It’s never easy preparing to interview someone whose music has played such a big part of your life. It was a similar tale with my recent That Petrol Emotion three-parter. Sometimes you know too much and overlook the obvious questions.
By the time I felt I was ready for David Gedge, the inspiration and main-man behind The Wedding Present and Cinerama, I realised most of my questions were really just statements. There wasn’t a great deal he could get his teeth into.
I re-drafted a few times before heading across the Pennines for a pre-gig meet in West Yorkshire, and when I arrived it didn’t help that I couldn’t properly see my notes, the light poor to the side of the Hebden Bridge Trades Club dance-floor where David was set up.
Then there was an added dilemma, with support act The Treated set to sound-check. As it was we managed half an hour before we got to shouting at each other, and by then I was more or less done, albeit going round the houses with my quizzing.
Hopefully it works though, and David was – as I suspected – always forthcoming and never less than the true pro and top bloke he’s always appeared to be.
We met on a hot evening in late July, before the first of two consecutive Weddoes dates at the Trades Club, with The Boy Gedge (© John Peel) on a high after the previous evening at one of his favourite venues, Sheffield’s Leadmill.
It was his 18th show at the Leadmill, and this would be The Wedding Present’s first at the Trades Club in 20 years, which quickly took us on to the comprehensive gig list on David’s website, this blogger putting a spanner in the works by suggesting he’d missed at least one.
To The Bridge: The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge, with on-loan Sam, left, joining David, centre, on guitar
I was referring to a slight gap in the itinerary which should have included the Weddoes’ 1987 assault on Glastonbury. David wasn’t convinced I had the right year, but reached for his notebook all the same, and I’ve since noticed it’s now on the list.
That was one of four TWP gigs I saw that year – also including my first at Reading Majestic in late February and two more at the University of London Union, the second marking the launch of seminal debut LP George Best.
Great days, of course, and better described in an earlier appreciation of the band on this blog, with a link here.
Whether challenging David on his database was the best way to start this interview is debatable. He had after all described himself as ‘quite anal’ in respect of band stats. But once I got that out of the way I felt we could properly start, after a brief chat about those formative dates.
“I kept a lot of records from those early days, with scrapbooks of all the reviews, but didn’t really list all the concerts, so had to go back through old diaries. Sometimes I wrote in a venue we were offered but might not have played in the end.”
That took me on to what should have been my first TWP outing, at Fetcham Riverside Club in Surrey in July, 1986, the night we showed up to find a hand-written note from the band apologising that the venue had double-booked them, deciding to pull out accordingly.
“It wasn’t us – it was them! We turned up for the sound-check and they said, ‘What are you doing here?’”
Were there a few nights like that?
“No, that was the only one, thankfully.”
I’m sure it all must run together in the mind, though, keeping track of those gigs.
“It is quite hard to remember, but now I’m more meticulous.”
Is the Trades Club a venue you know well from over the years? It’s not too far from your old Leeds Uni patch, or even your youth in Middleton.
“I came to Hebden Bridge here loads of times as a kid too, but think the last time was when we last played the Trades Club. I used to cycle here from Manchester. A bit of a trek.”
Green Scene: David Gedge in action at Hebden Bridge Trades Club
You spent a fair bit of time in Yorkshire, so it must all be pretty familiar.
“I lived in student accommodation in Leeds while at university, and then bought a house in Otley.”
David’s become an adopted Southerner since, having lived away from the North for the last 10 years or so, the last couple of those in Brighton. Does he miss Yorkshire?
“I do. It’s a very beautiful part of the world and it’s nice to be in a place where people talk like me! There’s a cultural thing too – it feels like you’ve come home to a certain extent. All the same, I don’t miss the weather.”
I mention how it had proved a cracking summer, but to a bloke fresh from mixing tracks in southern Spain for a new Cinerama album and having visited America again this year, perhaps that didn’t wash.
So when’s that new Cinerama album out?
“To be honest, that’s not a priority because I’m busy doing quite a lot of other stuff, so it’s been more like a side-project that we fit in as and when we get the time.
“We recorded the vocals in Los Angeles in January, and the band was recorded in Asturias, Spain, last summer, yet last week was the first time our schedules allowed us a week to mix it.
“Now I’m looking at the mastering and the artwork, and imagining next Spring.”
You seem to be busy gearing up instead for the Edsel Records TWP reissues at the moment.
“That’s it, and there’s also another Cinerama album – a third compilation featuring various b-sides and so on, which has also been a long time in the pipeline.”
As someone earning less money now than all the time you’ve been making records, the initial response to news of the Edsel deluxe editions was ‘Not more Weddoes product I’ve got to buy!’ So you better give me the sales pitch and tell me what’s different this time.
Ultimate Product: The latest TWP re-packages are on their way
“Well, they are pretty cheap! It’s the definitive Wedding Present product after all, with everything you can get your hands on – all the albums, extra tracks, John Peel and other radio sessions, all the videos and live tracks.
“For each release there’s three CDs and loads of sleeve notes.
“Actually, we first had a meeting about this over a year ago when Demon and Edsel Records pitched the idea to me.
“They were saying what a fantastic idea it was. But while they were all raving, I was just thinking, ‘This is so much work!’
“It sounds weird, but I’m the only one who can do it. Everyone else chips in and helps but sometimes people will get it wrong and I’ll step in and put them right, say ‘No, that track was not on that album’, and so on.
“Then I’m being asked, ‘David, have you got the master-tape for this Swedish radio session?’ So I’ll go to my storage unit, where I’ve got tons of boxes …”
I imagine you’re not too good at delegating.
“Well, as I say, I’m very meticulous, and there are so many times where you just say, ‘You can go and find it’, and they’ll come back with the wrong thing. So I’ll just do it myself. But it takes time.
“So I’ve got mixed feelings about it really, and it’s been quite stressful … but it’s going to be great!”
Present Arms: David and Katharine at the Trades Club
That took us on to Watusi, the subject of the band’s forthcoming 20th anniversary tour. In fact, I pointed out how I was listening to the album – one that met a mixed response from Weddoes fans, supposedly – while driving over the moors from Lancashire, and how it remains a bit of a favourite.
“Well, Watusi’s not actually been out before, as it got deleted fairly quickly first time around.
“It’s one of my favourite albums actually, but we left Island pretty soon afterwards, so they didn’t bother re-pressing it.”
Can you understand all this talk of that being your ‘Marmite’ album? I don’t get that – what’s not to love?
“Well, it did seem to alienate a lot of people …”
Maybe you were just ahead of your time in certain respects with that lo-fi Seattle underground sound.
“I just think a certain type of fan expects that high-velocity loud guitar, jangly, with Steve Albini distortion, and it’s obviously a long way from that.
“With some of the other albums they think. ‘I quite like that’, but with Watusi they just didn’t understand what we were doing, asking why there’s piano and acoustic guitars on it. I think really big fans like it, but …”
Is it just that you like Marmite, perhaps?
David laughs. “Yeah, I love Marmite!”
Either way, by the time of the Hebden Bridge gig, David was already filtering some of the songs from Watusi into his live set, in readiness for the autumn tour.
I go on to confess that I was singing along – way too loud – to Click Click on the way over.
“You see, I love that song! I’m not blowing my own trumpet but it’s a great idea to have that layered vocal. It just sounds great, and I get shivers down the spine when we do that.”
This whole LP anniversary malarkey has been going on a while, and it seems an age since the big countdown by the on-stage bunny for the George Best celebration gig, a big moment for me back in my days seeing you at the Hop & Grape in Manchester.
The Boy Gedge: David Gedge, live in Hebden Bridge, flanked by Charles Layton and Katharine Wallinger
Now you’re up to Watusi. Is there a danger of you being all anniversary’d out?
“Yeah. To be honest, I’m thinking … if we’re doing Watusi this year, then we’ll do Saturnalia next, but I’m not really sure if I want to go on to that at this point.
“We don’t want to be known as this band that plays their old albums all the time, even though I do actually like the concept.
“Half of me wants to do it, the other half wants to get away from all that.”
Where do you draw the line? Besides, there’s another big anniversary coming up next year –it being 30 years since Go Out and Get ‘Em Boy started The Wedding Present recording story.
“True. The longer you go, the more anniversaries there will be. And someone asked the other day what we’re going to do with the Cinerama anniversaries!”
On the band’s second night at Hebden Bridge, they were set to play the automobile-themed Mini album in full, the six-track release between Watusi and Saturnalia.
Has David ever thought of expanding that album with a few more car-related songs? Perhaps you could call it Maxi.
David laughs at this, but clearly it’s not on the cards.
“I did think I was stretching it a little with that. They’re not really car songs anyway, to be fair.”
Bass Instinct: Katharine Wallinger in action at the Trades Club
Its been another busy year for David, the Hebden Bridge gigs followed by appearances at Camp Bestival, his own curated festival in Brighton, At the Edge of the Sea, which started back in 2009, the re-release project, the Cinerama work, then November’s Watusi 20th anniversary tour, with plenty more live dates. All go, eh?
“There is a little time off though. Well, when I say time off, that’s when we’re actually writing new songs, hopefully.”
Is there plenty of new material in the offing?
“Yeah, loads, but again it’s just finding the time. This was supposed to be a quiet year! We knew about the reissues but I thought we’d do that and a few festivals, then write lots of songs. But those gaps soon filled up with the Cinerama work.
“I can’t really blame anyone but myself. But I want to get back to writing songs again now.”
You’ve never really stood still over the years – maybe that’s why you’ve survived while so many other mid-’80s contemporaries fell by the wayside.
For example, rather than write George Best part two back in 1988 you came up with Bizarro, then moved on again with Seamonsters.
Then there was the Ukrainian project, the Cinerama albums, the year of hit singles, Watusi, Mini, and so on – all the way through to Valentina and beyond.
We never really know what we’re going to get next, but normally end up loving it all the same. Not bad for a band whose songs supposedly ‘all sound the same’.
“I think some people appreciate it but at the same time you do lose fans, and there’s a certain section of the audience who don’t want to change.
“I’ve compared it in the past to breakfast cereals, how if you buy Kellogg’s Corn Flakes you don’t expect them to taste like Weetabix.
“Possibly, we’d have become more commercially successful had we established a certain formula, like Oasis or REM. You knew what you were getting with them.
“But in the Wedding Present, we’ve always deliberately set out to change what we do – hence Cinerama, The Ukrainians, and all that.
“And once you’ve done an album one way, my personal feeling is ‘what else can we do?’ rather than ‘let’s do that again!’”
Similarly, we quickly realised it wasn’t just a case of the Weddoes for the lads, and Cinerama for the couples. The lines were increasingly blurred.
Sometimes I get the feeling both sets of songs would cross over fairly easily. And by the time of the third and fourth Cinerama albums, those guitars had definitely encroached!
“Well, again it was like a natural progression really. I started Cinerama on my own really and was trying to get away from the guitar really.
“But then my chief co-writer Simon Cleave came in and was a guitar player, and we shared that love of the twangy guitar.
“So in time it became more like The Wedding Present. I didn’t really plan it like that, but these things happen sometimes.”
You’ve always struck me as fiercely independent, someone who knows what he wants and won’t settle for second-best.
Not a bad philosophy in what appears to have become an increasingly cut-throat business. Is that why you’re still out there?
“Well, there are two ways of doing it. You either play the game a little bit more, something that might lead to more commercial success, or you can just be a bit more immune to all that.
“Everyone’s got to find their own comfort level. I’m quite happy with the success I’ve had, given that I know I’ve not been forced into doing anything, and not ruled by business people asking me to change this and that.”
It soon became clear that this was your band, rather than a collective. Or at least that’s the perception.
“Well, you say that, but I don’t think it is really. I can see why people would think that, and I’m obviously the main songwriter and the person who gets interviewed, but it’s always been a bit more democratic than that.
“I’ve always said that the sound of The Wedding Present is the sound of the people in the band at that time. I think that’s one reason why we have changed over the albums, with totally different styles and influences.”
That said, it doesn’t seem to be a job for life, being in the Wedding Present … unless you’re David Gedge.
“Yeah … I suppose so. But that’s just the way it’s happened really.”
In Mark Hodkinson’s 1990 biography of the band, Thank Yer, Very Glad, there’s quite a bit about Shaun Charman’s sacking, the first of many departures over the years, and I guess perhaps the one that went down least well.
In fact, sometimes I get the feeling that you introducing a new band member on stage is part of your live set.
“It’s different every time really, because people come and go for different reasons. Some just decide they’ve had enough, some aren’t fitting in, some are missing being away from home, so it’s hard to generalise.
“With Shaun, it sounded like there was a lot of animosity but (a) we were a lot younger then, 20-somethings squabbling about stuff, and (b) Shaun’s one of my best friends now. He lives in Brighton, so of all the ex-band members he’s the one I see most of all.
“Sometimes it’s just not meant to be, and he would probably accept that now, even though he didn’t want to get kicked out of the band.”
‘You should always keep in touch with your friends’, as someone wise once said.
I haven’t got time to go through all those old members, but do you ever hear from fellow originals members Keith Gregory and Pete Solowka?
“Keith lives in Australia, so that makes it a bit difficult. But I don’t see any of them to be honest, apart from Shaun, but primarily because I’m not in the country much myself.
“Being in this career, if you like, it’s hard to maintain a social network, because you just don’t have the time.
“That’s one of the reasons people leave. At first they might think, ‘Great, I get to travel the world, play music and make records’. It’s exciting. But at the same time you can be away for nine months of the year.”
I was thinking back to those early days and your ‘Status Quo – 25 years in the business’ homage with Pete during Take Me, on the Bizarro tour. I hate to point it out, but you’re up to nearly 30 years in the business yourself now, aren’t you?
Ukrainian Days: TWP’s Eastern European rebirth, with Peter Solowka a central figure
“Well, funny you should say that, because another band member – Darren Belk – was at Sheffield last night, and he mentioned that.
“It was never a criticism of Status Quo though, but more of a celebration if it, albeit a jokey one. And now we’re in exactly the same position, the joke’s on me!”
A quick jot-up suggests 17 full members over the years plus the four of you currently involved. Then there’s Sally and the many others on the Cinerama side of the operation.
I always loved the ‘Bramley, Gateshead, Hassocks, Middleton’ logo in the early days. Ever wish you’d kept that up through all the line-ups? Maybe you could have created a graphic for the stage that flicks through all the permutations.
“That would be an interesting geographical tool … and a visual one.”
It would be very educational too. I could see people asking, ‘where the hell’s Hassocks?’
“It was interesting that some people actually thought we had offices in all those places! We’d have people getting in touch, saying, I’m actually quite close to your Hassocks office, and …”
All those line-up changes suggest this affable bloke we hear chatting between songs or to fans before and after gigs has a harder streak – are you a Gordon Ramsay character behind the scenes? Are you a secret tyrant?
Are you still just a bit shy then?
“I think I’m that. I’m obviously the leader, but it’s definitely not a dictatorship, by any stretch of the imagination. And I’d be a bit stupid to try and insist on that.
“We definitely benefit from individuals coming in and changing the dynamics of the group, so I kind of thrive on that.
“I do feel like I’ve been in about six different bands over the years, and think that’s a good thing. I don’t want this to be The David Gedge Band.
“That was never my intention, even with Cinerama. That was obviously a solo project at first, and people said, ‘Just call it David Gedge’. But no, again I just wanted it to be a band and to have people involved, the way it went really.”
Have The Lost Pandas – the band featuring David and Keith that preceded the Weddoes – been found yet? I believe the other two members went to New York. Do you think there will be a time when you let the world hear those early recordings?
“I’ve not decided about that, because in some ways there’s a lot of interest from the fans. On the other hand, it’s not The Wedding Present.
“It’s me learning how to be in a band, really. I’m not sure the standard’s too great, but I think one day I should go back and get all the tapes out and see if there’s enough musical value in it.”
The story of The Lost Pandas is also covered in the comic David’s working on, another of his many side-lines. Is that the closest he’ll get to an autobiography?
“Well, that’s my plan, because I don’t really want to do an autobiography. To me, that seems a little bit pompous. Who wants to read about my life?
“At the same time, I’m a massive comic book fan and really enjoy that aspect. It’s not biographical so much as little stories covering the history, and just seems more appropriate to me for some reason.
“Don’t get me wrong, if some publisher offers me a million pounds, I’d probably write an autobiography! But I’m not planning to.”
First Footing: The debut release from The Wedding Present, from 1986
It’s odd to think that your old friend and broadcasting hero John Peel would have been 75 at the end of August. In that Mark Hodkinson book you said you quite liked the idea of replacing him on the nation’s airwaves one day. There’s been a fair bit of DJ-ing for you since. Still fancy the job?
“I think I’d definitely be interested in doing that, but again it’s just time. There’s a radio station in Brighton where I’ve been told, ‘Anytime you want a show, come and do it down here, and we’ll sort it out.’”
There seem to be a lot more internet shows as well now, broadcasting from America or to America and the world over.
“Well that’s it, you can do a little radio show on a small station in Brighton and get thousands of listeners across the world, which in some ways I’d love to do.
“At the same time I know if I did do it, I’d want to do it really well, and an hour show would take at least a day a week to prepare, choose my music, make sure it works, and so on.
“That would just detract from all the other things I do. I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, really. If I was three people I could do all these things, but it’s just kind of juggling stuff really.”
It’s now been almost 10 years since John’s passing, with quite a few commemorative gigs based around that in recent times. Then there are the C86 anniversary events and recent expanded CD reissue. There’s certainly a taste for indie nostalgia at present.
“I’ve never actually done any of those events. It’s always something where we’ve been invited to play but have always been unavailable because of other commitments.
“But the C86 project was an interesting celebration, not least as it was said it was marking a scene that wasn’t really a scene. I can see that in a way.”
Then there was the BBC Big Band Celebration project in 2001, and what with that, the annual At the Edge of the Sea festivals, the Scopitones label and other releases, the DJ-ing, the comic book biographies, and the two bands on the go, you remain a busy man. Does that just keep it all fresh for you?
“It’s not so much that as the fact that I just have all these ideas, and like to see them all to fruition!”
At this point the support band start sound-checking and we can hardly hear each other, but I just add one more question. On behalf of my friend Collette, an ex-Gedge gig regular along with her hubby Jon – a fellow frequent flyer in our Hop and Grape era – I ask David ‘whether he’s EVER been lucky in love’.
“Of course I have! It’s not all doom and gloom!”
I thought that might be the case, but suggested that if he’d poured all those positive moments into his songs The Wedding Present might have sounded more like The Lighthouse Family instead.
David laughs at this, albeit over the sound of The Treated bass player, Stephanie, testing her levels.
But who knows, maybe he’ll reflect on that, and the Weddoes will incorporate Lifted in their set pretty soon. I think Radio 2’s Ken Bruce might appreciate that. And who knows, maybe the subsequent airplay will open up a whole new market.
If you missed it first time around, there’s a review of The Wedding Present at Hebden Bridge Trades Club on this blog, with a link here.
For more about the Edsel Records deluxe version repackaging of classic TWP material, and the very latest from the world of David Gedge, head to the Scopitones website here.
Further details of the Watusi anniversary tour in November – preceded by a live Marc Riley session for BBC Radio 6 and including dates in England, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium and France – can be found on the same website.
* With thanks to David Gedge for his time, Mal Campbell at the Hebden Bridge Trades Club, Mike Middleton for acting as my Happy Valley go-between, and Tee H for the Trades Club live pics. Much obliged.