In August 2010 a couple of days before my 40th birthday, I persuaded some of my oldest mates to accompany me to some place called Holmfirth in Yorkshire to see The Wedding Present play their album “Bizarro” in full. Since then, we’ve been using Wedding Present gigs as an excuse to get together because, to quote an early songtitle, you should always keep in touch with your friends. We’ve seen them play several other albums in full now: “Seamonsters” “Hit Parade” and their most recent one “Going Going…”
Hard to believe that the band’s debut album “George Best” came out 30 years ago. It certainly doesn’t seem that long ago that I first heard it on the player cassette of a rickety old Lancia Y10 owned by my good friend Mr Fingers. The two of us set off in a slightly more reliable car to Manchester’s Academy to re-live our teenage years at the one day festival known as Gigantic.
We arrived halfway through Mark Morriss out of The Bluetones performance and just as we finished buying our pints he started introducing their big hit “Slight Return.” He made a few amusing comments about the song getting airplay on Heart FM and earning him enough money to keep him in trainers for all 17 of his children. It’s a good song but The Bluetones made quite a few that were even better. One of those was the magnificent “If” which closed the set today and left me wondering (just like it did when it came out) why this song with its inventive chord progressions and singalong “na na na na” ending wasn’t a mahusive hit.
It would’ve been good to hear some more songs off The Bluetones second, and in my opinion, best album “Return to the Last Chance Saloon”, in particular “Sleazy Bed Track” and “Down to the Reservoir.” Although to be fair, he may well have already played those before we got there. Could’ve lived without the Elton John cover but overall what we did see was thoroughly enjoyable and seeing him for the first time I was pleasantly surprised by how funny he was. Mr Fingers commented afterwards “I’d forgotten how many of their songs I knew”, something which became a bit of a recurring theme of the day.
In contrast, the next band were one I saw many times “back in the day” and then saw again last year at The Deaf Institute just up the road from here. Mr Fingers was with me at one of those gigs (Aldershot Buzz Club 1990) a gig we both remember as being, like every gig at that much-missed venue, FUCKING LOUD.
Thousand Yard Stare were the first band I ever saw where the bandmembers were the same age as me and, unsurprisingly, they still are. Like Mr Fingers, some of the band have considerably less hair these days (i.e. none at all) but apart from that not a lot has changed. Singer Stephen’s voice still sounds just as great and he still restlessly prowls the stage doing a lot of pointing and gesturing incomprehensibly during the lengthy instrumental sections. The rhythm section (Dominic drums, Sean bass and most importantly Kevin on guitar) are still fucking brilliant, particularly on the many songs that use *that* beat. You know the beat I mean, the Funky Drummer “baggy” that was on so many indie tunes in late 80s / early 90s. Think “Joe” by Inspiral Carpets and 3 songs that were highlights of today’s set, “Keepsake” “Buttermouth” and debut single “Weatherwatching.”
At The Deaf Institute last year, I was standing right in front of Kevin and Sean but this time around I found myself front row directly in front of Giles on guitar. This meant I got to see some fantastic guitar hero antics up close, including the great riffs that open new song “Heimlich Maneuver”, old favourite “0-0 a.e.t.” and my personal favourite the funky intro to the aforementioned “Keepsake.”
Got to admit that before going to The Deaf Institute gig last year, I did have a few doubts. Were my memories of Thousand Yard Stare gigs the first time around recalled through the rose-tinted prism of youth? Was it just wistful nostalgia for my lost youth? After all, nobody else I knew seemed to remember them with the same enthusiasm that I did. Was it possible that I just got caught up in the general excitement of the times and in actual fact, Thousand Yard Stare were *gasp* not all that good? That Manchester gig last year kicked my stupid doubts up the arse and this gig gave them a further kick in the bollocks to go with it. Thousand Yard Stare were and are fucking brilliant.
Before the next band came on, Mr Fingers was telling me how one of his teenage daughters plays drums and has been learning to play Ramones and Blondie songs. Well surely The Primitives would be the ultimate band for her. They are basically Debbie Harry fronting The Ramones with a little bit of 60s girl group thrown into the mix. Both of us saw them play at Portsmouth Guildhall in 1989, a gig that neither of us could recall a single thing about apart from the fact that the moshpit was full on chaos (but not as rough as the “wrecking” at the Pogues gigs we used to go to back then!) I saw The Primitives again last summer headlining the best small festival around, Going Up the Country in Congleton where I think they were even better!
Here in Manchester they were excellent again. Tracey Tracey as effortlessly cool now as she was 28 years ago. Drummer Tig Williams is clearly a man who loves his work. He plays drums like there’s nothing else going on in the room, totally into what he’s playing and 100% “in the zone.” We particularly enjoyed “Really Stupid” “Way Behind Me” and of course “Crash.” The only disappointment was that they weren’t on for longer! There was some kind of disagreement between the bandmembers about what song they were playing next and then off they went.
As well as the old tunes, I recommend their 2012 album “Echoes and Rhymes” where they play 14 fuzzed up versions of obscure 60s songs. A delight for all you crate digging punk rockers out there.
Earlier in the day Mark Morriss had advised the crowd to pace ourselves with our drinking so we made it through the whole day. Not an issue for us because we were both driving but pacing ourselves energywise still an issue for us mid-40s indie rock fans. We knew that we wanted to be down the front and jumping around for the whole of the “George Best” album later but that was more than 3 hours away so in the meantime we had to strike the right balance. We needed to plan ahead so we got to spend the requisite amount of time inside and outside the venue whilst also scheduling in an intake of additional energy in the form of unhealthy fried snacks. There were plenty of seats available outside in the smoking area but extended spells spent there could get a bit chilly because we had of course adhered to Indie Gig Going Rule Number 1 (don’t bring a coat). Incidentally in the rules of Prog Rock Gig Going this is known as the Phil Collins Directive (no jacket required)
Inside the venue it was substantially warmer but that meant standing up for 3 hours which wasn’t very appealing. The end result of all this was that we only saw bits of the next 3 acts. We only saw a song and a half of Pop Will Eat Itself but that was probably enough to be honest. As much as I used to enjoy dancing to the Stooges-aping “Def Con One” and “There Is No Love Between Us Anymore” in south coast indie discos back then, I never felt compelled to buy any of their records and in truth I’ve never really understood the appeal of a vastly inferior West Midlands version of the Beastie Boys. But what do I know? There were probably more PWEI T-shirts here than any other band and the majority of the crowd were loving it so maybe it’s me that just Can’t Dig It.
Next up was Jimbob (James Robert to his mother) from Carter. Mr Fingers reminded me of how back when I used to work in Guildford HMV, I used to take the piss out of blazer wearing kids from local public schools who’d come in to the shop asking “Got any Car’er?” as if they’d been brought up on the mean streets of SW16. I told Fingers how in the early 2000s after the Unstoppable Sex Machine had er, stopped, my band played a gig in Crystal Palace Bowl supporting JimBob’s post-Carter band who were named after some trickily pronounced Eastern European cyclist. (Post gig Googling reveals that the band were called Abdoujaparov and JimBob isn’t in that band at all, it’s the other bloke from Carter!)
Both of us had owned Carter stuff on tape, since consigned to who knows where long before hipsters started buying music on tapes again! I have the CD single of “Rubbish” (which includes a great cover of Pet Shop Boys “Rent”) but largely the timing of Carter USM’s most popular music meant that we’d bought a lot of it on tape just before we’d started buying most of our music on CD and never got around to re-purchasing on CD. The end result of that is that we haven’t listened to them for nearly a quarter of a century!! That phrase “I’d forgotten how many of their songs I knew” was back out again because in fact we remembered pretty much every song he played.
Back in their heyday, Billy Bragg had a joke he used regularly at his gigs:”If there are any Carter fans in tonight and you’re wondering what that is, it’s called a drummer!” The trademark Carter cheap drum machine was such a key part of their DIY punk racket that you wouldn’t think the songs would work in acoustic form. The reason why they do is all down to the lyrics, densely packed with wonderfully creative puns and wordplay, packed pop culture references. It’s like early 80s Costello rewritten by Kanye. The last few songs were especially memorable as JimBob led the crowd as they sang along boisterously. I’d forgotten what great songs “Shopper’s Paradise” and “Lean On Me, I Won’t Fall Over”. There was a massed singalong with outsider anthem and genuine hit single “The Only Living Boy In New Cross” followed by musical showstopper “The Impossible Dream” which ended with the “you’re wonderful, give me your hands” bit from Bowie’s “Rock n Roll Suicide,” before ending with the inevitable and still brilliant “Sheriff Fatman”
Next up were EMF. Once again, I’d owned their only album “Schubert Dip” on tape and never got around to replacing it with a CD version so hadn’t listened to it in decades. With some UV lighting onstage, the band certainly looked the part. Out of all the bands playing today, EMF were the only ones who were still dressed like it was still 1991. They looked ready to spend the rest of the evening necking disco biscuits in a field somewhere just off the M25.
Singer James Atkins (a music teacher these days as this video shows) was wearing a “JACK YOUR BODY” t-shirt and a pair of knee length shorts in a fetching combination of camouflage and luminous orange. I suddenly felt nostalgic for a pair just like them that I bought in Camden Market and wore to Glastonbury in the early 90s. Guitarist Ian Dench played some great wah wah drenched guitar solos while sporting a spectacular beard and Global Hypercolour type tshirt. He’s still a very successful songwriter who’s written a few for Beyoncé.
Of course the crowd went the most crazy for “Unbelievable” but follow up single “I Believe” was also great. My favourite song of the set was “I Haven’t Seen You for a Long Time” (oh how I miss those luminous orange shorts!) which featured some quality old school Italo house piano. Bangin’!
JimBob came back onstage to help them their final song, their theme song that goes “E, Ecstasy, M Motherfuckers M motherfuckers, F From us to you.” Earlier on in the day I’d tried explaining this song and what the EMF stood for to Mr Fingers as he looked back at me dubiously.
On to the main event then. The “semi legendary Wedding Present” as David Gedge puts it. Just had time to queue up for some chips and then scoff them during the opening songs which were a couple of favourites from relatively recent albums, “Broken Bow” from last years epic double album and total masterpiece “Going Going…” (listen to our review of that album here) and “Deer Caught in the Headlights” from 2012’s “Valentina” which features a brilliant cymbal-crashing instrumental section and is always a live favourite.
Then another from “Going Going…”, my favourite track in fact entitled “Fifty Six”, a song you can hear in full on my Best of 2016 podcast. As discussed in that podcast, the second half of the song builds and builds and builds but until tonight I’d never noticed that bass player Danielle plays a grand total of 1 note for the whole of this section (it’s a D in case you were wondering!)
Another of my back catalogue favourites came up next, the magnificent Crawl from the flawless “3 Songs” EP followed by an instrumental “England” from the recent “Home Internationals” EP released on Record Store Day. By this time, Mr Fingers and me had made our way down to the front and just had time to make the comment that it was all very calm around there before Gedge intoned the immortal words that start the album “Oh why do you…” Those words were like some kind of dog whistle. And they’re off! Suddenly the pogoing started and carried on from here until the end of the set. Get a feel for how it was down there from these 2 videos I took.
It seems pointless to try and pick out highlights from “George Best” because all of it was, of course, fantastic. I took a tactical retreat from the moshpit during the breakneck “Shatner” (ironically introduced with the words “We’re going to slow things down a bit now”) before heading further forwards again for the rest of the album.
After “George Best”, 2 of the band’s best known songs “Brassneck” and “Kennedy” were played for an uncharacteristically crowd-pleasing finale.
Before “Brassneck”, Gedge spoke movingly about his affection for this city he grew up in and dedicated the song to all those affected by the Manchester bomb a few days ago. The last time The Wedding Present played this venue was the day after the Eagles of Death Metal gig in Paris was attacked. Surreal and horrifying to think of people being attacked while at gigs because these are events which celebrate community and shared experience. During “Kennedy”, some bloke just in front of me lost his glasses and half a dozen of us did the time-honoured gig thing of linking arms to stop others from falling on him while he found them. Community you see. We might spend most of the gig deliberately shoving and jumping into each but when necessary we join together to help each other. We take care of our own. Both tonight and last time at this venue, lots of people were shaking hands with, hugging and thanking the security staff as they were leaving. Brassneck indeed.
As usual David Gedge was manning his own merchandise stand and I bought this CD at the gig. This is the whole George Best album re-recorded with Steve Albini live in his Chicago studio in 2008.
If there’s a fault with the original album, it is that the production sounds a bit dated now. It’s tightly compressed and everything sounds a bit too trebly. This new(er) recording actually sounds far better and has a lot more bite. Highly recommended listening.
I also took the opportunity to ask him what’s going on with the lyrics of the song “Soup” where the usual Gedgian tale of romantic intrigue and derring-do is interrupted with a seemingly unrelated shouty chorus where the phrase “no soup for you” is repeated.
Mr Gedge kindly explained that the soup thing is a reference to a grumpy chef in an episode of “Seinfeld” so that’s that mystery solved.
Related posts on this website:
- Q & A with Thousand Yard Stare
- The Wedding Present: One From Each with special indie-rock royalty guests
- The Hit Parade singles in graphic detail
- Live review: The Wedding Present @ Liverpool Academy, November 2013
- Podcast number 18: Chorizo Garbanzo’s Best of 2013
- Record Shopping in the UK
- Podcast number 27: John Peel’s 75th Birthday Special
- Live review: The Wedding Present @ Long Division festival, Wakefield 2014
- Playlist for John Peel Day, October 2014
- Live review: Cinerama @ Indietracks, Derbyshire. July 2015
- Live review: The Wedding Present @ Manchester Academy, November 2015
- Live review: The Wedding Present @ Salford Lowry, September 2016
- Lots more gig reviews