Interview: David Gedge And The Scene That Wasn’t A Scene, C86

Published on July 25th, 2014 in: Interviews, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By James McNally

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It’s June 14, on the eve of England’s first World Cup game in Brazil, and I’m in a muggy club in London, surrounded by an alarmingly large number of bald and bespectacled middle-aged men. It’s a show organized by Cherry Red Records, who have just released a massive three-disc edition of the NME‘s seminal C86 collection, first issued as a mail-order cassette nearly 30 years ago (review).

I’m here to watch bands featured on that cassette, some of whom sound like they haven’t played together in many years. But that certainly doesn’t apply to The Wedding Present, now into its fourth decade as a recording and touring band. Despite numerous personnel changes over the years, the face and voice of The Wedding Present remains taciturn singer/guitarist David Gedge. We talked about the origins of the C86 project, whether it was ever really a “scene,” how difficult it is to be a working musician nowadays, and, just for fun, what England’s chances were in the World Cup.

Popshifter: Tell me how The Wedding Present came to be included on the C86 tape in the first place.

David Gedge: They just called us. It was our drummer; he got a phone call from the NME and they said that they were putting together a compilation and would we be interested in being included on it. To be honest, because I remember there was one before it called C81 and we were all kind of fans of that, and so we said yes, of course, we’ll be on it.

Popshifter: At the time, I think you might have been one of the more visible bands included. Did you feel that way?

David Gedge: Not really, no. The Wedding Present had only really started in 1985; that was the first single, so it was like a year later. I think we’d done two singles by then, and we were quite active playing concerts, but no more so than the rest of the bands. That’s one of the reasons why we said yes, in a way, because it raised our profile.

Popshifter: Were you still based in Leeds at that time? What was the music scene like there in the mid-’80s?

David Gedge: Well, I was born in Leeds but I grew up in Manchester. I went back to Leeds University, partly because it was such a great scene when I was there. It was the end of the ’70s into the early ’80s, and it was a really good scene then. There was Gang of Four and the Mekons and Three Johns. It was quite a healthy, vibrant scene. But then toward the mid-’80s it kind of went a bit Gothic. There was a huge Goth scene in Leeds, which wasn’t a bad thing, it was just a bit different. It wasn’t really my kind of thing, even though I did like a lot of those bands, Sisters of Mercy and stuff. So when we started, we were like the outsiders of the Leeds scene, because we weren’t a Goth band.

Popshifter: I know you’ve said that the bands on C86 didn’t really have much in common musically, but was there something in common in the way you were promoting yourselves or doing your own singles?

David Gedge: It was like a scene that wasn’t a scene, in a way. I mean most scenes have a unifying sound or geographic location maybe, or a common purpose, but this really wasn’t. It’s quite diverse. The only thing I can think of, really, was that in those post-punk years. . . people of my age group were influenced by punk and then the do-it-yourself ethic, and I think we put that into practice. A lot of bands were forming around then, and then people were putting on little concerts and doing fanzines. . .

Popshifter: It wasn’t really the sound, it was more like the ethos. . .

David Gedge: I think so. It was like a group of people who wanted to do something away from the mainstream.

Popshifter: In what ways did being included on the tape help you and in what ways did it hurt you?

David Gedge: Well, our main supporter in the media at the time was John Peel, so we were well on our way anyway, but being on that cassette broadened it out. The NME was at that time, and I suppose even today, the foremost promoter of that kind of music in print, so it definitely helped the group in terms of profile, and also because people around the world read the NME, we got played in North America. So I think it just brought The Wedding Present to more people’s attention, because we were included on it. It was a little nudge up, really. I mean it wasn’t a big thing. I think now, people in retrospect imagine it to be bigger than it was. It wasn’t like Britpop and it wasn’t punk. . .

Popshifter: I guess you weren’t part of any other identifiable scenes, so maybe this was a way that they helped to classify you. . .

David Gedge: That’s quite right.

Popshifter: Did it hurt you in any way?

David Gedge: I think it hurt everybody eventually. It’s like any scene. Once you’re included in it, it’s great at first. You get offers of concerts, you get reviews, you get attention, you get played on the radio. But then you get tagged, oh you’re one of those C86 bands, or you’re one of those Britpop bands, or one of those Madchester bands, and I think it can be a bit of a millstone after a while, because then you want to get away from that. You know, we do other things as well, we don’t sound like that anymore. But having said that, because there wasn’t a definitive C86 sound, really, it wasn’t a nightmare or anything. You did get lumped in together, though.

Popshifter: Did you tour with any of the other C86 bands?

David Gedge: We did. We did a European tour with The Age of Chance, who were from Leeds as well. But we played a lot of one-off concerts, too. I think promoters would latch onto it and say “oh, we’ll do a C86 night” with three or four bands.

Popshifter: Were there other bands of the period that you felt more of a kinship with than the C86 bands? I mean, were there other bands that you felt should have been included?

David Gedge: Not really, because it was quite diverse. Some people said that musically it could have been more diverse, because there was no disco or no black music on there, it was down to guitar bands, really. But I suppose I’m fond of guitar music, and within that definition, it was quite eclectic, really.

Popshifter: I just saw a film about the shoegaze scene, and that was starting up just around the same time or a little bit later, and then before Britpop, but you can’t really put bands into cut-and-dried categories like that. But there’s a film about the shoegaze bands, there’s a film about Britpop, there’s a film about Creation Records, there’s not really that kind of unifying theme.

David Gedge: It was so diverse, there wasn’t any real scene, I suppose. There wasn’t any kind of unifying purpose for it.

Popshifter: I read in a recent interview with Jarvis Cocker that he thought that bands starting up in the ’80s and ’90s thought they could actually make a living at music, and some of them were working-class kids and he thinks nowadays bands have no chance of making a living at it so that they’re all middle-class kids. When you started your band, did you think that you’d be making a living at it for this long?

David Gedge: I didn’t really consider the financial implications, I just found it was something I was driven to do. Luckily, it worked out for me, because I’m not sure what would have happened had it not, because I was kind of obsessed to do it. But Jarvis Cocker is absolutely right. I think the only people in bands nowadays are supported by their parents. It’s OK if you get success straight away, and then you get money from playing concerts and things, but to make albums and release them, there’s hardly any money to be made there. I can’t see how people can pack in their jobs and go off on tour anymore unless they’ve got some other form of income.

Popshifter: Having said that, are there any bands of the moment that are making music that’s exciting to you?

David Gedge: Yeah, there’s lots of stuff coming out, really. But one thing is that, I don’t know if it’s because I’m older now, but a slight problem is that I never hear anything that’s new anymore. I hear a great new band and it will be great but it sounds like something else, whether it be disco or punk or Joy Division sounding or the Pixies or something. And I’m sure it’s always been like that to a certain extent. But I remember the first time I heard the Pixies, I thought “I’ve never heard anything like this” or Sonic Youth, or The Velvet Underground.

Popshifter: I wonder if the media now, because it’s ever present, tells you about those influences right away. You don’t have to figure it out for yourself.

David Gedge: But also maybe it’s because we’ve done as much as we can do. Guitars, bass, drums. Traditional forms of pop music, rock music. I think it’s all been done. We’ve been as extreme as we can, and all these formulas have been used. My favorite new band is called La Luz, from Seattle, and they’re an all-girl surf band. But there you go, the music is from the ’50s. I think there’s more innovation now in the technology. People are finding new ways of making music or distributing music. They’ve got an app for this, or YouTube, or Spotify, so that is kind of exciting.

Popshifter: Does that make it hard for you as a musician, as a band, to keep making new music? Do you ever worry about that?

David Gedge: No, not really. I’m not trying to blow my own trumpet, but I think that aside from making good records, which is what I always plan to do, I’ve always tried to experiment with stuff anyway. So we’ve played with Ukrainian folk music for a while, and then we released 12 singles in a year, and we worked with Steve Albini on a project which wouldn’t have been an obvious step for us, but I think it paid off. Just little things like that over the years, really. I didn’t want to be “an album, tour, write some songs, do another album, do a tour.” To me, that would have been a bit monotonous. So we’ve always had this series of ideas to do odd stuff. I think the technology helps with that, too. I’m a big fan of Twitter and Facebook. It’s nice to have that interaction.

Popshifter: It’s an extension of that DIY thing, where you take control of connecting with your audience.

David Gedge: Definitely.

Popshifter: Playing these kinds of shows, with old colleagues and friends, there’s a certain element of nostalgia. Does that bother you at all? Is it a necessity or do you enjoy it?

David Gedge: That’s a weird one for me, because I’m in two minds about it. There is a certain nostalgia to it, and a lot of these bands have recently re-formed, whereas The Wedding Present never went away. We’ve always been there doing new stuff. So to go back and think of something from 30 years ago, it does feel a little bit weird. But at the same time, I’m not “not enjoying” it. It’s nice to see some of these old bands again. For instance, recently, we’ve started playing some of our old albums live. In 2007 it was the 20th anniversary of George Best, which is our first LP, and somebody suggested we should play it live, and I was like “No, no.” That sounded terrible to me, just nostalgia, and why would we want to do that. And then I spoke to the rest of the band, obviously different people from who played on the original record, and friends and fans. Everybody said, “Wow, what a great idea. I’d love to see you play George Best.” So I said OK.

Popshifter: And had you not been playing those songs?

David Gedge: No, we’d been playing the songs, but you’d play two or three off an album, but never the whole thing as a concert, to sell a tour. So we did it. And to my huge surprise, I really enjoyed it. And I thought it was quite interesting, because it’s a different lineup now, and we’d go back and re-evaluate what we did. It makes you think about why you did certain things, and 20 years had passed, and you’ve got perspective. I write differently now.

Popshifter: You’re playing right before England’s first World Cup game tonight, and I wanted to see what you thought of England’s chances.

David Gedge: I’ve kind of given up, really, to be honest. I’m not quite old enough to actually remember England winning the World Cup [in 1966], all those years ago, but every time we’ve been in it since then, it’s always been ultimately disappointing. There’s always a faint glimmer of hope, but. . . Obviously, I’ll watch it, and hope we’ll do better, but I just feel it’s a bit embarrassing, really. The country who invented the game, who have got the most successful league in club football, and all these stars. Other countries always pay us tribute, in a way, and we’re always embarrassing.

Popshifter: The English press always seems to overestimate England’s chances. But I am hoping for good things tonight.

David Gedge: Yeah. And Italy aren’t on the greatest form at the moment, but even Italy on poor form are still good. [Italy beat England 2-1]

Thank you to Mr. Gedge for the interview and to Matthew Ingham at Cherry Red Records for helping to set it up.

For more on David Gedge and The Wedding Present, please visit http://www.scopitones.co.uk/.

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