When Un-Peeled promoter Tuff Life Boogie broke the news that The Wedding Present were coming to my favourite Lancashire riverside locale in early March, there was much excitement from the North West indie fraternity, with one date soon not enough. And four and a half months on, I was lucky enough to catch the resultant two-night stand, a pair of memorable performances – both sell-outs yet still somewhat intimate – in the company of these John Peel favourites, three decades into their sparkling career.
It was main-man David Gedge’s first live Preston visit since a 53 Degrees show in late 2010 (a Bizarro 21st anniversary performance, one snowy night), his band having first played the Twang Club in January ‘86, then returning as conquering heroes in 1990 in Preston Poly days. And between those second and third visits ‘the semi-legendary Wedding Present’ (as Gedge put it this week) amassed 18 top-40 singles and seven top-40 LPs, with a few of those songs aired here in their first shows since a major Australasian tour.
I made it 36 songs over the two nights, seven of which were played both times – six from most recent masterpiece Going Going … and ’87 classic My Favourite Dress. And speaking of the latter, over two nights we got every track from much-feted debut LP George Best as well as many more favourites from down the years, not least storming finales Brassneck (night one) and Kennedy (night two) from 1989’s Bizarro. Incidentally, the second night was my better half’s first TWP date since a Manchester Hop and Grape appearance in October ’96, and she reckons they finished with Kennedy that night too, something that’s become more of a rare occurrence in recent years.
And the other tracks? Well, early singles Go Out and Get ‘Em Boy and You Should Always Keep in Touch With Your Friends were both surely aired at my first TWP gig at Reading Majestic in February ’87, and there was further Bizarro favourite What Have I Said Now? and 1990’s Crawl, Seamonsters‘ wondrous Dalliance and Dare (back-to-back, night one), 1992 hits Come Play with Me, Love Slave and Flying Saucer (always such a thrill), Mini‘s Drive and Watusi‘s Click Click (with Gedge and bass player Danielle Wadey’s harmonies at the core of another second night highlight).
Of the more recent material (all from the 21st century, so that counts, right?) there was Take Fountain‘s Interstate 5 and Valentina‘s Deer Caught in the Headlights and End Credits, the latter another night two revelation. Newer still, not only Going Going … choices Kill Devil Hills, Lead, the ultra-quirky Secretary, Fordland, Emporia and Ten Sleep (few of which were obvious choices, but all winning me over come Thursday night), but also the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience cover, Mothers.
That just leaves England from the Home Internationals EP, opening Thursday’s set, its combination of poet Simon Armitage’s reading and an introductory, laidback groove leading seamlessly into the heart-skipping Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft. Or at least it should have. Unfortunately, Danielle was struggling with her mic. stand after xylophonic interaction from her left, the smooth transition going to pot. But do you know what? Happenings like that make it for me. As tight as an outfit they are, I’d hate it too slick. Instead, they showed their usual good grace and humour, laughed and just got on with it.
Plenty more moments fitted that description, not least when Danielle, drummer Charlie Layton and guitarist Marcus Kain were struggling to hold it together mid-song, catching each other’s eyes. I put it down to a wild reverberation from the stage monitors part-way through What Have I Said Now? but my other half reckons she soon spotted guitar tech/ band photographer Jessica McMillan collecting a spider in a glass, Gedge unaware of what was going on behind him.
It comes as no surprise to seasoned followers that there was plenty of evidence over both nights that this will never be a band going through the motions, the impassioned Gedge surely kept young by the company he keeps. And while the first half of the opening set was a little patchy, sound-wise, the following evening proved to be another religious experience for this punter, and no doubt many more.
Countless personnel changes have followed since that Twang Club local debut, yet thy remain a proper band, the latest personnel buying into that whole-heartedly. They’re so tight as a unit, with Charlie so expressive and rather manic throughout, Aussie import Marcus’ six-string prowess equalling his bandleader’s, and Danielle now at home on bass as well as those sublime backing vocals (she was more a shy fifth member adding keyboards when I caught them in Hebden Bridge in 2014). What’s more, she delivers the ice-breaking Fact of the Day feature these days (on this occasion, Gedge inviting us to give ourselves a round of applause over two of this particular city’s national claims to fame).
Support on opening night was from amiable, behatted, acoustic guitar-toting Miles Salisbury, once of Preston College-formed Blank Students, who recorded a BBC Radio 1 session for Peel in 1981. I only caught half of his set, but he seemed to be having the time of his life. It might just have been nervous banter, but it worked. A fine falsetto too.
The same has to be said of Thursday’s guests, splendid Kent-based duo The Catenary Wires, featuring ex-Talulah Gosh pair Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey, also Peel session veterans. Ron sat down and played guitar, Amelia sang and added apologetic ukelele, and they sang about their love, Margate Pier and much more. There was a brief mention of past times and My Favourite Dress too, although Amelia was just remarking on what she was wearing. But there is another link, their old band not only supporting the Weddoes in ‘87 – I recall seeing them at the University of London in May on that tour – but Amelia supplying vocals on several tracks in ’87 and ’88, including four on George Best.
As with his support acts, Gedge chatted away between songs, at one point inviting us all to his At the Edge of the Sea festival in Brighton, telling us we were all on the guest-list … as long as we showed up together by charabanc.
Granted, there were plenty of opportunities for nostalgia, but this wasn’t just an exercise in celebrating indie heritage, several of the selections from the past five years further indicating Gedge’s continued grasp on it all.
You can also find a past band appreciation on this site (wrapped around a review of 2012’s Valentina) here, and a link to Thirty Years in the Business, an interview with David Gedge at Hebden Bridge’s Trades Club from the summer of 2014, here.
To find out more about soon-to-be-published official band publication The Wedding Present: Sometimes These Words Just Don’t Have To Be Said and how to pre-order at a specially-reduced price, head here.
- With thanks (as ever) to Rico La Rocca and Rob Talbot at The Continental, for their drive, helping bring so many fine acts to their neighbourhood.