Punk may have been dead in the water by the mid-eighties but in the tailspin of its angry maelstrom was an ethos that the music scene was there for the taking if you fancied taking a lark about seriously enough. The rise of The Wedding Present embodied this more than most.
‘Go Out and Get ‘em Boy!’ was the band’s first single in 1985 and as David Gedge tells me, it was the epitome of a revolution beginning at home. “We had made demos,” Gedge said, “And sent them off to record labels that we were fans of and got nothing but rejection slips. We were all on the dole or students, so we had no money, but we saved up. We pressed 500 copies and to make it as cheap as possible I got the National Express down to London, I got the 500 records, brought them back to Leeds, got the sleeves printed at a local printers. Then we cut them out and Pritt Stick’d them on. And off I went to the distributor in York. It was real cottage industry.”
“We’ve remained that way really, even now,” he says, playing into stereotypes, “I still book the van. Maybe because I’m a Yorkshireman and I begrudge paying someone else the money.”
It may well have been a primitive method, but it worked in as much as the band slowly started to gain attention. Their jangly pop sound was a fresh burst of sui generis nostalgia amid the synth-sedated music industry of the time. Thereafter the albums George Best and Bizarro solidified their place amid Britain’s new wave of guitar bands.
To Gedge, this seemed oddly fated, “It’s funny because, on the one hand, we didn’t think it would be a career. We said once that we’d just make four singles, but I think at the same time I’ve always wanted to do this, and I don’t know what else I would’ve done if I wasn’t in the band. It’s strange because I never really decided to be a musician, I just always knew I’d do it really.”
If all seemed rosy on this fated journey following the success of Bizarro, then things were about to change. Retrospect often plays a trick on culture and iconic records often end up on the ash heap before being resurrected by an indeterminate combination of happenstance and their own inextinguishable brilliance. Now, Seamonsters resides in a cannon of seminal early 1990s records that helped shape the era, but the departure from an adrenalised sanguine sonic output of jangles and hook lines to a rather more considered underwater realm of overtures, mood swings and caustic riptides, led to a backlash of reviews that rubbished the new direction with a flippant dismissal.
Gedge recalls the moment that NME slapped it with a 5/10 upon release, saying, “[bad reviews] always hurt. As an artist, you put your life into something, and it is disappointing. It’s sad. I’ve got to say actually that Seamonsters is now seen as this iconic mould-breaking record, but it wasn’t well-received 30 years ago. The NME wasn’t the only bad review. Even the fans didn’t really like it mostly. Seamonsters sold half as much as Bizarro.”
Fortunately for Gedge and the band, they are not alone on this front. Even their beloved and abiding influence the Velvet Underground struggled to get their now-ubiquitous sound to escape the dirge of New York’s demimonde. And in some ways, the way in which Seamonsters shaped the guitar scene that followed brings to mind a Brian Eno quote about the aforementioned Stateside proto-pioneers, “I was talking to Lou Reed the other day, and he said that the first Velvet Underground record sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years. Yet, that was an enormously important record for so many people. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band! So I console myself in thinking that some things generate their rewards in second-hand ways.”
Whilst munificent first-hand rewards might also be desirable it is the slow-burning influence of their defiant output that has kept The Wedding Present relevant and ultimately enjoyable after almost four decades. As Gedge declares, “There’s definitely a certain sense of pride in doing it all your own way.”
And befittingly, Seamonsters was the band doing things their own way and escaping influences like the Velvet Underground in the process. “I’ve always tried not to be influenced,” Gedge continues. “I’ve always hated it when you listen to a record and you think ‘oh, I know what you’ve been listening to’, so Seamonsters was our attempt not to sound like anybody.”
In a bid to escape the shackles of influence and venture into the void of your own headwind, the band brought in the famed iconoclastic producer, Steve Albini. “We had a gig in Manchester,” Gedge explained. “And even Shaun Keaveny was there. He was doing a school project, so he was there backstage when Albini arrived with RCA.”
From then on it was obvious, Gedge explained, not that Shaun Keaveny would go on to whimsical radio stardom, but that Albini would produce the record. “We just really got on. He’s got this reputation of being difficult to work with, but he was absolutely perfect for us. It’s all boring stuff really, but he just knows about EQ’s and where to put microphones so that a drumkit sounds right, all the boring stuff that I have no interest in really.”
With Albini’s profound knowledge of the boring stuff and the band’s adventurous new sound, they were able to capture the visceral edge that all break-up albums should have and imbue it with something wholly new, which, in its own time, would help shape the scene that followed in its wake.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of this troubled icon, the band have re-released the record in a pristine recreation complete with a plethora of bonus material from Peel Sessions and more. Also following the success of their recent streamed live shows, on Saturday, 29 May at 8pm (UK), The Wedding Present will be streaming a live performance of Seamonsters (and more) via DICE TV. Tickets are £12 and ticket holders will be able to watch for 24 hours after the start time, thus if you want to watch the Champions League Final, then the gig will be waiting for you to celebrate with, drown your sorrows or else party on indifferently.
The anniversary edition will be released on 28 May 2021 through Sony Music UK, it can be pre-ordered here.