David Gedge doesn't reckon much to New Year's Eve. As the voice, lyricist and driving force behind Leeds-born indie-rock Luddites The Wedding Present for more than a quarter of a century, such a seemingly curmudgeonly sentiment shouldn't come as a surprise. Despite this, the now California domiciled frontman of what are arguably the ultimate John Peel band has took it upon himself to come back to rainy, chilly and possibly snowy Britain for the seasonally named Seeing Out 2011 With The Wedding Present three-date mini-tour.
The first of these shows will take place tonight at The Garage in Glasgow before moving on for a homecoming show in Leeds tomorrow, then finishing up in an undoubtedly lively London on New Year's Eve itself. All of which seems a somewhat contrary cause for celebration.
“I've always been a bit disappointed by New Year,” Gedge mourns. “Even as a kid I never liked it. It's over-produced, it's expensive, and there's too many people around. One year I went to bed at eleven 'O clock because I was so bored.”
Given such unambiguous resistance to the ensuing melee the season brings with it, why then, is Gedge risking life and limb to play in public during one of the rowdiest times of the year?
“Just 'cos I kind of thought it'd be good for me to do something for a change, and doing a concert seemed like a good idea. It's been more difficult to plan than usual, mind, from booking venues to getting support bands. Even fans have been getting in touch and saying they'd love to come, but they've got a party to go to. There's a post Christmas vibe as well. There's been all those days building up to it, when the pubs are full of office parties, then once it's all over, we come along and go, right, come out to a concert.”
The current trio of live shows should also prove a good way of letting off steam for Gedge and co, who've spent the last few months recording their forthcoming Valentina album. In truth, however, as the sole surviving member of the band that burst onto the scene with their 1987 debut, George Best, following a couple of singles, Gedge pretty much is The Wedding Present these days. The dozen or so musicians who've passed through the band's ranks might not come close to Mark E Smith's tenure in charge of the The Fall, but the same northern English work ethic remains in what Gedge has effectively turned into a one-man indie cottage industry.
“We've just been looking at the artwork for the album,” he says. “Then there's the marketing. Just a lot of running round really. We're on our own label these days, so obviously there's a certain amount of admin that needs to be done, dotting the i's and crossing the t's, but it's all part of the job, and I can't complain, really.”
Gedge may sound like an old time factory gaffer when talking about the nuts and bolts of being in a band, yet such pragmatic seizing of the means of production is totally in-keeping with the DIY ethos indie-pop was founded on.
“It's about solving a series of little problems,” he says, “so that part of it does feel like a job. But writing songs, recording and playing live doesn't feel like work. That's more like an obsession.”
Valentina will be the eighth Wedding Present album, and the band's third since Gedge resurrected the name in 2004 after spending the previous six years with his then girlfriend Sally Murrell as Cinerama. Where the last Wedding Present album, 2008's El Rey, was recorded and mixed by American hardcore producer and driving force behind Shellac, Steve Albini, Valentina saw Metallica, Iggy Pop and Johnny Cash producer Andrew Scheps at the controls while the album was recorded in France and California.
“El Rey was actually one of the poppiest records we've done,” Gedge maintains. “This one's more rocky and less poppy, and is probably more of a challenge. There's always a feeling when you've done a record that you want to move away from it, so moving to the poppiness of El Rey made us, not darker, but harder, a bit like early Wedding Present records, really.”
Gedge may have been resident in California since 2004 shortly after mark two of The Wedding Present came together, but despite going global in such a fashion, no move towards big-haired poodle-rock has been forthcoming. Despite the big-name American producers, in fact, swathes of northern English heartbreak are all over Gedge's more recent material much as it has been since he started out. This is akin to Jon Langford of The Mekons, another former Leeds-based band turned American emigres who were already channelling a very English form of Country-punk before the move.
“I was the last original member of The Wedding Present to still live in Leeds, and it means a lot to me to be playing in Leeds again. But I think it's easier today because of technology and the internet to do things in different places. For example, we may have recorded most of the album in France and America, but the bass player recorded backing vocals in Brighton.
“Part of the appeal of being in a band is being able to travel the world. I don't want to just be in one place, and I can write songs anywhere. Lyrically, I suppose I write in a very personal style wherever I am. My songs have always been about relationships and how people speak to each other, while musically, we've always tried not to be influenced by anyone, and I've always been conscious of writing a very distinctive Wedding Present sound.”
Gedge grew up in Manchester before moving to Leeds, and was attracted to music from a precociously early age.
“From about the age of six. I've been writing songs all my life, and even then I knew I wanted to be in a band. I've no idea where that came from, and I can't actually remember deciding that was what I was going to do. It was just always there, hearing the Beatles and Elvis, or watching bands on TV. It wasn't about wanting money, 'cos I'd still be doing this regardless. It sounds pretentious, but it was almost pre-destined.”
By Gedge's own admission, however, “It took longer than I thought. I was in bands at university, and we never took it seriously till I was about twenty-three. There was all this stuff about, oh, what if it goes wrong? We had to decide, do we take it seriously, or do we just make it an obsessive hobby?”
Unlike many other John Peel-playlisted peers, however, The Wedding Present are still here. As with many other long-standing artists of his generation, as well as new material, Gedge has also spent the last few years rediscovering his past via tours playing George Best and its 1989 follow-up, Bizarro, in full. 2012 will see The Wedding Present similarly take out their third album, 1991's Seamonsters, produced, as with El Rey, by Albini.
“It's like looking through an old diary,” Gedge says of the revisitation, “'cos you've changed as a person, but it puts you back into the frame of mind of the person who wrote it. When I was first approached about the possibility of doing George Best, I was dead against it. For me it smacked of nostalgia. But the more I spoke to people about it, the more engaged I got by the idea, and eventually I reached the conclusion that there's nothing wrong with the past. These albums are a part of history and culture, so why not? It's a different band now, obviously, so we're partly reworking it, but still staying true to the original.”
Another look at the past comes via a Wedding Present cover of The Smiths debut single, Hand in Glove, for an American compilation. Gedge is no stranger to other people's material, ever since the B-sides of a series of twelve singles released each month in 1990 saw The Wedding Present feature songs by the likes of The Close Lobsters, The Go-Betweens and even Elton John. Hand in Glove follows on from a similar treatment of The Cure's song, High.
“I've never been a massive fan of The Smiths, to be honest, although I really liked their early stuff. I remember their first John Peel session, because it sounded different from everything else, and Morrissey was clearly an interesting lyricist, so it just jumped out of the radio. But doing a cover of Hand in Glove was a nice thing to do. Sometimes you get these invitations, and they set you on a different path.”
As did too an unlikely sounding 2009 collaboration between Gedge and the BBC Big Band, with the latter party performing new arrangements by Tommy Laurence of Wedding Present and Cinerama songs for a one-off show at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.
“It was quite a difficult project to arrange,” Gedge admits, “but doing something like that was one of the reasons I wanted to do Cinerama. I love John Barry and Ennio Morricone soundtracks, but the Wedding Present are too much of a rock and roll band.”
A more recent strand to Gedge's brand of lo-fi entrepreneur-ism is At The Edge of The Sea and At The Edge of The Peaks, two boutique indoor festivals programmed and curated by Gedge in Brighton and Holmfirth in Yorkshire respectively.
“It sounds a bit pathetic,” says Gedge, “but it's one of my highlights of the year. We were in a Little Chef in Yorkshire, and we got talking about all the support bands we'd had an d all the other bands we'd like to see, and it was hard to say no to, really.”
With Valentina scheduled for a March 2012 release coinciding with a date at the Austin, Texas based South By South West festival followed by a full north American tour, Gedge's current incarnation of The Wedding Present shows no sign of letting up just yet.
“It's an obsession,” Gedge says again. It's just something that I'm drawn to do. People say I must enjoy it. Well, I don't hate it, but I don't do it for the money either. The great thing about it is it's so varied, so as soon as I've finished one thing, I'm looking forward to getting on with the next, and starting the cycle again.”
“If you'd asked me in 1985 whether I'd still be doing The Wedding Present twenty-five years later, I would've laughed, because it seems such a long period of time, but now it feels like it's passed so fast. It's like, I remember seeing Tony Curtis on Wogan, and I used to love Tony Curtis in The Persuaders with Roger Moore and those great opening credits with the John Barry theme music. But Tony Curtis was saying how he was around in Hollywood as a young man, and here he is now. The rest of it has gone past in the blink of an eye. I suppose at this stage I feel a bit like that as well.”
David Gedge as the Tony Curtis of indie? Maybe all that California sun has gone to Gedge's head, after all.
The Wedding Present, The Garage, Glasgow, December 29th
Valentina is released in March 2012.
The Herald, December 29th 2011