Following this morning’s momentous news of Ride’s return to active service, I thought I’d dig out this piece I wrote for Uncut in 2011.
It’s a Making Of… piece on the band’s first EP from 1990; still, I think, a pretty terrific record. It’s a particularly rich time for former Creation bands of a certain vintage: last year brought the first Slowdive shows in nearly 20 years, while Swervedriver and The Telescopes are also back in action. The return of Ride, though, feels long overdue: I always thought there never quite fulfilled their potential while Andy Bell’s career in Oasis and Beady Eye increasingly seemed to overshadow Ride’s achievements. It’s tempting to read a little bit of that into the David Crosby quote that accompanies the press statement announcing their reunion: “Your first band is like your first love; you never forget it, and you never feel quite the same way about any other band.”
Ride’s emergence from the drowsy Oxford suburbs coincided with a critical time for British independent music, not least for Alan McGee’s Creation label. The previous year, their marquee band The House Of Love had signed to a major label, Fontana. 1989 itself, meanwhile, had almost been a write-off for Creation. The big news that year had been Madchester – the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays – and Creation had no stake in it.
The four-track Ride EP offered welcome hope for aspiring guitar bands – and also conveniently reminded people that Creation had no small part to play in their success. The EP set out the band’s stall: highlights included the noise pop of “Chelsea Girl”, with its scything guitar riff and climactic barrage of feedback, and the hypnotic grind of “Drive Blind”. The EP sold out of its initial pressing of 4,000 copies in three days (it eventually sold over 60,000) and Ride found themselves courted by major American labels. Their debut long player, 1990’s Nowhere, was at that point Creation’s most successful album. Its follow-up, 1992’s Going Blank Again, nudged them closer to mainstream success – but two subsequent albums saw the band gradually decline.
Life after Ride has proved mixed for the former band members. Singer-guitarist Mark Gardener recently recorded the soundtrack to Creation documentary, Upside Down. After heading up Hurricane No 1, singer-guitarist Andy Bell went on to join Oasis and is currently a member of Beady Eye. Drummer Loz Colbert now plays with the Jesus And Mary Chain. Bassist Steve Queralt, meanwhile, has retired completely from music.
“The arrogance of releasing the EP was great,” remembers Bell today. “The confidence of it was great. It was a real statement. The four equal members, the four equal tracks, no song credits, everything being very much part of an identity.”
Andy Bell (vocals, guitar): I went to the same school as Mark and Steve. Steve was a year or so above me. When I met Mark, I was about 13, 14.
Mark Gardener (vocals, guitar): Andy was always a bit of a geeky, Morrissey-type guy. I was a geek, but I thought I was cool.
Steve Queralt (bass): The first demo Andy and I did was “Chelsea Girl”. That was before any vocals. It was just a riff. That sounded really jangly, like Felt.
Gardener: In Autumn, 1988, Andy and I got into Banbury Tech College. After about a month, we became aware of this cool guy called Laurence Colbert, Loz, who was on the same art foundation course as us.
Bell: Loz had his own drumkit. It was set up in his garage in his mum’s house. So the very first time we could, we got over to his parents house, set up the amps and the guitars, and that was Ride.
Loz Colbert (drums): We played the end of year college show. That was our first gig. It was a bit like the Big Bang. As we were playing, everything was changing. By the end of that gig, we were a band.
Queralt: The history of Oxford music was that there wasn’t one. Someone kept telling us there was a band called Mr Big that had made records and they were from Oxford. And a member of Supertramp was from Oxford. So the extent of our ambition was to be one of the best bands in Oxford. All we wanted to do was get a demo, sell it at gigs and play the biggest show in Oxford. If we headlined the Jericho Tavern and filled it out, job done.
Dave Newton (manager): My knowledge of Ride was all via Steve at this point. He and I were friends from working at Our Price together, and we used to travel to gigs together in Reading and London.
Queralt: Dave was very involved in the local music scene. He had a local newspaper that he put together that reviewed local bands.
Gardener: We thought, he can at least get us a support, or a show at the Jericho Tavern. He’d met a couple of people in the record industry, including Cally and Ben [Wardle] at East West.
Newton: The band went into Union Street Studios in April, 1989 to do a proper demo. They paid for this session themselves. This demo was sent out to some venues and promoters to try and get gigs, and I sent it to East West. Then they went back to Union Street in July, and this session was paid for by East West.
Cally Calloman (A&R): I knew the perception of Ride at this stage was important. I was watching the House Of Love burn down in a major-label cock up of major proportions. So we didn’t want to take the band to Warners [who owned East West]. We hatched a scheme to take it to Pete Flanagan, who ran a label [separate to East West and Warners] called One Big Guitar, and we did one or two singles through One Big Guitar for bands who were signed to East West.
Gardener: Union Street was pretty bizarre. It was under someone’s house, you’d never know it was there, it was under a typical east Oxford two-up-two-down terrace house. It had a very low ceiling. It was pretty cool, but it was absolutely tiny.
Bell: I remember how small it must have been, because later on I bought a terraced house on the same road and they were tiny. The guy who owned it had mattresses everywhere where the guy was having foreign students over to rent, a sort of B&B stroke studio.
Gardener: He used to stick people down in the studio in their sleeping bags. I went in a couple of mornings and there’s people sleeping in there. You’re walking in with your guitar – “We’re here to record, do you mind getting up and out?” I remember we did a country-type, chilled version of “Chelsea Girl” with slide guitars that he pushed me to do, as we’d blasted his head off with noise all weekend! I reluctantly remember singing in the garden, stoned and thinking what the hell am I doing out here! It was rubbish.
Queralt: We wanted to make a hell of a racket and be loud and noisy, but to have a great tune. I remember telling the guy to turn the bass up, then telling him to turn the guitars up to make it noisy. He had his head in hands for most of the session, saying, “What you’re asking me to do is just turn the volume up. You just want everything louder.” I said, “No, it needs to be bassier and it needs to be noisier.” He just didn’t get it. He kept drawing us diagrams, saying, “Look, if you increase the treble then the bass disappears by default,” which was lost on us.
Bell: He didn’t want to turn the guitars up, and we had a stand off. In the end, we took the tapes off and Cally and Ben mixed them somewhere else.
Queralt: I was suspicious of Warners. We were an indie band. If record companies were going to get involved, we wanted to be on an indie label. In the late ‘80s, major labels really struggled with how to market indie bands. If any of your audience knew you were on a major label that was a problem. There was a real snobbery about that.
Gardener: We got some proper supports around that time – this was the end of October/beginning of November, 1989 – supporting the Soup Dragons. Which is when Alan McGee started stalking us.
Bell: Alan came to three gigs in a row, which is always excessive. He was very enthusiastic, very hyper. We talked about Neil Young. And then at the end of the third gig, he was like, ‘C’mon then, will you sign with me?’ And I think we just said, ‘Yes.’
Newton: Essentially what he said was, ‘I just want to put that EP out on my label, I’ll be happy to put you in the studio and record the next EP, and then we’ll talk later.’ The deal with Creation was essentially a handshake, no paperwork.
Queralt: I think we’d already promised our first record to Warners [released on the indie One Big Guitar, but distributed ‘unofficially’ by East West], so how do we get out of that? All of a sudden, we were in a bit of a muddle about things. But to be fair to Cally and East West, they were almost as excited as us.
Gardener: Alan had a conversation with Cally, where Cally said “I’m going to sign this band called Ride.” And then McGee steamed in there.
Calloman: I distinctly remember McGee saying, “Do you mind if I sign them?” I thought it was generous of him to phone up and say: I want to go out with your girlfriend, she doesn’t like you anymore.
Bell: We wanted 4AD, that was our ideal label. We wanted the Vaughn Oliver sleeve. But Alan turned up first.
Gardener: It was the first Creation record to chart. Commercially, we were doing things in a nightmare way. We wouldn’t make it obvious what the lead track was when everybody else was doing singles. But McGee was behind it. It charted against all expectations, really.
Newton: The EP came out January 15, 1990, and then on January 31 we played Royal Holloway College in London. Seymour Stein [president of Sire, a Warners-owned American label] came to see us. Alan had already been talking to him about signing both My Bloody Valentine and Primal Scream for the States at that point, and Seymour wanted to sign us. He offered us a worldwide record deal except the UK [Ride henceforth owned and licensed their music to Creation for release in the UK]. It was the biggest deal they’d ever done for a new band. The advances were $350,000 per album, going up to $400,000 on the fourth album.
Gardener: He came in to the dressing room after the show with his personal assistant, Risa, who’d been driving him at high speeds around the M25. I think they were running late. Seymour looked pretty freaked out and sweaty and opened with “Jeez, that M25 is like a race track.” One of our road crew was wearing a Velvet Underground t-shirt. Seymour clocked this and said, “Oh, I was with Lou a couple of nights ago in NYC. He’s doing great, and we’re putting out his latest solo album!” I thought, well if he’s come from hanging out with Lou Reed in New York to backstage at our gig in Holloway College he must be pretty keen.
Bell: I’d read my Beatles’ biographies. I knew what happened. I’d formed the band, two months later it was happening. So it was all according to the book so far. That continued for a couple of years. It didn’t really stop being like that until the second album. It was onwards and upwards.