Almost thirty years after the release of their first album, ‘George Best’, and The Wedding Present are still perpetually on the verge of a tuning crisis. And while there have been several iterations of the group since, that point where noisy guitars, snarled vocals and electronic tuners collide has seldom sounded as unstable ;- its just one of a number of curious traits that help them mark out their turf.
Ireland has long been a regular stop-off for them, touring as incessantly as they’ve done over the decades, even if Limerick has often missed out when the live dates have been divvied out around the country. But tonight, five weeks from Christmas, the informed word out in the front bar is that advance sales are strong and that we’re in for a decent showing. And we are, on-stage and off of it.
Scanning Mick Dolan’s warehouse – one of the country’s most well-disposed venues and now an essential cog on the provincial circuit – I’d strongly suspect that many of those who’ve come out on a cold Monday night were also there, out in Castletroy back in December, 1993, when The Wedding Present were last around these parts. In the years since, the band has rarely ventured too far from their guiding principles, which are resoundingly on the fringe and defiantly self-sufficient. They’ve made several terrific records during that time too, many of them over-looked and that, on a surface level, have been pitched increasingly against the laws of diminishing returns. The most recent of which, ‘Going, Going’, underpins tonight’s sinewy twenty-song set.
As with all bands who’ve been active and as productive for so long, the songbook is so vast and wide now that much of the back-catalogue of 250-odd songs remains unwrapped and most of the requests from the nostalgics around the hall fall on deaf ears. And yet the gut of tonight’s set still references some of the most memorable records in the recent history of neat British indie ;- ‘Dalliance’ and ‘Dare’ from 1991’s terrific ‘Seamonsters’. The ageless ‘Brassneck’ from 1989’s ‘Bizarro’ and the scalding single, ‘Come Play With Me’ – with it’s ferocious coda – from 1993’s ‘Hit Parade’. And over the closing furlongs, ‘My Favourite Dress’, one of a number of stand-outs from ’George Best’, reminds the partisans – in the unlikely event any of them require the prompt – of just how vital and urgent those agitated, lashed guitars sounded when the band first emerged during the height of the NME’s c86 phase. Indeed one of the only concessions to the mildly modern tonight comes in the form of David Gedge’s set-list, which he appears to be reading from an iPod that’s been mounted at the front of the stage. Everything changes while nothing changes, as it were.
Gedge has long been the band’s essence and spiritual lead and, in his trademark black denim cuts a fit, robust and wry figure as line leader and life President where, beneath the gnarl, lies an unfailing ear for a tune and a pirate’s eye for a kitchen-sink paralysis. And even on some of the more recent material – like 2005’s ‘Always The Quiet One’ from the long-lost ‘Take Fountain’ album – the references are as humdrum as they’ve ever been. The sun rarely shines in Wedding Present songs and Gedge’s consistently unrequited cast of [mostly] men hardly ever drive and are almost always either on foot or on public transport on their way, one suspects, to shift-work on local industrial estates ;- if any one Wedding Present image captures a thirty-year history in a single breath it’s the line on ‘My Favourite Dress’ that mentions ‘a long walk home in the pouring rain’.
One of the band’s most vehement champions in the British music press, throughout the earlier part of their career especially, was the Melody Maker writer, Dave Jennings, who passed away suddenly back in 2014. I knew Jennings, who was from up around Bradford, back when we both freelanced in London in the early 1990s and during which he batted consistently and stridently for The Wedding Present, often in the face of pretty vicious peer cynicism. A regular on the terraces at Leyton Orient and a staunch Labour party member who canvassed for them in the Finchley constituency during a period when Margaret Thatcher enjoyed one of the largest personal votes in the history of British politics, Jennings was known to some of the Melody Maker staff as ‘The Patron Saint of Lost Causes’ ;- in many respects, himself and The Wedding Present were well got.
And that sense of ‘the lost cause’ permeates every single fibre of tonight’s show. If any one group has succeeded for so long to connect with the absolute ordinariness of life for the standard season-ticket holder down in the lower leagues, it’s The Wedding Present. A point borne out after the ninety minute set concludes and we convene afterwards for the post-mortem. Where we’re quickly joined by two slightly older men, one from Wythenshawe in Manchester, the other from Southport, just outside of Liverpool, both of whom have travelled to Limerick to see one of their favourite bands. The free-form, post-Hornby conversation that followed was dominated by pop music trivia and by detailed talk of the core British indie-scene from post-punk onwards, before veering casually into a long discussion about the best Everton starting eleven between the years 1975 and 1985. In the worst traditions of condescending journalists, we made our excuses and lost them both at the next lights, having been comprehensively out-anoraked.
Our new friends from the north certainly appreciated the appearance in tonight’s set of a rare cover of ‘Mothers’ by New Zealand’s Jean-Paul Sartre Experience and which appeared on that band’s 1989 album, ‘The Size Of Food’. And, cushioned in and around it, some of the many ace cuts on ‘Going, Going’, ‘Two Bridges’, ‘Rachel’ and ‘Little Silver’ prominent among them. They close it out with another new one, ‘Santa Monica’, during which they hit optimum chugging and after which Gedge promptly leaves the stage to take position at the band’s merchandising stall at the back of the venue. Where the new album is available and where there’s a brisk demand, unsurprisingly, for the vinyl version.