When is a reunion tour not a reunion tour? Well, the short answer is: when you don’t bring the rest of your band with you and only half your material is from what is documented as your heyday. There has recently been a surge of early ‘90s British bands such as the Stone Roses, Suede and Blur enjoying the lucrative benefits of nostalgia, but Ride’s Mark Gardener isn’t playing that game. While his upcoming tour will deliver on some of his former band’s shoegaze classics, he’s integrating in new material, including an unreleased collaboration with Robin Guthrie and soundtrack music from the excellent Creation Records documentary Upside Down.
Gardener’s new round of shows mark the twentieth anniversary of the release of Ride’s sophomore album Going Blank Again. This reveal instantly started online debate about what Ride’s best album was (most people’s answer seemed to be their 1990 debut, Nowhere). I asked Gardener if he considered Going Blank Again the best Ride album or whether it was more that its anniversary coinciding with a good time for him to get back on the road.
“Making that album was the most enjoyable experience I had being in Ride,” recalls Gardener. “It’s an album where we all felt like we were working well together and firing on all cylinders. And, on a personal note, I had more of the writing input with that record. I do have to stress, though, that it’s not me coming out and playing the album from start to finish, because only Ride could do that. The anniversary was timely in that I had quite a lot of collaborations over the last few years that haven’t been heard, so it’s a chance to play lots of new stuff to people as well. These sets will span my last twenty years and Ride was a good part of that, but this is not me coming to be Ride, because only Ride could do that. It will include some older, familiar songs, but it will be taking people to new places as well. I have to strike the right balance.”
Gardener is currently touring with a full backing band, Sky Parade, so the shows will be a marked contrast from the acoustic solo performances of his last visit to Australia. “It kind of puts the edge back onto some of the early material, but they’ve also been learning the new stuff,” he explains. “I will strip down part of the set as well, but it will be nice to have a band there to get it noisy. I had such a good time on the last tour and remember thinking I’d love to come back here with a band one day. I didn’t think it would take this long!”
I asked whether a reunion tour with Ride was ever something that was on the cards.
“We have talked about it because we do get together each year,” says Gardener. “We do get offers and would be paid very well for doing it, but we’ve been busy living in the present and I just think it would be a bit weird to go back to it all. I don’t mind playing songs I did years ago and I’ve always addressed them acoustically, but the band had a natural end point in 1996. I’m not dissing other bands for doing it, but the obvious reason is that they didn’t take out a pension plan and they’ll be paid handsomely. Ride never played any commercial games in that way and, other than money, I don’t see any reason why we’d be doing that now. A lot of younger people say ‘But I never saw Ride live’, but you can’t rewind back to another time.”
When Ride eventually did leave it all behind, it was with the cough and splutter of the much-maligned Tarantula. As the new millennium approached, a disenchanted Gardener travelled to and spent large chunks of time in France and India, during what he calls his ‘cleansing period’. After returning to writing and performing in America, he has now settled back in Oxford and is enjoying his jack-of-all-trades roles of performer, collaborator, engineer and producer in his own studio.
“For me, variation keeps life interesting,” concludes Gardener. “Ride was an incredible band to be a part of, but it was just one thing. After living and eating and breathing it for several years, it was tough to remove yourself from it, but I was kind of relieved as well. I’ve never lost the passion for music and I like new challenges. The way I live my life now is how I always wanted it.”
BY CHRIS GIRDLER
Mark Gardener will perform at The Corner Hotel on Sunday August 5 with support from Underground Lovers and Sky Parade.