The Wedding Present’s David Gedge talks retrospection, relearning songs, and Irish audiences with Colin Young
THE WEDDING PRESENT celebrate the 30th anniversary of their first Irish gigs with a complete play through of their second album Tommy at three shows in Ireland this week. David Gedge’s heartrending songs of break-ups and loves found and lost from 1988, some barely thrashing past two minutes, formed the compilation album Tommy and followed the success of their debut George Best.
Formed in Leeds in the mid ‘80s, The Wedding Present have toured almost annually since, performing hits such as My Favourite Dress, Dalliance and Kennedy. Gedge and his three other band members have continued to record new material and the back catalogue is now 300-plus songs strong.
But if the songs of that period are unfamiliar to fans now, group founder and lead singer Gedge had the same dilemma and had to learn the songs from scratch and now has to recall his student angst every night on tour. Gedge said:
“I wouldn’t change the lyrics, that would be a bit weird, but I am singing the lyrics of that 20-something bloke. And I have to relive it all, every single night on tour. It feels like I am kind of acting as that character but it is obviously me and a lot of the lyrics are very personal and certainly remind me of the situations that inspired them.
It is almost like singing a diary. It’s very descriptive, and even more so in those days because I used to put it a lot of names of friends, places I lived, that kind of stuff. So it is very real, but it was 30 years ago. I have changed and moved on in life just like everyone else. Unless you have written an autobiography, there is no reason to go back to what you were thinking or experiencing 30 years ago, because you have no reason to. But everything I was thinking back then is there and it is hard not to think, ‘well, that was a stupid thing to do’.
We had a lot of songs I have genuinely not played for a long time and it is not just rehearsing, it is re-learning and Tommy is even more manic than George Best. I find it easier to play now, perhaps through building up extra muscles after 30 years because I did struggle, I remember, in the early days, to play that fast. It was harder playing in the Tommy/George Best era than it is playing the songs again now, maybe through technique or enhanced muscles.
It is tricky and I have to teach the other guitarists mainly their parts, but those early recordings are such a wall of sound. It was all very cheaply recorded and kind of merges together, so when we listened back to Tommy, it was like ‘is that me playing that or is that you?’ It is hard to work out sometimes so the rehearsals were more stressful but they love playing this record. And the songs are quite exciting, punky and fast and they are good fun to play but, as a band, I know we improved from this period. The lyrics and songwriting improved, the playing improved, we had more money for recording and the more we played, the better we got.
On last year’s tour they played their first album George Best in its entirety and, like its predecessor, this will be the last time loyal Irish fans will hear Tommy from start to finish.
“We have noticed in the last few years the numbers are going up again. I think it is because with the age of our fans, their kids have grown up and flown the nest, so they are coming out to gigs again and after looking at their old records, they see us on the horizon and come along. I hear that a lot, ‘oh you’re playing all of George Best’ and I’ll say, ‘yeah but we did that ten years ago. Where were you?’
There is definitely a demand for it. I thought it was getting old hat. We used to be asked to play certain albums or songs at festivals, then that appeal kind of stopped but when we did the 20th anniversary tour of George Best, the reaction was crazy again.
The Irish leg of the Tommy Tour – which also features other Weddoes’ classics – promises to be a highlight for Gedge.
“In some places, on a Monday or Tuesday the crowds are a bit more reserved because they have work in the morning but then you hit Friday and Saturday and, anywhere in the world, the atmosphere is better, people are up for it. Ireland is like that every night, which is great. We always love playing in Ireland but I think you will be hard pressed to find a band who do not like Ireland because it is always a great crowd, always a really good atmosphere.
You play in some countries, I won’t name them, but, ok, Germany, and people are kind of interested, they are fans, they have all the records. But when they come to see you play, they stand back and they’re like, ‘hmmm, I see what you are doing there with that, hmmm, interesting’. It’s like they are analysing it. Whereas, Dublin and Ireland are at the other end of the scale. It’s people going out, having a few drinks, jumping around, throwing themselves at everything. It’s always a great atmosphere and of course as a band you feed off that.
What’s next for Gedge & the band?
“From the age of about six I have never wanted to do anything else. I thought then, I am going to be in a group. I don’t remember a specific date or event, it was just in my psyche or something. It is all I have ever wanted to do. I can’t go on forever obviously, but it is all I can see myself doing. I do feel like it is a bit of an obsession now. Or an addiction. I don’t even think I particularly enjoy it. After a gig, people come up and say ‘that was fantastic. You must have really enjoyed it and I’ll be thinking ‘well, no not really because I was worried about forgetting the lyrics, playing in the wrong key, whether my pedal is working, is my lead popping out? Is the amplifier on? Is that bloke going to fall over the barrier on to the stage? There are so many things in my mind that it is not about enjoyment, it is damage limitation and just wanting to keep it going really. I know there are artistes who can just go up there, not a care in the world and they are just born for it, but if I look a bit preoccupied sometimes, it is because I am.
The Wedding Present play Monroe’s for the Galway International Arts Festival on Wednesday July 25, Limelight 2 in Belfast on Thursday July 26, and Whelan’s in Dublin on Friday July 27.