A few weeks ago I noticed that the associated Twitter account to this blog (@recordatrandom) had a new follower (a rare occurrence!) and I was delighted to see that it was David Gedge (@weddingpresent). Ever savvy, David must have picked up on the Twitter chat this blog was engaged in when planning the next record club event (I was pushing for some Weddoes to be played that night). Lo and behold, the next day David is following both the blog and the record club (he’s been invited along next time he is in the area).
So David, errr, this one’s for you….
Ukraine if you want to…
Unlike some of the bands gobbled up by major labels in the great indie land grab of 1989-1992, The Wedding Present seemed to have a level of control over their activities which must have been the envy of many of their peers. While newly signed indie darlings of the time might have swallowed hard and appeared on kids’ TV muttering about how they had always had a dance element to their music, The Wedding Present’s first release when signing to RCA in 1989 was… a 10” LP of Ukranian folk tunes (it actually reached #22 in the UK album charts – so err… take that THE MAN!).
Having then gone down the more traditional route of releasing two LPs (the magnificient Bizarro and the even more so Seamonsters), Gedge embarked on a new project. In his sights was Elvis Presley’s record of 12 top 30 hit singles in a calendar year. The Hit Parade was born.
Released on the first Monday of every month, each 7” only single was limited to 10,000 copies, backed with an eclectic cover version of a tune by acts from The Monkees to Elton John to Close Lobsters to Mud and produced by a host of “name” producers like Ian Broudie and Jimmy Miller. For fans it would be a year without an album release but this was offset by the appeal of a new single every month until Christmas. To entice the collectors, each single was instantly deleted from the catalogue.
The records almost always sold out within the week of release and because of the strictly limited amount became a barometer for overall singles sales that week. Take for instance Blue Eyes, the first release, entering the chart at no.26. Four months later, Come Play With Me, with presumably the same sales, bruised the top 10. So, in early May 1992 just 10,000 singles sales was enough to get you into the top 10.
A great marketing ploy by Gedge by all means, but it also reminded many of the excitement of buying a format that had been declining for some time. Nevertheless it wasn’t designed to give the 7″ single a new lease of life. How could it. It was no coincidence that in 1992 I bought my first cd player….
The whole exercise also highlighted the absurdity of appearing on Top of the Pops to promote a record which wouldn’t exist the following week. According to Gedge, they weren’t beyond turning down the odd appearance, even playing the old “drummer’s got a poorly arm” excuse. Nevertheless, when they were on it was always worth watching.
As a fully paid up member of the cardigan-gripping indie kid fraternity in 1992 (not much has changed to be honest) and with The Wedding Present pretty much a on a loop inside my head, I embraced the Hit Parade project enthusiastically. One snag – I was away on holiday on the day of the first release, and about 30 miles away from the nearest record shop (which is pretty much how it is for most folk nowadays). To the rescue came my (now) sister in law to whom I will for ever be in her debt. Without her buying that first one for me I probably wouldn’t have bothered to get the other eleven in the series. There was no “interweb” or eBay in those days and record fairs were often shark infested waters.
To accompany the releases The Wedding Present produced a series of videos and offered young directors the opportunity to pitch ideas for forthcoming singles. The result was a hugely imaginative collection of films, my favourite being Sticky. Franky, I have no idea what is going on. You can still get them in the Dick York’s Wardrobe compilation, complete with commentary by Alan “Fluff” Freeman.
Inevitably some of the singles were more appealing than others. Blue Eyes, the first release, was an oddly low key opener (although more upbeat than much of the preceding Seamonsters material) and didn’t really set the tone for what was to come. However, in the spirit of the 7” single’s ability to deliver 3 minute slabs of pure-pop-for-now-people, for me the most successful were the instant fixes like Go Go Dancer, California and Sticky. Generally because there’s lots of fast guitars and a catchy tune. I’m easily pleased.
Never shy of a cover version or two, the b-sides were equally anticipated each month. In the past they had contributed (among others) The Beatles’ Getting Better, Orange Juice’s Felicity and had a top 25 hit (and Top of the Pops performance) with a cover of Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me), so expectations were understandably high.
Among my favourite covers in the Hit Parade project were The Monkee’s Pleasant Valley Sunday, Close Lobsters’ Let’s Make Some Plans (the original of which I still haven’t heard as I’ll only be disappointed) and Step Into Christmas, which was originally released for a charity album a couple of years before. The barely discernible Theme from Shaft also had a quirky appeal, as did their (even more) frenetic version of Bow Wow Wow’s Go Wild in The Country, something I always loved as a kid without ever getting what it was about (I’m assuming it’s a bit rude?)
Oh. And talking of cover. Can you figure out where each number originates?*
A couple years later, I got back from work early and switched on the tv. At the time Esther Rantzen had a late afternoon Kilroy-style chat show and the debate was “Why is Modern Pop Music so Crap” or “Kids today, eh?” or something. In the red corner were The Troggs. In the blue corner, unbelievably were The Wedding Present. Given the demographic of the audience in the studio (and no doubt most of those watching at home), TWP never stood a chance and by all accounts were well and truly set up. A lovely live version of Swimming Pools and Movie Stars from the recently released Watusi (their only release for Island since moving from RCA) failed to persuade the bingo-winged jury and The Wedding Present were all but blamed for everything that was wrong with the world today.
I was hopping mad at that, so I wrote them a very quick letter of support along with a cheque for their latest vinyl-only single (Sucker) and asked on the off chance whether they had any boxes to store those Hit Parade singles that were starting to get a bit battered about. A few weeks later a parcel arrived with every thing I asked for and a nice hand written note (on Wedding Present headed stationery of course).
That’s how to look after your fans. It’s no surprise to me that David and the band are still going strong many years later. Indeed, you can catch The Wedding Present touring the 21st anniversary of The Hit Parade throughout 2013. I suggest you go. I’m sure Sticky sounds great live.
Oh, and David, that Record Club offer still stands. We may even let you curate the night. I can lend you some records if you want.
*I’ll update the blog in the next few days with the answers to the covers quiz. Keep your eye on the comments. Have a go. But no cheating!