The brilliant David Gedge on French festivals, the John Peel effect and feeling let down by the Grand Canyon
If anything’s been clear over the course of their existence, it’s that The Wedding Present aren’t followers. With the inimitable David Gedge steering the ship, the Leeds band have followed their own crystal-clear vision, both sonically and commercially. They don’t sound like anyone else and they don’t do what anyone else might do.
The result has been a fanbase that is loyal bordering on obsession. A fanbase that’s as eager to hear the 1991 behemoth Seamonsters played live in its entirety as it is to snap up a dozen 7”s of new songs, released month-by-month over the course of a year. Twice. Turns out, if you’re going to follow someone, following yourself is maybe the most Wedding Present way to do it.
The first time the band employed the tactic, it was back in 1992 and turned out to be a massive success. Each of the 12 singles hit the top 40 – equalling Elvis Presley’s 1957 record – and were later rounded up as The Hit Parade compilation. Back in 2021, with the 30th anniversary of the project approaching, Gedge had an idea.
“I was thinking, it’s the 30th anniversary next year,” he tells us over Zoom, “We should do something to mark it. I wasn’t quite sure what to do. We’d all these different ideas. And I just said, ‘Let’s just do it again’. Because it’s such a cool thing to do. You know, I love 7” singles. I like the idea of one coming out every month and then it goes into a box.”
The singles (and accompanying box) were yet another success for the band, so Gedge followed himself again and has now compiled all 24 songs (plus a few bonus songs) into 24 Songs, a triple LP that comes out on 19 May. Ahead of its release and the band’s accompanying tour, we sat down with David Gedge to chat through some of his most enduring memories of nearly 40 years on the road with The Wedding Present.
The one that inspired you
There isn’t really one because I never decided to do this. It sounds pretentious and ridiculous because people always say, “When did you decide to be in a band?” I can’t remember not wanting to be in a band, you know? Growing up, it was playing my parents’ 7” singles and suddenly I was in a band and then all the way through school and university. I do remember… well, two things. One is that my parents took us to Butlins holiday camp once. I can vividly remember watching the show band that was playing. I just remember seeing the lights and the sound and the people on stage and thinking, “This is absolutely thrilling.” But then also, at school, I had some friends who went on to be in a band called The Chameleons from Manchester. Just seeing them play live as well, it kind of made me think, “Yeah, I can definitely do this.”
I love that there’s a Butlins house band out there that don’t realise they influenced The Wedding Present
[Laughs] Yeah, in 1965 or something.
The first with the line-up that went on to record George Best was in a place called Allerton Bywater in Yorkshire. It’s a mining village. I think it was called The Shires Club or something. It’s gone now. We were supporting a band called Dik Dik Dimorphic. I remember Shaun [Charman, the band’s former drummer] leaving. We had about a year when we had 10 drummers. Trying to find drummer is really difficult because they never seem to like the same kind of music. We listened to John Peel and stuff and they liked jazz rock or were big metal fans. And then we met Shaun. He applied to an advert we put up in the University Union with the bands that we liked and he said, “Yeah, I like all those bands.” Brilliant. “I’m not actually a drummer though. I’m a bassist but I can play the drums a bit.” So he kind of learned to play the drums to be in The Wedding Present. We had a few little rehearsals and then we came to that gig and after, he said, “No, I can’t do this. I’m not good enough to be the drummer.” But we went down really well. We got an encore actually – which we don’t do anymore. So I kind of talked him back into it. Eventually, he did change his mind.
I think it’s this festival in France called Les Vieilles Charrues. No one’s ever heard of it outside of France, but it’s massive. I think we got invited to appear because somebody quite big had pulled out. Like, Vanessa Paradis was playing it and all these massive French artists. We got on the stage and we just looked at this sea of people. Funnily enough, we were recording in France, about six months later, and we switched on the TV and it was on the TV. We’ve played Reading and all other festivals, but I think that was the biggest one.
Is it vastly different being on stage in front of that many people versus a standard Wedding Present show?
At the end of the day, you do the same thing. You sing, you play guitar and you deal with the same people. But yeah, some stages at those places are bigger than some of the venues we play. But I love it, you know? People ask, ‘Do you get nervous?’ And I don’t really. I think I get more nervous when I’m in a little club and something’s going wrong and you can hear them talking and people saying, ‘Come on, just play’. Whereas a big festival, you don’t really have that same communication. And it’s just really exciting walking out onto the stage and playing my songs to all these people. It’s kind of an ego thing, I suppose. I find it quite thrilling.
With that many people, I guess it’s a bit like the Grand Canyon. It’s too vast to properly comprehend.
I was a bit disappointed with the Grand Canyon. It’s been built up all my life and it’s not as big as I thought it was going to be. I’ll be honest with you, I think I’ve seen other canyons around the world that are kind of comparable. I was on the edge of it looking down and thinking, “Yeah, sure. They’ve got these in Scotland.” It’s like the Giant’s Causeway. It’s not giant. It’s tiny.
We have played some very strange ones, I guess. There’s always that kind of one where you’re on tour in Spain and then they’ll say, “Oh, we’ve got this one, you’re gonna play on the beach.” Which sounds nice. And then you get there and it’s like 38 degrees. And no shade. Just the stage and then there’s the PA and you can’t even see your pedals. It’s so bright you can’t even tell if the lights are on. I remember there was one where there was a little bit of shade over by the drums. I was singing away and then as soon as I didn’t have to sing, I’d run over for 30 seconds of shade and run back out again.
But I think the weirdest weirdest one for me was probably whenever John Peel ever saw us, because he obviously was such a great influence on me. I was such a devoted listener to that program. When I said before that I never get nervous, if he was there, I’d be nervous. The Wedding Present played his 50th birthday party and Cinerama played at his 60th birthday party and he’s been to a few other gigs as well. And as soon as I knew he was there, that was a different level, because I didn’t want to him to be unimpressed.
That must be a strange power to have over someone. I’m assuming he’d been to quite a few shows?
Yeah, but I was in awe of him still. I actually got on better with his wife Sheila because it was one level away from him. Having heard that voice on the radio for all those years, and then suddenly it’s talking to you, I couldn’t handle that. Sheila told me about this old Chinese photograph of two people who respected each other so much that they didn’t actually have a conversation. It was a bit like that. Not that I’m presuming that he respected me as much as I respected him, but it did get to that point and I kind of regret that now that he’s passed away.
Sometimes it really gels and I’m not even sure how and why. It often feels like we’re doing the same set on tour, for instance, but then one night you know, I look around at somebody and they’re just going, “This is amazing”. And I remember one night we did in New York at the Bowery Ballroom – I think we were doing Bizzaro, so it was probably the 20th anniversary. I just turned around to the bass player and said, “This is brilliant”. Everyone was playing really well, it’s really tight and the crowd were really into it. There’s been maybe half a dozen of those over the years but I remember that one specifically. Sometimes it just happens. I wish I could capture that.
Only half a dozen? I mean, you guys have been together, what, almost 40 years?
Yeah, thanks. [Laughs]
Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that!
No, well, it was 1985. I suppose in 2025 it’ll be the 40th anniversary. [Laughs] Sounds like Status Quo!
Time has become such a weird thing to me. All these 30th anniversary reissues of albums that came out in my teens. It’s like the span of time from the 90s has been weirdly compressed.
And you’re just a mere slip of a lad. Look at it from my point of view. I was just looking at Mojo and there was an ad for Harvest by Neil Young. Fiftieth anniversary! I used to listen to that as a teenager.
I know what you mean. I saw Neil with Pearl Jam back in the 90s…
Did you just call them Pearl JAM?
Yeah. Pearl JAM. How would you say it?
PEARL Jam. I’ve never heard anyone say Pearl JAM before.
I’ve never even thought of that. I’ve always just said it.
“Are you going to see PEARL Jam?” I can’t even say it that way.
It might be an Irish thing. Putting the emphasis in the wrong place.
It’s a free world, you can say it how you like. You know that sports shop, Decathlon?
Our bass player says DECA-thlon. I mean, if you were in the Olympics, you wouldn’t say ‘I’m competing in the DECA-thlon’. I’m fairly sure it’s the dec-ATH-lon.