“It’s not quite as romantic anymore, is it?” asks David Gedge, who, with the Wedding Present and Cinerama, has made a career of describing the travails of romance. But this time, he’s talking about the state of the music industry, not love. “Downloading files onto your laptop is not quite the same as going into the shop and buying a single.”
Gedge has been sending people into record stores to buy singles—and EPs, albums and Peel Sessions—for two decades. His conversational tales of jilted suitors and helpless love slaves made the Wedding Present one of the best-loved bands in Britain, post-Smiths and pre-Blur/Oasis. Now, after an extended hiatus—his Cinerama years—Gedge has resurrected the Wedding Present with the new Take Fountain (Manifesto).
Gedge and Peter Solowka played guitars together in a succession of late-’70s bands beginning in their high-school days in Middleton, a town outside of Manchester. (Classmate Dave Fielding went on to form the post-punk Chameleons.) With bassist Keith Gregory and drummer Shaun Charman, Gedge and Solowka formed the Wedding Present and self-released their first single (“Go Out And Get ’Em Boy!”) in 1985. John Peel became an immediate fan. “He helped launch our band, really,” says Gedge, who would go on to do numerous Peel Sessions over the years.
The band quickly became one of the leading lights of the “C86” sound, named after a compilation released by NME that includes the Wedding Present’s “This Boy Can Wait” alongside tracks by the Soup Dragons, Mighty Lemon Drops and Shop Assistants. “It was great for us to be involved in that scene,” says Gedge. “Of course, as soon as that scene got established, everyone tried to get out of it right away. There were two types of bands: There were the jingly-jangly, Byrdsy type groups like Primal Scream, and then there were the more rocky, Fall-type ones like Bogshed and Half Man Half Biscuit. But we kind of had a foot in both camps, so I quite like that.”
Gedge credits Charman for the Wedding Present’s signature hyper-fast, breathless style. “He came from a less drummerly background in a way, and he was more like a guitarist,” he says. “So I think he was partly to blame for how all the songs speeded up. It almost got to the point of thinking, ‘How far can we possibly go with this? How extreme can we possibly get writing these songs which are so ridiculously fast?’”
Influenced by the Ramones’ velocity and brevity and the Velvet Underground’s strummed rhythm guitars, the Wedding Present released 1987’s George Best. Named after the hard-partying Manchester United footballer, the debut contains first-person narratives of jealous lovers such as “My Favourite Dress” and “Shatner” (which is so fast, “it was almost impossible to play,” says Gedge). It’s a quintessentially English album, with Gedge and his strong Northern English accent declaiming songs such as “Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft.”
When George Best displaced the Smiths’ Strangeways Here We Come at the top of the U.K. indie chart and Morrissey and Marr called it quits later that year, the Wedding Present inherited the Britpop throne.
Gedge and Co. would rule their musical domain with more plain-spoken lyrics than its predecessor. Although he once said that the Wedding Present were Smiths fans’ second-favorite band, Gedge doesn’t see many similarities in his and Morrissey’s writing styles.
“His lyrics are flamboyant and poetic and metaphorical, and mine are not at all,” says Gedge. “Mine are conversational and down to earth. I think I’m a very nosy person: I’m continually observing what people are saying and why they’re saying it and how they’re saying it. I tend to absorb a lot of it, whether it be from films or people on the street having conversations. I do feel a bit charlatan in a way, because I’m really just repeating what I’ve heard. Obviously, I’ve made it into a pop song and made it rhyme, but I see myself more as a filter.”
By the time of 1989’s Bizarro, Simon Smith had replaced Charman in the drummer’s seat, initiating the first of the band’s numerous lineup changes that would eventually leave Gedge as the sole original member. Bizarro’s thrilling anthems (“Brassneck,” “Kennedy” and the epic “Take Me!”) don’t rush headlong to the finish; they use their velocity to create excitement.
“I’ve always been quite proud that all the albums have a different sound and different personality,” says Gedge. “Every time we made records, we’ve wanted to move on.”
For 1991’s Seamonsters, the band enlisted a relatively unknown engineer named Steve Albini, whom Gedge noticed from his work with the Pixies. “Surfer Rosa is probably my favorite album of all time,” says Gedge. “On the one hand, it was kind of in your face and you can hear the band in the room playing, which I think is how pop music should be. On the other hand, it had that sort of weirdness to it and an atmospheric quality.”
Gedge could also be describing Seamonsters, which Albini recorded in 11 days. The album features Albini’s trademark soft-to-loud explosive dynamic shifts on “Dalliance” and “Corduroy.”
The Wedding Present—Gedge has always hated its British nickname, the Weddoes—followed its most aggressive album with its most charming and ambitious pop project, the 1993 Hit Parade series. Bassist Keith Gregory had been collecting the releases in Sub Pop’s Single Of The Month Club and suggested the band try something similar. “Once we had the idea, it all fell into place,” says Gedge. “They’d all be seven-inches and have matching sleeves. I suppose it appealed to the collector mentality in me, too; it was almost like a magazine, a monthly issue of the Wedding Present.”
On the first Monday of each month, the band released a single: the a-side an original (ranging from the ecstatic “Flying Saucer” to the heavy “Loveslave”), the b-side an eclectic cover (“Falling,” from the Twin Peaks TV series, is Gedge’s favorite; others covered include Bow Wow Wow, Isaac Hayes and Elton John). The succession of singles tied Elvis Presley’s record for U.K. top-40 hits within a year.
In the heyday of modern-rock radio in the U.S., the Wedding Present turned again to an American producer for 1994’s Watusi: Steve Fisk, known for his work with Nirvana, Soundgarden and Beat Happening. Fisk, who’d been a fan of the band since his days as a college-radio DJ in Washington and California, says that the two defining elements of the Wedding Present are Gedge’s “crazy voice” and “that clever guitar tuning/string set-up … all the strings are set up in giant octaves.” Fisk brought his knowledge of keyboards and vocal arrangements to Watusi.
“Of all the Wedding Present records, it’s the one that relies less on the layers of guitar noise and more on the songs and the different interpretations of the songs,” says Gedge. “I’ve always been interested in ’60s and ’70s music. You kind of think, ‘How did they do it then, without the technology of distortion pedals and all these fantastic amplifiers that we can use now?’ And you realize that they did it by writing dynamics into the songs.”
Gedge would pursue this line of thinking on the Cinerama albums. Ironically, it was only halfway through the recording sessions that Fisk discovered the band intended Watusi to have a ’60s flavor.
After the automobile-themed Mini EP, a revamped Wedding Present, now with Simon Cleave on guitar, released 1996’s heavier, more experimental Saturnalia, but Gedge was beginning to feel constrained.
“There was a growing feeling within me that I could do other things as well that didn’t fit in with the structure of the Wedding Present,” says Gedge. “But to be honest with you, I was always too scared. After we did Saturnalia, I felt a bit jaded and just felt I needed a break … I set off on this little Cinerama venture. I thought I’d do it for eight or nine months and then go back to the Wedding Present. It became more like eight or nine years.”
Cinerama began as a Serge Gainsbourg/Brigitte Bardot-style collaboration between Gedge and then-girlfriend Sally Murrell, with Gedge pursuing his love of the lush orchestration of ’60s film soundtracks. But learning to arrange strings was a long process, and he sees the three Cinerama albums as evidence of both his learning curve and his movement away from—and then back toward—the Wedding Present’s guitar-based sound.
“I didn’t miss the guitar, really, when I started Cinerama,” says Gedge. “I kind of introduced more and more guitars as we went along, and (2002’s) Torino has a nice balance between the arrangements and this twangy Ennio Morricone/John Barry guitar.”
When Murrell left Cinerama—and Gedge—after Torino, Gedge thought, “This doesn’t feel like Cinerama anymore. It’s a band, like the Wedding Present.” Cleave had begun to take a more prominent role in Cinerama’s sound, so Gedge decided to revive the Wedding Present name.
“I feel like the two bands have merged together, really,” he says. “I think when I started Cinerama, it moved a long way from the Wedding Present. Then, from that point until now, it’s come back.”
Take Fountain, produced by Fisk, features big, swirling guitar anthems in the eight-minute “Interstate 5” and the loud, aggressive “Ringway To Seatac” but also employs sophisticated orchestration on “Mars Sparkles Down On Me” and “Queen Anne.” Says Fisk, “I think a lot of people identify with the lyrics and understand that he walks the fine line between his personal life and also being a very informed pop writer.” This line is even finer on Take Fountain, which contains many breakup songs.
In the age of iTunes and mp3s, Gedge hasn’t forgotten the romance of record collecting. Take Fountain will produce a variety of singles, both CD and vinyl, with an assortment of b-sides in tow. As of this writing, the “Downloads” page of the Wedding Present/Cinerama Web site is still empty.