From Leeds With Love #1

Before we get back to business, another new feature. (Yes, I am stalling a bit)

I’ve mentioned them a couple of times in passing recently, but Leeds’ The Wedding Present are one of my favourite ever bands; if Super Furry Animals are not, as I’ve previously proclaimed, the band that I’ve seen live most often, then that honour must go to David Gedge and co.

One of the reasons I love them is not just because of their own, self-penned songs, but also for the wealth of songs they have introduced me to by other acts  – and not in a “I really must go and buy the new single by Raymonde/Ludus/insert-any-number-of-bands-here because Morrissey was apparently (but not definitely) seen at one of their gigs” kind of way (although I have shelled out for plenty of records on that basis) but in a more straight forward way: by doing a cover version.

Over the years, The Wedding Present have provided me with a veritable smörgåsbord of cover versions to chow down on; in my late teens/early twenties, when I was at the peak of my completest obsessive record buying mania, these would mostly crop up on semi-obscure various artist compilation albums, which ticked many boxes.

Box One: I owned a brand new Wedding Present cover version which was, generally unavailable elsewhere at the time, and which nobody else I knew had a copy of. Tick!

Box Two: Often I would not have heard of the artiste who had done the original version, which led me to seek out their records. Tick! Tick!

Box Three: There would be at least 9 other tracks on the album by bands I’d never heard of before either. Generally 8 of them were so awful I made a conscious decision to swerve any other records by them, a fact made easy by just how terrible they were. But that 9th one…often a gem. Often, but not always. Okay, often is too generous a word. Sometimes. Sometimes is better. Tick! Tick! Tick!

So, I thought I’d start a new feature where I let you hear the original version alongside that of The Wedding Present – a compare and contrast, if you will. I expect there to be a 2,000 word essay discussing each version on my desk first thing in the morning.

You will see as this series of posts unfolds that a Wedding Present cover version is an indicator of a record which was class in the first place, a seal of approval, if you will. But where to start? The choices are many.

As I write this, it is my brother’s birthday. At least it is where I am; he currently lives and works in India (which is handy, as it’d be a hell of a commute if he didn’t), and in India it is already The Day After My Brother’s Birthday.

As regular readers will remember, my brother’s own record collection had an enormous effect on my own when we were growing up, so to mark both of these facts, today’s post seemed to be an ideal place to kick off from.

The Kindness of Strangers was released in 1988 to raise money for the Save the Children charity. As you will see from the album sleeve, that 1 great Wedding Present cover version : 9 utter duffers ratio is apparent here. I can’t say I listened to the rest of them more than once, if that.

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The Wedding Present – Happy Birthday

(Like it? Buy it here) (actually, I can only find The Kindness of Strangers on ebay, so the link is to not to that but to The Wedding Present’s “Complete Peel Sessions” box set instead. This is, to the best of my knowledge, the only other place you can purchase this track)

and

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Altered Images – Happy Birthday (You don’t really need me to tell you about this, do you???)

(Like it? Buy it here)

Happy Birthday, bruv!

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How to Do a Cover Version (Part One)

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Ok, time to turn this blog into something slightly different from my mission statement. I’ll still keep going with the embarrassing memoirs (I’m sure both of you regular readers are gripped), but in the meantime, I think I need to add a new element or two. This is purely to keep me interested, you understand.

So, I have this theory. About cover versions. Actually I have several theories about cover versions, and here they come:

1) There’s no point in doing a cover version unless you add something to it

2) A good cover version makes you seek out the original

3) The version you hear, know and become familiar with first is the one you love, no matter how good the original is.

(Does three count as several?)

Let me give you an example of the latter. In 1986, The Communards, a band comprised mostly of ex-Bronski Beat’s Jimi Somerville and now fully fledged man of the cloth Richard Coles, released a cover version which was, to use Top of the Pops vernacular, an absolute smasher.

The Communards take on Don’t Leave Me This Way, whichever way you look at it, is a total belter, and it’s a shame that they never really escaped the public perception of them being a covers band. They probably didn’t help themselves, mind, as their next big hit was another cover version, this: Goodbye, and so the die was cast. Bronski Beat, as I’m sure you know, delivered a few great singles (one of which was a cover), before Jimi jumped ship leaving the other two flailing on the shores of Past-Their-Sell-by-Date-Bands-Whose-Talent-Has-Moved-On Island (see also Haircut 100), pleading us to Hit That Perfect Beat (a song so bad, even I don’t own a copy of it).

Jimi has one of the most unique voices in pop music, and it’s a shame that he seemed determined to posit himself as nothing more than a high-pitched walking karaoke bar. Even when he went solo he covered this and this. Leave them alone, Jimi! (A very close friend of mine DJ’d at a private party once, dropped the original of the latter as his first tune, only to be greeted with the phrase “Poof, are you?” by a pot-bellied beer chugger).

But I digress. I know there are older and better versions of Don’t Leave Me This Way out there, and I’ll leave you to seek them out for yourself, but it’s The Communards version that always gets me. Memories, see? I was at sixth form when it came out, an important period for me, a time when I learned to love not just pop music but also slightly off the wall, non-chart-bothering songs too.

But there’s one person I admire and adore in pop who puts everyone else to shame when it comes to cover versions (and with non-chart-bothering songs, now I think about it): David Gedge and his band The Wedding Present. Now, I’m hoping Gedge’s is a name you’re familiar with, and I can hear my friends groan from here when I mention my love of The Weddoes (slightly quieter than when I mention Quo, but still…). Apart from Super Furry Animals (who, I’m sure you’ll agree are fucking awesome – see you at Brixton!), The Wedding Present are the band I’ve seen most often, and I would urge you to catch them at any possible opportunity.

Gedge has always been a fan of pop music and has turned in a remarkable string of cover versions, some of which I already knew the original of, but most of which made me go and check out the covered artist’s back catalogue.

Today’s post falls into the first category, one I, and you, know well, covered in the way that only the Wedding Present can:

Happy Birthday – Altered Images

Happy Birthday – The Wedding Present

Just to tie things up nicely, since they get a name check in the cover version, here’s the original of a  certain someone’s most famous song: a song so synonymous with them that most people don’t realise it’s a cover version. Now that’s how to do a cover version.

More soon.