|Chapter 1 Living And Learning|
Chapter 2 This Boy Can Wait
IT WAS ON SUNDAY OCTOBER 29,1989 that many people heard the name, The Wedding Present, for the first time. Their first RCA single, 'Kennedy', went straight into the Gallup chart at number 34. Millions of television viewers got their first glimpse of the band when their photograph was featured on the Top Of The Pops run-down four days later.
Typically, teen magazines like Smash Hits, were soon on the case and presented them as a 'new' band, although none went as far as dubbing them the customary, overnight success. In chart terms the band were new, but in reality their roots can be traced back an incredible 15 years.
Gedge cannot remember a time when he did not want to be in a pop group. It is difficult to pinpoint the source of his life's inspiration. Apart from an uncle who played in a cabaret band, his family was non-musical. In fact, his parents discouraged Gedge, especially when they suspected it was infringing on his studies and attempts to find a job.
As a youth, he was never an avid record collector and he had no real interest in applying himself to mastering an instrument. Perhaps his imagination was fuelled initially by the comradeship of a group and the creativity it could galvanise.
He formed his first band at the age of 14 with three friends from Moorclose High School: Dave Fielding, Kevin Rosbottom and Chris Seddon. Collectively they were know as Sen. The word 'Sen' was a favourite with Gedge. He had heard Yorkshire people substitute it for the word 'self', as in: "I've been there me sen!"
As the name suggests, the sole purpose of the group was to have fun, and perhaps show off to a few friends. Rehearsals were held in Gedge's bedroom where he would play a toy electric organ and everyone would take a turn drumming on a Smash tin lid. "It was not a proper band. It was just a doss. We used to do daft songs like 'Twist And Shout'. If we were doing The Merchant Of Venice at school we would use it for lyrics," says guitarist Dave Fielding.
Gedge has a rather cynical disdain for his early involvement with music but he nevertheless recognises its lasting influence. "At the time I had no real plans but just knew I wanted to be in a group. I was doing things I knew that I would be doing properly in a few years. I suppose I am one of those people with drive, I was always the one who started the groups."
Gedge was far from the star man in Sen, as he freely admits. "They kicked me out at the end. I was pretty useless. I think they thought, who is this bloke that keeps turning up for practices but doesn't actually do anything and has never heard of The Who!"
He struggled to match the already competent Dave Fielding, but was soon applying himself to pecuniary areas. They came up with a visionary scheme to raise money for musical equipment. They let it be known around school that they were collecting waste paper and asked the others to do the same so they could weigh it all in. The plan backfired when they realised they would need mountains of paper to earn just a few pence. "Loads of kids were coming up to us and complaining that their dads were getting on their backs about their garages being full of paper. It was quite funny really, garages all over Middleton overflowing with paper," says Dave Fielding.
Long before button badges made their punk-inspired debut, Gedge and Co had realised the earning potential of such merchandise. The band made badges using felt tip pens on ruled notepaper. They charged their hapless school mates a penny for the privilege of sporting a Sen product. "We used to find them later all over school. We'd brush them down, rub the dirt off and sell them again," says Fielding.
The band played a handful of concerts, mainly to an audience of less than 20 in Gedge's parents' garage. They issued three 'albums' on cassette, each of them wonderfully titled: 'Sennies From Heaven', 'A Man Called Sen' and 'Sen The Buccaneer'. Few copies of these gems travelled further than Gedge's bedroom. A nation of music lovers mourns...
Despite his lack of musical ability, Gedge became interested in writing songs. He was not concerned with lyrics but was more keen to assemble chords on his acoustic guitar. "I have always wanted to write songs and you find yourself having to learn to play the guitar," he says. He finished with Sen when he teamed up with Peter Solowka, who was also learning guitar.
While Gedge was back in his bedroom strumming with Solowka, a group called Years grew out of Sen and eventually merged with The Cliché's to become The Chameleons. The development of Gedge and Solowka to The Wedding Present was a much more intricate and lengthy affair.
Their first band was Mitosis, a name the two swots hit upon after learning it was the name of a cell division during a biology lesson. It was 1977 and everyone under the age of 21 was allegedly pogoing like crazy to The Sex Pistols and The Clash. Gedge, instead, had been introduced to the dubious charms of ELP, Yes and Genesis by Dave Fielding, who had in turn been influenced by his older brother. Gedge saw such bands as an alternative to chart fodder but his own group's lack of musical finesse gave them a decidedly punky touch.
Joining Gedge and Solowka were drummer Brian Schofield (later a Chameleon) and bassist Tim Duncan. Schofield found them a rehearsal room at Middleton Cricket Club where his father was on the committee.
By this time the Smash tins had gone, but the replacements were not a lot better. "Pete's brother-in-law built him a massive speaker cabinet with 12 speakers in it. It was as big as a settee but it was dead quiet. You could hear him hitting the strings more than anything else," said Gedge. Girlfriends and mates often watched them run through their set and on the two occasions they appeared at Gedge's school and Queen Elizabeth High School, where Solowka was a pupil. "When we played my school a bloke managed to wangle some dry ice from work and he dropped it into a bucketful of warm water. It just didn't look right," says Solowka.
Mitosis lasted two years during the period between the pair leaving the sixth form and attending university. They recorded one demo tape at Cargo Studios in Rochdale which at the time was being patronised by a legion of New Wave bands spanning Joy Division to Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark.
In just one session, Mitosis recorded eight songs. The opening track was the sprightly, 'Thatcher The Snatcher'. Tightly played, it was typical of their material with a strong power pop edge and a striking similarity to The Jam.
They rarely strayed out of Middleton but Solowka remembers with perverse affection a gig at Liverpool University, where he was studying for his degree in environmental biology. "It was a Christmas Ball and everyone turned up in jackets and bow ties. It started with 200 in the hall but they began walking out. After we'd done five songs they turned the disco on dead loud."
By 1979, the members of Mitosis were dotted around Middleton, Liverpool and Leeds and it was clear that the future held no promise for them. Their farewell, to a world that had not really known of their existence, was at the Royal Park pub in Leeds.
Gedge continued to reach for his guitar while at university and drifted in and out of various line-ups. He played for a while in a group called Meterzone who appeared mainly at student parties The frontman was an intriguing-sounding character called Tony Dardis who wore a white suit on stage and whom Gedge refers to as 'Mr Entertainment'.
Gedge and Solowka kept in touch throughout their university days and met in Middleton at weekends. Gedge had still not fully applied himself to music and was quite happy to play board games with Solowka rather than the laborious task of writing songs.
Throughout his time at university, Gedge was still seeing Janet Rigby, although they were separated for a year while she finished her 'A' Levels in Middleton. "It was awful, I could not concentrate on my studies at all. I used to go to Leeds one weekend and he would come to Manchester the next", she says. The situation was not helped by Rigby's parents who originally would not allow her to stay overnight in Leeds. Eventually they were unable to stop her.
There was further antagonism when she failed to get into Leeds Polytechnic but wanted to be with Gedge so much that she still moved to Leeds anyway. "I was on the dole for three months and then got a job. Although we had separate houses we were practically living together," she says. She was accepted by the polytechnic a year later.
As someone who knew Gedge in both Middleton and Leeds, she was in the perfect position to notice the personality changes brought on by university life. "It definitely changed him. He got into a good crowd, people that thought like he did. He gained lots and lots of confidence. We both altered so much that when we went back to Middleton, Dave Fielding saw it in both of us," she says.
Rigby grew tired of her role as one of the official band girlfriends and told Gedge she was no longer willing to attend the concerts of his various line-ups. He encouraged her to become more involved and she bought a drum kit. After just six weeks, Rigby was playing her first gig behind Gedge and Solowka in a band called The Truth, who were obviously nothing to do with the chart group of the same name.
The Truth played together almost solely during the early hours when they would return from the pub and thrash their instruments until sleep beckoned. Little progress was made and matters came to a head when Rigby told Gedge she wanted Solowka out of the band. She had known Solowka since infant school and thought he was often arrogant.
Placed in this awkward position, Gedge stayed loyal to his long-standing girlfriend and asked Solowka to leave. "David is very malleable when it comes to girlfriends," says Solowka. "I think she didn't like me because me and David used to play games and things like that and act like we always had done. She probably felt a bit left out."
The fired guitarist did not mope and soon found himself playing in two Leeds' groups, U.V. And The Free Radicals and The Chorus. He beat Gedge by almost two years when he made his vinyl debut with The Chorus, which included drummer Simon Smith who was later to join The Wedding Present, and John Parkes who roadies for the group.
The single, on AAZ Records, contained three songs, 'These Stones', 'Diamond Mine' and 'The Verse'. The West Yorkshire based fanzine, Tongue In Cheek, deemed the A-side ('These Stones') to be: "A bouncy, powerful, entertaining ditty with a high-energy chorus." Incidentally, on the next page it carried a demo tape review of an up-and-coming Hull band called The Housemartins whom it dubbed, "Fresh, crisp and spiky." The fresh and crispies went on to receive a great deal more acclaim than The Chorus who were hardly noticed, even within their hometown.
University life had developed many of the traits Gedge first revealed while he was in the sixth form. He was still interested in politics, and for a while a fairly active member of the Labour party, especially during the miners' strike when he and Solowka canvassed on their behalf. Gedge largely preferred late night debates to attending stolid committee meetings in upstairs pub rooms or pushing by-election leaflets through doors.
He became quite well known for his extreme left-wing views and often aired them on rare visits home. "I would say that some of the things David was saying approached Communist. He once said he thought inheritance should be banned and I asked him if that meant I should leave all our money to his brother!" said his father. His often scruffy appearance also perturbed his parents. Like thousands of students before him, Gedge merely adopted the clichéd student maxims of leftist rhetoric, irrational idealism and an Oxfam season ticket.
His musical tastes changed radically and the world's coolest two groups, The Velvet Underground and The Fall, replaced his previous very uncool progressive rock favourites. He might have missed the first onslaught of punk, but he caught a lot of its stylish offsprings, especially Postcard Records' Orange Juice and Josef K. He was smitten with the sound of rhythm guitars meshed together to form pop melodies and was beginning to realise precisely how he wanted his own band to sound.
THE LOST PANDAS
His first proper group was The Lost Pandas, built around himself and his girlfriend. Finding a permanent bassist proved difficult and at one point Gedge almost wrapped up the group completely. "I was getting so sick of trying to form groups and they weren't working. I was just about to pack up when Keith came along."
Fellow student Keith Gregory responded to an advert Gedge had pinned up on a university notice board which sought an "Introverted bass player, influenced by The Fall, The Chameleons, The Velvet Underground and The Sound." He wanted a reserved figure because previous applicants had all been loud and pushy.
Durham born Gregory had only been playing the bass guitar for a few weeks when he joined. He had dropped out of his studies for an English degree but stayed in Leeds because he enjoyed the social scene. He was educated at a boarding school in Darlington and his family moved many times due to his father's job in the Royal Air Force. "I'm not sure what my dad does. I think he is a teacher in the Air Force. I stayed in Leeds because I had a circle of friends there. I was just playing bass in my bedroom before I joined The Los Pandas," he says.
Gregory fitted the bill ideally but his diffidence surprised even Gedge. "He was really quiet, a weird person to be in a group I suppose. He was dead modest. He would kneel down and play next to the speaker because he didn't want us to hear."
Gedge's studies came to an end and it was at this point that he realised his obsessive interest in music could not be satisfied by part-time activity while he searched for a 'proper' job. He had mooted the idea of becoming a teacher but made no serious attempts to do anything about it. During the summer breaks from university, he had worked at the sausage factory where his father was manager. "It was absolutely terrible," he says. "My parents made me do it. I was really tired afterwards. I suppose it was an experience in a way."
At the age of 20, Gedge was willing to placate his parents by taking on such a squalid job, but just a few years later, he was more than prepared to stand up to their well-intentioned pressure. They could not understand why their exemplary son had left university with an excellent degree and was content to submerge himself in dole culture as he waited for his band to make it. "To us he was throwing away all he had worked for. We thought he was wasting his time after all the hard work and studying he had done," says Brian Gedge.
Gedge remained in Leeds and visited home infrequently, no doubt to avoid the inevitable arguments. He continually told his parents he was going to be famous but, like legions of other parents before them, they treated his claims with contempt. "He was right at the end," admits Marjorie Gedge. "He proved us wrong and we've apologised, but I think most parents would have reacted exactly the same way."
He kept a close watch on friends he had left behind in Middleton, especially Dave Fielding who was enjoying a fair degree of success with The Chameleons. The exciting outfit were constantly recording John Peel sessions and playing to ecstatic audiences, which often included Gedge. "They certainly inspired me. I was wondering how everything happened in the pop world and they demystified it and showed me it could be done," he said.
He also drew musical exaltation from The Chameleons. His own brawny, Mancunian accent was obviously akin to The.Chameleons' Mark Burgess, and combined with the haunting guitar riffs of Gedge's early songs, It all became very uncanny. "I did like The Chameleons and I still do. They made me try twice as hard, it's funny, but people who used to say we sounded like T'he Chameleons were mainly from Middleton. I was more worried early on about being compared to the Postcard groups like Josef K."
Soon after Gedge had left University, Rigby ended their relationship. It gave him more time to devote to music and allowed him to pour his suffocating feelings of negativity into songs.
"I think The Lost Pandas were his first really serious band. He was an absolute perfectionist. He always wanted to work hard. We'd be in the pub planning to have a couple more pints and he'd always want to go back and rehearse again," says Rigby.
The group recorded three demo tapes and Gedge made two abortive trips to London to try to persuade John Peel to give them a session. They were beginning to lay down a sound that would later become synonymous with The Wedding Present, but it missed the energy of what would come later. "Looking back, I'm glad we did not make any records because we were rubbish. We were dreary and would have made fools of ourselves. The lyrics were really embarrassing," he says.
Gedge is wrong to understate the importance of The Lost Pandas. The group was crucial to Gedge's musical education. Unlike most of his earlier groups, they recorded and rehearsed regularly and had an identity, albeit one that was somewhat confused. He has guarded fiercely against the band's tapes being made public but listening to them years on, it is difficult to understand his uneasiness and it seems a loss to fans. Lyrically, he is very direct and his anguish is undiluted. On 'Send Me A Flower' he sings of 'dying inside' while on 'Below' he all but drowns in self-conscious misery: 'Somebody cried, nobody hears today, I wonder if they did before, I'm hopelessly lost inside.' The music itself is reminiscent of The Cure and Joy Division, he sings extremely well and the songs have an unsophisticated beauty.
It would seem that much of this period is viewed by Gedge as an unsettled, painful time and in retrospect this may have affected his view of the material.