David Gedge, singer, songwriter and lead vocalist with The Wedding Present, chats with Kevin Cooper about his respect for the late John Peel, their album George Best, their latest album Going, Going…and their forthcoming tour of the UK.

David Gedge is an English musician and songwriter and is the main vocalist in the band The Wedding Present. Being The Wedding Present’s only constant member he was not only a founder member but he is still the front man with the band.

The late John Peel championed the band and once invited them to do a radio session which started a long collaboration. By the time the band started work on their debut album, a number of independent and major record companies had shown an interest, but the band declined all offers and decided to keep releasing their material themselves. The album was released in 1987 and was entitled George Best after the well-known Northern Ireland football player.

Whilst busy rehearsing for their forthcoming tour, Gedge took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi David how are you?

Not too bad thanks Kevin how are you?

I’m very well thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

That’s not a problem, thank you for the interest in what we are up to.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Life at the moment is pretty hectic to be honest with you, I am actually pretty busy. We have recently got back from a North American tour having been away from home for six weeks so you find me catching up, or trying to catch up with all of the stuff that was accumulating whilst I was away (laughter).

So you are literally wading through piles of letters and festival invites no doubt?

(Laughter) and the rest of it (laughter). The thing is that this year is going to be quite a busy year for us. No doubt as you will be aware we released our ninth album Going, Going…last September and as usual, as you rightly say, as soon as you release a new album you start to get invitations from places asking you to go here, there and everywhere in order to play at various festivals. For example, we have already have invitations from Spain, Portugal, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. All of this is supposed to all kick off in July so I am frantically trying to sort all of that out.

And on top of all that you have got the 30th Anniversary tour of your debut album George Best coming up this year.

Yes we have; I told you that we were going to be busy didn’t I (laughter). When you throw that into the mix as well you can see that there is quite a lot going on at the moment really.

Are you looking forward to being back touring here in the UK, in your own backyard so to speak?

Yes I am and I have to say that I always am very happy whenever we get the chance to tour here in the UK. As you know we are doing the whole of the George Best album on this tour and I have to say that those songs are exhilarating to play live. They really do work well as a live set. Over the years we have played quite a few of the albums live but George Best is one of my personal favourites. For me this will be kind of like a workout really (laughter). All of the songs are very fast, it all goes at one hundred miles per hour so it really is good fun.

Will you be playing the songs in chronological order as they first appeared on the album?

Yes we will; well I think we will (laughter). We haven’t actually started rehearsals yet but the last time that we did this which was ten years ago now, when it was the twentieth anniversary of the album, we played the album in its entirety and in strict chronological order. The thing that you have to remember is that the album is only forty odd minutes long. Although it contains twelve songs most of them are quite short. They are just poppy little songs. Our normal set lasts for at least eighty five minutes so we tend to play the album as part of the set. We start off playing a few songs then we will play the whole of the George Best album. It works well as one piece of music in twelve parts.

The album has a certain feel to it and a certain energy so we just play it as a part of the set really, playing it in order. When you actually sequence an album you are very aware of what songs you should start the album with, what songs you should finish it with, plus you are very mindful of the fact that you need some light and shade running through the album. It really is a fact-finding mission when you start to sequence an album. It is kind of a set within a set if you like.

After having spent that amount of time and energy making sure that the album runs in the way that you intended it to be listened to, does it not frustrate you when people simply cherry-pick one or two tracks from the album to listen to?

Not really to be honest with you. I have always thought this even before iPods were invented (laughter). I have always thought that there were two schools of thought when it came to pop music. One body of people will buy the album, sit down and listen to it the whole way through from start to finish and immerse myself into the ritual of listening to the album in the way that it was intended to be listened to. But then, I grew up listening to pop radio back in the 60s and then I was heavily influenced by punk and made myself lots of compilations of songs by the punk bands of the time. So I can also see the attraction of listening to random tracks.

I love my iPod and have always got it set to shuffle so that it can riffle through my CD collection, picking out random tracks (laughter). As I was a fan of radio that way of listening really does appeal to me. In fact I can see the attraction in both ways of listening to be honest with you.

Having spent many years out of the road all over the world do you still get that same excitement from touring?

It’s funny really because when we are on tour, apart from walking out onto the stage and actually playing the concert, I do find it to be hard work, quite tiring and quite stressful. As I mentioned we have recently returned from a tour of North America where we drove nine thousand miles across America and I was telling someone this yesterday and she said ‘that sounds absolutely great’ (laughter). I had to tell her that yes it was kind of great but we were all glad that it was over (laughter). It really is hard work with all of the late nights, so many long drives, and you don’t really get to see a lot of America. What you do see is the inside of a venue, a hotel and a van with the odd service station (laughter).

So I personally find it to be a case of swings and roundabouts really. Whenever I think of how tired I am because of touring or I am feeling homesick because of the length of time that I have spent away from home, as soon as I walk out onto the stage the adrenaline kicks in and suddenly you are transformed and you forget about all of that really. You simply concentrate on doing the job in hand and playing the concert to the best of your abilities so I would have to say that for me touring is bittersweet really. I have got to say that we have lost a lot of band members over the years because they have got sick of touring.

Do you think that you personally feel differently towards touring because it is your band?

That’s a great question and I have to say that yes I probably do because it is my baby; it is my band and I have always been the main singer songwriter. So I am probably more driven to do it more than some of the other people. Also the thing is that after you have not been doing it for a while you find yourself getting desperate to get back out on the road in order to do it all over again (laughter). I suppose that you could say that touring is much rather like an addiction really.

I recently interviewed Fish who told me that he didn’t mind the touring. He found it to be more problematic whenever he returned home because when he went out to the supermarket he couldn’t find anything because they have changed things around since the last time that he was there (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) that happens with me actually in Waitrose. They always seem to move things around whenever we are away on tour (laughter). Being serious for a minute that is one of the downside to touring is the fact that you do get disconnected. There have been times over the past few years when we have been away from home for over six months and you can get disconnected with your social network at home, your friends together with the stuff that you would normally do at home. Even down to the TV programmes that you watch. That all goes out of the window when you are on tour and I think that some people find that very difficult to cope with especially if you are away from your girlfriend or boyfriend, your husband or your wife or whatever.

That’s the weird thing because they will still be at home getting up at 8 o’clock in the morning, going off to work, and then they will see photographs of you on Facebook in Los Angeles after a gig. That is sometimes hard to explain with the sun on your face looking as though you are having a great time (laughter). They have to remember that is only part of it really. Whenever they see that one photograph they will automatically think that you are over in America having this fantastic party life and here they are going off to work in order to pay the bills and the mortgage. It can be a source of discontent sometimes (laughter).

A divorce via text message perhaps?

(Laughter) yes that’s rights it goes something along the lines of ‘if Los Angeles is so nice then don’t bother coming back just stay there’ (laughter).

Going back to the album George Best this tour will be the last time ever that you play it in its entirety. Why have you taken that decision?

I just felt like it was the right time to take that decision really. The album is now some thirty years old, and I asked myself ‘do I really want to be playing this when it is forty years old’ (laughter). That is if I am still going when it is bloody forty years old. It just seemed to me to be a long, long time (laughter). I just didn’t want to be thought of as this kind of band that just trundles out its old records indefinitely (laughter). I just thought that thirty years was a nice point for me to draw a line under it really. Don’t get me wrong, we will still play songs from the album in future sets but just the whole thing of playing the entire album as a project will finish with this year’s tour.

When you wrote and recorded the album thirty years ago now, could you ever envisage that people would still find it as relevant today as they did back then?

That is a very good question and I have to say that you always hope that whenever you make a record or any piece of art really that it is something that is going to withstand the test of time and that it is still going to be of some interest to people years later. However, I don’t think that goes into it whenever you are making the record. At the back of your mind you will always hope that will happen but it doesn’t influence the way that you make the album because obviously you do what you want to do at that time based upon what you have got. At the time we just thought ‘okay it’s time to make an album’ (laughter).

We as a band had been going for a couple of years; we had written some interesting songs, they were the best songs that we had got at that moment in time, so we got ourselves into the studio and recorded them. I suppose that the impact that the record had was surprising because in a way we didn’t know what to expect. We were still a small band of friends and as such we really didn’t have any expectations. But at the same time I think that we all knew that it was a good record. We were happy with the songs, we were happy with how well the recording sessions had gone so I think that we were all quietly hoping that it would be successful. It’s so long ago that it is hard for me to remember (laughter).

Well that’s buggered the next question because I was going to ask you about your memories of both writing and recording the album?

Erm well (laughter) the writing has always been encaptured in the same way so that was no different from that. I think that the one thing that stands out with George Best is that it is a very personal record. I think that out of all of the albums that we have made over the years, there have been three that have been particularly personal to me. The last one was last year’s Going, Going….then there was Take Fountain back in 2005 and then George Best. Whenever I now look at the lyrics they are very personal to me, so much so that it is almost like me reading my diaries from that era. I had split up with my girlfriend a couple of years before; it was my first proper girlfriend and for me that was a big deal. That situation influenced me and my writing; I was heartbroken but at the same time it was also very inspirational in terms of me writing love songs if you like (laughter).

All of those emotions from that entire episode are totally immersed with the record. People ask me if writing George Best was an exorcism for me, maybe it was I don’t know but for me it most definitely informed the writing. The recording was interesting as well because we actually used some new techniques that were quite innovative and new at the time. When we met the producer, Chris Allison at that time we didn’t have a lot of money and Chris said that one way of making the record cheaper would be for us to programme the drums. So what we did was have the drummer play into an electronic kit which then went through a sequencer which in turn triggered samples. So if you listen to George Best you can actually hear that it is not a real drum kit. It’s quite well disguised I think in the mix but it is not like a live drummer playing in a room like a band would normally do.

The only other people who were using that technique at that time were making dance records so it took a long time for Chris to convince us to go along with this. However, the icing on the cake was that because we had recorded the drums in that fashion in a rehearsal room we had a lot of money left in the budget to go and mix the album at Air Studios which is where Sir George Martin’s studios in London were and they were the state of the art. So really the album is ahead of its time in that way. Certainly for a pop/rock band to make an album in that way was ahead of its time. So it was a worrying time because it was something that was new to us but it was most definitely a very interesting project.

Having said all of that didn’t you re-record the whole album a few years ago now?

(Laughter) who have you been speaking to? Yes we did, we actually went back into the recording studio and totally re-recorded the whole album. We did it in the old fashioned way by playing the album live in a room which is just how you would have expected to have recorded it in the first place really (laughter).

Do you ever listen to the album?

Not really, I really don’t listen to any of my stuff, not unless it comes up on the iPod I suppose (laughter). The only time that I really sit-down and listen to something that I have recorded is like now knowing that we will be rehearsing George Best next week. I will need to refresh my memory so I will play it a couple of times this week to get ready for that. Listening to my own work is not an enjoyable experience for me to be honest. Whenever I put one of my records on I always think ‘oh god I wish that I had changed that line’ or ‘what was I thinking, that bass drum is far too loud’ (laughter). I once read someone saying that a piece of art is never finished in the eyes of the creators so I always find that there are all of these different things that I would have liked to have changed and improved. Because of that I find that it’s far easier for me not to listen to my previous works (laughter).

You are bringing the tour to Rock City on Friday 9th June. Is Rock City for you a must play venue?

I think that it is definitely one of them, most certainly. It certainly has that reputation doesn’t it; it has for now been one of those venues that bands want to play whenever they are doing a British tour so I would say yes. It’s a nice size with good facilities and people seem to like going to the place so yes I would have to say that for many it is a must play place.

There is talk of a music documentary being made about the George Best album called Something Left Behind. At what stage is that currently?

Well we met with the film maker at the beginning of the year and he informed us that he had undertaken some preliminary interviews and then we went over to America (laughter). So I have not seen him since that initially meeting. I really should check in with him and see just how he is getting on (laughter). To be fair to him, whilst we have been away he has been busy setting up more interviews with ex band members, together with various people who have been involved with the original album; the producer, the engineer together with the press officer who we had at the time. I think that he currently intends to work on it over the summer and then hopefully release it in October which will be the actual thirtieth anniversary of the album. I haven’t got a firmed up date for you on that because I simply don’t know (laughter).

You have mentioned the last studio album Going, Going…and I have to say that I think that it is great. Were you pleased with the fans reaction to the album?

Yes it went down really well actually. I’m kind of glad that it went down really well because we put a lot of hard work into the album. It was a big project and it ended up taking us five years in the end because it finished up being a double album which I didn’t really plan for but the whole idea of it kind of expanded over the writing, the arranging and the recording. It simply became this huge thing really with all of the different formats and the film that went along with it. I was personally involved with the sleeve design because we wanted it to have a nice package. We didn’t really want it to be just another album; we wanted it to be a little bit special and for it to have a concept running through it.

Whenever you get a record that is received well both by the public together with the media that’s when it all starts to get busy again because everybody suddenly remembers The Wedding Present and wants us to play their festival (laughter). However, it is a nice problem to have, I’m not complaining. I would much rather be busy than no one wanting us to play anywhere (laughter).

Are there any thoughts on a new studio album as yet or will you take some time away from the music business?

After the tour and the summer festivals I will most definitely be taking some time away from the business (laughter). As I have said the last album really was quite a draining project and we haven’t really had the time to actually think about writing any new stuff. Having said that we recorded a new EP especially for Record Store Day.

On that very subject I have to ask you do you think that Record Store Day really works because all that I personally see are people selling Record Store Day items on eBay and other auction sites the same day for vastly overinflated prices.

To be honest with you I really don’t know. What I will say is that it is well intentioned. I am a really big supporter of my local independent record shop and if Record Store Day gets people through the doors then I suppose that it has worked in that respect. It is just that one day in the year where there are literally queues around the block to get into the shops. They seem to do a lot of business in the shops and you would like to think that it helps them survive throughout the rest of the year. But at the same time yes, it’s a weird model where you are trying to get people in there but when a lot of the people are only in there in order to buy items which you and I both know will then find themselves listed on eBay.

That in itself is going to cause a disgruntled customer or fan to be honest so I feel that the business model has to be perfected in some way although I have absolutely no idea as to how you would do that. To be honest with you, whenever we have made stuff for Record Store Day we have usually had them left over anyway having previously made it available on our website or at our concerts. I’m sure that our stuff has never been made available on eBay at obscenely high prices because there simply is no need for it. You can buy it directly from us but that is not in the spirit of Record Store Day because then people start to think ‘well I won’t be queuing up to buy The Wedding Present EP because I can get if off their website in a couple of weeks’ (laughter).

So it’s a tricky one really and I’m not sure as to what the answer is. It’s been weird for us this time because it was our Spanish label that released the new EP and they obviously released the vinyl for Record Store Day and I’ve not really seen any yet. I didn’t get any sent over to me (laughter). But hopefully we will be getting some, if there are any left. As I say we do usually keep some copies back so I will just have to wait and see what comes through my letterbox (laughter).

I have to ask you from the perspective of someone who is in the music business, why do you think that we are currently seeing resurgence in cassette tapes?

(Hysterical laughter) well that is the weird thing isn’t it. The resurgence in vinyl I can kind of see it, it still works but having said that I can honestly see where cassette tapes would be interesting to the kids because they would, as we did back in the day, be able to record stuff off the radio which they can then play at home on the stereo, in your dads car, a good old fashioned Walkman if they can get their hands on one, so as a format I think that the cassette was really good. The quality wasn’t always great but I have to say that I loved it. I loved making cassette compilations and stuff like that. Having said that the problem is now where do you play it because no one has got a cassette player anymore (laughter).

I guess that they are purely novelty value now although having said all of that back in 2012 we did actually release our album Valentina on cassette simply because a company in Leeds approached us out of the blue asking us if we would be interested in putting out a cassette version of the album. We spoke about it for a while and then said “yes, alright why not” (laughter). So they produced five hundred cassettes and to be honest we have sold them. People would pick them up on the merch desk at our gigs, look at them and say ‘wow it’s a cassette’ (laughter). It has got to be purely for the novelty I would think because no one has got anything to play them on unless your dad has a cassette player in the car (laughter).

Who has musically inspired you along the way?

The honest answer is loads of people have inspired me. I have always been a huge fan of pop culture in general but in particular pop music and rock music. I guess that growing up it was Radio 1 together with my parent’s record collection from the 50s. I then got interested in Glam Rock and then along came Punk Rock and I have always been interested in progressive Rock. Thinking about it I would most probably have to say that the biggest musical influence on me has been John Peel. I know that John wasn’t a musician but I would listen to his radio show obsessively. I guess that it was the music he played that kind of shaped me into who I am today. I listened to his show throughout my formative years so I would say that it would have been the bands that he played really.

On the subject of the late John Peel, is there any truth in the rumour that he said back in September 1999 that “the boy Gedge has written some of the best love songs of the Rock ‘n’ Roll era. You may dispute this, but I’m right and you’re wrong”?

(Laughter) yes he did and funnily enough it was when I was in my other band Cinerama. When we recorded our first album it was on Cooking Vinyl Records and they wanted to do a radio advertisement for the album. I agreed to let them do this and so they ask me who I would like to record the advert and had I any ideas as to what I would like them to say. But then weirdly around that time and totally by chance John Peel played Cinerama in a Peel Session and he said exactly that. So I said to Cooking Vinyl that I thought that it would be great to use John Peel’s quote in the radio advertisement. However, they said that I was telling them that I had heard his words and informed me that I had to actually prove that he had said it (laughter).

So I literally had to contact John Peel’s office and basically request that they write it out word for word, sign it and then fax it over to Cooking Vinyl so that they could use it for their radio promotion of the album (laughter). I suppose that it is something that happens quite a lot to celebrities such as John Peel but for me I have to say that it was quite embarrassing really (laughter). Having to ask John Peel for proof that he actually said it (laughter). Thankfully he was fine about it all and yes, he actually did say it. Fortunately, I think that I still have the fax somewhere because I have tried to keep hold of it for all of those years.

Just how did that make you feel?

Well obviously being someone who had spent a lot of time listening to that programme and my main ambition at that time was to have John Peel play one of my records on the radio, I didn’t care about going to America, Japan or being on Top Of The Pops, I always wanted to be on the John Peel Show. So to have him say that about me was absolutely indescribable. It was the ultimate vindication of all that I had been working towards.

What would you say has been the highlight of your musical career so far?

That would most probably have to be something connected with John Peel. There have been lots of smaller highlights such as going to Japan, America, Australia and travelling the world generally but those are just general highlights. I think that having the ability to go into these fancy studios and make records really is great. But at the same time John Peel was the guiding force really so the fact that he played our records, together with the fact that we did so many Peel Sessions for him over the years, that has always been the highlight for me.

What was the first record that you bought?

That’s funny because I know that (laughter). I have got this autobiographical comic book and a couple of issues ago we did a story where that question came up, and it was You Sexy Thing by Hot Chocolate. That was the very first record that I bought with my own money. However, the first record that I was given was Two Little Boys by Rolf Harris (laughter). That’s not one that you talk about anymore is it (laughter).

No or Radio One DJ’s (laughter).

No that’s most definitely a no no (laughter).

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

When I was a teenager we would always be going to see bands playing in pubs but the first kind of proper group that I saw playing live was Be Bop Deluxe with Bill Nelson back in the mid-70s in Manchester on their ‘Modern Music’ Tour.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

My god I have no idea, I have absolutely no idea, I’m sorry (laughter). I’m trying to think because it does happen but fortunately it hasn’t happened for a while now.

On that note David let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great. You take care and I will see you here in Nottingham at Rock City.

No worries Kevin it’s been a pleasure. Make sure that you come and have a drink with me at Rock City. Bye for now.