When I’d been going to school at High Storrs in Sheffield, I’d basically spent seven years travelling on four buses a day – into and out of town, both ways, always on the top deck. Over that time, I’d naturally become something of an eavesdropper, listening in to all sorts of conversations, usually those of the people behind me. Listening to “George Best” by The Wedding Present was pretty much like that. Morrissey’s lyrics were, as I’ve said before, elegantly mundane, but Dave Gedge’s were even more conversational and ordinary and delivered in a broad Leeds accent, like the voices I’d heard on the bus. I’m sure it was also the first time I’d ever heard the word “daft” sung in a pop song – “Don’t give me that, cos you were seen. Everyone thinks he looks daft but you can have your dream” and “Guess who I saw by your old house the other day. That kid we used to think was mad but now he looks ok” from “Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft”. There were snippets of arguments: “Do you have to spend so much time on your hair? Couldn’t you start it earlier? Of course you’ve got things to wear!” from “What Did Your Last Servant Die Of?” and then typically scathing comments such as “Have you seen her without make up?” from “Don’t Be So Hard”. The singing on the album is so far back in the mix that it makes the listener work hard to hear it – taking me back to the top deck of the number seventy five!
I bought a Wedding Present T-shirt and wore it on the journey when I was one of the staff members taking pupils from Wingfield Comprehensive School on an exchange trip to Spain. (Glynn, one of the other staff members, actually came and asked which wedding I’d been to!) We went to a tiny village called Benaguasil, just outside Valencia, where all the pupils and staff were placed with families for two weeks. Vicente and Maria, the couple we’d been assigned to, actually gave us their apartment and went to live with relatives but we did spend some time with them. Vicente ran a bar in the village as well as being in a consortium who owned the biggest disco in the region. He looked mad, with his wild, restless eyes and we often saw other villagers cross the road when they saw him coming, rather than meet him! But with us, he was fabulous and couldn’t do enough for us. He’d even been taking a correspondence course to learn some English so he could talk to us. I spent many evenings sitting outside his bar, a beer on the table, howling with laughter as we both tried to make ourselves understood. His proudest achievement was being able to say, “The umbrella in the corner belongs to the keyboard player in Barclay James Harvest.” Quite why he’d learned that I will never know! His friend, Melchor would regularly help out by giving me a French translation of what Vicente was saying in his “Valencian dog” language.
Later on in the night, when everyone had had plenty to drink, the men (mostly) gathered round to smoke cigars and play a game of what they called ‘Heel’. We thought it was going to be something elaborate as they were getting very excited about it. It was, in fact, a game that involved putting a few coins inside a circle drawn on the pavement, and trying to knock them out of the circle by throwing an old heel at them. If you knocked a coin out, you kept it. Simple, yes, but you know what? It really was fantastic fun!
During the day time, lazing by the village pool, I would put headphones on and listen endlessly to a cassette I’d recorded of the “George Best” album, smiling to myself as I remembered over-heard conversations and the time when an old bloke sat next to me on the bus and leaned in closer to ask, “Does tha’ know what thirteen times thirteen is?” I didn’t, but since then, I’ve never forgotten! (169, by the way.)