February 6, 2013

The Wedding Present's Ever-Evolving Parade of Hits

Photo Credit: Jessica McMillan

The Wedding Present

Friendly and unpretentious, David Gedge isn't your typical British rock star. As the founding member and sensitive frontman of The Wedding Present, he is a real working musician and songwriter: an independent artist who flies largely under the radar and allows himself few distractions from the non-artistic side of the music business.

It has served him well. The Wedding Present, which formed in 1985 in the northern city of Leeds, has scored 18 U.K. Top-40 singles over the course of its career. The band's debut album, George Best (named in honor of the British football star), came out on the Reception label in 1987. Critically acclaimed collections like 1989's Bizarro, 1991's Seamonsters and 1994's Watusi followed and further demonstrated the band's strengths. The quartet's jangly, guitar-driven pop style caught critics' ears, as did Gedge's low-toned, head-cold singing style. Gedge's poetic lyrical work touched mainly on love and troubled relationships. His verses were sincere, romantic and occasionally peppered with bits of clever sarcasm.

"For me, being in The Wedding Present is not just about writing songs, making records and playing live," Gedge says. "I'm always interested in exploring new avenues and trying out different formats. So, for instance, I have my own mini-festival [At the Edge of the Sea] every year in England, which I curate, and I now have my own comic, called 'Tales from The Wedding Present.'"

There's the record label, too: These days, with his latest lineup—guitarist Patrick Alexander, drummer Charles Layton and bassist Pepe le Moko—Gedge releases music on his own imprint, Scopitones Records. His group recorded its latest collection, last year's Valentina, at Black Box Studio in France. ("We recorded there because Steve Albini once told me that there were only two studios in which he would record," Gedge says. "Black Box was one of them. Abbey Road was the other.")

With the album, the band also released an accompanying 64-page booklet, Valentina: The Story of a Wedding Present Album, which offers a behind-the-scenes account of the Valentina sessions, complete with an introduction by Gedge, lyrics, photographs, commentary by bandmembers, extra tracks and a 30-minute rockumentary video.

On Valentina, the musical elements that characterized The Wedding Present's classic recordings are well pronounced: the rapid-fire rhythm guitar work, the rattling 16th-note drum beats, severe quiet/loud dynamic shifts from verse to chorus and Gedge's nasal vocal delivery.

But there are some unexpected sounds and twists, too, like over-saturated guitar and bass tones, a bit of extra swagger in the singing and a few genuinely funky rhythmic turnarounds. Indeed, compared to previous releases, Gedge agrees that Valentina is an odd record.

"My main cowriter, Graeme [Ramsey, the band's former guitarist], is actually a drummer first and foremost, and he had some quirky ideas for guitar parts, which sent us off in a different direction compared to some previous Wedding Present records," Gedge says. "Also, [studio engineer] Andrew Scheps somehow sprinkled some fairy dust on the recordings and managed to bring out some great sounds and accentuate the band without changing the character."

It's been more than two years since The Wedding Present toured through the Southeastern U.S.; the last trip included a summertime show at the 40 Watt Club for the 2010 Athens PopFest. On that tour, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Bizarro's release, the group traveled across Europe, North America and Japan, performing that album from front to back.

"I have nothing but fond memories of playing in Athens," Gedge says. "We met a lot of great people. We met the guys from [local indie label] This Will Be Our Summer, and as a result, we are able to release Valentina on vinyl in the U.S. They're actually involved with the organization of this Athens show as well."

The band will hit the road this time around with an approach similar to that of its 2010 tour, only this time, the compilation series The Hit Parade is the focus. A little background: In 1992, the Wedding Present dedicated the entire year to recording and issuing a single on the first Monday of each month. The set of singles and flipsides was compiled as a two-volume set titled The Hit Parade. Most of the collection featured original material, but there were a handful of oddball covers, too.

The Hit Parade was an unusual compilation, compared to the typical Greatest Hits, double albums and box sets released by other alt-rock groups. But Gedge is still quite pleased about the staggered way the band recorded and released all of those songs.

"I feel privileged that I was part of such an interesting project," he says. "For us, it was a different way to write and release music—it was more like we were working on a magazine with a monthly deadline than making a record."

As a lyricist, songwriter and bandleader, Gedge continues to develop and fine-tune his own craft. He has led The Wedding Present through sonic experiments and thematic variations at every step, from the band's bustling years of the late 1980s and '90s through the 2000s and today.

"The past few years have really been our busiest years," he says. "Whenever I've ventured into other thematic territories, I've never been quite as happy with the results as when I talk about relationships and tell my little stories. So, over the years I've just honed my style, really. I've just always been fascinated by the way people talk to each other, and that subject lends itself perfectly to the kind of music we make."

WHO: The Wedding Present, TaterZandra, Grass Giraffes
WHERE: Caledonia Lounge
WHEN: Tuesday, February 12
HOW MUCH: $12 (21+), $15 (18–20)