We join the band as their comeback begins in 2015...
GARDENER chooses a snug, boho café on Oxford’s Magdalen Road for lunch. Posters and handbills cover the walls, carrying ads for yoga classes, reiki workshops and ante-natal massage treatments. Gardener has lived in this part of Oxford all of his life. Six doors down from the Oxfork café, he explains, his uncle played him the Beach Boys’ “Surf’s Up”. Later, he memorialised this area in Ride’s song “OX4”, written during a bout of homesick blues while on tour. Today, as he tucks into a plate of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, Gardener remembers how a school production of Grease was pivotal in bringing him and Andy Bell together; he was cast as one of the T-Birds, while Bell played guitar in the school band.
For his part, when we meet a few weeks later in a rehearsal space near King’s Cross, Bell vividly remembers Gardener wearing a turquoise tracksuit around school. “Mark and I were friends from the age of 12 or 13,” he explains, sitting behind a drum kit, a Beatles cushion stuffed into the bass drum beneath him. “Our friendship is the longest. All your firsts – the first time you get drunk, the first cigarette you smoke, the first girlfriend – all that was our shared ground.”
Gardener and Bell bonded over The Smiths during art classes at Cheney. Later, as students at Banbury Art College, they formed a close-knit group with fellow student Loz Colbert, and another Cheney alumnus, Steve Queralt. By the mid-’80s, they had begun performing together in various iterations – Bell has especially grim memories of playing in a local reggae band with Queralt. “We decided to move into a student house together on Bath Road,” continues Bell. “We were the shoegazing Monkees. Mark’s funny, he’s really quick. He was confident, kind of cool. Steve was the older guy. He was really grumpy. Loz had a quiff, a white T-shirt, a black leather jacket and blue jeans with turn-ups and DMs. This whole James Dean vibe.”
In the summer of 1988, meanwhile, they played together for the first time as a quartet; in admittedly less than salubrious surroundings. “Loz had a drumkit in his mum’s garage,” reveals Queralt. “We had a massive jam session,” adds Colbert. “We didn’t stop for about four hours.”
“People would come and hang out when we rehearsed at the art college,” remembers Queralt. “We felt like we were The Velvet Underground. When we played our first show, 30 people came along and that was good enough. The next time we were supporting someone at the Jericho Tavern, so there was a progression. We thought, ‘Let’s try and be the biggest band in Oxford.’”
That said, the Oxford music scene in the late ’80s had relatively limited ambitions. “No band had left Oxford and made a big career out of it,” confirms Queralt. “Apart from one of Supertramp. And Mr Big.”
“The Jericho was one of the centres of Oxford music,” recalls Philip Selway. “It felt like a landmark playing there, if you were an Oxford band.” Adam Franklin, then a member of local group Shake Appeal, recalls seeing one of Ride’s earliest shows there. “They were opening for a band called Satan Knew My Father, a joke fast metal band. I’d brought my Marshall head along for someone to use. We went to the bar while these young kids were setting up, soundchecking. Suddenly they burst into ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. They were like The Stooges meets The Byrds. We looked over and thought, ‘Fucking hell, this is all right.’”
The band’s music at this early point was evolving principally through lengthy jams. Gardener and Bell would arrive with ideas – a lyric, perhaps, or a melody or chord sequence – that together the band would develop and finesse. The only member working full-time was Queralt, who worked in the Oxford branch of Our Price with Dave Newton, later the band’s manager. “Steve was great at dropping into the mix really interesting bands,” remembers Gardener. “The House Of Love, My Bloody Valentine. Loop and Spacemen 3. I hadn’t heard music like that before. It had an affect on us. It gave us a sensibility.”
Looking back on the songs that comprise Ride’s self-titled debut EP – released on Creation in January, 1990 – Andy Bell is quick to identify the specific qualities which resonated with their audience. “We were pretty similar to them and we distilled what was going on and fed it back to them. ‘Chelsea Girl’ was ‘Destroy The Heart’ by The House Of Love. ‘Drive Blind’ was ‘Slow’ by the Valentines. We had a Spacemen 3 type song. We ripped off the noisy bit in ‘You Made Me Realise’ and put it into ‘Drive Blind’ with a bit of ‘How Soon Is Now?’. We were fans and we were enthusiastic about it enough to be infectious.”