In 1987, Leeds band The Wedding Present, riding high on the buzz generated by a number of self-released singles and the support from the likes of Radio One DJ’s John Peel and Andy Kershaw, released their debut album, George Best, also on their own label, Reception. It featured a now iconic image of that equally iconic footballer of the same name on the cover, and became a minor commercial success, scraping the top 50, and cementing the band’s reputation as one of the best around, one who was spearheading the so-called ‘indie’ scene that had slowly grown out of post-punk, and which had been encapsulated by the legendary C86 cassette that the NME gave away with their weekly print edition. Dubbed ‘the most indie thing to have ever existed’, most of the bands on it subsequently faded away into semi-obscurity. Bands such as Might Mighty, The Bodines, Bogshed, and Close Lobsters. However, along with Primal Scream, The Wedding Present have, with the odd blip or two, stayed the course. In 2018 they are as highly revered as ever: they’re still releasing records, curate their own annual festival, At the Edge of the Sea, now in its 10th year, and even have a new film documenting their early years, Something Left Behind, to celebrate.
At the Edge of the Sea has, over the years, usually involved The Wedding Present performing two sets: one of which revolves around them performing one of their albums. This time, they are digging out Tommy, a compilation of early singles, B-sides and radio sessions, that was actually released post-George Best. It is a fantastic document of their early years, when they forged the highly distinctive raw aggression of their music, and fused that with the kitchen-sink narrative lyrics of David Gedge, the only constant of the band throughout their 34 years together so far. “The band started in 1985 and we did a series of singles on our own label,” explains David Gedge. “We didn’t make George Best until late 1987. It was quite unusual at the time, to wait that long before doing an album. Partly, we didn’t want to put all those songs we had released on George Best. We thought that would be a bit of a rip off. We tried to keep George Best as new as possible. But that meant we had all these tracks that had only been out as indie singles. So, it was an obvious idea to put them altogether, and it came out the following year.”
This year represents the 30th anniversary of the release of Tommy, the band rehearsing away at Ooosh Studios in Portslade, preparing for a number of shows this summer, some of which are Tommy shows, and some of which are ‘normal’ The Wedding Present gigs. “I hate the title,” says Gedge, about Tommy. “It’s the only The Wedding Present LP that I didn’t personally title. The bass player at the time, Keith Gregory, said, ‘Let’s call it Tommy‘. I never questioned it. He liked the name. Even this year when we’ve been playing it, a promoter who might not be quite as familiar with The Wedding Present as others, has said, ‘you’re doing like a Who album’? Obviously, The Who’s Tommy is by far the most famous use of that name. I kind of regret it now, but there you go.”
For the fans though, it’s probably not such a regret, for Tommy contains a treasure trove of indie classics, including their first ever single ‘Go Out and Get ’em Boy!’, as well as subsequent singles ‘Once More’, ‘This Boy Can Wait’, and ‘My Favourite Dress’, as well as a number of tracks taken from those early John Peel and Andy Kershaw sessions. In a day and age when so many bands are now in effect DIY, back then in the 80s there was very little information around as to how you would actually record, manufacture and release your own record. “You just asked people,” says Gedge. “There was a recording studio in Leeds that we used frequently, and they gave us advice. We also looked in the back of one of the old newspapers, like the NME or Melody Maker, where there were adverts like ‘Get a thousand of your seven inches pressed’. We did just that, we sent it to one of those places. To save money, I borrowed two of my Mother’s suitcases, went down to London on a National Express coach, went to the pressing plant, got the 500 seven inches, and brought them home. And we got the sleeve printed at a local printers in Leeds. We actually cut out the image on these sheets, glued it, and then put the record in there. Then we took them to York where there was a distribution company called Red Rhino, and we let them have them sale or return. It was very much a cottage industry. But then of course Peel played it, about ten times I think, in the first few weeks. As a result it sold out very quickly. And it was re-pressed. Once we had shown to Red Rhino that we could sell some records they had more input in terms of the manufacturing.”
One of John Peel’s favourite bands, The Wedding Present have this man to thank for their promotion in an age when there were next-to-no other outlets for getting your music heard. Peel’s BBC Radio One programme was the place to hear to hear new and alternative music, such was its power (albeit benevolent). “I had already made myself known to him. I was a massive fan of him, and that programme. As soon as I was in a band that made demo tapes, I would send them to him or go down to London and give him the tapes.
“The first session we did was actually with Andy Kershaw. I think he (Peel) felt to give us a session as well would have been a bit too close to favouritism or something, so we did Andy Kershaw at the BBC studios in Manchester. The second BBC session was for Peel at Maida Vale. People say, ‘what are the most exciting times in your life, it must have been going on Top of the Pops, or going to Japan, or whatever’. But I always think, A – having Peel play my record on the radio and, B – recording a Peel session. Maybe I don’t have the lofty ambitions of some people, but that was it for me.”
As part of At the Edge of the Sea will be the second ever screening of Something Left Behind, a documentary made by Worthing resident Andrew Jezard which focusses on the band’s early years, up to and including the recording of George Best. “Andrew met Shaun Charman, our first drummer, and Shaun invited him to come and see the band, at one of our anniversary shows. He liked the idea of some of these fans who had followed the band all these years. His initial idea was to do a film based on the thoughts of the fans, which is an interesting angle, but I said if I was to see a documentary about a certain album or band, I would want to hear from the producer, and all the band members. So, he got hold of all the original four members, even Keith, who lives in Australia, and Amelia Fletcher, who did some of the singing on the early records. It’s a big story of how The Wedding Present began, and made George Best. In the early years I kept every press cutting, every recording, every photograph. He filled his car boot with all this stuff and took it away. He’s done an amazing job.”
Something Left Behind, 10th August, Duke of York, followed by a Q&A with David Gedge, Shaun Carman and Andrew Jezard. The 10th At the Edge of the Sea mini-festival will be held at Concorde 2, 10th – 11th August.