Music – or at least music that matters – does not reward dedicated service with gold clocks and packed Wembley Arenas. Away from the mainstream, in the eternally infantile world of indie other criteria is instead both demanded and respected; a brief glimpse of potential rather than the complete fulfilment of it; a catherine wheel rather than a slow roaring log fire. Ideally the spiked trajectory for any 4real outfit is an acrimonious split immediately followed by a vomit-strewn overdose just as you’re riding the cusp of greatness. Your credentials will then remain forever intact even if your liver does not. Three minutes of white noise is cool. A career isn’t.
While bands who fucked it up and threw it all away reunite for millions – yeah I’m looking at you Roses and Mozzer and Marr don’t even think about it – the ones who stayed to fight the full fight end up chugging along on an endless touring treadmill, playing their songs to dwindling numbers in provincial backwaters, at best considered soldiers of misfortune, at worse thought of as naff.
While bands whose singer choked and croaked see their albums reach iconic status – the deceased lionised as a sacrifice to the cause – the ones who grind and survive to become veterans of the carpeted stage are taken for granted.
Yet it is precisely these sonic warhorses who adhere to the principle ethos of musical cool. Like modern-day troubadours they go from town to town with a lifetime’s devotion to their craft, eating up the miles and service station sausage rolls in equal measure, just to bare their souls to another room full of strangers. A career? Fuck no, this is a calling.
There is a glory and honour in this yet such bands will never again grace the front cover of the NME. That dubious distinction will always be reserved for the latest thing, the fly-by-night skinny-jeaned runts with one half-decent song who will be anonymous in five years time. Yet in this skewed arrested development world it is they who are lavished with plaudits and admiration – green-behind-the-ears guitarists with pimples, stylists, and gleaming X-Boxes on their plush tourbus.
When you stop to think about it it’s all messed up and rock n roll is wasted on the young. They don’t know shit.
On Sunday evening The Wedding Present turned up at the Buckley Tivoli and produced a blinding set to a hundred or so predominantly middle-aged balding men. The audience nodded along to lyrics about love lost and mourned that as teenagers they could have no possible way of fully understanding, yet understood better then than at any time since. Now such desolating lines as ‘Did you walk from the town into the heather, to where we used to lie down when we were together?’ are relished for their poetic majesty rather than acutely felt in the gut, such affairs of the heart now superseded by greater concerns like finding the right school for your kids and making the mortgage.
The author of this heartbreaking query is of course David Gedge. Mr Wedding Present. The quietly spoken man who has spent a lifetime making a big noise about quelled subtleties. Gedge has played here before. In fact he’s played everywhere several times over: his mortgage presumably encumbrances his tourbus and it is a tourbus you suspect that is minus childish distractions as games consoles and the like.
On stage he is looking fitter and leaner than I’ve seen him in years. His hair suspiciously black, his face chiselled with LA vitality. But this is all trivial aesthetics because deep within is still the lovelorn Leeds boy who once travelled to London with his mother’s suitcase crammed with 500 copies of his debut single; the lad who felt more than most and could describe it better than anyone.
Contained within Gedge’s twenty-five year oeuvre is a map of my world and yours, an unplotted course initially navigated with youthful trepidation through heartbreak, betrayal and corduroy. Each step along the way we were whipped and buffered by a whirlwind of guitar; the solace lying in gruffly whispered words of empathy. It was, as Lester Bangs said of another, ‘music from depths of feeling few men can touch” but the gruffness of Gedge’s Yorkshire tone should not be under-valued either. Even within songs of despairing melancholy there was always the element of an older brother offering to take you out for a pint.
After the latest incarnation of the Weddoes blistered through the entirety of Seamonsters – their zenith third album that the Melody Maker dismissed as like ‘sandpapering your ears’ on release then lauded it to the heavens in their end of year review – it was time to meet the great man himself. The man who named his debut LP after George Best. The man with a brassneck who is further north than you. The man who once scribbled down – I like to imagine on an airport napkin – ‘You say he wants to meet me, I’m sure he’s genuine. But how can I just shake his hand when it’s been all over your skin?’
The Cutter – You treated us to the sublime Seamonsters tonight. If it was named after a player like your first album who would that be?
DG (without hesitation) – Eric Cantona
The Cutter: – Do you ever get tired of the touring and lifestyle?
DG – I get tired of it. I don’t love it at all really. I actually find it quite hard work. Especially on a night like this when it was a bit of a struggle with the technical side of it. But I’m kind of a bit obsessed with it all, it’s like an addiction almost. I don’t do it for fun.
The Cutter – But there must be fun parts of it?
DG – Well it’s a challenge and then if you overcome the challenge you’re proud of that.
The Cutter – And the challenge is to win over the crowd every night?
DG – It’s just to play a really good set. Or make a good record and write a great song. There is a series of different challenges and there is a certain pride when you get it right. But I don’t find it enjoyable. I find it quite stressful.
The Cutter – Live is there a temptation to bring out all the singles?
DG – Well not really because it wouldn’t work to be honest. A set has got to be structured. It has to have a beginning and an end, dark and light, and fast and slow. If you just play the hits it’s too one-dimensional
Being one-dimensional is an accusation you can never level at Gedge or his band. For 25 years they have resolutely refused to play the game, shape-shifting to avoid fleeting fashion, putting out a single a month for a whole year (beating a long-standing Elvis Pressley record for the most top 30 hits), even recording a Ukrainian folk LP. Indeed the only linear aspect of their journey is the fact they are still en route to a destination they will probably never arrive at nor ever want to. It’s a noble calling – perhaps the most noble of all – and so let’s not take them for granted for undertaking it. The Wedding Present will undoubtedly be coming to a town near you either soon or in the distant future. And that fact should be celebrated in song because credentials don’t come any cooler than that.
The Wedding Present gig at the Buckley Tivoli was in association with Twisted Banana Promotions, bringing music to the masses…with a twist. For more information check out http://www.facebook.com/twistedbanana