This is the first example I’ve seen of Pomona’s Sleevenotes series – where musicians choose favourite tracks from their back-catalogue and provide insight into their creation, meaning and mood – and on this evidence it’s a simple concept that works well.
David Gedge is a fine choice for the fourth book in the series, the founder and sole, erm … ever-Present of his band having enjoyed a 35-years-and-counting recording career, neatly bridging that gap between cult indie status and mainstream crossover success (18 UK top-40 singles count for something), John Peel’s championing of an outfit the author has been known to introduce live as ‘semi-legendary’ in more recent times leading to so many of us getting on board early on.
I wasn’t convinced this would work. Friend of this website Richard Houghton’s splendid This Day in Music Books 2017 Gedge co-write, Sometimes These Words Just Don’t Have To Be Said, finished a job started in 1990 by Pomona main-man Mark Hodkinson in Thank Yer Very Glad. Furthermore, with talk of a one-volume version of David’s long-running comic-book alternative life story to come and a ‘songography’ project involving the author for the https://gedgesongs.wordpress.com already out there, there’s reason to think that’s all in the past (there, I’ve said it now at last).
Besides, I got the impression that the words of the opening line of ‘My Favourite Dress’ used in the official biography’s title summed up the author’s thinking regarding any such history project. I also feared that the artist Peelie lovingly referred to as ‘the Boy Gedge’ might over-explain the songs we love given the chance (less is more, and all that). But it works, not least because it’s short, sharp and succinct, an A5 format running to just over 100 pages preventing any over-writing.
So although I thought I knew all I needed to, he fills in a few gaps and inspires the reader to return to the songs themselves, hearing them again with new-found insight. And while concentrating on just 15 tracks – I’ll not dwell on the specifics, but we start with thrilling 1985 debut 7”, ‘Go Out and Get ‘Em, Boy!’ and thread on through to the sublime indie pop of 2016’s ‘Rachel’ – a full timeline is established, including the seven-year gap in which offshoot project Cinerama took centre-stage.
If you’re a fan, you’ll fly through the pages at speed, as if you’ve been invited up on stage to join the band’s heady six-string assault, the tales told around each choice giving a one-take outline of this mighty sonic journey we’ve been on since the band set out from Leeds in the mid-‘80s. Yes, the afore-mentioned Houghton/Gedge title offered a tidy production and works perfectly, but this complements it nicely. Think of it as a Steve Albini-engineered alternative, raw and urgent.
Along the way we see glimpses of the obsession of TWP’s driven sole survivor down the years. And I was inspired to not only go back to the songs chosen, but to check out more mentioned in despatches. There’s enough trainspotter-level info to appeal to the more obsessive, not least a few recording secrets and explanations as to how they got that guitar sound on ‘’What is it Now, Missus?’ (not actually a Wedding Present title, but you had to think about it, right?), but there’s plenty for the rest of us to enjoy too.
Gedge also talks about his move towards more conversational styles of songwriting and various experimentations (‘A lot of my early writing was of the ‘Send me a flower, I’m going to die’ school of lyricism’, he admits), and analyses those leaps between small to large record labels and then self-releases over the years. There’s talk of the thrill of getting that first Peel play and how that led to so many bookings, and lovely little tales like how David once unwittingly offered an off-the-wagon George Best a drink at the debut LP publicity shoot, and how time and again he appears not to fully get what makes a hit (thankfully he always has a band to steer him in the right direction).
What else? There’s more about 1992’s successful 12-single Hit Parade campaign – Keith Gregory’s idea initially, just before his departure – and David’s thoughts on the differing approaches of the many producers employed over the years, plus talk of a bizarre London rooftop experience with The Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie between recording sessions, and a splendid yarn about the day David asked Steve Albini if he could possibly use his Chicago studio’s Mellotron during the recording of El Rey.
And did you realise that Take Fountain started life as a fourth Cinerama album? In fact, Cinerama – which the author now as good as admits was a solo career in all but name – features a fair bit across these pages, Gedge suggesting promoters were far happier when TWP returned, feeling they’d do better when it came to shifting tickets. But that side-project has survived, not least through guest slots for the annual At the Edge of the Sea festival in David’s adopted home city, Brighton.
I mentioned staff turnover within his bands, and Gedge says, ‘Some people stay for 12 years and some people stay for 12 months. I think people possibly suppress their personality a bit in order to fit in with the band at first, but then, over time, it will start to niggle them’. Yet it appears that there are still plenty of takers out there to fill those gaps, among them Labour Party luminary, Mayor of Greater Manchester and TWP obsessive Andy Burnham.
Also, the author stresses how the Weddoes are more of a proper band than they’re given credit for. Despite so many musicians passing through over the years fuelling notions that David may be an ogre to work with, you get the impression his scariest quality is an over-reaching passion for his projects.
Tellingly, he adds, ‘I encourage people in the band to put forward ideas and songs, because even if I don’t think it works, others might. Also, of course, there’s always the chance that I will grow to like it eventually. I’ll go away, sleep on it, and then possibly change my mind. Things like that can move the group forwards so I’m always open for band members to stamp their identity on our sound. That’s why The Wedding Present have made this series of records that each have their own personality; it’s because there have usually been different people playing on each one. I generally feel like I’ve been in about half a dozen bands. I have always said that the sound of The Wedding Present is the combined sound of the four people who are in the group at any given time’.
Content-wise, we’re taken up to his most recent winning LP, Going, Going … and the accompanying shows which led to a memorable 2017 Cadogan Hall live show, Cinerama supporting and the headliners complemented by flute, brass, strings, a 20-piece choir, and David’s partner Jessica’s films projected onto a huge screen. And where do we go from there? We’re yet to find out two years on, but judging by my most recent TWP date at Blackpool’s Waterloo Bar in July (reviewed here), the band remain as fresh and relevant today as ever.
In short, I’m thinking that no discerning Wedding Present fan would be without Gedge’s Sleevenotes, although – knowing the author as we do – there will probably be an extended, repackaged 30-song version in time for the band’s 40th anniversary. And we’d be up for that too, of course, even if the purists will come back to this slim volume and argue the case for its superiority.
David Gedge’s Sleevenotes, following those from Bob Stanley of St Etienne, Mark Lanegan (ex-Screaming Trees) and Joe Thompson (DIY behemoths, Hey Colossus), is available for £8 (plus p&p) from Pomona via this link.
And for an interview with David Gedge for this website from September 2014, head here.