He may have been a late convert to the concept, but The Wedding Present’s main man David Gedge has become enthusiastic in playing his band’s old albums when it comes to significant anniversaries.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Tommy 1985-1987, a compilation of early singles and sessions – which was actually released a year after their indie-classic debut album, George Best. But this most quintessentially ‘indie’ of bands are not simply playing the album as fans know and love it.
‘We are playing every track on that compilation,’ explains David, ‘but we space them through the set and it seems to work quite well that way.
‘Two-thirds of those songs I’ve never played live, so I had to go back and relearn them in some cases, as I hadn’t played them in 30 years.
‘It’s very different from what we do now as it’s even pre-George Best, so it’s very primitive in some ways, it’s quite basic and they’re cheap recordings because we had no money. They’re very punky, thrashy, energetic songs – they’re good fun to play!’
What does he make now of his band’s first recorded output?
‘It does feel like a totally different band – even my own contributions, you change the way you write and sing and play. It almost feels like we’re doing a cover version. But at the same time, it was obviously me that wrote them, and sometimes the occasional line will come back to me and I’ll remember the situation that inspired the song. It’s almost like reading an old diary from when you were a kid – you can kind of remember what you thought at the time, but it doesn’t feel like you any more and would do things that you probably wouldn’t do any more.’
And as a band that has remained active and continued to put out new material, David was initially resistant to the ‘play the classic album’ tour that has become popular in recent years. ‘I was a latecomer to this redoing albums again and playing them live. It smacks a bit of nostalgia, and as an artist you want to be pushing forward and always moving on, but saying that, I’ve become a bit of a convert. I think it’s interesting to go back and reevaluate things, especially with a new line-up.’
David is band’s only mainstay, with some 20-or-so others passing through the ranks over the years.
‘We started doing these about 10 years ago, for the George Best 20th anniversary. We don’t do them exclusively, we do them in conjunction with our regular tours. It can feel like being in two different bands sometimes – one minute you’re rehearsing a set of songs from 1986, and the next minute you’re off to play a festival and you’re playing a contemporary set.’
It also gives David a chance to reflect on how the band has changed. ‘As a writer you always feel like you’re improving. Like anything, the more you do it, the better you get at the craft.
‘With the Tommy material, some of it does sound, not weak as such, but I wouldn’t do it like that now with the arrangements, or those lyrics. But there’s definitely a certain sound – it’s very aggressive, loud guitars, it’s certainly got a place in the Wedding Present sound today.’
Tommy features the song This Boy Can Wait, which featured on the now-legendary C86 compilation, which was put out by the NME and has come to represent a snapshot of UK indie at the time.
At the time, David leapt at the chance to be part of the compilation.
‘We felt very flattered – it was only our second year, and the NME came along and said do you want to be on this tape? We said “Wow, yes please!” because we were massive fans and would buy it every week and read it religiously.
‘I think it was an exciting time, there was this scene going around, and there were a lot of like-minded people in bands, writing fanzines and putting on gigs in their local pubs. The timing was good for us because there were all these opportunities.
‘But it was a double-edged sword – a year later you’d get: “Oh, you’re one of those C86 bands”. And you’d be labelled. I think a lot of the bands felt the same way and started distancing themselves from it. A lot of it was that sort of jangly indie stuff. We had a foot in that camp but we had a harder edge and were into these American bands.
‘It was a bit of a millstone, but I don’t regret being on it. It wasn’t that massive at the time, but in retrospect it has had a big influence.’
Tommy also includes their first ever radio session for the patron saint of left-field music, the late John Peel.
‘I can’t put into words how big John Peel was for us. I discovered his programme in the late-’70s when I was at school and straight away I was hooked.
‘It was a great programme, he played the music I liked – I listened obsessively and taped each show in case I missed something. It shaped my tastes, my personality almost. I think we were destined to become a Peel band, it seemed so obvious.
‘When he played our first record it was a dream come true, cliched as it sounds. It was one of the biggest ambitions I had up to that point, to have a record played by John Peel. And then of course we went on to record countless sessions for him.
‘That was the thing that I was most excited about. He was such a massive influence on music.’
Bringing things more up to date, the band’s most recent album was 2016’s Going, Going…, an ambitious 20-song beast with a video for each track, inspired by David’s travels across America.
‘I’m very proud of that record, it took a lot of time and a lot of effort – it was like a five year plan, really. It kind of expanded, it became a double LP, and then there were all these films. It became a massive project, it was never just going in and recording a dozen or so songs, it was nice to feel that you were in this concept. It’s one of my favourite records, actually.’
As to what lies ahead, David adds: ‘There’s a lot of ideas knocking around, and we’ve recorded a couple of them, but we’ve not had time to do anything else, to be honest. We’ve been on tour with Going, Going..., and travelling the world, and it was also the 30th anniversary of George Best last year, so we did some shows for that. It’s only now that we’re starting to have the time and space to look at some of those ideas. There’s no plans for an album yet though.’
And of course, there’s a line-up change since the last album – new bassist Terry De Castro, and Danielle Wadey, who joined as bassist in 2016 has switched to guitars.
‘They’re people I’ve known for a while, both the guitarist and bass player have been in [David’s other band] Cinerama over the years, so they’re not totally new.
‘It’s always good when you have a line-up change, you get a burst of enthusiasm and inspiration. I’m looking forward to getting down to it. I see the line-up changes as a positive thing – I feel like I’ve been in half a dozen different bands over the years. All the time I’m being prodded in different directions, which keeps me on my toes!
THE WEDDING PRESENT
The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea
Wednesday, December 5