Their brief affair with Ukrainian folk music behind them, the Wedding Present have now formed a strange, potentially dangerous liaison with producer Steve Albini for their new album Bizarro. Singer/guitarist David Gedge talks to Alistair Mabbott about the erstwhile indie favourites’ latest career moves.
HEDGE THE GEDGE
While a natty haircut and an ‘And on the sixth day God created Manchester’ T-shirt is a virtual guarantee of a front cover in the music press, The Wedding Present are not so keen to make capital out of their own geographical base. Perfectly understandable, really, considering the steamrolling pop machine that Manchester becomes when its star is in the ascendent. The city of Leeds had its moment a few years back as the Goth capital of the country (Sisters of Mercy, The Mission, Ghost Dance and The March Violets hailed from there), which is some legacy to come to terms with. Playful, high in thrashy love songs and low on contrived mystique, The Wedding Present ignore it entirely.
Twenty-nine-year-old singer and
guitarist David Lewis Gedge was born there and returned to study at Leeds University, but the band (Peter Solowka on second guitar, Keith Gregory on bass and Simon Smith, replacing original member Shaun Chadwick on drums) are, as Gedge has it, ‘from various parts of the country‘ and uninterested in perpetuating the competitive macho regionalism of the Scots and Mancunians.
The Wedding Present grew out of The Lost Pandas, a band Gedge played in while he was studying at the university where the DJ who was eventually to air the Wedding Present‘s first Radio One session — Andy Kershaw — was entertainments secretary. Soon after the release of their first single, ‘Go Out and Get ’Em, Boy‘, on their own Reception Records in May 1985, the band discovered that, through no choice
"an! '- x:-
of their own, they were part of a movement. They appeared on the C86 LP, a catch-all album which embraced Stump, and Age of Chance, but mainly bands who seemed determined to prolong their adolescences for as long as their young and clannish audiences deemed it fun. In most cases, the relationship was brief and intense, and unexpectedly The Wedding Present rode the storm, finally rising above it with their first LP, George Best, which confirmed their status as second only to The Smiths in the committed ‘indie’ audience’s eyes.
While Morrissey’s windswept, mystical air may have been his fortune, David Gedge declined a pedestal. The ruggedly handsome singer looked like he might even enjoy a bevvy and a chat after the show. The music was approachable in the same down-to-earth way: dispensing with solos and frills, both guitars chopped away like a frantic Kenwood; and Gedge wrote his songs, invariably about relationships, in frank terms that might make students ofCostello‘s cryptic utterances sneer. The young fans crowding their concerts understood it all too clearly. The Wedding Present live give off a warmth and generosity that’s quite uncommon, and reciprocated by the good-natured crush at the front.
Since communication and audience identification seems of paramount importance to the group does the former Maths student ‘who used to dream about being in a pop group‘ ever look down among them and recognise himself?
‘I think I’m quite similar to a lot of our fans, yeah. That separates us
‘1' xi ' at"
~\ E J ‘ 29"" ‘
from a lot ofgroups, that we are quite normal. I think a lot ofpeople hanker for superhuman beings in pop groups, which I'm afraid we don’t supply. I think I would be a Wedding Present fan ifI wasn’t in them. Having said that, we’re not the sort ofpeople who attract clones. lfl was Morrissey, I could probably say yes, because there’s hundreds of people who’ve been influenced by him, and dress like him and dance like him and talk like him.’
With their following growing, the next move was a quirky step sideways, all the more unexpected for The Wedding Present’s lack of reference points outside the narrow spectrum of indie-rock: picking up mandolins and a few extra members, they did radio sessions, a mini-album and a tour of Ukrainian and Russian folk songs. collected by the father of the band‘s guitarist, Peter Solowka. The record, Ukranski Vistipu V Johna Peela, had its tongue at least partly in its cheek. and was received warmly. but once the tour was over. the folk styles they had picked up were dropped. In times when a rock star will practically daub himselfwith woad to show his solidarity with a distant and underdeveloped society (and Sting actually did). when their next and most recent album. Bizarro appeared. you’d be hard pressed to guess they’d ever picked up a bayan in their lives.
‘It’s completely different in many ways,’ Gedge agrees. ‘It’s difficult to find any areas where they actually cross at all.'The prospect might well worry Gedge more than he lets on for, despite the album’s high-quality indie-pop, it also shows the constraints oftheir format, and the
\ \ V, \\~\"\\\‘ \~\ \\.‘\ ‘
,\\\\\\§~\~-- \ .\ A A
difficulties of injecting new strains into it.
Bizarro also marked their move away from the independent arena of which they had remained figureheads while others had been signed up by major labels and released, in Gedge‘s view, substandard albums (though The Wedding Present‘s showing in John Peel’s Festive 50 at Christmas, as good a barometer as any ofsuch things, showed that their contract with the giant RCA hadn’t significantly affected their cult following). The well-publicised contract the band put their names to is one of the most favourable to any band in recent times. The Wedding Present are not obliged to carry out any promotion they find distasteful. and if the record company deems a single uncommcrcial the band are fully within their rights to release it on Reception Records independendy.
‘The way we're being sold is slightly different. that’s all.‘ he asserts. remarking that within the group, life has hardly changed at all. ‘Therc’s obviously a big improvement in efficiency. compared to the old days when we had to chase everything up because it was our own label. Now we just have to shout down the phone to RCA. People there have all got specific
jobs to do. which gives you more control in a way. We‘re just richer. really. Personally we’re richer and there’s more investment in the group. for recording and so on.‘
Is that extra dosh apparent on Bizarro'.’
‘No! Not really.’ he laughs. 'I think it was a similar budget to what we're
6 The List 26 January — 8 February 1990