In The Beginning
The Wedding Present were formed in 1985 from various marginally successful Leeds-based bands. They comprised David Gedge (guitar, vocals and songwriting), Peter Solowka (guitar), Keith Gregory (bass) and Shaun Charman (drums). Other northern bands such as The Fall and The Chameleons were favourites of the members, but musically their influence was marginal. Instead Gedge's compositions were high-speed, trebly-guitared love songs, sung in his distinctive, idiosyncratic vocal style.
They scrimped and saved five pounds each per week from their giros1 in order to finance their first single Go Out and Get 'Em Boy, released in 1986 on their own Reception Records. At one time the other members became worried by Gedge's obsession with saving money for this cause, as he seemed to subsist on a diet of mainly mashed potato - this may go some way to explaining the downbeat nature of his lyrics. The 12" and CD versions of the band's sixth single contained four songs each with a negative orientation: Nobody's Twisting Your Arm, Nothing Comes Easy, Don't Laugh and I'm Not Always So Stupid.
Normal food intake was again possible, however, when the single gained them some popularity across the country, thanks in some degree to John Peel who played it on his radio show and continued to play their records for the rest of their career. A little-known fact is that the first Compact Disc ever played on air by Peel was The Wedding Present's first LP George Best, released in 1987, again on Reception Records. Reception was so successful, in fact, that the band decided to put out releases by fellow Leeds artists who were short of a recording contract. Cud and This Poison! were the lucky winners, releasing a total of three singles on Reception.
The Wedding Present eventually put out seven singles2 and two LPs (Tommy was the second) on Reception before the lure of big bucks led them into the hands of a major label. But first they had to sack someone - naturally, it was the drummer (isn't it always?) He was unceremoniously booted out in 1988 due allegedly to being too argumentative. One cartoon that appeared in the band's homemade fanzine (Invasion of the Wedding Present) pictured Charman about to thwack Chris Allison (producer of George Best), while the caption reads 'Shaun has a quiet word with the producer.' Simon Smith from the band The Sinister Cleaners was his replacement.
Playing in the Major League
The bands first output on RCA was a mini-LP originally scheduled for release on Reception but aborted due to the distribution company Red Rhino going belly-up. Ukrainski Vistupi V Johna Peela consisted of two Peel sessions of traditional Ukrainian songs, reworked to suit the bands rather more, shall we say 'pacey' style. While it seemed to many that the band had somewhat lost the plot, the resulting live shows demonstrated otherwise, with the fascinating mix of Ukrainian instruments, such as the balalaika and the skripka, and their more usual bass, guitar and drums.
By this time The Wedding Present had played hundreds of live shows all over Europe to often incredibly appreciative crowds. The sheer raw energy of the performance meant that the 'mosh pit'3 included a large proportion of the audience. Their decision to stop playing encores received mixed greetings: while many applauded their 'anti-rock'n'roll' stance others felt they were being short-changed. The length of the band's set also decreased - one show was reported to have been only 19 minutes in length, which considering their fondness for playing the 10 minute Take Me4 was slightly disturbing. But the band persisted, the crowds continued to buy tickets, and they still loved 'the world's least complex pop group'5.
Their first conventional release for their new label was the single Kennedy, which showed a distinct change in direction towards rhythm-orientated songs, rather than their previous speed-jangle-pop. The band seemed to go out of their way to avoid publicity for the single - the record sleeve made no mention of the title or the band's name on the front - and during their first Top of the Pops appearance Gedge stood stock still at the microphone, only his lower jaw moving in time with the sung lyrics proved that he wasn't catatonic. An LP Bizarro and a second single Brassneck (re-recorded with genius studio engineer and member of Big Black, Steve Albini) proved even more successful than Kennedy. The two singles reached numbers 33 and 24 respectively in the UK singles chart.
1991 brought what is considered by many to be The Wedding Present's finest work: the Seamonsters LP. Before its release, however, the band put out an EP called 3 Songs, although the 10" version was titled All The Songs Sound The Same probably because it had more than three songs on it.6 As well as two cracking new songs Corduroy and Crawl the EP featured a cover of Steve Harley's Make Me Smile (Come up and see me) which the man himself said was the best version of his song he had heard (apart from his own, that is.)
The LP itself was released in June 1991 featuring the singles Corduroy, Dalliance7 and Lovenest. It was recorded and mixed in less than two weeks by the aforementioned Steve Albini and it sounds like it. Not because it's cheap and nasty but because it's raw and underproduced - in fact Albini is always credited as 'Engineer' rather than 'Producer' on LP sleeves. Between artist and engineer an LP was created that laid more than a few stepping stones for bands like Nirvana to succeed in the following years.8
The Hit Parade
In 1992 the band released a new single on the first Monday of every month. Collectively they are known as 'The Hit Parade' (available as Hit Parade 1 and Hit Parade 2 LPs) but initially they were released as 7" only, limited edition9 singles that featured an original song on the a-side and a cover version on the b-side. All of the singles made the top 30, but the highest (and musically probably the greatest) was Come Play With Me - the May release - that made Number 10 in the UK charts. This was, in fact, the highest placed of all Wedding Present single releases.
Sadly the band were dropped by RCA, quite possbily due to the label's unhappiness at the single format, limited release of the Hit Parade singles. The Wedding Present had a short-lived career with Island Records in 1994 that gave us two singles10 (neither of which made the top 50) and a fairy dismal LP Watusi. Say no more.
Back to the Indies
In 1995 the band put out another 7" only, limited edition, available by mail-order only release Sucker (a disjointed and aggressive-sounding, but nonetheless singalong song) as a one-off single. Although it obviously didn't chart it did catch the ears of someone at the Cooking Vinyl label, who signed them up. Within a year they released a car-themed six-track LP called Mini. To long-term devotees of the band it seemed that the old Wedding Present had returned and that their adventure with Island records was merely a temporary faultering. But, alas twas not so.
At this stage the band were only a three-piece: they had been through two guitarists11 and were on their second bass player (Darren Belk who joined from Bungalow) - only Gedge remained as a founding member. The band had also signed a new publishing deal which granted song writing credits to all band members, instead of just Gedge. This may have been a fairly large straw on the back of The Wedding Present as the next (and final) LP Saturnalia was infested with synths and xylophone sounds. The band became a four-piece again with the joining of bass player Jayne Lockey, exchanged guitarists again (Simon Cleave from Tse Tse Fly replaced Belk) and when playing live employed the services of a second drummer, but even this could not forestall the inevitable.
There are a few dim lights in the 1996/97 version of The Wedding Present, but only one bright light: their last single Montreal. Not only did the two CDs feature live versions of two old favourites (Brassneck and My Favourite Dress) but at long last fans could own the band's version of Where Everybody Knows Your Name (the theme from 'Cheers'). The band opened their slot at the Reading Festival in 1990 playing this song but frustratingly took six years to commit it to vinyl.
The Wedding Present played their last live show in Liverpool during 1997. Since then, Gedge has formed Cinerama with his long-term girlfriend Sally Murrell, and Cooking Vinyl have put out several reissues/compilations, but nothing new. Perhaps the pick of these releases would be George Best Plus - the first LP together with 11 bonus tracks.
With Gedge having the majority musical input into a band that consists of him and his girlfriend, it seems unlikely that he'll rush back to The Wedding Present. However, those of us who were taken on that journey from 1985 to 1997 will bide our time. There will come a time, we say, that David Lewis Gedge will remember what it's like to play fast guitar, the feel of stamping on that pedal to make a song treble in volume and the effect on music-lovers of gritty yet beautiful love songs. This boy can wait.12
The songs of The Wedding Present were characterised not only by the gritty music and vocal style but also by David Gedge's lyrics. Even the song titles make interesting reading: Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now?, I'm Not Always So Stupid, Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft, You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends and One Day This Will All Be Yours to name but a few. Likewise there are many superb sets of lyrics from which to choose, the following taken from 1989's Bizarro LP:
I'm not sure and I'm not asking
But I thought I heard you say
"I just walked past him"
But why can I never do anything before you go
I don't know.
And outside the street's empty
There was no time then
And now there's plenty
Oh, why do I never get the chance to say a word
When you're on your own?
If there's nothing that I want more
Why do steps get this small
When I reach your front door
And I wait outside for you to come back out
And your light goes out.
You don't know me but I'm still here
And God the last time I saw you
You were, oh, this near
And there's a thousand things I wish I'd said and done
But the moment's gone
- David Gedge, Bewitched, 1989
Other People's Songs
Throughout their career The Wedding Present were fond of covering songs by other artists, often as b-sides. Many were excellently done and some even surpass the a-side track. Here's just a few of the good ones:
|Title||Original Artist||Available On|
|Felicity||Orange Juice||Tommy LP|
|Ukrainski Vistupi V Johna Peela||Ukrainian folk||The entire LP|
|It's Not Unusual||Tom Jones||Kennedy single|
|Make Me Smile (Come up and see me)||Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel||3 Songs EP|
|Cattle and Cane||The Go-Betweens||Hit Parade 1 LP|
|Falling||Julee Cruise||Hit Parade 1 LP|
|Theme From Shaft||Isaac Hayes||Hit Parade 2 LP|
|Step Into Christmas||Elton John||Hit Parade 2 LP|
|Where Everybody Knows Your Name||Gary Portnoy||Singles 1995-97 LP|
|Title||Release Date||Record Label||Comment|
|Ukrainski Vistupi V Johna Peela||1988||RCA||Ukrainian folk songs that mix fun with melancholy, includes Davny Chasy|
|Bizarro||1989||RCA||Includes Kennedy and Take Me|
|Seamonsters||1990||RCA||Albini-engineered pre-Nirvana grit-rock, includes Dalliance and Lovenest. US version has three cool bonus tracks|
|The Hit Parade (1 and 2)||1992||RCA||12 original songs and 12 covers, includes Come Play With Me and Falling|
|George Best Plus||1997||Cooking Vinyl||First LP reissue with 11 bonus tracks, includes My Favourite Dress and Anyone Can Make A Mistake|
|Singles 1995-97||1999||Cooking Vinyl||Includes Sucker single, Mini LP plus 12 more tracks|