest that's more a case of what happens at record labels. The turnover of staff is very quick. For instance, when we signed to RCA Records, within three years most of the staff had gone. It's get to the point where the person who signed you to a label moves on, so you then get handed over to a new person, who is usually fine but at the same time, doesn't have the same drive for you as the other person did. You can sense when they're not quite there any more. Almost like you've become an unshakeable burden that's been passed onto them. That's happened a couple of times now. The relationship starts off great and while it doesn't become terrible, you're something of an inconvenience to them. The new people who join the label sign new bands of their own, and channel any excitement they have towards those bands. So you become marginalised then eventually get dropped. We didn't have a problem when it came to switching labels. We're happy to go if we're no longer wanted.
DiS: Going back to 'At The Edge Of The Sea' festival, I see you've already confirmed The Nightingales for next year's event. Do you have a wishlist of artists you'd like to put on the bill?
David Gedge: I do have a wishlist. It's a wish spreadsheet actually! I curate it and then I have a promoter that deals with the financial side of things. I've been doing this so long that I've met so many people over the years. There's a few on that list I'm close to confirming, and one more I've just confirmed recently. A french band called Watoo Watoo. A big part of 'At The Edge Of The Sea' is keeping ticket prices quite low. It's always the same price as a ticket for a Wedding Present concert. I like that because people have these expectations of big names at affordable prices, plus it gives me the opportunity to put together an eclectic line-up. Make it a bit more challenging rather than a predictable festival line-up. Because of that we do have financial constraints but on the whole we've done quite well. I try to avoid going through managers and booking agents. I don't do the festival for money. It's more an excuse to put on some bands and have a weekend by the seaside. It's my favourite time of the year. Some people have been coming every year. The only problem with it is because it's in Brighton on the August bank holiday weekend it can be quite expensive. Accommodation prices are really steep that time of year and it can be quite a tourist trap. That's another reason why I like to keep ticket prices as low as possible.
DiS: Do you have any advice for bands that are just starting out?
David Gedge: I don't know. It's a lot different now from when we first started out. Then, there was a culture where people still wanted to buy records. And until you reached a certain level it was difficult to make any money from playing live or touring. Nowadays, young people aren't really interested in paying for music. It's not just illegal downloads either. There's outlets like Spotify and You Tube where you can listen to music for free. So unless a band reaches that status where you're touring the world and playing big concerts, there are no financial rewards for being in a band. There's so many costs involved. Hiring a van, replacing equipment, booking hotels, buying food and drink, paying the support band. And unfortunately it's difficult to make enough money to survive. I know several tour managers who've said the only new bands coming through are those with wealthy parents who can support them. They're the only people who can afford to do it.
The Watusi tour calls in at...
4 Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms
5 Exeter Cavern
6 Bristol Fleece
8 Dublin IRL
10 Newcastle Cluny
11 Edinburgh Liquid Room
12 Blackburn King George's Hall
13 Oxford O2 Academy
14 Clapham Grand
For more information on The Wedding Present visit their official website.