One would be forgiven for not really remembering much about Ride - if the name evoked the memory of a half-forgotten band at the dawn of Britpop, possibly associated with the vague term “shoegaze”, one would be doing well. It turns out that their career is more subtly remarkable than one might realise, and on the showing of their latest tour, is very much catching its second wind.
For those half-asleep at the back, let’s recap. Oxfordshire schoolmates Andy Bell and Mark Gardener came together in the late 1980s and were promptly signed to Alan McGee’s Creation, giving the label its first top-75 release. The opening sixty seconds of 'Seagull', track one side one of Ride’s recording career, with its loping drums, deluge of feedback, and crescendoing arrangement, immediately set a musical precedent for the baggy Madchester and early Britpop years to come, a furrow that would be ploughed by many an ostensibly more successful band.
A familiar pattern of intra-band disagreement set in after their second album, with each songwriter refusing even to share the same side of the LP as the other; 1996’s Tarantula turned out to be largely an Andy Bell solo album, although hindsight treats it more kindly than at the time. Bell gave up and formed Hurricane #1, briefly providing the incidental music for Match Of The Day - a higher accolade is difficult to imagine - and then joined Oasis. Mark Gardener...well, didn’t.
Which brings us to 2019, their second post-reunion release This Is Not A Safe Place, and Mark Gardener’s fiftieth birthday on a wintry night in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Everything is different, and nothing is. Or, as the band would put it: repetition is a form of change. Gardener is unrecognisable from the long-haired youth of Ride mark one, but carries his elder-statesman duties well. Bell is perhaps a more familiar presence after his stint in Oasis, but defers to Gardener’s frontman status in standing far stage right.
After a handful of vintage crowd pleasers to ease us in, we are thrust blinking into the new with a slew of compositions from TINASP: 'Future Love' is classic, tuneful, jangly Ride fallen through a 30-year wormhole; the pastoral strumming of 'Shadows Behind The Sun' a rare glimpse of Ride balladry, and contains perhaps a hint of Gallagher inspiration. 'Kill Switch' is a properly gothic snare drum workout - the new Ride are unafraid to both hold their influences high for all to see, and simultaneously explore genres far beyond their original remit.
The echoes of the past are never far away, though: before we know it, contemporary reality recedes into a perfect storm of melody and noise. Fat waves of electric guitar provide buoyancy for dreamy harmonised vocals in 1992’s 'Leave Them All Behind', its full-throttle climax proving why Ride are still a live force to be reckoned with. The nagging insistence of 'Drive Blind' from 1989’s eponymous debut EP is a reminder of whence and why they came in the first place; the inevitability of 'Vapour Trail's keening “First you look so strong...” refrain from Bell takes nothing away from its fragile beauty.
Could it be that the course of British guitar music would have looked very different, and arguably considerably poorer, without the influence of Gardener, Bell and co.? They emerged only a couple of years before their Oxfordshire counterparts Radiohead, and underachieved in comparison, but still... melodic acoustic lines, pillowy electric guitar soundscapes, unafraid of insistent, driving crescendos - perhaps we owe Ride more than we give them credit for. On the grounds of tonight’s performance, the evidence is compelling.