There's Always Something Left Behind - The Wedding Present's George Best
Updated: Oct 19, 2021
It’s 1987. The Smiths are gone, save the death rattles of posthumous album release, Strangeways, Here We Come, and a live album, Rank. The former, Strangeways, was perfect - so much promise thrown away. I, and many other teenagers, are bereft. But as my mother said, there are plenty more fish in the sea….so a replacement was sought once the tears of despair dried from my black cardigan sleeve…
There were many contenders. James weren’t quite there (they soon would be). The Stone Roses were interesting, but again weren’t quite there. The Mighty Lemon Drops were crap. The band my friends settled on was The Wedding Present.
As a south east London boy, hearing David Gedge sing in his resolutely Yorkshire brogue was new and took a little acclimatising to, but I was soon addicted. His lyrics were full of tales of lost love, broken hearts, betrayal, lust…everything that concerns the mind of inept but randy teenagers.
The music was jangly, fast, catchy - it wasn’t the sophisticated jangle of Johnny Marr, but it was charming and you could throw yourself around a mosh pit to it with abandon. And they had principles. They didn’t play encores. And 34 years on, they still don’t. They were so indie it hurt. They wrote back to fans (I remember my friend Jackie dragging Becky into see me working on my Saturday job in BHS, both in blue jeans, band t-shirt and black cardigan, our indie uniform). Jackie encouraged a shy Becky to show me the letter she had received back from Gedge. How fabulous. I was impressed.
There were non-album singles like Once More, Go Out And Get ‘Em Boy, Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm and You Should Always Stay In Touch With Your Friends. And there was George Best, their debut album in late 1987.
Its timing was perfect, filling the Newport Pagnall sized hole left by The Smiths’ demise. They had cred - the arbiter of all things indie at my school, Mark Maddison aka Maddie, approved of them and told me the lyrics were well worth a read. High praise.
George Best opens with Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft, a tale of rejection and being replaced by someone unworthy - the first of many of the album’s kitchen sick dramas. Its opening line says it all - “Why do you catch my eye and turn away”. Unlike Mozzer, there was no sexual confusion or ambiguity here, just bemusement at the state of his ex’s new beau. Gedge’s lyrics were direct, graphic and tragic. And there was even whistling. The whole album is a paean to a lost relationship, it's a perfect break up album. I'd never heard an indie band document one relationship like this. I am not sure I have since?
What Did Your Last Servant Die Of? is all buzzsaw guitars. In fact, so is most of the album…it’s not for nothing that they had a t-shirt that bore the legend “All The Songs Sound The Same”….Don’t Be So Hard, All This And More, Shatner are all very fast guitars, pounding drums and lyrics bemoaning the state of a young man’s life and his lost love. Write about what you know.
The standout (and yes, it’s the obvious choice, but there’s a reason for that) is My Favourite Dress. A Play For Today style tale of jealousy, broken hearts, envy and betrayal. “Slowly your beauty is eaten away, by the scent of someone else in the blanket where we lay”. It's plaintive cry of "Never mind.....oh, never mind" rang true way back then and still does.
Listening back objectively, there are some great songs, but it’s not a great album technically. The production is poor, the drums were played on a Simmons electronic kit and sound fake, rather than "real drums" and there just isn’t enough variety. But it was hugely important to me back then so none of that matters. They went on to make better albums - Bizarro, Seamonsters, The Hit Parade (technically 12 singles compiled) and my actual favourite, Watusi.
But George Best is a perfect moment in time. It is a brilliant break up album, and lyrically it's stood the test of time. The band re-recorded it 30 years later, as live with Steve Albini, and it’s still as good (in fact the drums are MUCH better). There’s also been a documentary about the love the album still has amongst its fans (Something Left Behind). The band have toured it several times, we saw them play the whole thing at the Roundhouse back in 2017. Rapturous and huge fun.
The love this album has is remarkable, and if you are going through a break up, it's a sanguine reminder you are not alone and it will be ok - "You have got everything that you need", he opined on You Can't Moan, Can You?. Good advice.
I suddenly have a real urge to dig out a black cardigan, a Smiths t-shirt and a pair of black suede brogues.....