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The Wedding Present

+ {Cinerama}

If there was any band that epitomised the C-86 indie movement more than the frenzied, jangly-pop of The WEDDING PRESENT, then one would be hard-pressed to think of any other; especially as the guitar-driven, post-SMITHS combo have now surpassed a landmark 30-year endurance test in 2015; yes, one does count leader David Gedge’s chamber-pop project CINERAMA. Darlings of the British press and a certain Radio One DJ, John Peel, the Weddoes (as they were fondly-known by their flock) have amassed several inspiring records, none more so than the album that kicked-off the show: `George Best’.
When counting time spent in their precursory outfit the Lost Pandas (alongside guitarist Michael Duane and drummer Janet Rigby), vocalist/guitarist David Gedge and bassist Keith Gregory have been on the go since the autumn of 1984. Taking the moniker of The WEDDING PRESENT (inspired so by Gedge and then-girlfriend’s fave act The BIRTHDAY PARTY), the Leeds-based academics roped in guitarist Peter Solowka (from Ukrainian/Irish stock) and, after a few false starts and auditions/rehearsals, drummer Shaun Charman.
In May 1985, armed with 500 copies (in two suitcases!) of the band’s appropriately-titled single, `Go Out And Get ‘Em Boy!’, the tenacious Gedge returned from a pressing plant in London to a distribution company (Red Rhino) in the heart of Yorkshire; and, at that, his Reception Records could pitch their proverbial stall while The Weddoes turned in several raucous shows – one assumes he dropped off a copy of the 7-inch at the Beeb for John Peel and/or another airplay patron Andy Kershaw. A few BBC sessions behind them and indie hits `Once More’ and `This Boy Can’t Wait’, The WEDDING PRESENT were fast (and furiously) becoming the group to watch.
Buoyed by the encouragement bestowed upon them from the aforementioned sources and Gedge’s single-minded resolve not to adhere to the major companies knocking on their door, further indie classics `My Favourite Dress’ and `Anyone Can Make A Mistake’ previewed the slightly delayed GEORGE BEST (1987) {*9} debut set – the title and the sleeve paying homage to the Man Utd football star of the 60s and 70s. One of the key post-C-86 releases, Gedge’s glutinous, tunefully-challenged larynx gelled with the pacey punk-pop jangle, to somehow create something more than the sum of its parts. Produced by Chris Allison, but ultimately remixed by the band and engineer Steve Lyon, it’s also somewhat overlooked of the part played by twee backing vocalist Amelia Fletcher (then of TALULAH GOSH) on opener `Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft’, while David’s worldview wordplay never let up on `A Million Miles’, `Shatner’, `All This And More’, `It’s What You Want That Matters’ and a glorious cover of GIRL AT OUR BEST’s `Getting Nowhere Fast’.
1988 saw the aspiring indie band garner further UK Top 50 chart/John Peel “Festive Fifty” successes for `Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm’ and `Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now?’, the latter without dismissed sticksman Charman, who’d made way for Simon Smith. Sandwiched either side of these 45s – their final assaults for Reception Records – was a second set of songs TOMMY (1988) {*8}, albeit a “Hatful Of Hollow”-type of compilation that drew from their exclusive singles a la 1985-87 and a Peely session that included a re-tread of ORANGE JUICE’s `Felicity’.
Inevitably, with sales at bursting point for an independent to handle and a “Ukrainski” project mini-set put on hold, The WEDDING PRESENT succumbed to major-label interest and winning bidders R.C.A. With co-operation from the BBC’s original master-tapes and augmented by The SINISTER CLEANERS’ balalaika, skripka and sopilka player Len Liggins and mandolinist Roman Remeynes, the expanded group had a near close shave with the Top 20 for the delayed exotic mini-set, UKRAINSKI VISTUPI V JOHNA PEELA (1989) {*6} – its marriage of Ukrainian folk styles and indie-pop a marmite test for a contingent of purist punk fans.
Gedge reverted to type, and his trademark lovelorn lyrical fashion, for follow-up proper BIZARRO (1989) {*8}, a #22 record that sold in similar quantities as its previous diversion. Raising a sigh of relief in circles (RCA included), their frenetic sprawl was slowed down apace to allow a sarcastic and yearning Gedge to indulge some lyrical prowess on big hitters `Kennedy’ and `Brassneck’. Opting to rely on lengthier crescendo-cute strums to levitate their growing reputation as a live act, the fingertip-burning, 9-minute `Take Me’ (another Festive 50 fave) and the strident `Bewitched’, earmarked a band in transition.
The triple-headed “3 Songs” EP (`Corduroy’, `Crawl’ and a cover of STEVE HARLEY & COCKNEY REBEL’s `Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)’) provided a second Top 30 entry for the band, but 1990 was a time for reflection while they hooked up in Minnesota with ex-BIG BLACK boss-turned-producer, Steve Albini. Perfectly positioned on their abrasive third album, SEAMONSTERS (1991) {*8}, the re-appearance of `Corduroy’ sort of went against the grain, but alongside `Dalliance’, its minor-hit counterpart `Lovenest’, plus `Dare’, `Rotterdam’ and `Octopussy’, the band smelt twee like in spirit as NIRVANA took the globe by storm.
Subsequently sacked as his UKRAINIANS took precedence, Solowka was replaced by Paul Dorrington (ex-TSE TSE FLY, ex-A.C. TEMPLE) as The WEDDING PRESENT looked at other alternatives to push out their enterprising envelope. Nothing, if not prolific, even achieving the accolade of a Guinness Book of Records entry when every one of their monthly 7”-inch-only singles hit the Top 30, the glam of pop returned forthwith. Having already re-vamped an array of outsider songs through `Getting Better’ (The BEATLES), `I Found That Essence Rare’ (GANG OF FOUR), `It’s Not Unusual’ (a hit for TOM JONES), `Box Elder’ (PAVEMENT), `She’s My Best Friend’ (The VELVET UNDERGROUND), `Mothers’ (Jean Michel Satre) and `Cumberland Gap’ (LEADBELLY), each consecutive hit thereafter bore a B-side cover:- `Blue Eyes’ (b/w The GO-BETWEENS’ `Cattle And Cane’), `Go Go Dancer’ (b/w NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE’s `Don’t Cry No Tears’), `Three’ (b/w ALTERED IMAGES’ `Think That It Might’), `Silver Shorts’ (b/w JULEE CRUISE’s `Falling’), `Come Play With Me’ (b/w The MONKEES’ `Pleasant Valley Sunday’) and `California’ (b/w The CLOSE LOBSTERS’ `Let’s Make Some Plans’); the full 12 tracks represented a respective A-side/B-side compilation, HIT PARADE 1 (1992) {*7}.
The formulaic pop prescription was repeated in the second half of the year, as the Top 20 HIT PARADE 2 (1992/93) {*6} consisted of the following:- `Flying Saucer’ (b/w MUD’s `Rocket’), `Boing!’ (b/w ISAAC HAYES’ `Theme From Shaft’), `Love Slave’ (b/w DAVID BOWIE’s `Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family’), `Sticky’ (b/w BOW WOW WOW’s `Go Wild In The Country’), `The Queen Of Outer Space’ (b/w BARRY GRAY’s `U.F.O.’) and `No Christmas’ (b/w ELTON JOHN’s `Step Into Christmas’). This indeed ended their 4-album tenure with R.C.A.
Despite the departure of nearly all founding members, save Gedge (as Gregory bailed for CHA CHA COHEN), 1994’s Island Records-endorsed WATUSI {*7} again found the band in favour with the critics, if not commanding the fanbase they’d once achieved. Adding former CUD roadie Darren Belk, The WEDDING PRESENT had been whisked off to the States again, hoping to creative a similar pattern by enlisting Seattle-based “grunge”-meister Steve Fisk (of PIGEONHED and ex-PELL MELL). Disappointingly low Top 50 sales for the meeting of the minds shocked many pundits in the business, but maybe their honest-to-goodness C-86/indie veneer had been down-sized to a pale imitation of themselves. Despite minor hits `Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah’ and `It’s A Gas’, Gedge’s need to collect the Yankee dollar on the VELVETs-like `Click Click’ and `Swimming Pools, Movie Stars’ (both featuring BEAT HAPPENING’s Heather Lewis), or by way of the syrupy `Gazebo’ and `Spangle’, their dynamic equilibrium was awry. In the meantime, Dorrington was another to re-set his sights with CHA CHA COHEN; Simon Smith duly maintained a link with both parties concerned – for now.
A subsequent home at former indie roots imprint Cooking Vinyl led to the all-new styling THEWEDDINGPRESENT trio – plus guest Jayne Lockey – issuing the 6-song/19-minute MINI (1996) {*5} set. If one was awaiting a re-invigorated fast-and-furious Gedge and Co, then one would’ve been sadly misled; co-conspirator Belk duly left when bassist Lockey was lobbied, and was superseded by a further TSE TSE FLY commando Simon Cleave (guitar).
The tracks that eventually made up the Cenzo Townshend-co-produced SATURNALIA (1996) {*6} had been in the can for around a year, but only really minor hits `2, 3, Go’ and `Montreal’ were of the quality needed to compete with the incumbent Britpop scene.
And so The WEDDING PRESENT handed back the toasters so-to-speak and rested on their laurels, while compilation after compilation littered the market; this helped Gedge work his way to the pinnacle of his contract, albeit minus one. Re-inventing himself as a Baroque-pop crooner-type for his project/duo, CINERAMA, alongside then-girlfriend Sally Murrell (the NANCY SINATRA to his LEE HAZLEWOOD – or BIRKIN to his GAINSBOURG – some might say), the album VA VA VOOM (1998) {*6} was a marked change of direction from the Weddoes’ bust-a-gut blasts. Complete with a light and lush orchestra, plus a stellar cast in session, including guitarist Marty Willson-Piper (of The CHURCH), bassist Anthony Coote (of ANIMALS CAN SWIM) and vocalist Emma Pollock (of The DELGADOS), there was love, peace and rhetorical happiness on `Kerry Kerry’ (a solitary minor hit).
With the addition of GOYA DRESS alumni Terry de Castro (bass) and Simon Pearson (drums), plus a reunited Simon Cleave, CINERAMA stuck to their twee-esque task and completed a second batch of French café/coffe-house vignettes, DISCO VOLANTE (2000) {*6}. Delivered on their own Scopitones label and name-checking (Gina) `Lollobrigida’ and `Superman’, the Steve Albini-produced set was “seductively sweet” as the Melody Maker put it; there were also continental takes for the 6-minute `Health And Efficiency’.
While the latter was minus Pearson, his berth was finally taken for 2002’s TORINO {*6} by Kari Paavola. As several similarly-patterned singles had unveiled cover B-sides such as `London’ (The SMITHS), `Elenore’ (The TURTLES), `Yesterday Once More’ (The CARPENTERS), `Diamonds Are Forever’ (JOHN BARRY) and, lying in wait, `Erinner Dich’ (Klee), Gedge now tackled the subject of seedy love and infidelity with an uneasy grace on `And When She Was Bad’, `Estrella’, `Tie Me Up’, et al. Maybe it was no coincidence that David and Sally would split, or maybe it was that tracks such as `Quick, Before It Melts’ strayed back into Weddoes terrain, but the curtain fell on the “Starry Eyed” CINERAMA shortly after an exclusive summer 2003 disc, `Don’t Touch That Dial’.
In 2004, with residual Cinerama alumni Cleave, de Castro and Paavola in tow, Gedge re-formed The WEDDING PRESENT and, as suitably fitting was a final session (in October 2004) for the late, great John Peel, who, as we know, was probably the band’s biggest patron. The following month, the Weddoes kicked back into gear with a minor UK hit `Interstate 5’, the opening salvo on their long-awaited comeback set, TAKE FOUNTAIN (2005) {*7}, which coincided with the poignant and wry `I’m From Further North Than You’. Probably on the advice of reinstated producer Steve Fisk, who’d have thought it only right to match up their roaring epics such as the aforementioned extension of `Interstate 5’ and `Ringway To SeaTac’, to the bittersweet angles of `Mars Sparkles Down On Me’ and `Larry’s’, the all-new WP celebrated 20 years in the business with effective aplomb.
It was reasonable to think that the transitional line-up was never going to last long and, in the space of a year or two, both Cleave and Paavola had been respectively superseded by Christopher McConville and Graeme Ramsay. Taking a singular break from Scopitones, 2008’s Vibrant Records-sanctioned EL REY {*6} reunified Gedge and Co with Albini. The albatross around his neck that was the unprofitable Cinerama now extinguished, Gedge consolidated his angsty and cathartic motifs to good use on `Santa Ana Winds’, `Spider-Man On Hollywood’, `Don’t Take Me Home Until I’m Drunk’ (a line from Breakfast At Tiffanys, apparently) and `The Thing I Like About Him Is His Girlfriend’; oh, and there was a hidden-track bonus cover of TAKE THAT’s `Back For Good’ – if one lasted to the end.
Refreshing to find a group with grand intentions to keep vinyl alive in a post-recession Old Blighty, a handful of singles from VALENTINA (2012) {*7} had a worthy footnote to a band trying to re-address the balance between heartworn rock’n’roll. With no McConville and de Castro on show (their berths taken by female Pepe le Moko and Charles Layton; Ramsay now on guitars and piano), The WEDDING PRESENT could still shine on `You’re Dead’, `Deer Caught In The Headlights’, `Meet Cute’ and the delightful `524 Fidelio’.
Gedge’s sensitive side prevailing over his guitar-driven face-offs as an indie-rock god, his decision to cover in its completion, VALENTINA (2015) {*6} as a re-worked CINERAMA production, was either passionately self-indulgent or just old-age setting in – that was Gedge, a romantic at heart who’d authored some of the greatest love songs of his generation.
Hinting that their ninth album, the Top 40 GOING, GOING… (2016) {*8}, might indeed be their parting shot, Gedge and The WEDDING PRESENT pulled out all the stops to make it worthwhile in its experimental, concept of sorts. On first listening to the opening cuts `Kittery’ and `Greenland’, one wondered if they’d accidentally mixed a batch at the pressing plant with a MOGWAI set – `Marblehead’ (featuring vocals from bassist Katherine Wallinger) and the NYMAN-esque `Sprague’, also divorced from their main-line, bread-and-butter Weddoes motif. But if one can allow the odd stray into unfamiliar territory, then this double-set of 20 tracks (and accompanying road-trip videos) over 73 minutes, would suit the post-rock fiend down to the ground. Gedge finally let loose his inner punk-boy by way of `Two Bridges’ (ditto the Britpop-vs-grunge-y `Bear’), although some swooning and crooning identified the marked-fragile, `Little Silver’. From 2013, Samuel Beer-Pearce had now taken the role of second guitarist, whilst the steadfast Layton’s as-required drumming (of late), was notable on the spiky `Secretary’, `Birdsnest’, `Kill Devil Hills’ and anchor 10-minute climax `Santa Monica’. Encore.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS May2015-Sep2016

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