Formed in 1988, Oxford’s Ride were, just behind trailblazers My Bloody Valentine, leaders of the influential shoegaze movement, and media darlings for a while, before a backlash against shoegaze in general, and Ride in particular, saw a sharp fall off. It was classic build ’em up, and knock ’em down stuff; a mix of media cruelty, the rise of Britpop, and self-inflicted harm, all helping the band to detonate by 1996. However, for a while, Ride were really riding the crest of a wave with their powerfully atmospheric and melodic wall-of-sound guitar music.
Almost from the get go, Andy Bell, Mark Gardener, Steve Queralt, and Laurence ‘Loz’ Colbert were able to conjure up musical magic. Ride’s first three EPs were released in 1990, all making it into the top 75. Their debut album, the seminal Nowhere, was released later that year, to great acclaim. They were front cover stars, the press immediately labelling them as shoegazers, a term they thought up initially to ridicule musicians who stood still during live performances in a detached, and introspective state, with their heads down, often checking on and working their effects pedals. In effect, shoegazing combined ethereal vocals with layers of distorted, often flanged guitars, creating a wash of sound, epitomised by one of Ride’s best known songs, ‘Dreams Burn Down’, from Nowhere – a hugely euphoric and immensely noisy, psychedelic dreamscape. Shoegaze was in effect dream-pop, but louder, and resplendent with guitar textures. Gardener has said, “We liked the noisy bands of the time. When we were at art college we went to see My Bloody Valentine, House of Love, Stone Roses, and Sonic Youth. I think these all had a lot of influence on us in the early days.”
Colbert met Bell and Gardener whilst at Banbury Art College, while Queralt worked in a local record store. “It was a little independent, a mini-chain of three shops in Oxford, who eventually got bought by Our Price,” says Queralt, a name of Catalonian origins. “It was my musical education as well. I was very mainstream before I worked in a record shop, and became indie-fied overnight, introduced to bands like the Sisters of Mercy, and Bauhaus. It was a very quick and exciting education.”
Settling upon the name Ride with its evocation of travel, and also after the Ride cymbal, they set about making some noise. “Our first ever rehearsal was at Loz’s mother’s garage. So, we’re a proper New York garage band! I think the very first song we ever jammed together was The Stooges’ ‘I Want To Be Your Dog’.”
They played their first gig in ’88, and soon put together a demo tape, made in Queralt’s bedroom, and which was passed to his record store boss, and future Ride manager, Dave Newton. Jim Reid of The Jesus and Mary Chain – a precursor to the shoegaze scene and sound – heard a copy, which found its way to Creation label boss Alan McGee, who signed the band. Soon after, two early favourites, the aforementioned ‘Dreams Burn Down’, and ‘Like A Daydream’ made it to number three and four respectively, on John Peel’s legendary annual Festive Fifty Radio 1 show, in 1990.
However, six years can be a lifetime in a band, and by 1994’s Carnival of Light album, the band were quickly losing their appeal, and slowly falling apart. Carnival of Light was made as a result of separate song development (as opposed to jamming in the studio, which is how they had previously written songs) and a sound that veered towards classic rock (keyboardist Jon Lord of Deep Purple even guested!). The band themselves referred to the album as “Carnival Of Shite”, and Bell subsequently commented, “When we recorded the Carnival Of Light album we got indulgent.” Their follow up album, Tarantula, was a commercial and critical failure (it was made available for only one week, before being withdrawn). Soon after, the band called it a day. “Imagine an argument where the way you win, is by saying ‘I don’t want my songs on the same side of the album as yours’ and it actually happens. We were allowed by the people around us to behave like total babies. And by the time we finished it felt like no one knew who we were any more.”
Yet, like many a great band of yore, fans do not easily forget, and time can heal all sorts of wounds. “First of all, the split was a bit of a storm in a teacup,” says Steve. “We’d been in each other’s pockets for so long. We just needed a break, I think. But instead of taking a break we threw our toys out of the pram, and split up. That got cleared up very quickly. Within six months it had all been forgotten, and we were all talking again, as friends rather than being in a band together. In the intervening years we would stay in touch, we would get together around Christmas, have a few drinks, talk about the old times, talk about whether or not to put a greatest hits package out. We were always staying in touch. Every time we got together we would hear about offers that had been made should we want to perform together again, maybe some festival somewhere. But, the timing was never right. Andy was in Oasis and then Beady Eye, Mark had his own solo project, and mixing career. Loz was out with Jesus and Mary Chain, and Gaz Coombes. It was never right until 2014 when the same question came up, and it was like, ‘yeah, let’s do it’. Beady Eye were on a break, and the idea of doing five shows was something Andy could take on, and that was it. It was a long time coming, and it wasn’t really much of a decision to make.”
Initially, the band were really only thinking about doing a small number of shows to begin with. “Yeah, it was just the five shows to begin with. We got offered Primavera in Barcelona, which is what was going to kick it off, and finish with a headline slot at Field Day in London. But soon after we announced those five shows, a load of other offers came in, and very quickly five shows became 60 shows that year.”
How did you feel about performing live again, after so many years? “The last time we had played live we were deafening on stage, with rubbish monitors. But with things like in-ear monitoring, better sound systems, and a really good crew from the off, all this made it easier.
“Having said that, I remember the ten minutes before going on to do that first show was terrifying. There was a really big question as to whether it was going to work. We knew people were waiting, and it was sold out, so that was exciting. All the weeks of rehearsing, but is it going to work? Are we going to forget our lines, and will this all be an underwhelming experience? Fortunately, everything went well.”
With things going well, thoughts soon turned to recording. “We were jamming in soundchecks. We thought we still had it. ‘Why not go into the studio and see what happens?’ There was never a commitment that we would make an album. We would just see what we could do in a studio, and if it was any good we would take the step of actually releasing it. As it happened, it all turned out pretty well.”
Weather Diaries was released in 2017, 21 years after their previous album. Mixing up jangle pop, shoegaze, garage, psychedelia, and krautrock, it’s the sound of a band revitalised, and still sounding fresh, boyish even. Moreover, lyrically, they reverted back to the ethereal, dreamy, and philosophical. “There’s quite a few universal themes in there, which never had answers. They are more like questions, and very true feelings. A lot of those things don’t really change throughout your life. You might get better at dealing with them, but there’s still a lot of confusion there,” says Andy.
“In many ways making Weather Diaries felt like Going Blank Again, (their second, and perhaps best album),” says Steve. There was the same atmosphere in the studio, the same approach to working, and everyone was really relaxed in bringing material to the table, demo’ing, passing demos around. Whereas, both albums after Going Blank Again, each song was one person’s vision, the other three becoming session musicians for that song. Not such an enjoyable way to work.
“I think having Erol Alkan on board as well, was quite an interesting choice, not only because he’s associated with techno and dance music. He offered so much energy in the studio. We’re all 50-year-old guys. We’re all a bit sleepy during the day, but Erol was leaping off the sofas, jumping up and down.”
After three years of solidly touring and performing at festivals, Ride recently turned their thoughts to performing acoustically, something they have very rarely done, and haven’t done since the mid-90s. Earlier this summer they performed their first ever all-acoustic show, post-reunion, in Worthing, and have their second one lined up for St. George’s Church in Brighton, this November, as part of a short acoustic tour celebrating 30 years of Ride.
“It went surprisingly well, actually,” says Steve, about that Worthing gig. “I was quite surprised. The songs seemed to work without being drenched in noise or anything. Back in the day, MTV Unplugged proved it could be done, especially a band like us. You have to ask yourself, ‘are the songs strong enough to stand up on their own, without pounding drums and loud guitars’? Before we did the Worthing show, this was a question I was asking. Playing two or three songs is one thing, but playing for an hour, is that going to be a strain on people? Will people start to get bored, and start chatting over the top? Like I said, it surprised me; it works really, really well. I think people will be pleasantly surprised.”
So, how do you feel about the shoegaze tag after all these years? “I think it helps actually. For people who know about music, shoegaze is considered quite a serious term now, and it’s not the insult that it was when first coined. I’m proud to be part of that movement. It’s served us very well, and there’s some great music associated with that genre. We’re very happy to be called a shoegaze band.”