Bizarro Love Triangle: The Wedding Present's David Gedge Interviewed
, January 5th, 2011 11:28
JP O'Malley talks to David Gedge of the Wedding Present about playing Bizarro live
Trying to prise myself into the back entrance of the O2 Academy in Oxford is proving difficult. After some confusion and debating with door men, Dave Gedge finally arrives. Dressed in black combats and a fleece jacket he looks more like a bouncer than a singer in a rock band. It's Saturday night and he’s just finished his sound check, in fact, the same time the interview is being done, fever pitch is building on X Factor’s closing stages. So has he caught a glimpse of any of the acts that have made the final round?
"That X Factor, I can’t stand it to be honest, I mean if you want to talk about music being devalued - that’s it - it’s horrible. It's all commercial though isn’t it? It’s just a retread of things that were successful thirty years ago," he says.
The Wedding Present aren’t that far off the 30 year mark themselves. Formed in 1985, Gedge has remained the only constant member, in a group that has seen more than 20 members pass through the revolving doors.
So why the sudden trip down memory lane to play the Bizarro album back to back then?
David Gedge: To be honest, it was in 2007, a label called Sanctuary approached us and decided that they wanted to do an expensive re-release of the George Best LP, in a box, so I said, yeah okay fine, and then they asked me to do a tour of the album, and I sort of told them that I wasn’t too keen on the idea, because it smacked a bit of nostalgia, so I kind of said no really. After that I spoke to a few people in the band, and friends and stuff, and everyone was like, 'You've got to do it, I’d love to see you play George Best.' There was such excitement about it, I thought, 'Ah well, I’ll give it a go and see what happens.' And to my surprise I actually really enjoyed it. It’s very interesting to go back twenty years and look at something fresh if you like, I compare it to reading old diaries or something, you know, you put yourself in that position of where you were twenty years ago, and in a way you get to forget everything you’ve learned about writing songs, making records, and so on.
So we did the tour, and it sounds kind of philosophical, but I kind of came to the realisation you know that maybe the past is just as important as the future for a group, it's all part of the same thing in a way, what you’ve done before, its perfectly okay to go back and look at that, and reappraise it, and maybe change it a little bit. So I enjoyed the George Best tour so much I thought, we should really try and do this with Bizarro, because George Best was like a kind of collection of songs the band had at the time. It was our first LP, it was like, what songs have we got, let's go in and record them, whereas Bizarro was more complete and a better album overall, I guess.
You've always been associated with the bittersweet love song, but as a 50-year-old man, do you find it hard to sing songs that might seem past their sell-by date to some?
DG: Playing these songs in some ways is like playing in a cover band or something. I imagine myself as a character playing the person I was 21-years-ago. It's kind of weird, some of the lyrics are almost in the teenage angst genre, so it is strange. It’s kind of funny in a way, but I’ve got to accept that’s the kind of stuff I was writing at the time. It is a bit 'Oh my girlfriend’s left me and I’m miserable.' A lot of that stuff is about jealousy, really, and I think as you get older you get less jealous, because you kind of think, I don’t care, see you later.
You're on the record as having been unlucky in love several times. Have your songs been a cathartic exercise or are the lines between your lyrics and your personal life more ambiguous than people think?
DG: I think initially the song writing was always about me. I think on George Best and also later on, Take Fountain, which is quite personal also, it was about a certain situation - but in general, no, it’s just what I write about really. Observant is one word you could use about me, nosey is probably another. A lot of the lyrics are kind of character-based as well. I think it's like me putting myself in a situation, whether its happened to me or not. It can also be inspired by reading a book, seeing a film, thinking that’s interesting and what would I feel in that position... and then I just write a song about it I suppose.
So fans then shouldn’t take his song writing too seriously and worry that he’s a tortured soul always out for revenge then?
DG: You mean do people take the lyrics literarily, like they're watching Coronation Street? Where they think the character is the same person in real life? I don’t know, really. I’m flattered that people do take it very seriously, and I’m known for my writing, which I’m very pleased about. But at the end of the day, it's pop music innit? I think people know that.
Even if you say the lyrics shouldn’t be taken literally, this hasn’t stopped several ex-girlfriends contacting you upon the release of a new single or album, has it?
DG: There have been women that have contacted me that thought they were the muse for certain songs, and the thing is that they're often wrong. They’ll ring me up and go, 'That was me, I remember that situation.' And I’ll go, 'It wasn’t you, it was someone else actually.' And sometimes, I just say, out of sympathy, 'Yeah, it was you in that song', and even if it wasn’t, they just seem to like it - they find it quite flattering.
IN SOME WAYS The Wedding Present have always been an outsider’s band. If the term indie music stands for little these days, where the name 'indie' came from back in the 80s was bands like The Wedding Present, and the independent control they had over the release, distribution, and sale of their music. And this means everything from the merchandise and art work of the album covers to what equipment they would use in the studio and what gig venues they would play. What’s most interesting about The Wedding Present is their mix of independent and left field attitude, coupled with a complete love of pop culture; they are, after all, "a pop band with guitars" according to Gedge. In fact, at one time they were in the Guinness book of Records for the only group to release 12 singles in one year, a record only equalled by Elvis Presley. So why did they never make it onto the main stream stage and capture the hearts of fans in their millions like say The Smiths did?
DG: It wasn’t that we didn’t want to big or anything, it was more that we didn’t want to be told what to do - we didn’t want someone coming in and saying, change this, change that. There were bands that were told what to do, and I think they probably benefited in their own way. I don’t think The Smiths did it, because they were on Rough Trade, so they kept that independent thing as well as getting huge. We released George Best on our own label and because it was successful, literally every record label came to us and said, 'Okay, you’ve done quite well so far, if you do this, we’ll change a few things and bring you to the next level.' And we were like, 'You know what, we’re happy with what we’ve done, and we know what we want to do next.'
We probably bit off our own noses to spite our faces, but money and success isn’t everything. Being happy about the music is what’s most important, really. I got into a band to make records, not because I wanted to be famous.
One of the bands biggest fans over the years - and a man who possibly bumped The Wedding Present up the pecking order of radio play lists and festivals over the years - was the late John Peel. Despite him being one of The Wedding Present’s biggest fans, how was it meeting him?
DG: The first time I ever met John Peel was before we even brought a single out. We used to hang out outside Radio 1 in London and try and give him our demo. You see, I was friends with the band The Chameleons, I went to school with one of the band members actually, and they told me they sent Peel a demo tape, and that’s how they got their first John Peel session. So I did the same thing, but it didn’t actually work for us. I think he liked The Chameleons better!
But then when our first single came out, he obviously played that, and then we did loads of Peel Sessions after that. The very first single we did, he played it around ten times and overnight that just changed the whole scene for us. Because suddenly people were coming to us and say, you know play this venue, come play here, even in Europe and stuff. The Wedding Present played at his 50th Birthday Party in London, and then Cinerama played at his 60th birthday party. I wouldn’t really say that he was a personal friend as such, because, I think I held him in so much esteem, in awe, I just couldn’t get over that. I was more friends with his wife to be honest, because I could talk to her as a normal person, but I couldn’t talk to John Peel because I was so used to hearing that voice on the radio since I was 15. People say to me, do you get nervous playing concerts, and I don’t really - we’ve played to like 40,000 people at Reading, and I didn’t get nervous at that - but if John Peel was in the room, I was just terrified. It was crazy, so yeah, I wouldn’t say I was his friend, sadly. I wish I was.
Many critics have often described The Wedding Present as coming after The Smiths, Gang of Four or The Fall. Were you conscious of this when writing and recording?
DG: I liked those bands; I wouldn’t say I was particularly influenced by them, however. The thing about The Wedding Present is that we’ve always kind of had a unique sound. If it sounded like we were going down the road of Gang of Four or The Fall, we’d always try and steer away from that, and obviously different people have come through the group, so they’ve brought their influences as well. I think it’s wrong to say we’re not influenced by people, because everyone obviously when they listen to music is influenced by it in some shape or form. I used to love pop music as a kid. I was just getting to the point where I was thinking there must be something outside of glam rock and that sort of thing, then I started getting into things like: Genesis, Yes, and Pink Floyd. Then Punk came along and I just thought, wow this is interesting. I remember one day when I was about 17, my friend stuck on 7" singles from both The Sex Pistols and The Clash, and it was just like, this is rock & roll, this is brilliant.
When you're not on tour you divide your time between Brighton and LA, where you has two properties. The two places are fairly different, right?
DG: I think LA is all right. It's kind of like a cartoon city. Obviously I’m interested in pop culture and LA is like the capital of pop culture in the world. I find it sort of surreal to kind of walk down the street and you know you sort of say, 'Oh there’s the bloke out of X-Files there, there’s Mike Tyson,' its just sort of crazy. I initially started going there because it was interesting from a work point of view - just because you meet so many people involved in music and films and stuff. Also my girlfriend is from Seattle, so it makes sense to have a place there.
25 years on, does it ever feel like time to retire?
DG: I can’t really answer that. If you’d have asked me that in 1985, I probably would have said the band will last five years. I couldn’t imagine being here 25 years later, but then there is a part of me that’s driven to do this. In a way, I’m not really surprised The Wedding Present are still going.