Over thirty years Leeds’s The Wedding Present have released nine studio albums (one in Ukrainian), been endorsed by outré doyen John Peel, worked regularly with noisenik Steve Albini and equalled Elvis Presley’s chart record for placings in a calendar year. Throughout they have pioneered and patented an aesthetic of frenetic, breakneck guitar string assaults allied to melodic snapshots of emotional woes that are clear (if unacknowledged) influences on bands like Arctic Monkeys.
Led by David Gedge, the ever-doomed romantic bluff-gruff Northerner with a nifty line in vignettes of aching heart and head, a soul on a perennially thwarted quest for romance, compatibility and fidelity. Unfortunately he exists in a world of infidelity, unfaithfulness, (dis)honesty, cheating, scheming, rowing and silent treatment. Making up to break up and vice versa. Gedge doesn’t so much sing as exhort and exhale exasperation.
Following Peel sessions and stand-alone releases in 1985, 1987’s George Best made them immediate press darlings. A compendium of glum broadsides of affairs of the head and heart, wry observations delivered in breakneck blistering guitars and deadpan heartfelt witticisms rivalling The Smiths for lonerism frustration and yearning. The ‘the long walk home …. and ‘a stranger’s hand on my favourite dress’ and ‘Don’t Laugh’s elapsing and collapsing of time as realised by the dog’s advancing years (the one to seven ratio never sounded so stark) set the template for the essence of the Wedding Present’s outlook and output to come.
The music (fast/slow/fast) corroborates the point of view/emotional turmoil inherent in most of the songs. A scaling guitar sound cacophony, jingly jangly, choppy and melodic with rhyming that daubs, paints and splatters vivid pictures, indelible imagery that etches on the self, an exhilarating breakneck tour de force. No macho-rock clichés here, these are odes about the struggles of being male, the clumsy interactions with the object of affection, the unforeseen perils of being as one in a duo even being a gooseberry. Taken at face value Gedge (or whomever he’s ‘seeing’ the world through) is the unluckiest ‘in lover’ to walk the planet, always on the receiving end, forever yearning for what might be, what was and what will (n)ever be, but always with a sense of humour.
Tommy in 1988 was a compilation of the aforementioned radio sessions and singles predating George Best, but it was enough to warrant a deal with a major label, RCA records. Their first release for their new label was an album of Ukrainian folk songs, in Ukrainian folk style and sung in Ukrainian. ‘Welcome to The Wedding Present, The Man’. A stand-out is the evasive romance of ‘Once More’ and it’s ‘And does your heart begin to fail, as the moment draws closer’ a soon-to-be familiar lamentation sung in an angrier, less humorous tone than usual. The LP also featured a cover of Orange Juice’s 1982 single ‘Felicity’ and included a blistering Peel session of ‘My Favourite Dress’
1989’s Bizarro initially underwhelmed the critics, but what would they know. Featuring tracks like hit single ‘Kennedy’ a scorching, searing assessment of the ‘hit’ POTUS in 1963, widow Jackie and ‘Arry ‘The Boat’ Onassis, the crumbling American Dream and its apple pie symbolism, all isn’t well on the farm. Stand-out with archetypal lyricism is ‘No’ with its tender Merseybeatish guitars, Gedge’s scabrous ‘this room’s so different now’ one of his ever exquisite observations of space, place and time. Gedge nails the awkwardness of living, an observer, waiting on the fringes, waiting for his chance, the irrational longing that draws you back, drags you once more to the scene of it all. ‘Corduroy’s B- side cover of Cockney Rebel’s ‘Come up and see me (Make me smile’) saw the band’s first ‘dalliance’ with ur-engineer Steve Albini resulting in the heavier, yet no less lyrically fragrant LP Seamonsters in 1991. The result a murkier sound with Gedge’s arch-words (and one-word titles) submerged beneath the sonics. The song ‘Dalliance’ – another ode to being left in the lurch once more as she’s gone back to HIM. Original guitarist Peter Solowka left after this album.
1993’s Hit Parade saw the release of 12 singles in a calendar year, equalling Elvis Presley’s record and upsetting the BBC in the process. With hits such as the Buzzcockian ‘Blue Eyes’ and ‘Three’s’ ‘I’m yours, she’s mine but three had a better time‘ refrain it continued Gedge’s erudite and exquisite songsmithery. It also featured a cover of Julee Cruise’s Twin Peaks theme ‘Falling, it’s ‘Don’t let yourself be hurt this time’ wail right up introspective Gedge Street.
The prodigious work rate continued with Hit Parade 2 in the same year, a repeat of the monthly releases albeit with less enthusiasm and response. The rewards were no less bountiful though with songs such as the three-minute thrasher ‘Sticky’ and a Bobby Vee-like ‘Boing’
1994’s Watusi is a 60s inflected love letter and an affectionate nod to simpler pop days, capturing Gedge’s long kinship with songsmiths and interpreters such as Goffin and King, Lieber and Stoller and artists like Del Shannon (his ‘Little Town Flirt’ a clear influence on Gedge’s forlorn persona). The motorik and roll of ‘Shake it’ and the psychey ‘Catwomen’ has our man purring ‘the pussycat in you brings out the man in me.’ Easy, tiger.
By 1996 Gedge was the only original member, but the quality remains. Saturnalia’s ‘Dreamworld’ has our (prot)agonist again on the fringes observing and opining ‘how many times have you given him one last chance’ ever ready to pick up the pieces and help her move on. ‘Kansas’ has the wonderful couplet ‘I don’t care where this lands us, don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore’
After taking a hiatus to form the imaginary-film group Cinerama, The Wedding Present returned in 2005 with Take Fountain. Opening with the Floydian ‘On Ramp’ it leads into the superlative ‘Interstate 5’, all thumping guitars and thundering backbeat, Gedge gets low down and dirty, cutting to the chase on all matters lusty, ‘I just wanted one more night’. No hidden meanings here culminating in a Morricone/Mariachi finale.
El Rey followed three years later again with Albini at the helm. A Stranglers-like bass-driven opener in ‘Santa Ana Winds’ once more highlighting a lifelong submittal and acceptance to the rules of attraction ’that’s when I pretend I don’t have a girlfriend’ he admits without shame. The flip-side comes in ‘Palisades’ with the ‘I thought women were supposed to tell you how they’re feeling, but you’re really the most unrevealing’ barb before being ushered out the door.
Valentina in 2012 was the last new offerings from the band and full evidence of how you don’t change a winning team. ‘The Girl from the DDR’s hark back to a time of cross-bordered love and an(other) admittance that ‘I’ve been using you all this time … I’ve realised that I don’t think I’m ever gonna leave my girlfriend for you’. The tables have turned, our ‘hero’ is no longer the heartbroken, but breaker, cold and distant. This year also saw Cinerama return with a ‘re imagined’ version of the album.
In summary, The Wedding Present articulate the potency of a first and (even better) second glance, the rush of blood this generates, the humiliation in finding out you’ve been cuckolded, the problems caused by being nice, being guarded, not being upfront and all that time wasted as a result. Be it on the periphery, at the scene of others’ car-crashes itching to get closer to the object of desire, the girl you long for, you need more than anything is in front of you. Albeit with another. HIM. However, tongue-tied and heart-strung, the paralysis never eases.
Those adolescent feelings may alter but never really go away. Either prior to the end or its aftermath, the memories linger, from the signifiers (‘the thought of HIM in our bed’/lights on when you’re supposed to be at work) to the emotional scars and flotsam (razor/dress). The everyday sounds and signifiers that jar and jog memories, Proustian flushes that you wish would stay buried. The things that matter, finding the time to ring, the minutiae of relationships, the full gamut of the highs and lows, the whys and wherefores, inevitable heartbreak, perennially unlucky with affairs of the heart. Even after you’re gone, the thoughts forever linger.
This is first press of the grapes music, full-bodied and vintage. These songs are here to change your life and prevent aortic strife. Chronology can suggest peaks and troughs, highs and lows. Not in this case, with nary a dud for 30 years each and every release is timeless. Good bands capture time and memory, great bands take your life and once unwrapped this matrimonial gift isn’t going anywhere. With anyone. But you. This is a band for thinkers, those who prize art that soothes and listens, human and sentimental that express identification with anyone who’s had a heart broken and/or adored from afar. Most of us then.
Age old themes of sage old dreams, relevance is permanence. Your life is incomplete without this band.