(SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Interview: David Gedge of The Wedding Present (Part 1)

By on Monday, 5th March 2018 at 1:00 pm
 

David Gedge is, of course, known these days as the mastermind behind the The Wedding Present, an English indie rock group who have the kind of longevity most acts only dream of. But what some of you reading this might not know is that he’s a bit of a maths boffin. Or at least was back in his school days. “It *was* something that came easily to me at school, yes. I remember my friends dreading maths lessons while it all seemed pretty straight forward to me. I guess it’s the kind of subject where people either have a natural talent for it or they don’t. I was lucky! So, because having some kind of a career in music was always my primary objective, I thought I’d do mathematics at university and breeze through the course, which would then leave me plenty of time to pursue my musical ambitions. Unfortunately, it don’t work quite work out that way… the degree course was very difficult compared to the maths we did at school!”

I ask Gedge if this maths training came in handy when it came to taking a band from an idea and putting it in practice. Turns out it did. “Being in an academic establishment definitely facilitated starting a band. There were a lot of like-minded students around, so all you had to do was put up an advert in the students’ union. Whether it affected my song writing is less clear but, on balance, I think it probably did.” He’s contemplated on others’ experiences with respect to his own. “I recently read something by a member of Apples In Stereo where he was comparing writing music to a difficult mathematical problem. He said that both seem impenetrable initially but that, once you start working logically and systematically, it all becomes simpler. I can see what he means. I think the main thing that you have to remember is that the best music doesn’t always follow a logical course, though… sometimes, illogical turns and unexpected directions can enhance or improve a song. But there’s probably a mathematical model for that, too…”


School photo from The Wedding Present's Facebook
David Gedge in a school blazer, probably during the part of his childhood
when maths occupied most of this time (photo from the band’s Facebook)

The call to become a rock star can be strong for some, drawing students out of more sensible career paths. But it can also lead to kids butting heads with their parents who have very particular plans for their children. “After I left university with my maths degree, I was unemployed for a couple of years. I saw that time as me honing my songwriting skills and improving as a musician, but my parents just thought I was wasting my degree after all those years of studying. I can totally see why they’d think that but I don’t think they could understand the sheer amount of drive and ambition I had.”

This drive and ambition that Gedge describes is something we here at TGTF see in the many bright-eyed and bushy-tailed up-and-coming acts that grace our pages, but there’s no escaping that the music industry has changed a lot since The Wedding Present’s start in 1985. It’s something he’s entirely sympathetic to. “I really feel for young musicians who have the same drive that I had because there really aren’t the same financial rewards anymore. It must be incredibly frustrating to have had some success and still be struggling to make ends meet and I know that’s quite common nowadays. But I think people inevitably find a way to make it work.“ His musings return to his academic training. “The mathematician in me would say that logic dictates that people should probably use their skills in areas where they’ll reap the greatest rewards from them. But, if people are determined to follow their dream, they’re usually prepared to make huge sacrifices so they wouldn’t listen to me anyway… in the same way that I didn’t listen to my parents!

The artists of today are part of a dynamic, internet-led ecosystem very different to the one that Gedge’s band first found themselves in. I cannot resist posing a question to him about, arguably, his band’s most famous fan, of whom Gedge speaks fondly of. “For a band like The Wedding Present, by which I mean of the ‘alternative’ or ‘indie’ variety, John Peel was of absolutely paramount importance during the ‘pre-Internet’ era. He played ‘our type of music’ on national radio – the BBC, no less – and he was known throughout the world. So we all sent him our records and demo tapes and then waited anxiously to see what he did with them. And, if he played some of your music on the radio, you’d have a much better chance of making more, as well as getting concerts and articles in the music press and so forth.”

He admits, though, that as the saying goes, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. “So he was almost too important, in a way. It was kind of unfortunate that all those bands’ hopes and dreams lay in the hands of just one man. Having said that, he had great taste and didn’t abuse the privileged position in which he’d found himself.” But Gedge thinks the pulling back of this kind of power in today’s music business is only a good thing. “I think that’s probably for the best. I think the Internet has probably made it all a bit more democratic and fairer.”

The Wedding Present album cover

Speaking of cyberspace and technological advances, the songwriter on the whole has positive words on how things have evolved since the release of The Wedding Present’s debut album ‘George Best’ 30 years ago. “It’s completely changed they way I write, arrange, record, promote and sell music and I feel fortunate to be in an industry that’s gone through so many often perplexing and yet continually inspiring phases. As I said earlier, it’s a lot harder, nowadays, to make any money from recorded music but, at the same time, I just watched Mike Oldfield performing ‘Tubular Bells’ on a BBC programme from the mid 1970s on YouTube and the teenage me would have killed to have had access to something like that!”

The Wedding Present has an awe-inspiring catalogue, some of which can be found on the aforementioned YouTube. Gedge enjoys the variety he’s able to tap into night after night. “I enjoy playing different songs for different reasons. Something like ‘End Credits’ or ‘Flying Saucer’ is exciting to play live because it’s basically thrashy rock and roll, but then I also like the dynamics of some of the ‘Seamonsters’ tracks. And I love playing Cinerama songs with a string section and brass. Actually, we played Going, Going… live with strings and a choir in London recently and that was perhaps my favourite concert ever.” What’s far more difficult, he confesses, is guessing which of their songs will be a hit. “It always kind of surprises me which songs listeners prefer. When we were arranging ‘Kennedy’, I was thinking, ‘This is has got B-side all over it!’ But it has proved to be one of the most popular tracks with fans and critics, whereas something like ‘Boo Boo’ – of which I’m *really* proud – goes unnoticed! So what do I know?!”

Stay tuned for part 2 of this interview feature, which will post tomorrow on TGTF.

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