Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Wedding Present at Camden Koko

I am too old for mosh pits now. I am over forty. They weren't even called mosh pits in my day. But last night, when everyone else in the mosh pit was over forty, I made an exception.

We were pogoing to an album called Bizarro, by The Wedding Present. It didn't make a huge stir when it was released in 1989. It isn't even The Wedding Present's most famous album (more people know 'George Best'). But on it David Gedge brought together a clutch of bittersweet songs about relationships.

Gedge writes songs that are snatches of dialogue. Things said or thought at key stages of a relationship, when it is still up for grabs, when hope is still alive or when the wounds are still fresh.

The frail hope of the start of relationship:
'I spent all day trying to decide, about the words that you said last night - did they mean nothing? or were they filled with hidden clues?'

The frustration:
'Why don't you pick up the telephone. I know that you're at home'

The paranoia:
'Is that a letter you're hiding from me? I feel like I'm being used again, can we open it and see?'

The killer detail:
"Its that razor he left upon your shelf, I'll throw it away myself'

The mixed feelings:
In the song 'Thanks' a man knows his ex has shown all his love letters to her new partner. It contains the line 'his head's been on the pillow that we bought'. But it ends with the line 'I just can't get mad at you no matter how I try'

You could compare Gedge with Morrissey, his contemporary from just across the Pennine hills. But Morrissey doesn't write about relationships, he writes about existence. Morrissey writes as a man who has given up on the prospect of relationships making him happy. When Morrissey addresses a song to another human being they are so far distant, the words could never be actually said to them. Think of 'Back to the Old house': The words 'When you cycled by, there began all my dreams' sung to a person irrevocably lost years and years ago.

The band started the evening with a few warm up songs. Then they played a tape that collected all the words that John Peel used to introduce a Wedding Present song on air. It felt like he was speaking yesterday. You could see how moved people were. Most of them, like me, would never have heard of this band if it wasn't for John Peel. My introduction was Peel playing 'My Favourite Dress' back in 1987. The end of the tape had John Peel saying 'and this is from their new album, Bizarro'.

The band kicked straight into playing the album. The word 'Brassneck' is spat out, twice, followed by the gentle, self-deceiving 'I have just decided I don' t love you anymore' (as if you decide something like that!)

Gedge pauses. Asks us if we have any questions?
"where is Peter?'
'' He got kicked out of the band for being a knobhead like you''

Why are Leeds so shit?' (Gedge comes from Leeds)
'How should I know, I support Man United'
Mocking chorus of 'we all hate red scum' from some sections of the crowd. Amazing how a Leeds band in the 80s got away with calling their first album after a Man Utd legend.

Lots of requests. Mainly for 'My Favourite Dress'.

With two songs of the album to go Gedge tells us the band never ever does encores.

The penultimate song was nine minutes long. The chorus 'Why don't you put that down and take me I am yours?' is barked by Gedge. I used to play that song a lot in my twenties. I used to imagine someone saying 'oh allright then'. Tonight was my opportunity to bounce up and down and sing it in company. But the company was a lot of forty-something blokes like me.

The last song was very short and very quiet. It finishes with 'And there is a thousand things I wish I'd said and done, but the moment's gone'.

The thing I love about Gedge's songs is the way a stray phrase will sum everything up. You can just imagine the man, at the end of the relationship, shaking his head and saying maybe to himself, maybe to her 'That was my favourite dress you know'.