Lifting off the ground: 30 years after their debut EP, Andy Bell recalls Ride’s take-off

Andy Bell at Bristol Polytechnic, February 16, 1990
Photograph by Mark Taylor, courtesy of Wendy Stone

On January 15, 1990 Ride released their debut self-titled EP on Creation Records. It was an incredible ascent; a year earlier they had only just started playing live. Here, the band’s Andy Bell tells Joe Clay about the eventful 12 months that led up to their game-changing debut.

We started 1989 by playing our first proper gig, supporting Satan Knew My Father upstairs at the Jericho Tavern in Oxford [January 27, 1989]. Being in that bar and being in a band, you thought you were cool. It was a real hang-out. Downstairs there was a pinball machine – Pin-Bot – that we all used to play constantly.

I thought the soundcheck was their music, that they were a really weird, minimal band, with just a bass drum going, ‘doof doof doof’. Adi Vines [Swervedriver] was in the band and the singer, Giles Borg, became a filmmaker who made a documentary of the Carnival Of Light tour.  

They were banging that bass drum for so long that we didn’t get a chance to soundcheck. We were loading our gear on to the stage as they opened the doors. Our plan was to run through ‘Chelsea Girl’, but by the time we’d done that there was an audience in there and they all applauded at the end of it so that became our first song. I felt like I was in a film. The room held about 200 people, so it didn’t take much to fill it. Satan Knew My Father were a kind of spin-off of another Oxford band, Shake Appeal. I guess it was sort of thrash metal. Adi pissed in his amp during their gig.  

During the first rehearsal we did in Loz’s garage in Ramsden, we were jamming out things like ‘How Soon Is Now?’ – that became ‘Drive Blind’. It was us trying to play ‘How Soon Is Now?’ and failing. That was put on tape and taken away and I put a lyric over it, which Mark sang. I wrote the lyrics in the dark in the back of my parents’ car. We spent a lot of time in the car, driving backwards and forwards from relatives’ houses in Devon and Cornwall. I loved having my Walkman on. ‘Drive Blind’ is basically me sitting in the back of a car in the dark, watching the lines and the lights going by and being impressionistic about it all. It then developed into a suicide pact idea.

From the very first time we played together there was always this section of it that was about nihilism, creating this massive void. ‘Ride Mind Fuck’ was our name for it for a while. It wasn’t so much a song, it was more like taking a pill or punching yourself in the face. It was a physical thing to do, a state of mind to get into – like meditating.

We played ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ at pretty much all of our early gigs in ’89. It was the flip-side of euphoria, the rave scene that was kicking off at the time. I was working in a French restaurant and all the chefs were perm-headed ravers. But there was definitely a connection between those two headspaces. They don’t rule each other out. Mark used to go off driving around looking for the raves near Oxford. It’s a rush. You get it in a club and you get it in a gig. You’re using music to take people to a different mental space. I quite liked clubbing, but I never wanted to dance. I just wanted to get close to the PA so I could stick my head in it. I was into the loudness.

We’d done enough gigs to pay to record a demo tape, so that was the next step. In April, we chose our three best songs at the time (‘Chelsea Girl’, ‘I’m Fine Thanks’ and ‘Drive Blind’) and went to Union Studios in Oxford and tried to do them justice. It was a real struggle. In Steve’s room we’d been recording on a four-track so we knew what we were doing and how to get the sound we wanted. To work in a proper studio with an engineer was a big leap, but we didn’t get on with him. He started going on about Roxy Music and saying that we didn’t understand sound: “You just can’t have everything louder than everything else!” We just wanted to turn the guitars up, turn the drums down, turn the bass down, turn the vocals down. To him that was inside out and, because we were basically children, he was being really condescending about it. He didn’t realise that we did have an artistic aim in mind. We weren’t idiots. It was for a reason, but I don’t think we were very good at translating that.

That session became Ride Demo #3 and the version of ‘Drive Blind’ ended up on the Ride EP. Steve was the mastermind of the striking visual look for that demo tape – the only one of us who didn’t go to art school! He found that bright red cardboard and got the Letraset out. 

We went back into Union Studios again in July and recorded three tracks – ‘Chelsea Girl’, ‘All I Can See’ and ‘Close My Eyes’. Warners were involved at this point. [A&R guy] Cally Callomon took us out for dinner. He was really cool. He blew my mind. He had loads of bootleg tapes of The Beatles that he gave to me. Cally was like a mentor to us. He was exactly the sort of person you hoped you would meet in the industry. He gave us, like, £5,000 so we could keep on recording, no strings attached. The plan was that they were going to set up an offshoot of WEA called One Big Guitar to release our stuff. I was always a bit confused about what was going on. Dave [Newton – Ride’s manager] was dealing with that. I could relate to people, but when it came to labels and the mechanics of how it all works, I switched off. There were a few times we went out for dinner with people and we didn’t even know who they were. Dave was always very clear that we should just meet them, but we shouldn’t feel like we owe them anything. But no one made as much of an impression on me as Cally. It was his remixes of those three tracks we recorded in July that went on the Ride EP. We were all set to release it with Cally, but then we met Alan McGee…

In November we went on tour with The Soup Dragons and we turned up and we didn’t have enough gear. But Sean [Dickson] was really nice and he let us use their gear, so we had Marshall stacks, a big bass amp, a proper drum kit. We immediately sounded twice as good! When Alan saw us at Sheffield Poly, we were louder than we’d ever been. It was pure distortion. That’s why he loved it so much. He came to see us four or five times in a row. I couldn’t understand his accent at all. He was going on about Neil Young and I was trying to be cool and I was like, ‘Yeah, you mean No Parlez?’ I was trying to make a joke, but he just looked at me blankly and turned to Mark and started talking to him instead. I was always a bit awkward around Alan. We had our hearts set on signing for 4AD, but every night Alan was there. He was the boss of the coolest label in the world and we were all won over, charmed by the fact he kept coming.

There was a feeling during that week that something was going to happen. I heard the Vince Clarke remix of ‘Wrote For Luck’ and I finally got Happy Mondays. I’d spent a lot of time listening to Bummed and not quite getting it. Then suddenly it all made sense and that song became part of the euphoria of that week. Everything was going right…

This interview was originally published in our poster-zine Crypt 189, which is available to purchase in the Sonic Cathedral Shop