A GUEST POSTING by STRANGEWAYS
Amid no little incidences of pearl-clutching and cries of ‘sell out’, in 1989 The Wedding Present moved from their own Reception Records to a major: RCA.
This was at a time when, for many pop fans, indie as a state of label mattered just as much as indie as a state of mind. The Weddoes had been canny though, negotiating terms that saw the band retaining full artistic control over the songs they recorded, how they sounded and which would be released (to the point that if RCA refused a release, the band – very well-versed in the DIY route – could put the thing out themselves without breaching contract).
It did seem like a best of both worlds affair: the group would keep on keeping on, but was now backed by the power – distribution, marketing, promotion and press – wielded by the label that had once been the home of Elvis.
But hang on. Remember that bit about the band on RCA sounding precisely as you’d expect them to? Scratch that. Because the first release on the major – due, admittedly, to the recent collapse of the Red Rhino distribution network – was a collection of Ukrainian Peel sessions.
This was a project inspired by Weddoes-guitarist-at-the-time Peter Solowka’s Ukrainian family heritage. The sessions featured an invited cohort of musicians connected to Ukraine, including the Leeds-based singer and violin player the Legendary Len Liggins. The songs? Across the three sessions, they were raucous and romantic, often played at a furious pace and at high volume. Not so terribly different then from your regular Wedding Present output.
And speaking of regular output, the RCA years (’89- ’92) would become something of a golden era for the band. Bizarro (1989) and Seamonsters (1991) remain feted LPs, and between these a couple of EPs ushered in a darker, more distorted sound: one that began a roll-call of Top of the Pops appearances. Then, in 1992, via the single-a-month Hit Parade project, twelve calendar-year top 40 hits equalled the record of… one-time label-mate Elvis Presley. But that’s another story and already I’ve veered off course.
As readers will have guessed, the terrible events currently occurring in Ukraine have inspired this post. And hopefully it’s received as it’s intended: as a very small acknowledgement both of what’s going on thanks to Putin and his act of war, and the ability of music to unite rather than divide.
There are loads of ways to send help to those whose lives have been turned upside-down by this tragedy. Collections of cash have of course been called for, and so have donations of clothing, blankets, towels and toiletries. Just have a search online if you’re inclined.
The Wedding Present announced just the other day that sales, from the band’s website, of their Ukrainian-related re-releases would be donated to causes supporting the Ukrainian people. It’s heartening to see that these items sold out in short order.
To the music. Here’s probably the most well-known track from the sessions:
Davni Chasy, first broadcast on 15 March 1988 as part of the group’s fifth Peel session.
The song itself will be better remembered by many as the single Those Were the Days by Mary Hopkin. Wikipedia tells us that in 1968, this was a number 1 hit in the UK, and only the Beatles’ Hey Jude stopped it doing the same business on the Billboard Hot 100 in the USA. Coincidentally, Hopkin’s single was produced by… Paul McCartney.
Also on offer: a 1993 Smiths cover from The Ukrainians, the band Peter Solowka put together post-Wedding Present.
Thanks, as ever, to JC for the opportunity to post this.