David Gedge from The Wedding Present – Interview – 2014

Indie music. What does that mean to you? Nowadays, the term is almost meaningless as it refers to any electric guitar based band that also sports the current haircuts and fashion. The Kooks are indie, right? Arctic Monkeys? Maybe… Indie, as originally defined, refers to music made 'independently' from major record labels, made on a DIY basis. The Wedding Present are an archetypal indie band. Not only did they release their first single on their own label, and which they self-funded, they received regular air play on the John Peel show, released 12 singles in one year, and dropped an album of Ukrainian folk songs on the folk market, albeit – and this makes the story even better – on a major label, and formed another band, Cinerama, in 1998, while The Wedding Present were on sabbatical, and which ended reverting back to The Wedding Present in 2004.

Influenced by the likes of The Birthday Party, Gang of Four, Orange Juice and The Fall, The Wedding Present soon developed a distinctive sound; super fast rhythmic guitar combined with a wall of aggressive noise or some jangly moments, along with almost invariably witty and colourful lyrical narratives,  For the earlier part of their career they were at the vanguard of the 'indie' scene, additionally taking on board some American hardcore and punk influences, with the result that The Wedding Present, helped along by Gedge's distinctive baritone voice, had created a fresh and invigorating sound, a style that was later borrowed by the likes of My Bloody Valentine, whose fast rhythmic songs and wall of noise bear more than a passing resemblance.

Now based in Hove, we met up at a cafe on Western Road and he began telling me what he'd been up to. "Two things, we've being recording in Spain for a new Cinerama project. But before we did that, my girlfriend and I drove from the East Coast to the West Coast of America, from Maine to California. I've done it several times before on tour, but I felt it would be good to see a bit of the country rather than the venue, the van, the hotel, and then another venue, and another hotel. It was a more leisurely drive… it took three weeks to get across and see a few sights. It was a half holiday and half project. She's a photographer as well, and she did a lot of filming, which we'll use in some way… Covering 20 states in 20 days, Gedge cites a visit to Mount Rushmore as a highlight. "It's quite hard to get to, but it's surreal; you've got these four heads carved into a mountain. I love the story of it, the fact that it's not finished… it was meant to include their torsos, down to their waists, but the bloke who did it died, and World War II came and they decided not to do anymore work on it. It's fascinating.

"Then we went to Spain. The last Wedding Present album, Valentina, came out in 2012, and I've re-recorded it as Cinerama. It's an obvious thing really, when we started doing the band again I thought we should record an album with both bands at the same time, and release simultaneously but it seemed such a huge task, it was never going to happen. But, and I remember this well, I was out driving towards Eastbourne – people send me CDs all the time – and there was one from Spain, a band called Vigil, and I played it. It was all instrumental, and it reminded me of Cinerama without the singing, but with strings and orchestral brass, and that cinematic filmic music. So, I was interested in meeting ????, who is Vigil, and got in touch via their label which I knew of and I asked him if he'd be interested in working with me on a Cinerama type project. He said he'd love to. I sent him the music, all the chords, the lyrics, and he then re-arranged it and had these people come in and play it. I went over and oversaw the recording and then did the vocals while in Los Angeles which I found quite difficult… Suddenly, there is this quite jazzy style, big band and less filmic. I wasn't sure quite when to sing (laughs). But an interesting challenge. It features totally different people and different sounds, so it's going to be a bit weird. Hopefully, we will release it next spring on our label.

"I like doing stuff like that. I never wanted to be just an album-tour-song-album type band. Hence Cinerama, hence the festival we do every year, and the Ukrainian folk music, the comic I do… stuff off a tangent."

Beginning as an idea concocted in a road side cafe, ‘At The Edge of The Sea’ has become an annual event, now in its sixth year, curated by Gedge, and organised and promoted by Lout Promotions. Always inhabiting the legendary Brighton venue Concorde 2 during the August Bank Holiday weekend, it's now a two-day event featuring The Wedding Present, and the many off-shoots and projects of members past and present. "We were in a Little Chef actually, somewhere in Yorkshire, after a concert. The conversation went to about bands we had met over the years, who we keep in touch with, or who we didn't keep in touch with. 'Oh yeah, I'd love to see them again, they were nice people'… I just thought it was great way of seeing them, so we decided to do our festival. 'We'll get so and so to play; he can play, you can play'.

"There are four categories of bands: there are bands we like, a name band we'd like to get. This year we've got Art Brut. Then there are bands who have supported us on tour, and then there's ex-Wedding Present and Cinerama members, and then we get a few local people in. It always seems like a daunting task at the beginning with an empty spreadsheet, but it comes together quite quickly. I really enjoy it. I'm like a kid in a candy store."

A feature of ‘At The Edge of The Sea’ is The Wedding Present replaying their albums in their entirety, something they've done since they performed George Best at the inaugural festival in 2009, as well as providing a platform for Cinerama to play their one and only gig of each year. "We've been working through the albums as the years go by, and this year we'll be doing Mini, which was a mini-album from 1995 and on the second day we'll be doing Watusi which is an album from 1994." So, you're having to re-learn everything? "Starting tomorrow morning from 9.30.

"There is always stuff we haven't played before. It's tricky sometimes, as I am the only member from many of those albums, having to re-create. I start off with replicating it as it was, but as soon as we begin the songs change a little. It's the same when we do something live. Songs do evolve, and people have different styles in the band. I would say it's 90% the same. And my voice has totally changed over the years, some of the early ones I do now don't sound like me anymore.

"When we first started talking about it, I was the main opponent of the idea. As an artist I would say 'mmmmm, I've got some new songs which we should do' but I was outvoted, everyone wanted to do it. Now, I think it's a totally valid thing to do; you can learn by going back… it's like reading an old diary, re-analysing how you did something. But, there are songs I'm not that keen on doing, although you can always try and improve them, change things you didn't like. Every album has one song that is my least favourite, but you work harder at them."

The notion that The Wedding Present isn't your average band is further borne out by Gedge's interest in songs outside his immediate sphere of interest, most famously with the Ukrainian John Peel Sessions, otherwise known as ?????????? ??????? ? ????? ????, which was a collection of two John Peel Sessions of Ukrainian folk songs, that also featured Len Liggins and Roman Remenynes, both Ukrainian speakers. Originally intended for release on their own label, it was subsequently released on their new label at the time, RCA, and amazingly made number 22 in the UK album charts.
More recently, they have fully immersed themselves in the annual Record Store Day event, and have released EPs in French (2102), German (2013) and this year, in Welsh "I did French in school, which I was quite good at German, I didn't really take to, that was harder and Welsh, I didn't have a clue! I just went on Twitter and asked if there was anyone out there interested in translating four songs into Welsh. I was incredibly lucky actually, there is a Welsh soap opera called People of the Valley (or, in Welsh, Pobol y Cwn – the longest running Welsh soap, it's been on the Welsh version of Channel 4 since 1974), and there is an actor in there who is totally bi-lingual (Andrew Taylor). He came to a concert in Cardiff and said he had looked at it, and asked me to send him the lyrics and songs. He's been in bands and so he has an ear for translating lyrics that work within songs. When it came to recording the vocals, I'd like to say I did it line by line, but it was word by word sometimes. Some sounds in Welsh are totally alien in English and there are these really long words with no vowels at all. It can be gymnastics of the mouth. So, he was there tutoring me through it. I've no idea if it sounds any good, but he was happy with it. The Welsh speakers all say it is good, but you can never know. It's like I'll never see The Wedding Present live, so I have to take peoples word for it!
"It's funny, because for this one, The Welsh one, there was a real interest. I was on Welsh TV, BBC Radio Wales… I guess it was unusual for an English person to sing in Welsh, and they found that interesting." What about next year? "Maybe Japanese next? But Chinese maybe a bridge too far…"

As a lyricist, Gedge is one of the most distinctive of recent times, even the songs titles dripping with wit and observational gems – I'm From Further North Than You, The Best Thing I Like About You Is Your Girlfriend, You Can't Moan, Can You?, Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft are examples, many of the lyrics concerning ubiquitous girlfriend problems, whether his own or that of others. "I have little notebooks, I hear lines in newspapers, watching a film could spark a title, even conversations I overhear, or an argument. It's half made up in a way, half autobiographical; half adapted to what I've heard and kind of what I would do in that situation but in a very personal style. It's like being an actor – here's the script, the roles, and you try and inhabit that – what you would do in that situation?"

Who does he admire, lyrically? There not many I really like; a lot of pop lyricism is terrible, they get away with murder. But, it's easy to do in a rock song, it doesn't really matter. I always liked Lou Reed, he has a very down to earth style, and he's got stories that are full of imagery and evocative. Morrissey (when with The Smiths) was like that and Nick Cave…

"Musically speaking, I like My Bloody Valentine, The Pixies…  I don't know if it's my age, but most of my favourite iconic groups are from the 60s through to the 90s.. I don't really see anything this century… every new band I hear I always think, 'Yeah you sound like The Pixies, you sound like Sonic Youth, or a funk band from the 70s. It's all been done."

Born in Leeds, Gedge grew up in Manchester before going back to Leeds University to study Maths, but all the time he was really thinking only about music… "I've always been in bands since I was at school, but when I left University I had to make the decision about that. I was on the dole, but didn't have massive debts from being a student. I even bought my amplifier with my grant!

Pre-Wedding Present, he was in band called Lost Pandas, although there is no recorded evidence of them. "You wouldn't have heard anything, because it has never been released! I was in the storage unit the other day and there is a pile of Lost Pandas tapes, but I think they are a bit embarrassing. It got better with The Wedding Present, a bit more punchy and aggressive and more Rock 'n' Roll.

"I always liked the name The Wedding Present but because there was a band called The Birthday Party (Nick Cave's band of the late 70s/early 80s), I thought it was too similar sounding, and so we called ourselves Lost Pandas. I was a big fan of them, but by 1985 The Birthday Party had come and gone, so I decided to use The Wedding Present.

Has he ever met Nick Cave? I have never met him (even though he is a fellow Brighton resident). I was in a pub in Hove and this bloke came up to me and said, 'I know you… Nick Cave! Bizarre"

It seemed that Gedge had a great deal of confidence that his band would make its mark before too long. "It was different in those days, John Peel was omnipotent, he was the only one. Radio was harder to get onto then, there was no 6 Music. In some ways, he was too powerful. I've got friends like The Membranes, Peel never played them. I always thought, 'Why? They are a kind of Peel band! But he never played them and I think they suffered as a result. One minute we were in our bedsits in Leeds and the next minute, after a few Peel plays, people were coming to us, doing interviews for the NME, Melody Maker, Sounds, all sparked off by Peel. People do say we were lucky to have his patronage, but I would have been disappointed if he didn't like The Wedding Present! I had been obsessed with his programme ever since I was 16,17, and everything I had been doing musically was based on what he was playing on the radio. We were always destined to be a John Peel band, I think. In fact, there's not many bands who have done more sessions than us, except for The Fall, maybe one or two others. It was the same with Cinerama and The Ukrainians, he played us a lot, and we did a lot of sessions with him.
David Gedge – Top Tracks

"We started our own label (Reception) to release the first single… We did send demo tapes to all those labels we liked; Rough Trade, 4AD, but we kept getting rejection letters: 'Yeah, interesting, but not right for us'. We actually got rejection letters…. We came down to London and met a few labels, tried to impress them, but it didn't work. Our attitude was kinda 'Screw you', we didn't want to wait to be signed, so we thought we would fund and release the first single ourselves (Go Out and Get 'Em, Boy), and it did well, relatively speaking; John Peel played it many times. There was a distribution company in York called Red Rhino who said they would fund the label, so after that first single we didn't have any financial risks – it was a manufacturing and distribution deal. Then we decided we didn't need to sign to another label. The only reason we ended that was because there were signs that Red Rhino weren't doing too well and we thought we would have to move to a new distributor. Major labels had been coming to our gigs, but we felt there was this patronising tone; you know, 'you've done well, but if you sign with us we'll take you on to the next level, with a big name producer, record the album in Nassau…' It wasn't what we wanted to hear but we met RCA, and someone who was quite high up the A&R hierarchy, and was a fan of us. He said to just carry on what we were doing… So, we decided to sign with RCA, which was probably the right decision in the end. We retained complete artistic control, which was quite unheard of. They could reject something, but we would have been able to release it independently if they did that. Our first release was the Ukrainians album, The Peel Sessions. That would not happen again! And we said we wanted to do 12 singles in the year. This was a problem for them as the label makes money from an album, not the singles… " In fact, the 12 singles released in 1992, from Blue Eyes to No Christmas all made the top 30, equalling Elvis Presley's record of 12 top 30 hits in one year. While their album of the previous year Sea Monsters represented their best selling album at the time.

With the so-called C86 generation – epitomised by the inclusion of the legendary C86 cassette as part of NME, and which included The Wedding Present's This Boy Can Wait, so-called indie music was riding a big wave of interest, and in 1987 The Wedding Present released their debut album, in the form of George Best.

"It's just an album title," says Gedge. "It was because of growing up in Manchester and being a Manchester United supporter; George Best was everything: a genius footballer, the long hair, the shirt outside his shorts, the rebellious nature, going out with Miss World, hanging out with The Beatles… to a kid, this bloke was brilliant. It was that kind of cultural thing that was a massive influence on me and I just thought it was good name, George Best.

"We went to a sports picture agency, and they let us rummage through the filing cabinet of his images, and I saw that picture, and thought it was a great LP sleeve. It is a bit of a weird thing, it is a bit confusing… Why is it called George Best? It's nothing to do with the band, there is no song called George Best, no reference to him at all on the album. Some people did think it was an album by George Best called The Wedding Present! When we did a photo shoot with him, he didn't know anything about us. We just chatted about football, we were all terribly nervous…
"Somebody at the NME said: ' You just want to entwine the name of The Wedding Present with George Best, don't you?' 'Yeah, I suppose I do, that's a good point'. That's why I did it! In retrospect, I wouldn't do it now, to name your album after somebody like that, it feels a bit alien.”
Having lived in Alfriston, in East Sussex, for seven years, Gedge and co decided to move to Hove three years ago, and is still enjoying life on the south coast. "I used to live in Leeds, then went to live in Seattle for a year and a half, then came back and was kind of like 'where should I live'? Most of the people I knew there had gone. I thought Brighton was a great place to be a musician: you are near London, near the airport, ferries and I liked Brighton. I had played here quite regularly and I knew some people here. It has a good feeling, interesting shops, the arty lifestyles, loads of music. As a northerner, you are supposed to hate it down south but, there's definitely character here”