Looking Back To Move Forward: David Gedge And The Wedding Present

Ukrainian folk music, books and John Peel, here's what David Gedge had to tell us recently...
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The creative process is a mysterious thing. In a new book Valentina: The Story Of A Wedding Present Album, David Gedge allows this mystery to be gawped at for all to see. With digital downloads and a film included it’s the latest innovative addition to an innovative career that’s seen ventures into Ukrainian folk music and about a thousand Peel Sessions. But like many bands, the group have started revisiting their back catalogue while releasing new material. We talked to Weddoes mainstay David Gedge about the past, The Wedding Present and the future.

How was the experience of doing your first book signing?

I was a bit nervous actually. I’ve played to 50,000 people but I’m never nervous on stage. I love doing it and I suppose the adrenaline kicks in. But, I get nervous with that kind of thing. I’m out of my comfort zone.

Were there any circumstances where you’d get nervous?

When John Peel was there to be honest, because I held him in such high esteem. I’d grown up with him and I was a massive fan of that programme. To the point of obsession. I played at his 50th birthday party and his 60th birthday party. Whenever he was there I was very nervous because I was like ‘Argh! John Peel’s in the room’.

I didn’t even want to talk about this but he’s taken a bit of a knocking and got dragged into all this Savile business...

Sounds a bit Daily Mail to me. And Julie Burchill, she’s always had a bit of a thing about Peel. She used to say he was a bit racist because he never played black music. And I’d think, ‘have you ever actually listened to the programme?’

Culture’s quite curious right now because you have this mix of technology, which you get involved with as well. You tweet and you’ve got an app – but at the same time it feels like there is a sort of nostalgia market. You go and play an old album in full…

I guess all culture is cyclical to a certain extent. I was actually averse to the idea of doing the LP’s – I think we did the first one in 2007 because it was the 20th anniversary of George Best and I said ‘Nah, I don’t fancy that’, because I’ve got my new songs and a new album coming out and I didn’t want to look back and rehash something. I spoke to a few people and everyone said ‘I’d love to see you play George Best, that would be absolutely brilliant’ so I thought ‘Ok I’ll do it’ and I was surprised actually that I got something out of it really.

I find it quite interesting to go back and analyse something from 20 years ago. It was like opening an old diary and thinking ‘oh I used to think that way about this thing’. And how we’d reinvent the music for this totally different line-up now. So we did that and I thought, well George Best is my least favourite album, we should do some of the others. So then we did Bizarro and we seem to be working our way through them now.

Julie Burchill, she’s always had a bit of a thing about Peel. She used to say he was a bit racist because he never played black music. And I’d think, ‘have you ever actually listened to the programme?’

Were there songs that you’d forgotten about or dreaded having to learn?

I’ve been surprised by things and there were songs I thought I didn’t like and then thought ‘I quite like this now’. Especially with Seamonsters. There’s 12 songs and they hang together because it’s an album, so it’s got a beginning and an end and it flows. Obviously when you’ve got an album you work a lot on tempo and light and shade – it works really well for a set. But with Seamosnters it felt different. It’s such an intense album and it’s quite dramatic in some ways, so I feel like I’m in some sort of weird film where I’m playing a character in this little 45-minute piece. I stopped talking between the songs because you play this melancholic, angry, intense song and then you tell a joke  - it doesn’t work. It’s breaking up the flow really.

Does it ever affect you to go back to something you wrote 10, 20 years ago?

Totally, yeah. Which is why I’m enjoying it I think. I came to this philosophical decision that maybe the past is as important as the present or the future for a band or an artist or whatever. And it’s all part of the same continuum in a way. Obviously the thing that you’re doing now is going to refer to something in the past anyway. Just by the fact that I’m the same person, I’m writing the songs, I’m the constant throughout the whole history of the group so it informs everything in a way. Yeah, it’s fascinating. I don’t think I would have thought about that if I’d just carried on, made an album, done the next one and done the next one. But going back, it’s added a whole new dimension I think, which has been fascinating.

As a band, you’ve done a whole host of innovative projects. Do you ever feel like you don’t get the credit for that? Like you are overlooked or taken for granted?

I suppose in a way I do think we could have probably been more successful. But then, at the same time, I know that I’ve made decisions where I’ve taken a less commercial route than I could have done. But I’m not dissatisfied with the attention we receive. I’m not thinking, ‘Oh I wish we could be more famous’. Sometimes I think we’re underestimated. Going back, we did the Ukrainian folk music, which was totally off the wall. We did the 12 singles idea. My other project, Cinerama, was a completely different type of music. And I think there’s loads of interesting stuff throughout the years which hopefully parallels with making a series of good albums. The thing is we’re not fashionable; we were fashionable probably in 1987 when the C86 bands came along. But since then we’ve never really been fashionable, we’ve always sort of existed outside of it.

With The Fall, it’s the same way, it ebbs and flows, one year it’s like, ‘why is this lunatic still around’ and the next year he’s a national treasure again.

Always interesting isn’t it?

It’s an interesting parallel because you’ve had lots of people come and go, not to Fall standards obviously [laughs].

When you first started the band, did you think that might happen or did you want to be in that band with these people for the rest of your life or for your career?

I kind of think it would have been something romantic to be in The Beatles or U2 or something, where it’s ‘The four lads from Leeds still together 25 years later’. But it just didn’t work out that way. If` I’m honest I think it worked out for the better. I’ve always been of the view that every album should be different and I think obviously with me being the major songwriter and the constant through the years, that that was always going to be a bit of a struggle unless I had contributions from other members with totally different inspirations and influences and enthusiasms. It’s always sad when people go, obviously it’s quite a little close community. You’re on tour, you live with these people 24 hours a day. And then suddenly that person has gone, for whatever reason and you can’t ever see them any more. It’s a sad loss, but at the same time, sometimes someone else will come with a whole set of new ideas and I think the group goes through a bit of a rebirth. And I think that has definitely helped us.

Yeah, I don’t know if you agree with this, but it feels like you thrive on the turbulence of it, it’s a fuel for what you do?

I hate to say it because it sounds like I’m going to jinx it, but the current line up is really good. And they play Seamonsters really well, better than the original Seamonsters line-up to be honest, but at the same time, it’s always refreshing. We’ve got a new guitarist since Valentina came out and he’s brimming with ideas. He’s got loads of ideas for guitar parts and I’m already enthusiastic about next year when we’re doing this touring and work on the next… I hate to say album because I don’t know if albums will exist when it comes out.

That feels like it informs the way you write, do you feel you need to have tension in your life to be creative?

I don’t think it’s tension, I’m pretty driven to do it to be honest I’m kind of obsessed with it now I think. I just think that having these people come and go adds to my tools really. I’ve always thought that the sound of The Wedding Present at any one time is made up of the people in the band. It’s quite democratic in terms of the sound of the band and how it is recorded and who mixes it and all that kind of stuff, so I’m happy to hand the reins over . I’m not there saying ‘it’s got to sound like this or that chorus is too long’ It’s just a natural thing between, usually, four people. And it’s always been like that.

Would you have liked to have documented the recording process with any of the other albums?

I suppose there’s definitely an idea there.

You’ve worked with Steve Fisk and Albini. People are always interested with those guys.

There are those books you can get…

The 33 and a 1/3s. What would you do if you had to write one of those?

Probably Surfer Rosa.

Why, what does that album mean to you?

It’s probably not my favourite album, but it’s such a remarkable sounding record. I think the Pixies were a great band and had great songs. Great personality and everything. But, I think that album takes it to another level. It sounds, in some ways, sort of natural but in other ways, kind of weird. And I thought it was like the production was almost part of the music. The arrangements and stuff. And I thought, ‘yeah, we should use this bloke’.

So that’s what led you to Albini?

Totally. I was familiar with Big Black and I liked it, but it wouldn’t have struck me as someone who should record my band particularly. But then I heard Surfer Rosa and thought, this sounds amazing.

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