Riding The Bumps

19 July 2012 | 7:30 am | Kitt Di Camillo

"I have to say from start to finish Ride was pretty much firing on all cylinders all the way. And I think that’s why it has stood the test of time and it has got the legs that it’s got, which I’m really pleased about."

When the end finally came for Oxford four-piece Ride in early 1996, it came as both a disappointment and a relief for the band members themselves. In their eight-year career, the indie rock darlings released four studio albums to varying acclaim, from the instant classic debut Nowhere and it's equally brilliant follow-up Going Blank Again, to the underrated third album Carnival Of Light and the fateful finale Tarantula. One of the cornerstones of the shoegaze genre, Ride were adored by fans and revered by critics but could only watch on as Britpop took over the UK music landscape in the mid-'90s. After Tarantula's lacklustre reception, and with tensions within the band growing, the four friends decided to call it quits.

Having weathered rumours of the band's demise ever since, former singer and guitarist Mark Gardener now has only good things to say about his old bandmates; songwriting partner and guitarist Andy Bell, bassist Steve Queralt and drummer Laurence Colbert. “I think the good thing that we did was we took the stage when we were hot, and we left the stage before it went cold and rubbish,” recalls Gardener. “I think music is very transparent – you can kid yourselves, but you can't kid an audience. People realize, 'Oh they're just going through the motions now and it's no longer firing like it was.' I have to say from start to finish Ride was pretty much firing on all cylinders all the way. And I think that's why it has stood the test of time and it has got the legs that it's got, which I'm really pleased about.”

Ride have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years with reissues of their first two albums providing a timely reminder of the excitement surrounding the band at their peak. Songs like Going Blank Again's epic opening track Leave Them All Behind and the swirling masterpiece Vapour Trail still stand up today, leaving a legacy that can only continue to grow with time. The group's music was a spine-tingling combination of noise and melody, a wall of sound led by Gardener and Bell's interweaving guitars and Colbert's brilliantly loose drumming. Along with indie legends My Bloody Valentine, Ride helped define the shoegaze sound – melodic pop songs hidden amongst a blast of FX-heavy guitars and ethereal vocals.

For their part, any lingering negativity between Gardener and Bell has dissolved as the years have gone by. “I mean, in the end, there was a lot of tension in the band anyway because of the nature of the music and the nature of being in that band,” Gardener explains. “I was at school with Andy! We were school friends, we realized our dreams together, without being too corny, and in the end I guess it's like when you feel that a relationship has run its course. Which I felt it had in the end.”

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“I mean, the bad thing was that it's something that had been your life for seven, eight years or whatever, and the bubble that you had lived in was burst. The bad thing was afterwards if anything, because you are in free-fall for a while, you kind of think, 'Well the next project I do will work just like that.' It doesn't, you know, so you come back to Earth with an almighty bump really. And I think we both did that individually in our own ways. And then we kind of thought, 'Oh shit, actually, where we were wasn't so bad'!”

While Colbert has gone onto play with Supergrass and the reformed Jesus And Mary Chain, and Bell has since become a ten-year member of Oasis and that band's offshoot Beady Eye, Gardener for the most part has stayed away from the spotlight. Away from the pressures of a major label, he is thriving, making a name for himself as a producer and collaborator with the likes of The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Robin Guthrie from The Cocteau Twins. Balancing live shows with his workload as an increasingly in-demand producer, Gardener also managed to release his first solo album, These Beautiful Ghosts, in 2005, almost a full decade after Ride broke up.

“I was pretty disenchanted with the music industry, not with music,” explains Gardener of the long wait for his solo debut. “I actually spent two or three years in the medieval wilds of France. I tried to be away from all music industry things, and get back into just pure music, which was right for me at that time. Also my life had turned into a bit of a party post-Ride. My house had kinda turned into a nightclub, so I was like, 'right, okay, shut the club, get away for my own health and sanity.' And that's why things ended up taking time. I also went to India for six months, and did some lovely stuff like that. So yeah, not feeling the pressure from labels or anybody, it felt right then to put some music out, and I think now it's feeling right again to potentially get another album together. I've kind of got half a great album already together, and that's also some of the songs that I'll be playing when I come over to Australia, to sort of road test them. Take people to some new places as well as some older places.”

Gardener last played a show in Australia eight years ago, and is noticeably excited about his return. The upcoming tour includes full band shows throughout the country, and finishes with a special solo show in Perth that promises to reward fans for the long wait between visits. With a back catalogue including his Ride favourites, solo material, various collaborations and new and unreleased songs, Gardener clearly has a lot to choose from when it comes to a setlist. The gig will go some way to satisfying fans holding out hope for Ride to follow the lead of many of their contemporaries and reunite. While happy to answer the question, it becomes clear that Gardener is asked it all the time.

'We've had big offers and we'll still get big offers,” he sighs. “We've talked about it when we get together through the year, once or twice a year, for our Christmas dinner. I'm really busy doing what I'm doing, Andy's been busy in Oasis and now Beady Eye for a long time, so in the end we just kinda go, 'hmmm, it doesn't feel right.' Commercially we were terrible. We never played the commercial game back in the day, and that kinda worked for us. And maybe the legacy of Ride is better because we might be one of the many bands that don't ever reform. You know, I can't look into the future and say it'll never happen, but certainly I can say for now that there are no plans to reform Ride and there never have been, contrary to a few rumours that I read.”