It’s been a long time in the planning, but late next week the first instalment of David Gedge’s long-awaited memoir-in-comic-book-form will be released by Scopitones Books.
Stories featured in 176-page, matt-laminated, hardback Go Out and Get ‘Em Boy! – Tales From The Wedding Present: Volume I were before only available to Tales From The Wedding Present comic book series readers. But this collected edition includes 40 pages of previously-unseen additional material and an introduction by renowned Edinburgh crime writer and Rebus creator Ian Rankin.
David, who co-founded indie legends The Wedding Present in 1985 and is the sole surviving member (his fellow personnel now at least numbering 25, past and present) wrote the book along with long-time musical associate and ex-Wedding Present bass player Terry de Castro, the stories illustrated by virtuoso artist Lee Thacker, the trio – with editing help from David’s partner Jessica McMillan – relating his life and adventures for almost 10 years.
With 19 comics published to date, Go Out and Get ‘Em Boy! is the first compilation of the stories in chronological order, beginning with David’s childhood in England and South Africa and continuing up to the inception of The Wedding Present.
On the way, we discover some of the romantic experiences that may have informed his writing, how he first met his hero – legendary BBC presenter John Peel – and the true story behind classic Wedding Present song ‘My Favourite Dress’.
And on Saturday November 7th, the day after publication, David is taking part in a launch event for the book at the Louder Than Words literary festival, fully online this year due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Speaking of which, my last live outing was at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall in mid-March, seeing King Creosote live-score the From Scotland With Love film documentary. I’ve certainly missed live music, let alone a band leader on the road for 35 years now and that in 2019 alone played more than 70 live shows across the UK and Ireland, mainland Europe and Asia (from Mongolia and Japan to China, Thailand and Vietnam).
“Well, this year we’ve … I was going to say fortunately, but that’s not really the right word … we did plan to have a quieter year. Really, since Going, Going … came out, and that’s four years ago now, we’ve been doing quite a lot of touring, places where we hadn’t played before like Australia, New Zealand and Asia. So we thought 2020 should be a quiet year … I just didn’t realise it would be this quiet!”
“Yeah, and we had around 10 concerts planned throughout the year, basically festivals and little warm-up gigs before, either cancelled or pushed back into next year. Apart from the (October 10th) live stream, our first proper concerts are next March, and now I’m kind of thinking, ‘Is that too soon?’ Our first ones were supposed to be in May and June, but they were moved to September.”
And how about the planned live stream?
“Yeah, kind of an experiment. There’s a studio in Brighton – more like a rehearsal room – who approached us about doing a series of live streams, like a small venue with nobody in it, basically. I’d be interested to see how this goes. It’s a whole new world.”
Seeing as you’re based in Brighton, I’m guessing this last year marks the longest you’ve really been cooped up there since you moved to Sussex.
“Yeah, but it’s a nice place to live, one of my favourite places, which is why I moved here. To be honest, because we’ve been away so much in the last few years, it’s kind of nice to have been here for a prolonged period, busy with a few admin things, for example our YouTube channel, which we started around 2014 then did nothing with, putting more relevant things on there, and other ideas that have been shelved because we’ve not been at home. And I’ve spent a lot of time writing, songs and also the book. I think I’ve spent more time on that book than an album!”
It’s a fantastic read, and I was trying my best – on first sight of a digital version – to stop myself reading it in one sitting, wanting to savour the experience for when I saw the physical version. There’s so much detail in the illustrations, for instance seeing John Peel there in his studio, The Fall’s Dragnet LP in front of him.
“Yeah, I’m my own worst enemy in a way – and Lee, the artist – because I naively write these little stories and he draws them, then I go back and think, ‘Wait a minute – was Dragnet actually released by then?’ It gets kind of obsessive really.
“We had one the other day where I’m in a phonebox, in the ‘70s, and Lee’s drawn one with push-buttons. Someone questioned if they existed in 1977, checking up and realising it should be a rotary-dial. I tell you what, I’ve got more respect now for when you see period films and say, ‘Wait a minute, I’m sure that car didn’t exist then!’. It’s gone backwards and forwards between me and Terry, then back to Lee, and back to us to proof, looking at the comic when it came out, and so on. But I think now we’ve done this first one, we should be more prepared in the future, hopefully not falling at so many hurdles!”
The roots of this book go back to the band’s own fanzine, Invasion of The Wedding Present, for which Lee did some work, this latest venture in development for around a decade now. The illustrated version of the story starts with David and partner Jessica talking with ex-bandmate Terry outside a restaurant in Los Angeles in 2008, setting the premise for what follows.
“Terry had this idea of doing my biography anyway, from the viewpoint I suppose of meeting me, joining the band, writing it from her perspective. She did quite a lot of work on that, but it never really picked up any momentum. It was always one of those projects that was never fulfilled. Then came this idea of doing a comic book version, we got in touch with Lee, and he was up for doing it.
“For the comic there were around three issues a year, but they were always kind of random stories, not in any chronological order. What we did here was gather all the early ones, fill in the gaps.”
Well, it looks so good. And whether you would call it a graphic novel or a comic, I wonder if that genre has always been a passion for you. For example, my own bought reading material – other than children’s novels and recycled Topper annuals from local jumble sales – probably went from Shoot! to Smash Hits then the NME and on to Q, Select, Vox, Mojo, and the like. How about you?
“I was always obsessed with the music press, which doesn’t really exist anymore, but I was always interested in comics too, from the Beano and the Dandy, moving on to the Eagle, Lion, whatever. Then I guess I discovered Marvel and DC comics from America, and I guess it was in the ‘90s – when I was probably too old for comics – and that era when graphic novels came out, aimed at people like me who loved comics as a kid. So I carried on really.”
My pal, Alan, a regular at many TWP shows I’ve seen down the years, had a love for 2000 AD which he shared with me at one stage, and I soon loved those too.
“Totally, yeah, that was a big moment. It was almost like punk, coming out around the same time. And in the same way punk revolutionised music, 2000 AD probably revolutionised comics, people like Alan Moore writing for it before going on to other things. I’ve always kinda been obsessed, and I’ve got loads of graphic novels. I got rid of all my comics though. I just felt I needed space.”
Talking of space, I saw online recently that Billy Bragg was part-way through a major cataloguing operation in his cellar in Dorset, someone suggesting when he was looking to shift various early treasured posters for a lofty price that surely he couldn’t be ‘hard up’, somehow missing the fact that live performance is where the money is these days. Artists have already lost more than six months of revenue from that source.
“Totally, yeah, and in a sense, it didn’t use to be quite so important. Everyone loved to play live, but I remember when we were on RCA, our major source of income was advances and so on from the label. We did make a profit on tour, but it wasn’t crucial. As long as we didn’t lose money, it was a way of supporting the album really. Now it’s completely the opposite, hoping to break even on the record, whereas live is where most musicians make their money now.
“This whole pandemic has hit really hard. I’ve had the same sort of thing when selling guitars on eBay and such like, people not able to understand why. First of all, I’ve got around 20, and there’s absolutely no need to have more than three. It’s about storage, and I’m just glad they go to homes of fans who appreciate them. I agree with Billy Bragg – that income is useful, and is gonna become even more useful the longer this goes on.”
As well as the live stream and the graphic novel, I understand there’s an imminent musical, Reception, based around your songs. How involved have you been with that?
“I’ve not really been involved that much at all apart from meeting the people a few times, them running ideas past me. I’m not a big aficionado of the musical world, to be honest, so I did need a bit of guiding. But it’s kind of in The Wedding Present oeuvre. We do odd things, going right back to The Ukrainians’ sessions, the Hit Parade venture, and this comic. It’s all stuff outside the realm of The Wedding Present as a band, and I’ve always been proud of that. When they came along and said they wanted to do this musical, it wasn’t the most obvious thing in my mind, however … I’d be interested to see what happens, and it may well be the latest string to our bow, or whatever.”
David added that so far that venture was at a crowd-funding stage, the writer at the synopsis stage when we talked. ‘But now he’s got the green light to go ahead and write it, start a research and development stage, get a cast together, and all that. It’s still a way off, possibly around 2022, which in the current situation is probably a good idea in the circumstances!”
I suppose you’ve always had that detail in your songs, the interpretation ambiguous enough to take it into this world.
“That was why he came to me, really. I think he first saw us in Derby in the ‘80s, he’s been a fan since, he’s also a theatre producer, director and writer, and always thought the lyrical aspect of The Wedding Present songs would lend itself perfectly to this kind of format. And people often say when they see the lyrics written down that it’s almost like a play or dialogue from a film.”
And it’s great to see that Ian Rankin’s written the foreword for the comic book.
“Yes, a lot of these people were fans at university age when the band started, and many have stayed with us, some of them becoming famous in their own right, for instance as writers or working for (BBC) 6 Music. There are quite a few professionals in our audience. We did a gig in Richmond, near London, a couple of years ago where someone collapsed, thankfully not too serious in the end. He fell to the floor, and suddenly there were four people form the audience saying, ‘I’m a doctor! I can deal with this.’ I guess that’s one of the benefits of sticking around for so long!”
I also note that the book is dedicated to comedian, writer, actor and TWP fan Sean Hughes, who died three years ago, aged just 51.
“Sean was another of those early fans, although I didn’t actually meet him until the early ‘90s, when we were playing Dublin. Again, he went on to be a good friend, and it was sad when he died.”
In fact, after going to press I was told by Lee Thacker that in a late edit, it was decided to dedicate this volume instead to the memory of John Peel. But Lee added, “A dedication to the late, great Sean Hughes will definitely be appearing in a future volume.”
It’s not giving anything away to say this volume ends around the time of the re-pressing of debut single, ‘Go Out and Get ‘Em, Boy!’
“It was very difficult. As you can imagine, it’s a never-ending project, and I’m still writing stuff for the comic about things happening now. There were lots of stories about recording George Best, for instance, but this seems to be a good place to end this one. I think we actually increased it, writing more stories to fill the gaps. But this is a nice size and sets a precedent for the ones that follow.”
I also glanced ahead to find the story of how you first met John Peel, and I loved the story about you watching The Clash at the University of Leeds, pogoing against your will amid a sea of skinheads up front.
“Yeah, I suppose this volume is mostly the story leading up to the band itself and the influences that went into The Wedding Present, including seeing punk bands like The Clash.”
I note ‘Teenage Kicks’ by The Undertones gets a namecheck too, not least in your playlist at the back, and that fits in neatly with the Peel links.
“Yeah, I was kind of obsessed with Peel. I had a friend at school, around 1976 when I was more into Genesis, Yes, Rick Wakeman, and all that. This friend said, ‘Have you heard this guy on the radio, John Peel? He’s been playing tracks by this band called the Ramones, who I’d never heard of’. From that moment, I was like, ‘Whoah! This is a whole new world!’ I stayed with it from there, hardly missing a programme.”
It’s of great credit to the three of you that this book carries Peelie’s voice, in my mind.
“Well, I’m glad you said that. I wanted it to be there. He was definitely a guiding influence on me as a person as well as the band.”
So many times I’ve heard bands I love say that the sole ambition they had was to get played by Peel, and rarely more than that. As it was, you found a way beyond that first single being played on his show and that first live session for him, but lots didn’t, and were happy with that.
“Absolutely! I think I would have been happy with that as well. The be-all and end-all was to do a single he would play, and also do a Peel session. When we achieved those firsts, it was like, ‘OK, now what?’ Ha!”
“But after university I was on the dole for a couple of years while the band was forming, and that was all we thought about, really – making the band great and saving enough money to afford to make a record, get that to John Peel. That’s all we thought about really!”
There’s another section of the story I may have briefly sneaked ahead to, seeing you with a couple of your Mum’s suitcases full of that first single, taking the bus up to York.”
“Well, I’ve always been driven …”
You clearly were then … by the bus driver. Sorry, carry on, David.
“I’m not ambitious in the sense of wanting to make a million pounds, but when I have an objective, I’m driven to achieve that. And when it became apparent that taking those records (in a suitcase back to Yorkshire) was the cheapest way of doing it, I was on board for that. Two of us were on the dole (David and Keith Gregory, bass), Peter (Solowka, guitar) was a part-time teacher, and Shaun (Charman, drums) was a student. Between us we didn’t really have any money at all.”
David’s been based in Sussex around 17 years now, half of that time in Brighton, but the story proper starts with a cross-Pennine relationship between his parents, one based in Leeds, the other Manchester, both cities integral to the band’s Northern roots (he grew up in Middleton, Greater Manchester, and attended the University of Leeds, TWP playing their first dates in Leeds in 1985).
“I don’t think it’s just about the North so much as the regions in general. I’ve always met bands based in London and think you can become obsessed with that – living among all the labels, newspapers, agents, PR people, and so on. But I always think, ‘Yeah, but what about the songs?’ I think once you’re outside of all that, especially in the North or Scotland, even Bristol and places like that, you’re free of all that. People still want to get on and market themselves, but because they’re a bit more distant they’re not quite so on top of it. It gives people a bit more space to breathe and develop, really.”
Talking of space, at times the band have certainly been spaced out at times, so to speak, with members on the US West Coast, Finland, Germany, and so on.
“Strangely, yeah. Not particularly planned, mind. It was quite inconvenient at times. At one point we had me down here, Simon (Cleave, guitar 1996/7, 2004/6, 2009) in Germany, Kari (Paavola, drums 2004/5) was from Finland, and Terry was in America, and is still there now. It wasn’t impossible, but we had to coordinate things very carefully, even for rehearsals.”
In a sense, maybe that gave you a leg-up to these odd times.
“Well, now, strangely enough, all four members of the band live within walking distance, so it’s gone back to how it was in 1985, when we were living in adjacent streets! Again, I’ve not planned that, but people join the band for different reasons, and it’s often word of mouth or they come recommended by someone else.”
On the subject of long-distance travel, I’m guessing Jessica’s not been able to get back with you to Washington in recent times, and her roots.
“Yeah, her parents are over there, and I think we last went at the beginning of 2019, and normally try and go at least once a year. We had flights in summer, but had to cancel. But there you go – there are lots of people in far worse situations.”
Meanwhile, David’s parents live on the Lancashire coast in Fleetwood these days. Are they keeping well in these strange times?
“They are. They’re taking it very seriously, which is great. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to see them, but it’s good to have the technology these days, FaceTime them, and all that.”
While I saw you not so far from their base (and mine) in Blackpool last July, at the Waterloo Bar (reviewed here), I also caught you at the Boileroom in my hometown, Guildford in mid-November (with a review here), in what turned out to be the last gig – at least for a while – for Danielle (Wadey, guitar) and Charlie (Layton, drums), the pair about to go ‘on leave’ (David and Melanie Howard, bass, now joined by Jon Stewart, guitar, ex-Sleeper; and Chris Hardwick, drums, ex-My Life Story), their first child born soon after.
“Yeah, they did talk about returning this year, but we haven’t played any gigs anyway!”
In a sense, this was the third of a written trilogy – the book you co-edited with Richard Houghton, Sometimes These Words Just Don’t Have To Be Said, followed by 2019 Pomona publication, Sleevenotes, part of a series where key musicians choose favourite tracks from their back-catalogue, David providing telling insights into their creation, meaning and mood (with a review here). And now this, the comic book biography.
“Yeah, I think I’m writing more books than I’m writing new songs at the moment!”
Was that April 23rd milestone of turning 60 this year the nudge you needed to get this latest publication out there, finally?
“Not really. I think the graphic novel has been on the cards since the last big birthday, 10 years ago, really! And the age thing has never really affected me that much. I think that’s partly because I’m doing now what I was doing when I was 25.”
I get that, but this has been a year for re-evaluating what’s truly important in life – family, friends, and all that.
“Oh, totally. There’s been a lot of reflection. I’ve been really touched by the support from fans, as with the acoustic show we did from home on the 60th birthday, a fund-raiser for our crew. It raised a lot of money, and they were all very humbled by it. I was as well. It was tremendous how they all chipped in. And they continue to support me. I feel very honoured.
“I think Wedding Present fans are a bit different. There is some kind of relationship. It’s not just, ‘Here’s a product – buy it!’ and it’s not just a one-way thing. I’ve always felt that about concerts. It’s not just the band giving you some kind of art. It’s a kind of conversation, almost.”
True, and I think you always seem so approachable, there to talk to before and after a show, and so on. I’ve also noticed there’s a kind of community relationship, such as the fact that when I saw Vinny Peculiar support you at Blackpool last year – and he wasn’t really the most obvious fit – with a true camaraderie towards him from your audience, many of us who saw him support you soon delving deep into his back-catalogue (with Vinny aka Alan Wilkes featured on these pages here).
“Yes, and that’s typified when we do our At the Edge of the Sea festival (this year becoming an online At the Edge of the Sofa festival). There wasn’t a massive budget so we can’t pay big fees to artists, but the amount of times I’ve had people say, ‘I’ve just made 500 new fans here!’ And that’s because Wedding Present fans are very receptive.
“Vinny was an obvious one for that. I’d never heard of him, to be honest, but he was suggested by a Wedding Present fan who lives in LA, I checked him out, and felt he was the kind of act that would work. And he went down really well. He had the audience singing along with him, and there was a tear in my eye. It’s great to be the person who brought that together.”
I also love the fact that you used the word ‘receptive’ there, for a band who initially named their label Reception on account of their band name.
“Ha ha! Foresight!”
I see there’s a new Bizarro vinyl re-release, and last year we saw a vinyl re-release of the first single via Preston indie label Optic Nerve, one of the factors – along with new releases by BOB and The Wolfhounds – that inspired me to track down the founder of the label this year (with a link to that feature/interview here).
“Yeah, it’s a good label, they do a really nice package – it’s not just banging it out. With ours they did posters and postcards, coloured vinyl, and I think he sells a lot to Japan for collectors. A nice boutique label.”
You mentioned new songs. When do you think the next LP will come our way? It’s been four years since Going, Going … (with a review here) after all.
“Well, there a load of songs that have been written over the last few months. The problem is – because we’ve been social distancing, either the bands or their partners have been immuno-compromised, so we’ve not been in a room together (until the live stream) since January. We’ve done one by sending files back and forth, but it’s just too laborious. When you’re in a room – four people playing together – you play a song and realise a bit doesn’t work, change it, and it’s done in 30 seconds. Whereas doing it remotely, you re-record one version, then ‘what about this?’, and it’s impossible really. So I think we’re going to have to wait until we can do a proper socially-distanced rehearsal. Maybe for this live stream, we can look at that.
“So in answer to your question … I’ve no idea really!”
Well, whenever it arrives, we’ll be there.
For this website’s Summer 2014 interview with David Gedge, conducted backstage at Hebden Bridge Trades Club, head here.
To pre-order the first instalment of David Gedge’s memoir-in-comic-book-form, released by Scopitones Books on Friday, November 6, try this link.
David Gedge will also be a guest for the Louder Than Words literary festival, this year online during Saturday, November 7th and Sunday, November 8th, with more details here.