Brit pop-rockers' ever-evolving gift opens up

By Scott Kara

After entreaties to put New Zealand on their tour schedule, The Wedding Present's on its way, writes Scott Kara.

Founder David Gedge is the one constant in the Wedding Presents' line-up. Photo / Supplied
Founder David Gedge is the one constant in the Wedding Presents' line-up. Photo / Supplied

David Gedge has been writing songs about love for around 30 years now - but do you think the leader of British indie pop rockers the Wedding Present has figured out what it's all about?

"To be honest with you," he says with a laugh in his mumbly, west Yorkshire accent, "the fact that I don't have the slightest idea of what love is about, is a big part of understanding the subject really. You know, we're all looking for answers."

For the most part, it's not lovey-dovey, sweet Valentine messages Gedge sends out, but lovelorn, dark, tortured ones with lines like "slowly your beauty is being eaten away, by the scent of someone else, in the blanket where we lay" from My Favourite Dress off 1987 debut album George Best.

Then there's the confused and confounded lover on Lovenest, from 1991's Seamonsters, in which the song's sentiment is matched by the jangly, dissonant and thrashy outbursts of the music.

On a more lighthearted and funny note there's a line in the song Meet Cute, off latest album Valentina from last year, on which Gedge sings, "I said, 'I think I want to kiss you'. She said, 'When will you know for sure?'."

"I think I nicked that one," he laughs. "Yeah, I have a feeling I might have stolen that off a film or something. But love is a fascinating subject and I'm always interested in language, and the way people speak to each other, too, especially in context with pop and rock music because I think it works really well. It's simple, direct, it means something to people."

The Wedding Present, formed in Leeds in 1985 by Gedge, who remains the only constant member, have not played in New Zealand before - which is strange considering we generally like noisy, jangly, pop rock music.

He puts it down to it being a "huge financial gamble" to travel down here. But after signing to Melbourne label Lost and Lonesome, which released Valentina, they did a well-received series of shows across the Tasman last year.

This month they are back in Australia and will also play Auckland's Kings Arms on Thursday (and a Wellington show). He's also recently added New Zealand guitarist and songwriter Geoff Maddock, of Goldenhorse and formerly Bressa Creeting Cake, to the Wedding Present line-up along with drummer Charles Layton and bassist Pepe le Moko.

It has to be said, in New Zealand, the Wedding Present may seem like under-achievers from an era that gave the world the Smiths, New Order and the Stone Roses, among others. But while they didn't quite have the influence of those bands, listening to albums like George Best, and Seamonsters especially, Gedge's songs stand up as intriguing and quite often noisy slices of indie pop-rock today.

"We had such wide influences, but we tried not to be influenced by people.

"So, if we were going down a certain road and a song sounded like the Pixies, we'd go, 'Oh no, we don't want people thinking we're ripping off the Pixies'. So we'd try and change it. So, ultimately, you can't really pin down the Wedding Present."

The late, great British DJ and tastemaker John Peel liked what he heard of the Wedding Present back in the mid-80s - and recorded a number of his famous Peel Sessions with the band.

Gedge grew up listening to Peel's radio show, even developing an obsession with it whereby he'd get a mate to tape the show if he was going to be away.

"So I'd spent the previous 15 years listening to him, absorbing what he was playing and [his influence] totally shaped the Wedding Present into a band so, and this is not meant to sound arrogant, I'm not surprised he wanted to play the band on the radio," he laughs. "Those recording sessions meant the world to me."

The Wedding Present have undergone a number of changes in sound over the years.

For Gedge it was when the band went to the US in the early 90s to record with producer Steve Albini, known for work with caustic noise mongers Big Black and his similarly steely production edge, that was most pivotal. Because despite widespread recognition from the likes of Peel and a growing fanbase, Gedge wasn't happy with how the band's first two albums had turned out.

"They [George Best and Bizarro] were good albums, and [had] great songs, but they never quite sounded like the Wedding Present I had in my head. Like the big Wedding Present sound we had live. So I was slightly disappointed with them." he says.

When he heard Albini's work he thought, "There's someone who could probably add an extra dimension to our sound."

And he did, recording Seamonsters, which includes the beautifully sprawling and escalating epic Octopussy as a finale, and a number of other Wedding Present albums to date.

"Albini just captured more of the feel of the band in a way," reflects Gedge.

"I hope I'm a kind of a good band leader," says Gedge of the number of players he's been through in those years.

"But it's quite hard work, and stressful, being in a band," he laughs. "Maybe I'm a bit of a taskmaster.

"Maybe I'm a workaholic or something. But it's just that I want the group to be as good as possible. I want the records to be great. I want the songwriting to be great."

Who: The Wedding Present
What: British indie pop-rockers of the late 80s, early 90s vintage
Where and when: Kings Arms, Auckland, February 21; San Francisco Bath House, Wellington, February 23
Listen to: George Best (1987); Bizarro (1989); Seamonsters (1991); Hit Parade 1 (1992); Watusi (1994); Valentina (2012)

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