I don’t suppose you’ll ever get a truly unbiased review from this scribe for a new release from The Wedding Present, a band that have played a fairly pivotal part in my life these last 25 years. Besides, what started as a straight review soon turned into something of a valentine to the song-writing genius of David Lewis Gedge.
“I used to think that I’d rather fight with you than fall in love with somebody new. I think I needed shaking up; I’m not going back to how it was” (You’re Dead)
I’d appreciated the Weddoes some time before my first sighting, courtesy of John Peel’s championing of the band and their inclusion on seminal NME promo tape, C86. Yet for one reason or other it took a while before I finally clapped eyes on them.
If memory serves me right it was meant to be at Fetcham Riverside Club, Leatherhead, but a double-booking led to an early TWP departure, the band leaving a hand-written A3-size apology to those who had sought them out in deepest Surrey.
“There’s really no need to explain, he’s Tarzan and you’re Jane. He’s Bogart, you’re Bacall, and I’m sure he has it all” (You Jane)
We were disappointed, but decided to drown our sorrows over a pint before heading home. Yet there was a sense even at this stage that the band was going to be big, and we contemplated taking the band’s apology with us … only to find someone had beaten us to it. Outrageous.
As a result, my first Weddoes live experience was at Reading’s Majestic Ballroom in February, 1987, backed by the wondrous Close Lobsters. If passion is measured in broken guitar strings, outfield trio Gedge, Keith Gregory and Peter Solowka were off the Casanova scale that night, and we were hooked. I noted at the time it’s not often you see a bass string break 10 seconds into a song. It was that kind of night.
“I’d never met her before I found the heel that came off her shoe. I laughed when she swore. Her lips were red and full. I said: “I think I want to kiss you” She said: “When will you know for sure?” (Meet Cute)
Things escalated from there, and by October of that year – 25 years ago! – the size of the venues had grown for the tour promoting sublime debut LP George Best. I still remember the heady excitement of my first play, many of the songs already well known to us by the time they were committed to vinyl.
As all TWP followers will know, the inter-song banter and general feel you got from the band ensure – however large the auditorium – there is always an intimacy, something that continues to this day.
“Since you’ve begun to show what kind of person you are I think I might have had an epiphany. That’s why I need to go and this may sound a little bizarre, but I’m going before you do the same to me.” (Back A Bit… Stop)
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen the band or off-shoot Cinerama now, but it’s included many great nights around London and – since the mid-90s -Manchester. That included several at the Hop and Grape, followed by manic sprints back to catch the last train out of Oxford Road. I think it was sheer adrenaline that ensured I got home alright, although that last-gasp hike over the bridge to the right platform nearly finished me off.
Nostalgia remains a great reason for sticking with Gedge through his many band re-jigs, but while – with a wink to the camera – ‘all the songs sound the same’, it doesn’t really matter when the music is that good in the first place.
“You’re in so many of her dreams that there’s no room left, it seems, for me. And I curse the day you met and I’m begging you to set her free” (Stop Thief!)
DLG’s pride and joy sounded as fresh as ever on the George Best 20th anniversary tour – playing the album in its entirety in track order – at Manchester Academy the day before my 40th in 2007, a triumphal concept repeated for the Bizarro album 21 years on – this time witnessed on a memorable snowy night in late 2010 at Preston’s 53 Degrees.
I’m sure it will be a similar tale for this year’s Seamonsters 21st anniversary tour, but don’t think for one minute the band are not still making great albums. The personnel might have changed somewhat over the years, but on the evidence of latest release Valentina, Gedge still has plenty to offer.
“And when you entered your number into my ’phone I knew, right then, that I would never call. I was going through the motions, which I’d never usually condone, but you were safely trapped behind ‘The Wall’” (The Girl From The DDR)
From the moment Gedge’s vocal snarl meets Charles Layton’s drum intro on You’re Dead, we’re on to another TWP winner. That heady mix of innocence, maturity, joy and pain has been a staple since those early waxings and is never far from the surface, the band effortlessly shifting gears on the opener before chugging into the slow-building You Jane, and never looking back from there.
There’s little point in a traditional review here. Most bands give a casual nod to their influences, and you can hear elements of the bands Gedge has loved over the years. Yet for me the prime source is always The Wedding Present, and there’s nothing you can put your finger on and label ‘derivative’. Just when you think you know where he’s going, Gedge and co. are off again, taking an unexpected fork.
“You won’t give it a thought and that’s neither wrong nor right. But I’m the deer that’s caught in your headlight. And how can it be that just one glance is enough to petrify me?” (Deer Caught In The Headlights)
Along the way, there are many sumptuous moments, not least the trademark chop guitar, rumbling bass, complementary-sweet backing vocals, and persuasive percussion with the power to beckon this pensmith down the front at live outings. Add to that the fly-on-the-wall poetic licence DLG has honed so well over the years, and you’re getting the picture.
It’s fair to believe a band still making albums 25 years down the line has seen all its finest moments, but the passion here tells otherwise. Remember 1992, when TWP released a single each month and broke into the charts each time? Well, 20 years later, tracks like The Girl From The DDR suggest they can still write hits, Gedge as proficient as ever for off-the-wall love songs with a twist. In this case, Pepe Le Moko’s luscious backing adds a Frank and Nancy Sinatra style setting for the usual guitar-fest.
“Effortlessly chic, with scarcely any make-up. You’re really quite unique from the second that you wake up” (524 Fidelio)
Ex-band member Terry De Castro adds further vocal charm on two songs, suggesting there’s always a way back into the squad for ex-band-mates. And perhaps all these anniversary album outings have helped remind Gedge what it takes to produce top form.
With the George Best analogy springing back to mind, perhaps it’s a squad rotation policy – this time fellow song-writer Graeme Ramsay, Le Moko and Layton ensuring a proper band feel – that keeps Gedge on his game. Like Best, he was never likely to be dropped to the bench, but seems to crave that fresh creative spark around him.
“There’s never really a good time to say goodbye. But don’t pretend it’s not a relief to hear me say: “I’m thinking, right now, maybe we should end it” (End Credits)
Valentina was never going to be the Weddoes’ finest studio outing, but it is certainly their latest triumph, and its songs are as inspirational as those we were hearing in 1987. So fair play to you, David, and keep up the good work. We clearly still need you.
“And no one could’ve been more surprised than me when you wrote your number down and said: “Call me at the first opportunity”. Because this does not happen to me.” (Mystery Date)
* Thanks to the band and Scopitones for use of the lyrics. For forthcoming dates, check out http://www.scopitones.co.uk/
Meanwhile, Valentina is available from all good record shops, internet stores or direct from the band’s website.