WHEN Oxford Brookes University was looking for a singer to perform and discuss their work on Valentine’s Day, one of its academics knew just the man.

On February 14, as the finale of its Think Human Festival, Brookes is hosting an event called The Power of Love, a celebration of love, loss, sexuality, exploitation, power and more.

Fortunately, social anthropologist Dr Patrick Alexander knows a thing or two about music. In a former life, he played guitar with ‘semi-legendary’ indie rockers The Wedding Present, fronted by David Gedge – a man well-versed in matters of the heart.

According to the late broadcaster and DJ John Peel: “The boy Gedge has written some of the best love songs of the ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ era. You may dispute this, but I’m right and you’re wrong!”

Recent documentary Something Left Behind, about the making of the band’s debut album George Best, dubbed it ‘the greatest break-up album of all-time’.

And the band’s legion of fans, who have loyally followed them for more than 30 years – many finding therapy in Gedge’s tales of infatuation, loss, heartbreak and infidelity – wouldn’t disagree.

Gedge will be playing a free set – supported by Oxford’s own Candy Says – at the John Henry Brookes Building, before taking part in a panel discussion exploring how we express love and loss musically in the 21st century.

So how did it all come about?

“Patrick’s our old guitarist and one of the reasons he left is he is a lecturer in anthropology at Brookes,” says Gedge. “He contacted me because it’s a festival they do regularly. This year was love songs. He invited me and he’s going to join me on acoustic guitar, which is nice as we haven’t played together for a while.”

He’ll be taking part in the panel discussion alongside the likes of Grammy Award-winning Andrew Scheps – who was the Wedding Present’s engineer and producer on their albums Valentina and Going, Going... – to discuss how we explore these emotions in music today.

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He confesses “I’m not that good at that sort of thing”, despite getting lots of practice as a result of taking part in plenty of Q&As following screenings of Something Left Behind – including one at Oxford’s Ultimate Picture Palace last year, where he regaled the crowds with tales including offering a then-teetotal George Best a can of beer during a photo session.

So why does he think love is such a draw for songwriters?

“It’s always been, for me, the obvious subject,” he says. “I’ve tried to expand my field but never been happy with the results. Lust, jealousy betrayal...these are the things that interest me.”

It’s hard to argue. More than any songwriter of recent times, Gedge is synonymous with chronicling the highs and lows of relationships. So how did it start?

“The songs I listened to in the 60s and 70s were love songs, they were the most memorable.”

And what are his favourite love songs?

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“Sandie Shaw – Always Something There to Remind Me; Gigantic by the Pixies. And someone was talking recently about Maps by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Some songs can be a bit vague, but there’s a feeling behind it. That’s one of the beauties of it.”

Gedge’s songs often hit a nerve with his audience, and it’s not uncommon for fans to tell him after gigs how much his lyrics have helped them through tough times.

“It’s quite embarrassing,” he confesses. “People get quite emotional. I really don’t know what to say.

“It’s my job, my vocation. I’m quite selfish really, I just wanted to make great songs. People used to write letters explaining their particular problems, asking me as an agony uncle. My songs are about not having the answers. People often identify with the lyrics...it’s a universal subject.

“Once, 20 years ago, someone did a MA or PHD dissertation on my lyrics, which I found very academic. I do work hard at making them conversational. I’ve always steered away from pretentiousness.”

It’s been a period of change for the ever-evolving band, with drummer Charlie Layton and guitarist Danielle Wadey departing after having a baby, replaced by Sleeper’s Jon Stewart and Christopher Hardwick to form an ‘indie supergroup’. But it’ll be a relatively quiet year for the band, with no major tour planned.

“I’ve not written much recently”, says Gedge. “I can’t write on tour. I need to be at home with isolation and privacy. I need to sit down and write them.

“Plus there are other projects I’ve been putting off, so it’ll be a busy year, but not touring. We’ve got a few festivals in the Yorkshire area, but next year we’ll be touring the 30th anniversary of [1991 album] Seamonsters.

“We get offers all the time. It’s hard to say no and I’ve got to be quite strict,” he adds. “I’m my own biggest enemy.”

The Think Human Festival 2020, which started on February 1, is a fortnight of free events embracing what it means to be human – exploring toxic masculinity, the sinister history of Valentine’s Day cards, the loss of Arctic ice, motherhood and more.

For full details go to www.brookes.ac.uk/think-human/

  • David Gedge, Candy Says and other supporting local acts play at The Forum, John Henry Brookes Building, on February 14, at 5pm