Thirty summers ago I saw the semi-legendary Wedding Present play to possibly their largest audience thus far at Reading Festival, and certainly a bigger crowd than when I saw them at Glastonbury two years earlier.
It had been an amazing year, the success of October 1987 LP George Best propelling them way beyond the realms of mere indie stardom, moving away from venues like Reading Majestic, where I finally saw them in early ’87. And a year after that stunning debut album, a new record landed, Bizarro, with tickets duly snapped up for shows at Portsmouth Guildhall then the first of two nights at Kilburn National Club.
If I recall rightly, it was at the latter that during a full-on ‘Take Me!’ David Gedge and Peter Solowka gave it some tongue-in-cheek rock star poses, announcing, ‘Status Quo – 25 years in the business’. They’d clearly hit the big time, yet seemed not so much bewitched or bothered as bewildered by the experience. And anyone who’s spoken to members of the band knows that down-to-earth approach never left them.
That stretches to their choice of venues – they’re still capable of filling the biggies, but are at home elsewhere too, bringing intimacy to them all. That’s something I spoke to two lads near the front about on the night. They couldn’t work out how they managed to snap up tickets with just a week or two to spare in this Blackpool watering hole for a band they witnessed fill the Academy at Leeds a few months before. But perhaps that’s just how the Boy Gedge rolls.
While the guitarist known as Grapper became the second of at least 20 personnel to leave what would soon be acknowledged as a rolling line-up just after third LP, Seamonsters, The Wedding Present had already proved they were here to stay, with Bizarro playing a key part in that.
Gedge is the only TWP constant down the years, bringing to mind Mark E. Smith’s line that, ‘If it’s me and yer granny on bongos, it’s the Fall’. But as he pointed out on Saturday night in Blackpool, current drumstool incumbent Charlie Layton has now played more shows than anyone else other than him. What’s more, The Wedding Present have now reached three and a half decades under that banner since Gedge and Keith Gregory stepped away from The Lost Pandas.
Having mentioned Gregory, I clearly hear his mark on that second LP – like the first, produced by Chris Allison – and love so many of those basslines. They remain integral to its sound all these years on too, perfectly executed on this occasion by most recent addition, Melanie Howard.
While this was an anniversary-type gig, it wasn’t what I expected. I saw a Bizarro celebration gig after the record turned 20, the band on similarly great form at Preston’s 53 Degrees. But this time, shifting from Fylde Road to the Fylde coast, the format changed.
A rough and ready venue with good, honest punk rock sawdust appeal – one where Camper Van Beethoven could happily retire for a pint after taking the skinheads bowling at the ‘Wembley of crown green bowls’ venue next door – certainly suited opening act Vinny Peculiar, invited along by Gedge after previous TWP supports, making new friends on this occasion too.
Try and imagine a singer-songwriter with vocal dashes of Ian Hunter and Steve Harley, offering hints of the songcraft of Ray Davies and Neil Hannon, wrapped up with something of the look of John Otway, John Shuttleworth and Robyn Hitchcock rolled into one, and you’re on your way towards a picture of an artist The Irish Times dubbed ‘the missing link between Jarvis Cocker and Roger McGough’.
He’s certainly personable, full of biographical tales and vignettes of life in the Malverns, with liberal lashings of Worcestershire sauce and past North West adventures between ad during selections from his Down the Bright Stream, Silver Meadows, The Root Mull Effect, and Return of the Native LPs, with a new record about to land.
He’s Bromsgrove’s answer to whatever the question was in the first place, his lyrical matter often somewhere between whimsy and introspection, his voice and guitar competently complemented by bandmate Rob Steadman on keyboards and added vocals.
Highlights included a Kinks-esque ‘English Village’, pensive Clifford T. Ward tribute ‘The Singing Schoolteacher’, a Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band-like ‘Anthony Gormley’, The Go-Betweens-ish ‘Everyone Has Something To Say’, a reflective ‘Pop Music, Football & Girls’ (recorded with his previous band Parlour Flames), and singalong finale ‘Sometimes I Feel Like a King‘. One to seek out live and on record, I’d say.
How to follow that? Well, Gedge and co. sailed straight into ‘Rotterdam’ from the classic 1991 LP, Seamonsters, a perfect work-out teeing up the first three selections from our guest LP, 100mph renditions of ‘Brassneck’ – the crowd reaction as strong as ever – and ‘Crushed’ followed by a peerless ‘No’, Melanie’s chunky bass throb taking this punter back down the years.
We went off-piste for promising newbie ‘Don’t Ask Me’ before a trundle back to 1992, the year of the band’s 12 hit singles, ‘Go-Go Dancer’ and ‘California’ B-side ‘Let’s Make Some Plans’ as fresh as ever, the latter reminding me – as if it were needed – what great songs former Weddoes support Close Lobsters are capable of.
Back to Bizarro we went, seeing out side one with ‘Thanks’ and ‘Kennedy’, the latter still capable of dragging old-ish fellas into the middle of the throng (and don’t get me wrong, a Wedding Present gig is certainly no male-only club). I’m not so sure we had a sprung dancefloor, but it became one for a while.
In case you assume this is a band living off past success, brand new B-side ‘Panama’ was next, and it’s perhaps the mark of the band that it was that and not A-side ‘Jump In, The Water’s Fine’ getting an outing here. Besides, it’s an instant winner on this evidence, even if a few old heads are still not convinced by David’s bid to initiate audience-participatory hand-clapping. New fangled ways, eh.
‘Crawl’ was next, from 1990’s ‘Three Songs’ EP, while I was lost in music again for compelling Bizarro side two opener and epic tour de force ‘What Have I Said Now?’, a brief segue following through the surging ‘Wow’ by Cinerama, another key part of the Gedge story.
The band wrenched up the tempo further still for a super-charged ‘Granadaland’, heading from there to the beguiling ‘Bewitched’, inspiring a feeling of enhanced trance-like matter. And while tonight’s version didn’t carry so much of the slow drop-out and urgent return of past encounters, it’s no less mesmeric. What’s more, I imagined I sensed recently-departed Doris Day at the end, as if willing the band home.
We were nearly there, a heartfelt, reflective ‘Spangle’ from 1994’s Watusi another mighty gateway for this accomplished quartet, launching straight into a monumental ‘Take Me!’ If anything, I enjoyed it as much as at any point down the years, Charlie on sparkling form at the back and Danielle and Melanie willing the Boy Gedge on out front.
Yep, 35 years in the business and somehow still with something left behind after another nine or so enthralling minutes, the sweat dripping from audience and band alike.
His breath briefly back, a few departing words followed from Gedge, still feeling a need to explain to newcomers (and there are a few, I’m pleased to say) his no-encore policy before a reconfigured ‘Be Honest’. And as soon as the needle arm returned, they saw us out with another classic 45, this scribe happily transported back to the days I was still buying 12”s, ‘Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm’ as crisp today as in ’88.
For the latest from The Wedding Present, including remaining Bizarro 30th anniversary shows and At the Edge of the Sea XI Festival on August 9th/10th at the Concorde 2, Brighton, head here. You can also keep in touch with David Gedge and co. via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
To see WriteWyattUK’s verdict on the band’s two nights at the Continental, Preston in July 2017, head here, for a review from the Boileroom, Guildford, in February 2017, try here, for my verdict on 2016’s Going Going … head here, for a past band appreciation wrapped around a review of 2012’s Valentina, try here, and for a link to an interview with David Gedge at Hebden Bridge’s Trades Club from five years ago, head here.
With kind permission for photographs from the Waterloo Music Bar from Richard Houghton, who worked alongside David Gedge on official band publication The Wedding Present: Sometimes These Words Just Don’t Have To Be Said.