Being a Smiths fan meant that I naturally kept a close eye on what they all got up to after the split. Andy, Mike and Craig had worked with Brix Smith in The Adult Net and Morrissey was enjoying solo success having released a great run of singles. Johnny Marr had been briefly a member of The Pretenders before he joined his old friend Matt Johnson in The The.
The The weren’t a group that I’d heard much of but with the addition of Johnny Marr I naturally took a bit more interest. ‘The Beat(en) Generation’ came out in April so I snapped it up and I made sure I tuned into Top of the Pops when they made an appearance. Johnny Marr looked a bit different, new centre parting haircut, white t-shirt and white jeans and gold earring. He was playing the harmonica part as well as the guitar. Matt Johnson was playing a gorgeous looking Rickenbacker and all in all the group looked great. The only thing spoiling the performance was the inane whooping and clapping crowd.
Suitably impressed with the single I purchased the ‘Mind Bomb’ album when it was released in July. Listening to it was quite a dark and unsettling experience. Some of it is quite bleak and I have to admit it’s not an album that I’ve listened to much since. I’ve given it another listen and I’m glad I did, it’s got some great stuff on it, I just think you need to be in the right mood to appreciate it.
So when a tour was announced I got a ticket for their gig at the Kilburn National.
Unlike some of the gigs I’d attended before, this one was a bit different. Very intense and dark. Obviously my attention was focused on Johnny Marr. Unlike his Smiths days, he wasn’t quite as animated as I’d seen him before. What hadn’t changed though was his mesmerising effortless guitar playing. And he still looked cool. Very cool.
But not as cool as I thought I looked with my white denim jacket with this t-shirt picture sewn on the back.
Looking back I don’t think Johnny Marr had anything to worry about.
I now move onto the group that over the years I’ve seen more than any other, a group that have consistently released quality album after album, whose live performances have given me more pleasure than any other. The Wedding Present.
Like a lot of groups I first became aware of them via a mix-tape sent by a pen pal. Amongst loads of good stuff there were a few Wedding Present songs taped off the John Peel show. It’s safe to say that I fell in love with them after the first listen. As an introduction to them the May 1988 Peel Session was just perfect. Starting off with ‘Unfaithful’ with its jangling layers of guitar and lines like ‘Well I haven’t worn a shirt like that since 1974’ it sounded incredible. Lyrically it was like listening to an overheard conversation. ‘Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now?’ was similar, very very quick guitars and heartfelt lyrics.
If I thought the first couple of songs were good, the next song knocked me sideways. As opening verses go they don’t get much better than this
I spent all day trying to decide
About the things that you said last night
Did they mean nothing
Or were they filled with hidden clues?
And can you really have stayed til three
Orange slices and that Fall LP
I get so lonely when I get back from seeing you.
What I wasn’t prepared for, listening to ‘Take Me’ on my Sony Walkman headphones, was how the song progressed. What sounds like a dozen guitars launch into an incredible joyous section that goes on for ages. Despite it’s length it’s never long enough. It’s one of those bits of music that even now listening to it thirty-two years later you still hear little guitar parts you could swear you hadn’t heard before. I feel just as excited listening to it now than I did all those years ago. It’s quite a euphoric emotional experience.
Once I’d got over the exhilaration of ‘Take Me’ along came something a bit different. Starting with the introduction “Mr President, Marilyn Monroe” it continued with a snippet of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday’ before exploding into a very frantic cover of ‘Altered Images’ own version. As a fan of Altered Images this was just perfect.
It was around this time that I happened to read a review in the music press of the ‘Tommy’ LP. Somewhere within it there was a description of the group as ‘a speeded up Buzzcocks’ or something similar. So with a recommendation like that there was only one thing I could do. Buy the album. Little did I know this was the perfect starting point as it was a compilation of early singles and radio sessions. It’s an album that only really knows one tempo, and that’s ‘fast’. It rushes by at a breakneck (or should that be breakwrist?) speed with tales of love and loss. The exhilarating experience is made more thrilling as, with guitars flying along at 100mph, it feels like the group is only a second away from falling apart.
It’s got some great songs on it but nothing comes close to the final track. This was another life changing moment hearing ‘My Favourite Dress’ for the first time. With a guitar intro that still raises my heartbeat it’s yet another tale of anguish, jealousy and betrayal. As musical moments go the final “That was my favourite dress” line takes some beating especially as you know it heralds another incredible head-down guitar outro.
The next purchase was their debut ‘George Best’. With it’s tales of break up and disappointment, prominent bass sound and incredible heavy jangly guitars, it sounded incredible. It’s a listening experience that takes your breath away. It’s not just the speed and intensity of the guitars but the emotion within the lyrics. If you get a chance I’d highly recommend the ‘Something Left Behind’ DVD which tells the story of the album. More details are here.
I tracked down their singles and was pleased to discover that The Wedding Present were one of those few bands whose B-sides were as strong as the A-sides. One song in particular made a real impression, ‘I’m Not Always So Stupid’. It’s as near perfect as you can get although I do prefer the faster frenetic live version. I’m not sure how David Gedge manages to play the guitar this fast. As anyone who’s tried it will confirm it’s not easy. And quite painful.
This was an exciting time to be into The Wedding Present (I know some refer to them as ‘The Weddoes’ but I’ve never thought it sounded quite right). In February ’89 they’d released their Ukrainian John Peel Sessions. I hadn’t heard them broadcast but I made the assumption that if it was The Wedding Present it was be bound to be good. I wasn’t wrong. It’s an album that’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Infectious songs that urge you to dance round your kitchen or wherever you happen to be enjoying it.
Later that year a new single ‘Kennedy’ was released. A slightly different sound perhaps but it still contained those elements that make it a classic single. Most importantly, the immense wall of guitar noise that would go on to test the most experienced mosher’s stamina.
The release of ‘Kennedy’ preceded the new album ‘Bizarro’. So now I wasn’t playing catch up and I purchased it on the day of release.
Despite David Gedge’s familiar gruff delivery the album sounded a bit different, less ‘jangly’, tighter, darker and moodier than it’s predecessors. It sounded like there was a fair amount of anger within the lyrics.
‘I just decided I don’t trust you anymore’
The guitars were still fast and furious but there was a greater use of shade with quieter, more introspective parts contrasting with some very noisy sections.
Instead of being over in a heartbeat, songs were allowed to build to a crescendo, ‘What Have I Said Now’ is a good example. You can feel the tension rise as it progresses and you know there’s going to be an incredible explosion of guitar noise at some point. When it arrives it feels like a massive release of pressure.
It’s an album that predates the yet to exist ‘shoegazing’ era, but certain songs such as ‘Bewitched’ no doubt influenced some floppy fringed long sleeved t-shirt wearing bands to come.
As well as some great songs the album also contains one of my favourite Wedding Present moments. The last track ‘Be Honest’ commences with a false start, there’s some laughter and then David Gedge exclaims “Oh what rubbish”. That phrase and impression has become a part of my vocabulary.
So, as you can probably imagine, when the Bizarro tour was announced I made sure I got a ticket. The gig was on November 2nd and was their second night at the Kilburn National.
Looking at some set-lists online the set was based around Bizarro with some other classics such as ‘My Favourite Dress’ and ‘Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft’ thrown in. It was an incredible experience to hear these songs live surrounded by like minded individuals. I thought the songs sounded powerful when I listened to them at home but they took on a life of their own live. The crowd quickly turned into a sweaty mass whilst the group created an incredible noise. Despite it not being the longest set it was still chock full of exceptional moments.
Thirty-one years of Wedding Present gigs later I still look forward to seeing them as much as I did then. From tiny sweaty venues to Wembley Arena I’ve never seen them do anything other than fantastic shows.
Long may they continue.
2 thoughts on “1989 – The The & my first Wedding Present gig.”
A great read for someone who adores the wedding present too and the other bands mentioned. I first saw them on the GB tour and 30 years later took my 7 year old son to Hamburg and Leeds to see them play the album.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks Pete, they’ve been a fantastic constant presence in my life, don’t know what I’d do without them. Good parenting skills there 👍