25 YEARS AND COUNTING The Wedding Present

“Good
people are what makes great rock ‘n’ roll possible”: on the road and backstage with
David Gedge and his Weddoes.

 

BY ERIC TISCHLER

 

When I finally get a look at him, I’m relieved to see that
David Gedge looks good.  I’ve known David for 15 years, but haven’t seen
him for two.  Dude works in an industry that’s going through tough times,
he isn’t getting any younger, and, frankly, I’ve worried about him; after all,
as every news outlet will tell you, times are tough for the small business
owner, even if he’s the owner of the coolest small business ever:  British
indie rock institution, The Wedding Present.

 

It’s early April, and I’m at the Earl in Atlanta because David invited my band, the
Jet Age, to join The Wedding Present for a few gigs on the East
Coast.  [U.S. tour itinerary for August follows this
story. – Ed.
] Apart from the
obvious reasons to play with such a venerable act, I agreed to the shows
so I can spend some time with Gedge, his partner Jessica McMillan, and
long-time bass player Terry de Castro (the band is filled out by guitarist
Graeme Ramsay, who recently vacated the drum throne and was succeeded there by
Charlie Layton). While doing some press for our
show in Hoboken I tell a writer that The Wedding Present are like my favorite
cousins, and it’s true: we see each other infrequently (yearly, if we’re lucky)
but the bond is strong and we pick up about where we left off.  They’re
good people, and good people, I will learn, are kinda what makes great rock ‘n’
roll possible.

 

Good HR = Quality Product

 

As it happens, the show in Atlanta
is a rousing success for both bands (the Jet Age is even planning on going back
to Georgia,
and there’s a sentence I never thought I’d type).  For The Wedding
Present, attendance is up from ’08, merch moves in mounds, and new tunes are
introduced to great acclaim.  David says jokingly that those songs will be
favorites in 3 years, but I think they’re contenders right now.  As we
listen, my drummer, Pete, comments on Graeme’s counterpoint in one of the new
tunes. “I love what Graeme’s playing,” yells Pete.  Two nights
later, in DC, I pay attention to Graeme’s part in said song and Pete’s
right:  It’s brilliant.  But even the day before, as I drove with The
Wedding Present back to DC, I was already thinking about what a great new group
of people David had put together:  Graeme has a wonderfully dry sense of
humor, and new drummer Charlie is like the Cary Grant of rock:  Debonair
and utterly charming.  

 

One of the keys to The Wedding Present brand’s success is
consistency, but on the last three Wedding Present records alone, David wrote
with nine different co-writers.  I’d argue one of those three, ’96’s Saturnalia,
is not only the second best in the band’s catalog (’91’s Seamonster being
an unqualified masterpiece of guitar rock) but it belongs in the top 10 of
anyone who loves guitars and good. Fucking. Tunes.  Almost every record
that David has put out has had a different line up, and every record is
chockablock with killer songs.  That’s what you call good staffing and
astonishing quality control.

 

When I point this out, David, being modest, vaguely alludes
to some cocktail of luck and skills:  “To be honest,” he says,
“it’s a very inexact science.  I sometimes think it would’ve
been good to have been like U2 or the Beatles, to have had the same people at
the beginning of the band and at the end of the band, but I think the way we’ve
done it actually benefits The Wedding Present as a whole because every time we
have this kind of a line-up change someone comes along with a whole new line of
influences and it does move.  There have
been a succession of rebirths, which I’ve been very pleased
about.”  Well, here he is, 25 years into his
band’s run, celebrating the 21st anniversary of his second record, and the
dude debuts three new instant classics with yet another new
lineup.  When it comes to guitar pop, David has mastered
his trade, which explains how he’s still rocking and buying homes
(well, a home) in Santa Monica.

 

Know Your Customers

 

As a lyricist, David is plainspoken yet poetic, a veritable
Hemingway for the cuckolded; his tunes are sharp, propulsive, and memorable,
and he virtually blueprinted the template for a lot indie rock as we know
it.  He was covering Pavement when no one knew who they were and, while
his turbo-charged strumming and the band’s endless drive have precedents, The
Wedding Present seemed like the first band to bring that sound to the masses,
establishing a powerful cult audience in the U.S. and breaking top 40 records
in its native England. 

 

For its part, his audience is smart and appreciative. 
Being smart, many have found ways to make money, and they spend their money on
the Wedding Present; one fan of both the Jet Age and The Wedding Present writes
me to say he’ll be flying over for the Hoboken
show from… Switzerland. 
And he does!  A contingent of about a dozen fans from the UK, calling
themselves the Barmy Army, also flies over to follow along for various parts of
the tour.   For his part, David provides
plenty of solid product; on every tour, there’s an emergency shipment of tee
shirts to my home in order to replenish stock for the East Coast shows.  There’s a real loyalty, and it’s well earned.  

 

“I think people do genuinely want to support the
band,” says Gedge, “especially if they’ve been fans for a long
time.  People are really keen to help and they see it as contributing
to the overall project, and I’m very grateful.”

 

“He cares about the fans,”
confirms Terry.  “He appreciates the support. The ones that are
willing to talk to him do form a personal relationship with him, and people
want to do stuff for David [but] he doesn’t really ask it of
them.  People are dying to help him, and that’s
impressive.”  

 

“What’s interesting,” she adds, “is that
he is a pop star but he genuinely does not think he’s better than the
fans.  He’s a working class guy, he’s a regular guy who does not
think he’s special and that’s kind of what The Wedding Present was about:
 They were the lads down the street, that’s just who they were.”

 

At the DC show, once again attendance is up and merch moves,
and even DC’s traditionally staid Anglophiles enjoy us.  During The
Wedding Present’s set, one of the venue’s bartenders leans over to me and
laughingly points out the mosh pit full of 40-somethings, but he’s missing the
point: it’s not ridiculous that this crowd has been whipped into this frenzy;
in buttoned-down DC, it’s amazing.  Just as Jagger, Clapton, and Townshend
help the boomers remember there’s more to life than their depleted 401ks, Gedge
et al. are providing pure pop for people who need it now.

 

“I think that the music really connected with a sort of
blokey, but also sensitive, kind of guy, which is kind of an odd
combination,” explains Terry. “It’s these kind of lovelorn indie
kids that sort of grew up and now they’re all married but they’re really
emotional guys and they love the lyrics and it’s become kind of a lad’s club
but it’s sort of softer than that somehow.”

 

But The Wedding Present’s audience isn’t limited to fogeys
or dudes.  Jenna McKenzie is barely 30, but she takes me aside after the Atlanta show to pay a
compliment before telling me Gedge is her “Justin Bieber.”  A follow up
via Facebook (hey, she “liked” the Jet Age!  I’m married!  Come on!)
got her waxing poetic about The Wedding Present, who seduced her when she was
22.  Wrote McKenzie, “The first song I heard
was ‘Click Click’ and my fucking knees weakened. I am not joking.”  She
explained, “For me, it’s as simple as the perfect marriage of incredibly
sincere, clever lyrics and amazing instrumentation.”

 

The show in Hoboken is sold out and, after
gratefully listening to a drunk Brit go on at great lengths about how great we
were (any comparison to the sadly underrated Ned’s Atomic Dustbin is alright
with me), I realize that David’s been taking photos with people for about an
hour, and similar scenes played out in Atlanta and DC.  I’ve played with
some reasonably big bands, and I’ve never seen any of them pose for any photos,
much less dozens.

 

“I feel like it’s part of the job,”
he explains later.  “They’ve kind of paid my wages and the very least
I can do is stand for a few seconds; what else would I be doing?  I’d
be sitting in the dressing room, bored.  And you establish a relationship with people, long-time fans that I know by
name, they’re having kids, I’ve missed them.  It’s definitely not a
one-way situation, [it’s] symbiosis.”  

 

Maintaining the Franchise
 

As I type this, TJA is planning on meeting up
with TWP in one of rock’s most storied cities – Harrisburg, PA!
– in about a week.  It will be a bittersweet reunion, as this spin through
the U.S.
is Terry’s last tour with the band for the foreseeable future.  I choose
to believe she and her longtime beau, Andrew, will come visit us in DC, but,
even if they do, it could be a while.  In the interim, I’ll miss her,
particularly when the Jet Age rejoins The Wedding Present in the UK this
December for two weeks’ worth of dates.  David’s already got Terry’s
replacement lined up.  If The Wedding Present’s history is any indication,
she’s gonna kick a lot of ass.

 

Wedding
Present U.S.
Tour Dates (more details at www.scopitones.co.uk):

 

8/11 : Harrisburg, PA, USA
– the Abbey Bar/Appalachian Brewing Co. with The Jet Age (www.thejetage.net)
8/12 : Athens, GA,
USA – Popfest
8/13 : New York City, NY, USA
– Seaport Music Festival

 

 

[Photo Credit:  J.A.
McMillan. Pictured L-R: Charlie Layton, Graeme Ramsay, David Gedge, and Terry de
Castro]

 

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