The Wedding Present, Top of the Pops for ‘Brassneck’ 1990
“The boy Gedge has written some of the best love songs of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Era. You may dispute this, but I’m right and you’re wrong!” The late John Peel.
Blimey. This is how to do re-issues. For these eight discs – five albums, one mini-album and two compilations, Edsel have been staggeringly comprehensive. Not only do they contain the original albums – but they are all presented here in 3 CD plus DVD editions with attendant b-sides, radio sessions done for John Peel, Mark Goodier and Andy Kershaw amongst others, and all promotional videos. Additionally there’s TV performances, and entire gigs from the respective period. If there’s much else recorded or filmed by the Wedding Present between 1985 and 1997, and you’re still seeing gaps here then you’re presumably not so much a fan as an obsessive stalker.
Much like The Fall, The Wedding Present have only had one consistent member over the years, singer and guitarist David Gedge. Like the Fall, the band’s line-up changes are many, the dicography sprawling and they had many, many entires on John Peel’s Festive Fifty. The band rose from the ashes of Leeds band The Lost Pandas, which included David Gedge (vocals, guitar) and Jaz Rigby (drums). The Lost Pandas became The Wedding Present (or The Weddoes as they were often referred to) when Peter Solowka (guitar) and Shaun Charman (drums, backing vocals) joined the band for the first lineup. Their first single ‘Go Out And Get ‘Em Boy!’ was released in 1985 on their own Reception Records. The first four singles and selections from the Peel sessions are compiled on Tommy, which was originally released in 1988 (****). Not only does the album feature fantastic singles like the aforementioned ‘Go Out!’ and ‘My Favourite Dress’ (which remains one one of this scribe’s favourite Weddoes songs), it also features a Peel session’s take on Orange Juice’s ‘Felicity’ which shows their roots well.
The band’s first studio album was 1987′s George Best (****1/2). Named after the legendary footballer, who adorns the front cover, this album still sounds gloriously fresh nearly thirty years later. The band weren’t happy about being lumped in with the C86 crowd (despite the fact that they appeared on the original NME cassette from which the ‘movement’ took its name), but – and I don’t mean this as an insult – you can see why journalists at the time might have done so. Starting off with the wonderful ‘Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft’, herein lie 14 tales of love and frustration, worth it for the titles alone (though a few years later they’d got fed up of being mocked about this in the music press) – until you hear the tunes. It was so good to hear people singing in their own accents at this point in time. And amongst the extras on this package are the two singles that followed in 1988 -’Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm’ and ‘Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now?’
By late 1989, the band had signed to RCA. Their second studio album Bizarro (****) actually managed the feat of both sounding tougher – and also saw them get actual top 40 success. It’s typical of the album that a song like ‘Crushed’ sounds far more acerbic than much of the material that had been on independent releases. ‘Kennedy’ made the lower reaches of the top 40 and a re-recorded version of album opener ‘Brassneck’ would get them their first (albeit uncomfortable) Top Of The Pops performance. ‘No’ is an underrated gem which perhaps could have been a single. Oh, and one of the covers that appears on this package is their take on Tom Jones’ ‘It’s Not Unusual’ which as ever, they managed to make their own.
The Bizarro album lead into the next stage of their story, which saw them working with the legendary Steve Albini. Ahead of their third album, 1991′s Seamonsters, (****1/2) they worked with Albini on two EPs, one a reworking of ‘Brassneck’ (which can be found on the Bizarro package) and the other the 3 Songs EP. The latter’s lead track was a cover of Steve Harley’s ‘(Come Up And See Me) Make Me Smile’ which Harley loved, saying that of all the versions (and there’s about 120 covers of it in existence) the Weddoes were the only ones who had truly understood the venom in the song. Seamonsters isn’t a venomous album, exactly, but Albini helped them to deliver a suitably intense album of psychodramas, on songs like the single ‘Dalliance’ and the brilliant ‘Dare.’
1992 was a different story entirely. As has been well-documented, this was the year that the band released a 7″ single (then a format considered to be on the way out) on the first Monday of each month. Working with different producers, including Lightning Seed Ian Broudie and former Stones producer Jimmy Miller, the band equaled Elvis Presley by scoring 12 top thirty hits in a 12 month period. Collected together on Hit Parade (****1/2), each song was a gem and utterly varied from the angry ‘Sticky’ to the beautiful California’ and their first (and criminally, so far only) top ten hit, ‘Come Play With Me.’ The b-sides included their versions of songs as diverse as Isaac Hayes’ ‘Theme From Shaft’ Mud’s ‘Rocket’ and the Go-Betweens’ ‘Cattle And Cane.’ It was an unusual approach in 1992 – and it would see the band part ways with RCA in early 1993. No matter now – this is an artistic triumph.
Signing with Island for their next album, Watusi (***1/2), 1994 saw a rejuvenated Wedding Present making lo-fi ’60s-influenced pop. This has been described as being an atypical Wedding Present album, but to these ears -and looked at with the benefit of a couple of decades’ hindsight, it makes sense. You really shouldn’t deny yourself the joy of songs like ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah’ or ‘Swimming Pools. Movie Stars.’ And ‘Click Click’ still evokes an earlier Weddoes sound. This may be one of the underrated albums in their entire catalogue. It was, however, the only album that they made with Island – and yet, given the sounds that Blur would be making a couple of years laer, or that Pavement were doing at the time, you wonder why it didn’t pick up more fans. No time like the present.
For their last two album releases in the first part of their story, the band were with Cooking Vinyl. David Gedge has joked that the 20th anniversary tour for the Mini album (***1/2), originally released in 1996, may be an early night for him, as the original album was only six songs long. And it was a pun of sorts. It’s a mini album, and therein lie six songs about cars and travel. Opening with ‘Drive’ this combines the 60s sound of Watusi with a sound reminiscent of the Reception-era stuff. The final studio album, Saturnalia, (****) which followed later in 1996 saw a new approach yet again. In the sleevenotes, Gedge says that there isn’t a distinctive sound to this album – which was their most experimental. Album opener ‘Venus’ hints that the sounds to follow may take you to unusal places, as it mixes indie-thrash with a more twee approach towards. ’2, 3, Go’s outro sees the song fade out among feedback and an old advert they found lying around in the studio. And great as ‘Snake Eyes’ is, the album’s highpoint is ‘Montreal’ which has to rank up there with the band’s best songs of love gone wrong. Actually, it’s one of their best songs, period.
And then, in early 1997, the band went on hiatus. Gedge was feeling the need to work by himself for a while, which would result in the very different – but excellent Cinerama. The band would re-appear in 2004, and ten years later are still (thankfully) with us. In terms of stats alone they have done pretty well for the period covered by this review: all nine releases reached the top fifty of the album chart (with Seamonsters reaching no.13); eighteen singles making the UK top 40. They were long-championed by John Peel, who they recorded nine sessions for between 1986 and 1994, and scored 44 entries in his legendary Festive Fifty between 1985 and 1996. But this body of work is a most impressive thing, so make sure you treat yourself.
The re-issued versions of George Best, Tommy, Bizarro, Seamonsters, The Hit Parade, Watusi, Mini and Saturnalia are out now on Edsel.
From Bizarro ‘Kennedy.’
From The Hit Parade ‘Sticky.’
From Watusi ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah.’