Stars Ride, Lush and more...
On a warm, summer day in July, 1991, 10,000 music fans descended on Upton Park for the second Slough Festival. As insalubrious as the name sounds, the Slough Festival (tickets: £6.50 in advance, £7.50 on the gate) offered audiences the chance to witness Ride, Curve, Slowdive, Revolver and more in the bucolic surrounds of a Grade II listed park in Berkshire. While Slowdive took to the stage in the warmth of the late afternoon sun, members of Lush, Chapterhouse and Blur congregated at the backstage bar. Although wryly described as the “shoegaze Woodstock”, the Slough Festival represented a moment of mellow Arcadian splendor for its principals. It’s a shame it wouldn’t last, of course.
1991 brought fluctuating fortunes, to say the least. The new year brought new sounds – debut EPs from Moose, Catherine Wheel and Revolver – while Chapterhouse, Slowdive and Swervedriver consolidated their earlier successes on their first full-length albums. Elsewhere, during a giddy eight month period, Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, Primal Scream’s Screamadelica and My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless arrived in the shops. Suddenly, the possibilities for British music seemed boundless. A rosy future lay just around the corner.
But for the growing cluster of British shoegazing bands, was there enough ambition to carry them forward to the next level? “If we ever headlined The Town & Country Club, that would be success,” says Andy Sherriff. “That was the limit of our ambitions.” Reflecting now on the period during 1990 and 1991, when the heat around Ride was intensifying, Mark Gardener remains sanguine about the extent of his band’s aspirations: “I had no real expectation on it becoming a career at that point.”
Gardener was, however, surprised to find himself – and, by extension, the perceived inertia of the shoegazing movement – parodied by comedian Rob Newman during an episode of BBC sketch show, The Mary Whitehouse Experience. “Rob was a total fan,” says Gardener. “I saw him a couple of times wearing the same shirts as me, same hair. But it was weird. I thought, ‘This is getting into the mainstream. But who would actually know who we were anyway? Do people find that sketch funny?’ I suppose you start to realize that you’re starting to matter if people are taking the piss out of you.”
If the Slough Festival allowed shoegazing bands the opportunity to celebrate their achievements, the line-up for the Reading Festival three weeks later hinted at changes to come. Chapterhouse found themselves sandwiched on the Friday bill between Dinosaur Jr and Nirvana. “We’d played with Nirvana a month before at a festival in Rotterdam,” says Andy Sherriff. “I remember seeing them there and thinking they were going to be massive. By the time they got to Reading, they were just about to break.”
“I always though it was weird that shoegaze got washed away by music that was really quite similar,” says Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite. “I wouldn’t say there is that big a difference between My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr or Swervedriver and Nirvana.”
“We were at Chipping Norton studios recording [Ride’s second album] Going Blank Again,” remembers Gardener. “I remember turning on MTV and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ started playing. ‘Whoa!’ You just knew that song was going to knock everything off its axis.”