David Gedge has always had a healthy cult following in the United States, which means news of The Wedding Present's reformation, recently released new album Take Fountain and imminent tour has fans on this side of the Atlantic in a pretty fair lather at the prospect. But Americans might not have an inkling as to the kind of excitement that The Wedding Present's return is generating in England, where Gedge was once lionized with the same fervor that has greeted U2, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles.
Consider these facts: During The Wedding Present's 10-year run from 1986 to 1996, the band charted 17 singles in the UK Top 40, based in large part on the fandom of legendary BBC DJ John Peel, who passed away last fall. WP's banner year was 1992, when Gedge and company placed a single on the charts every month of the year, matching Elvis Presley's 35-year-old record for most hits in a single year.
Given that kind of success and adoration, it's difficult to imagine why Gedge walked away from it all in 1996 after the release of Saturnalia. As he explains from the band's tour stop in Wisconsin, it was simply time for a breather.
"I just fancied a change, to be honest, having done The Wedding Present for a decade or so," says Gedge. "It came at a particularly busy time. In 1996, we did loads of tours; we did America three times, and big European tours. I just felt like a bit of a break, and I suppose I didn't mind doing something completely on my own for a change.
At the time I thought I would take six months or a year out on my own but it kind of developed a life of its own."
Gedge's short break after the release and tour of Saturnalia in 1996 turned into another band project, the film-themed Cinerama. Over the past eight years, Gedge and Cinerama have recorded and toured behind three critically acclaimed albums and Gedge's dedication to the project seemed to indicate a quiet end to The Wedding Present. Still, Gedge never doubted that he would revisit the band that had given him his first taste of real success.
"I always felt that it was a temporary thing, really," he says. "I thought it would be eight months and it was eight years. I was a bit naive because I believed that I could start doing filmic Pop music on the computer, but I didn't know what I was doing so it took me awhile to figure out how to do that. Also, I quite enjoyed it, having the control to do everything myself."
Gedge's original intention with Cinerama was to create music that offered the dramatic subtext of a film score with the visceral impact of traditional Pop music. In that regard, Cinerama was wildly successful, and while the band never equaled the accomplishments of The Wedding Present, Gedge was satisfied that he had done what he had set out to do in his alternate band.
"In Cinerama, I always envisioned the end result, which was orchestration and a more cinematic feel to it," he says. "It was completely different than the other way I started songs, bashing out guitar licks. That's how Cinerama started."
But a funny thing happened along Cinerama's evolutionary musical path. By the time of the band's Steve Albini-produced third album, 2002's Torino, guitars and more conventional Pop composition began to organically creep back into the forefront. When Gedge began writing new songs, ostensibly for what would have been the next Cinerama album, the nature of the new material suggested a different direction.
"It was purely driven by the songs we were coming up with, to be honest," says Gedge. "A couple of years ago, when we started writing after Torino, we all naturally assumed that it was going to be for the fourth Cinerama LP, but as we got more into it and started playing them live, it became more and more obvious that it wasn't actually a Cinerama LP. It seemed a bit stupid to call it Cinerama."
The turning point came when Cinerama did a Peel Session at the BBC with some of the new songs in tow. "Even the engineers were saying, 'David, this is The Wedding Present. There's no strings anymore, there's no trumpet.' In the end, we thought it would be less confusing if we called it The Wedding Present, then people wouldn't be disappointed expecting the filmic stuff. It is still quite a cinematic record, it just sounds closer to The Wedding Present."
Perhaps the best endorsement of Take Fountain came from John Peel, the man who had passionately touted the band for so long on his BBC radio shows. Just before his untimely passing last October, Gedge and The Wedding Present did a session for Peel, clearly none of them knowing it would be among his last programs.
"That session featured some of the tracks off this album, and he said he thought it sounded as good as we've ever sounded," says Gedge. "That was quite nice, definitely. He's irreplaceable. A one-off."
For many bands, taking eight years away from active duty would be insurmountable. But Gedge views his musical journey as a total experience, not compartmentalized by mere band incarnations.
"We've had eight years to be Cinerama, so we could experiment with different types of writing and arranging music," says Gedge. "I think you can hear that in Take Fountain. It's probably the most cinematic of The Wedding Present records. The one thing I'm proud of is the old Wedding Present albums have different personnel and sounds, so there isn't a kind of archetypal Wedding Present thing to depart from. This new record is just really another in a series of albums that have each moved on from the one before. That's always been a fundamental thing for me. When you start making a new record, it should be different than the one before."
THE WEDDDING PRESENT plays the Southgate House Thursday with Campfire Crush and The Organ.