We caught up with Dave Newton, Ride’s manager. In this interview we asked him about the old days, putting the box set together and his involvement with the Oxford label Sifty Disco.
You were obviously a huge music fan before Ride, did you have any other involvement within the industry except working in the Oxford Our Price?
I set up a local music paper at about the same time as I started working in Our Price Jjuly ’86). in fact Steve designed the masthead for the paper which was called Local Support. I ran the monthly paper for about 3 years and I also ran a weekly Friday night live music club as a spin-off from the paper – cunningly monkered Local Support Live.
Tell us about the first time you heard/saw Ride live?
On the third of these club nights I had a band from Bradford booked to support local thrash metal favourites, Satan Knew My Father. the Bradford band cancelled at the last minute and I asked Steve whether his new band would fill the vacant slot at short notice. I had already heard some stuff that Andy and Steve had recorded on Steve’s 4-track including the instrumental demo of Chelsea Girl that has been included on the Firing Blanks CD as part of the box set. This they’d recorded back in the Summer of ’88 at Steve’s house – at the time they were both in a reggae band called Big Spiderback who played regularly locally. This band actually featured David Cowles-Hamar on vocals (an old friend of Steve’s from school) who is now the lead singer for The Bigger The God (Oxford’s a small place!).
Could you see their potential initially or did this grow over time?
I thought initially that they were a great local version of all the music I loved. I can’t honestly say that I thought that they would take me to places I’d never dreamt of over the coming 5 years! However I was amazed at how quickly the full venue warmed to them. It was obvious from the crowd that the band were a cut above “local band” status.
When did you get into Creation?
The first time I came across Creation Records was early in 1984 when I noticed a tiny news story in the NME about this label that was launching (I think that they had already released The Legend single but even at this stage that was being swept under the carpet) with 5 singles on the same day. This isn’t quite how it panned out but as I learned later Creation was always about aiming as high as possible and that it was largely irrelevant how things actually worked out.
Of course I’d like to say that the first Creation single that I bought was by Revolving Paint Dream or The X-Men but to be truthful it was “Upside Down”, like many other people. By the end of that week my speakers (and maybe more) were blown. A love affair with both the Mary Chain and Creation had begun (to the point of ranting down the phone at the producer of The Old Grey Whistle Test when the “Never Understand” video was out-voted by a Talking Heads single on one of the shows). I scrambled my way back through the nascent Creation catalogue and managed to fill most of the gaps.
I bought far too many Biff Bang Pow and Jasmine Minks records for my own good health, but my obsession with all things Creation (an obsession that had only been previously matched by that for all things Two Tone) did thankfully lead me to be the first person in Oxford to own the debut House Of Love single. I know this for a fact because at this time I was working at Our Price (with Steve Queralt) as the singles buyer and ours was the only shop in town with a copy, which of course never even made it into the racks.
The Creation obsession was now starting to become a long-term relationship and Steve and I took every opportunity to go and see any Creation related band in Oxford, London or Reading. Primal Scream at St Paul’s Arts Centre in Oxford, both the House Of Love and My Bloody Valentine at the After Dark Club in Reading, the Doing It For The Kids all-dayer at the T&C (where someone had the temerity to say to me about the House Of Love, “It’s just ‘The Back Of Love’ all over again” – bastard). I had finally managed to convince Steve that this was a healthy pastime after (a pre-Creation) My Bloody Valentine had played at a tiny pub in Oxford in 1987 and it had left us both gob-smacked. One of their very few gigs as a 5-piece as it happens – just after Belinda had joined and just before David left. Looking back on it, that night was probably in many ways the first formative event for what was to become Ride – but that’s another story.
Snub TV seemed to feature something Creation-like every week and even a small profile of McGee himself on one of the shows. The Valentines and House Of Love gigs were in bigger and bigger venues (one of my best gigs ever was My Bloody Valentine supporting the Pixies at the T&C) and then came the double whammy of “Christine” and “You Made Me Realise”. Two of the best records that I’ve ever heard. Of course there was a load of crap along the way but even Biff Bang Pow made some good records and they always came in wonderful record sleeves.”
Was the plan to try and sign to Creation or was it just fate?
The band only really had a fondness for either 4AD or Creation. In fact we were all frustrated that neither label had been in touch. The first label to express an interest were WEA who paid for a demo session in Oxford. Cally and Ben there were really big fans and they helped us set up a one-off indie release with One Big Guitar. This was scheduled for October ’88 and we put a short tour together to promote it but the label never really got their shit together.
From then the story goes that Gary Crowley was playing the Ride demo that was to form part of this first single (what later became the Ride EP) on his radio show on GLR. Listening on the car radio were Jim Reid and his then girlfriend Laurence Verfaille. She was just about to start work at Creation as their in-house press officer. She told McGee and he found out that Cally and Ben had been working with the band. McGee phoned up Cally and was told by him that the band were already signed to WEA. When Alan found this out to be untrue he was straight on the phone to us and he came up to see the band play every night of the support tour to the Soup Dragons that had been fixed up by our newly appointed Booking Agent, Ben Winchester.
By the end of the week the band had agreed to let Creation release the first EP and that Creation would pay for the next recording session to record the second set of 4 songs (ultimately the Play EP). Alan was the only person who wasn’t insisting on signing the band up to a six albums deal. He said that he just loved the first EP and that if the band were to go off elsewhere afterwards then so be it. As it turned out this was his genius move and he ended up securing the band’s signature at the end of the Summer of 1990.
What were the high points of the Ride/Creation days for you personally?
Releasing records on Creation. The first Peel session. Buying daffodils at 3am on the mornign of the ULU show on the Play tour (and putting them in someone’s bath in North London with a fan heater on them all day to try to get them to bloom). Hearing Vapour Trail for the first time. Oxford Apollo in Feb’92. Reading ’92. Australia, Japan, America. Hearing Mark convince Alan McGee that Leave Them All Behind should be the first single from Going Blank Again. The Daytripper Shows. Let’s Get Lost live.
How well did you get on with Alan McGee?
We were never mates and as such, I think I managed to escape being sucked into the “Creation Family” – it helped not being based in London too. It was a good working relationship but not one that either McGee or I had had any previous experience of. Ride were the first band on Creation to arrive with a manager in tow and as such Alan couldn’t quite get the influence over the band that he might have been used to. However I think he recognised this as a good thing and throughout the first couple of years (before things took their toll on him) we generally ended up making the right decisions. Alan’s opinions were always taken on board fully by myself and the band but ultimately Alan left the band to make all artistic decisions.
Have you read the David Cavanagh book? If so, would you like to take this opportunity to tell your side of things?
I think what David says in his book is largely correct. I think he tried to create a bigger divide between myself and Andy than was really there and he did try to bend some of the facts in the later years to fit the way he wanted things to be. It gave a neater ending to the Ride part of the book but it wasn’t particularly accurate. However I have no issue with that. It’s strange to know that the book started out as being fully endorsed by Alan but ended up as something that he disassociated himself from. There are many ways of telling the story and within the context of the overall Creation story I’m just pleased that Ride were given the proper weight.
Tarantula seemed to almost be an Andy Bell solo album. What was the other guys involvement on the album and how was the mood in the studio?
Mark was largely at a loose end throughout the sessions. The band had only really worked on a few of the songs together in rehearsal before they arrived in the studio at the start of ’95. This meant that as a band they were quite fresh and both Loz and Steve actually regard this album as the best that the band played together. They would work on the material that Andy had written and most of the backing tracks came together quite smoothly (it was one of the quickest recording sessions that the band ever did). I think that the problem for Mark is that his involvement was limited to rhythm guitar and backing vocals and it wasn’t enough to keep him interested. He had some half finished material of his own but the nature of the session meant that there wasn’t the time or inclination to bring those songs to fruition.
At one point it seemed as though Ride would achieve the heights that Oasis reached, in the words of Noel Gallagher “where did it all go wrong?”
I think Ride could’ve gone on to be much bigger than they were but I think that they were always a bit too cool to actually acheive the mega-star status of bands like Oasis. I think that there was always a need within the band for the “art” to dominate the “commercial”. They might’ve got lucky and captured the zeitgeist in the way that Blur did, enabling them to continue being creative whilst still selling enough records to afford the occasional indulgence but I do genuinely believe that Ride were a couple of years ahead of their time and their success opened some doors that the whole Britpop scene was able to walk through in the mid-90s.
Have you listened to many of the post Ride bands (e.g. Animalhouse, Hurricane#1).
I’ve listened but I’ve found it hard to get personally excited. Neither band had the all-consuming power of Ride gigs and recordings.
The new Box Set seems to have been put together very carefully with close involvement from the band, everyone obviously still cares. Who made the decisions on tracklistings, etc.?
The Best Of itself was a consensus between the Andy, Mark, Loz ,Steve and myself. It wasn’t very difficult and we only had a couple of tracks where we were “yes or no?” Firing Blanks was put together by Steve from material sourced by everyone. This was difficult and it took a lot of arguing to end up with, what I think is, a killer tracklisting. The Live CD was mixed by Alan Moulder and Mark. After listening through to it all the band decided that Making Judy Smile and I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier didn’t quite make the grade of the others and so they were trimmed off the final tracklisting.
There’s been a few postings on the Ticket To Ride website stating the lads should get back together for one last show to tie in with the album. Do you think they’ll ever play together again one day?
The process of putting this box set together has been the most enjoyable Ride project for everyone involved for about 9 years! I think it has forced us all to look back (with the benefit of hindsight, of course). However we must realise that that was then and this is now. I could never rule out another show someday but I also don’t see any real motivation from within the band to make it happen. If it did happen then I would expect it to be a one-off and a distraction from everything else that they’re currently doing in their lives.
Tell us about your involvement with Shifty Disco?
I set up the label with Richard, Mac and Ronan here in Oxford nearly five years ago. I look after the international side of things now as well as the marketing in the UK. I don’t really get involved in the A&R anymore, especially as the company has now grown so much (we now have 9 staff in total).
What are your/the labels plans for the future?
We have the new Beulah album ready to roll in September and also we’re currently having fun with a single from a New York band, AM60, who’ve been played all over Radio 1. An AM60 album will follow in October when we also have the new Elf Power album. We still run our monthly CD Singles Club and we always have something interesting on that each month.
There is a rumoured solo Mark Gardener album from the Shifty Disco ‘Magdalen Sky’ sessions. Would you like to confirm or deny this and if this is true are there any plans to release the album?
Mark only recorded the one song in that session. He has a load of demos that he did at home from that period but I’ve only heard a couple of them. However I do know that Mark has just moved his home studio over to France and is planning to spend the Autumn writing and recording over there.
Before Ride Oxford wasn’t renowned for it’s musical pedigree. Do you think they were a huge influence on Supergrass, Radiohead, etc.
Directly a big influence on Supergrass (Danny and Gaz used to be on the Ride mailing list). I think there are many things that couldn’t have happened in Oxford without Ride’s success but I don’t think the influence on Radiohead could be counted as anything more than raising their personal level of ambition. In ’88 they all went away from Oxford to college in various parts of the country. At the time, Oxford was a musical handicap (Steve Lamacq said as much in one of his first Ride live reviews for the NME). By the time they came back to Oxford, Ride were an international success. It must have shown Radiohead that they could afford to let themselves have ambition. There is one bit in one of the Radiohead books where Thom talks about the time that he and Jonny were busking in Oxford and Andy and Mark stopped to watch. It was a big deal for him. Funny to think that now!
Finally, do you have a message for the kids today?
Find your own thing. Don’t let marketing departments sell you things as “alternative”. Don’t be a passive consumer, use your teenage years to forge the next generation. The past is not cool (apart from Ride reissues, of course).
Interview: July 2001