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David Gedge of The Wedding Present: 'We Were Destined To Be a John Peel Band'

26/09/2014 14:45 BST | Updated 24/11/2014 10:59 GMT

"People still try and emulate John Peel," says David Gedge, leader of The Wedding Present and one of the last true survivors of the British music scene of the 1980s. "His work as a musicologist put everything into context."

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Perhaps this is Gedge (above) returning Peel's compliment when in 1999 Peel stated that "the boy Gedge has written some of the best love songs of the rock 'n' roll era. You may dispute this, but I'm right and you're wrong".

Originally based in Leeds and formed in 1985, The Wedding Present were a British indie rock group setting out on a long music-making journey with Gedge at the helm. He was a man with a plan, it transpired, a plan he himself refers to as "obsessional".

"When The Wedding Present started out, there was a mini scene called C86 which was based around a compilation cassette that the NME had released of British indie bands. The Wedding Present became part of that, but like most of these things, it only lasted for six months," he tells me.

Gedge belongs to a band of popular songwriters who wrote assiduously and in a traditional mode. His considered lyrical output was pitched somewhere between the voices of Morrissey and Weller, and although that might hint at a North-South divide (something that became more of a geographical issue with the rise of Madchester), it was not the case in the 1980s: "It was more a case of London and the rest of the country. You had scenes outside the capital that were not exclusively the North," he says.

Of the release on 20 October on Edsel Records of The Wedding Present's entire catalogue, Gedge says: "I was flattered that Edsel Records wanted to release something as involved as this. It's been a lot of work putting it all together because I'm the only one in the world who knows all about The Wedding Present because of the shifting line-up and all the various record labels the band has been on. It's been odd listening back to it all. It's my biography, in a way."

The Wedding Present's sound was of focus and drive, but the lyrical content was typically English in its magnification of the minutiae of English life. "Lyrically, I've honed in on my specialist subject, if you like, which is relationships. I'm interested in the way people speak to each other; what they say, why they say it and how they say it, within an emotional framework. That has always fascinated me. It's a subject that does lend itself to pop lyricism. It's a staple of pop, from The Beatles through to Motown, all the way up to punk."

To this day, Gedge remains conscious of the quality control required to produce the music he makes and says "there's always a new level of excitement when the band's line-up shifts".

Bands like The Wedding Present presaged the oncoming generation of bands which traded on a perceived inarticulacy and an empty swagger, but Gedge in retrospect is magnanimous: "It was exciting to see the slightly more alternative rock bands getting into the charts when Britpop came along, and it felt that that culture had come of age, whereas when The Wedding Present first started out it felt more like a late-night Radio 1 John Peel alternative press that we enjoyed.

"Peel was one of the best radio presenters that this country's ever had. He played our first single about 10 times and got the ball rolling for us. We were lucky, but the funny thing is I'd spent the previous 10 years listening to his show, so what he was playing was actually influencing and guiding me anyway. So we were destined to be a John Peel band."

Of the naming of the band's landmark album, George Best, Gedge says: "George Best had a rebellious persona. He was the gifted anti-hero. Once, a newspaper said that we were only calling the LP George Best because we wanted to be forever linked with his name, and my response was, yeah, you're probably right," he laughs. "But fortune will always play a part in any career. You have to be in the right place at the right time, but I do work really hard at what I do and I always have done. I feel I've been quite driven over the years, quite obsessional. I miss writing and recording when I'm not doing it."

Gedge read mathematics at university. He's a man of logic. A man in search of an answer, an answer that he'll either have or have not. Much like music. Which is to say that, in thinking that you own music, it instead owns you, and in possessing you, you the musician can never be free of it.

But Gedge hasn't yet reached the point when he cares not for what the critics say: "There's still a little bit of me that'll always care because if your work is being criticised, you feel it is you who is being criticised. But rage doesn't get you anywhere. It's better to be calm about things."

But things have changed in the world of music; technological advancements having rendered the traditional business model null and void, and music made today is by a different type of musician. "When I hear new bands now," says Gedge, "I don't really hear any originality. When I first heard bands like The Pixies, Sonic Youth or The Velvet Underground, they sounded completely different from any other bands. But now, with drums, guitars, a bass and keyboards, it seems that bands have run the whole course of pop music, and have possibly done everything they can possibly do."

That said, a change is going to come. We can only hope.

Follow David @TheWeddingPresent

Photograph courtesy of Ian Sparkes @ 9PR