Interview with Mark Taylor of Ride The Network fanzine
Mark Taylor is no stranger to Ride or their fans, he was there at the beginning and ended up spending many years employed by the band. As a sideline he ran ‘The Network’ Ride fanzine and could be found selling them outside gigs during the bands original incarnation.
Now the band are back together Mark can be found again outside Ride gigs selling his relaunched fanzine. In his latest edition, buy it now from ride.network, Mark has interviewed the band recently about the reunion and we thought we’d turn the tables and ask him some questions.
So if we could start at the beginning of the Ride story, how did you first discover them and what were your first impressions?
I regularly went to the Local Support (Oxford’s music paper of the time) Friday promo nights at the Jericho Tavern. Dave Newton (now Ride’s manager) was the promoter of the events and wrote/edited the paper. I was in the sixth form at the time and would go with my mate James Cherry and his elder (more musically sophisticated) brother Martin plus some other friends from school and my home village.
Every week I would bootleg the show and then give Dave tapes to get an ‘in’ to the following show. The first local show I attended was coincidentally the Local Support first birthday party (1988) – the bill was The Quiet Men, who I immediately loved because of their Gothy lead singer Jairo, The Clamheads (featuring Mac the local promoter and soundman that replaced Dave at the Tavern once Ride became famous, and who famously broke the ‘beak’ of one of Birdland) and Shake Appeal a wannabe Stooges, some of whom later became members of Swervedriver – all in all a great bill for a first local gig.
Anyway I digress…one week Dave told me not to bother coming to the Friday night as it was going to be just two metal bands that he didn’t think I would like. Then on the Friday afternoon (27/1/89) I bumped into Dave outside HMV in Cornmarket, Oxford and he told me that there had been a last minute cancellation and Steve, a mate of his, was playing with his band (Ride) and that they would be right up my street. How right he was…my friends and I turned up early (without realising) got let in and Ride were already on stage starting to play ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, it was immediately exciting and a cut above anything else that I had witnessed locally and perhaps anywhere, so much so that I clapped rapturously at the end before realising with embarrassment that it was only the sound check! I was stood in the middle of a near empty dance floor so this was more than a little embarrassing…(I recently heard that Adam Franklin, who later became a member of Swervedriver, clapped at the bar and made the same mistake as me!).
Above image courtesy of markgardener.com
The band almost immediately started their set proper – they started with ‘All I Can See’, I can distinctly remember hearing that for the first time and it is still my favourite track on the Ride EP. In fact I can remember the whole set like it was yesterday and that is rare for me as I have an awful memory! I also remember being struck by each of the band for different reasons – Andy was unusual in that he wore swotty looking glasses but smashed the hell out of his guitar, which seem to be contradictory messaging, I liked that clash…Mark was clearly striking looking and his haircut at the time was really cool, I loved the vocals too, Loz then (as now) was a whirling dervish, and Steve looked deadly serious, almost menacing and spent most of the time with his back to the very small audience. Anyway when asked at the end of the set by Dave what I thought I exclaimed that it was ‘fucking mental’ – this was a regular response by me at those early shows, that or just ‘mental!’ and I became known as Mark ‘fucking mental’ Taylor – hence the inscription on my signed Nowhere.
I immediately knew I had to see this band as much as possible, it sounds cliched now but it really was love at first sight/sound! I saw them again at the beginning of that March with the Wild Poppies – a fantastic New Zealand band that had moved to Oxford (they did several early supports for Ride – and coincidentally they have just brought out a retrospective compilation that everyone reading this should buy), Ride were stunning again! Then later in March I was at Live Skull (who became Come) at the Oxford Coop Hall (later The Zodiac, now The O2 Academy) and Andy Bell approached me and asked if I was the guy that did the live tapes and whether I had any Sonic Youth tapes? We exchanged numbers to swap tapes and also so he could tell me when his band were next playing.
I was a local student by this time but still living at home, embarrassingly Andy called me one night to tell me about a forthcoming gig and I was already in bed so my Mum had to pass on the message! Anyway Andy kept in touch and gave me some early demo tapes, I think in exchange for bootlegs, although I can’t remember which. I also remember going to his parents house around that time and he showed me books with highlighted pages from where he had drawn lyrical inspiration, he also flicked through albums and showed me what had influenced him, at the time this was interesting but a little innocent/naive, now obviously this appears hyper cool to have been gifted with! I also remember both his Mum & Dad, and his sister all being really welcoming and genuine, and this is still the case.
You were living in Oxford before Ride took off, what was the music scene like there in the late 1980’s?
It was pretty good but there no real bands that had ‘made it’, it was just a case of a few big fish in a little pond. My favourite local bands at the time were those listed above, plus The Anyways, Toad, Arcane Dawn and especially Madamadam (another early Ride support). the scene was small too and very friendly, you’d just go up to complete strangers start chatting and then be mates by the following week…the key venues were The Jericho, The Wheatsheaf, The Coop Hall, and The Dolly (now The Cellar).
Did you expect them to be so successful?
I kind of thought something more than the typical local band thing was going to happen, they clearly had aspirations and suss way above anyone else locally. Dave was probably the first local manager of a band too and he added a whole new dimension to it. The biggest local Indie band before Ride was Talulah Gosh who became Heavenly (I saw the latter but not the former), but Ride were obviously a level above that even in those early stages. There was something magical that just about everyone immediately picked up on, I don’t think Ride’s rise was a surprise, what was a surprise was the speed of the rise…it was pretty fast, and being close to it I noticed that even more….
So we’ve talked about the old days in Oxford, but by Summer/Autumn 1989 the band are heading down the M40 to London playing at The Falcon regularly and then the Soup Dragons tour. What were those shows like?
The Falcon shows were in a word ‘scary’ I don’t think that I have ever witnessed such out of control shows before that or since. You really felt like your life was in someone else’s hands….but then as a late teen/early twenties fan that is what you wanted. It was edgy and you really didn’t know what would happen next. It was vital but risky at the same time. There isn’t enough of that nowadays….I also remember queues around the block at the venue. I don’t remember the Soupies dates as much but then I think I only attended the Town & Country Club one…
What was your reaction when you heard Creation were going to release an EP?
’Welcome home’, no surprise…other than it wasn’t 4AD (which would have been the more obvious deal/bed fellows).
Fanzines were a pretty big thing in those days, I remember Sowing Seeds being fantastic, what made you start a Ride fanzine?
It’s probably not cool now but I was (and am) a massive U2 fan. Geoff Parkyn got the ‘U2 Info’ fanzine spot on which is where I stole my A5 format from (plus it fitted in your pocket for a gig). It pains me now but if you put the first three issues of my zine next to his then it is theft, I was as much a magpie as Ride admittedly are to MBV, HOL, Mary Chain – a huge debt! He later did one for Brix Smith/Adultnet – I would love to meet the man…I also stole from punk zines like Mark Perry’s ‘Sniffin Glue’, and ‘Zigzag’.
In Oxford Chris ‘Fish’ did ‘Far out and Fishy’, Silverfish also did their own one. I loved the instant connect with like minded people and the creativity – remember there wasn’t just no internet, there was no mobile (other than expensive ‘bricks’ of course).
Other than John Peel, Annie Nightingale and Janice Long, coupled with NME/Sounds/Melody Maker we had NOTHING (‘shoe box in middle of road….’) in terms of information sources. I don’t know why but randomly I decided to use my bootlegging tape recorder to interview Ride at their ‘Fun in the parks’ show at South Park (coincidentally the only poor show I ever saw them do – the sound sucked, they wore all white and you felt dazzled)…I think I wanted the anonymity of the recorder to ask them questions I wouldn’t otherwise ask….I can’t remember how that came about…I think I just asked…they sat with me at the top of the park and I asked the first things that came to mind…then I had to find a home for it…I think it came out first in the music pages of the TLE (‘The Last Edition’) the Ox Poly college paper…then I was producing a contact sheet called ‘The Network’ to put fellow fans in touch for somewhere to kip, get a ticket, a boot etc…it all came together from those seeds…
So then they release the early batch of EPs, what was the mood in the camp like when they both charted in not just the Indie chart but the national pop charts?
I wouldn’t really say I was ‘in the camp’ at that point. I wasn’t yet working for the band, although the zine had started by then and I was by that time very good friends with Dave Newton, so I was aware of the buzz in the camp. I think ‘RIDE EP’ was the one that did it, as significantly it became Creation’s first top 75 ‘hit’! That was ground breaking not just for us as fans, the band, or Creation but the Indie scene as a whole I think. The walls began to tumble after that…I remember thinking the plates are definitely shifting…
The gigs then were obviously getting bigger all the time too, are there any that really stand out?
The Town and Country club show on my 21st birthday (7th March 1991) which is about to be released on DVD for #Nowhere25 was obviously very special, doubly so in that they did two consecutive nights and my then girlfriend had her 22nd on the second night! I loved the T&C then, and now (as the Forum). That was also my ideal level show for the band at that point (now I think that they should be playing arenas and stadia! Their sound is so massive that in my opinion it feels a little uncontainable and out of place on smaller stages these days…).
At some point you became employed by the band as Dave’s assistant. How did that come about?
I did a degree in Environmental Biology at what was then Oxford Polytechnic (now Oxford Brookes) – incidentally while there I scored a coup by persuading the band to do a Rainforest benefit gig for the college Friends of The Earth society (which I co-chaired), then the first EP came out, they rocketed and had to postpone, kudos to them though, they kept their promise and came back and played when their schedule allowed it! – my final dissertation was a freshwater ecology audit of two local rivers, I got a 2:1 for my course and a First for my dissertation so I applied for an apprenticeship with the NRA (National Rivers Authority). I got a place, but about a month before college ended I hadn’t heard anything about my enrolment/start date, I called the NRA HR dept and was told that because of an ‘admin oversight’ they had recruited too many people and that I no longer had a place…I took a knock from that and I really had no plan B. Then I thought I’ll take a year out.
I thought what do I want to do during that time? ‘Work in music’ was the answer. I wrote a (most unconventional) speculative job application to Dave (I’d love to see a copy if it’s still in the archive!) asking if he needed a management assistant. Dave asked me to come to the New Inn pub on Cowley Road (now The Corridor) which at the time was THE OX4 hang out (now it sucks). I turned up, and if I remember correctly, Dave, Mac (see earlier) and Ronan Munro (who worked in Our Price with Dave and Steve, and now runs Oxford’s Nightshift music paper) were sat in a mock panel interview style behind a pub table, this freaked me out a bit but was quite funny. I was told straight away ‘of course!’. I’d basically asked the right question at the right time – ‘do you need help?’, Dave was getting inundated with work then as the band had really started to take off (this was just before Leave Them All Behind if I remember correctly). I then started doing a little bit of admin work for Dave whilst I was still at college, from both Dave’s shared house and my student digs around the corner from where he, and the band members, lived at the time (in separate places). Then when college ended I helped Dave move into his new house and we started working from his front room.
In one of your early fanzines I remember you reviewed a tape by The Jennifers whom you later ended up managing and signed to Nude records. How was that time? I presume you were still also working for Ride at the time?
That came about via Andy Bell. Every tour Andy would be given bags and bags of demo tapes, so many he didn’t know what to do with them all…At the time I had a demo section in the zine so he started to give them to me. I remember thinking at the time that Andy was quite considerate towards the bands as he rarely just gave me the bag, he had mentally divided them into three categories bad, medium and good and would tell me what he thought – he was always right with the bad ones so I would bin those, but I often found that his good and medium were the converse for me…if I remember rightly the one from The Jennifers was in Andy’s medium pile, although he took the time to explain that he had met the band, they were extremely young and they were from Oxford.
At the time I was writing for a previous incarnation of the Oxford music paper – either Gig, or more likely Curfew, and I asked Ronan if I could review the band live, which I did, at that gig I also interviewed the band (in a car in the Jericho Tavern car park) as I thought that Ronan might potentially give them a cover feature (which he did). They just asked me immediately: ‘we need someone to manage us, will you do it’? I accepted the offer.
Yes I was still working for Dave at the time, he was really helpful and gracious with his time and resources, and amazingly allowed me to juggle them with my Ride job – I remember once he even lent me his ‘brick’ mobile phone when we played in Southampton, the same night we sat in a cafe and heard ‘Just Got Back Today’ on Radio 1 – it was really funny as the waitress asked who the band were and then said: ‘never heard of you’ and then ten minutes later they came on!
If I had been less risk adverse (I am not much of a gambler) then perhaps I would have committed 100% to The Jennifers and who knows where that may have led…but I couldn’t risk my income from Ride and by then I was loving working with Dave and the band so it didn’t really cross my mind.
Those times were chaotic. Three of the band were still in school and for some gigs I’d literally turn up to their school in a transit van, they’d jump in the back in their school clothes and then change into their stage clobber! It was like Clark Kent transforming into Superman in a telephone box! I thought The Jennifers were incredible, still do, they were incredibly talented, funny and unique characters. On Nude they were held back by Suede and the press just said that they were too young, and they picked up on Gaz looking like Mark (because of his puppy dog good looks and big fringe), annoyingly (literally) the same journalists eulogised about their youth a couple of years later when Danny and Gaz formed Supergrass…I won’t name names but ‘fickle’ doesn’t really cover it…
You mention about the fickle press and their treatment of The Jennifers, I can remember chatting to Tara Milton of 5.30 the week Twisterella entered the charts at about 36, as LTAB had been a top 10 he stated that everyone has moved on from Ride and is interested in a new band called Suede and that essentially Ride have had their time. He wasn’t being rude, but just stating observations as the industry was so fickle then and audiences had a lot less control, as we mentioned earlier there was no internet then. Do you remember there being a shift and do you think this affected the band?
Funny you should mention Tara, he was instrumental in The Jennifers split; as I understand it he told Danny he was the best drummer in the world, and tried to poach him to join the Nubiles (I think) but that didn’t work out and then Supergrass formed…No, I don’t think that the change in the music at the time affected Ride. I think it was more the internal friction and the musical changes that the band made to their own sound, perhaps being ahead of the Britpop curve…and not fitting with the current grunge sound of the time. I remember the NME had finally agreed to put all four of them on the cover (until that point they had concentrated on Mark and Andy), and of course that week Kurt shot himself, so that didn’t happen…it wasn’t a happy day in the Ride office THAT day let me tell you…I’m not saying it sealed things but it certainly felt like a significant downer when the band badly needed a lift….
You mentioned earlier about Ride sounding better on large stages, I totally agree. My favourite live recording is from Wembley Arena supporting The Cure which I attended, the gig itself wasn’t anything special but the recording sounds exceptional. From the first era by the far the best time I saw them was Reading ’92. How did you feel Primavera and Field Day this year compared to the old shows.
Primavera was incredible, in fact that point (coupled with the slight sonic claustrophobia of the Oxford warm up), is what made me see the light about the necessary leap to larger stages. I enjoyed Field Day too but not as much as Primavera.
You’ve obviously seen lots of development musically in Oxford over the last 25 years. Any particular highlights?
Well aside from the Ride peers I have already mentioned and The Jennifers, I was also involved with a UK grunge band called Squid who I loved, then Dave and I worked together on The Bigger The God (whose lead singer David was once best friends/neighbours with Steve Queralt, and who had been in the reggae band Big Spider Back with Steve and Andy) – they were incredible both on record and live, they were a darker, punkier, more intelligent take on early Pulp, it was a shame we weren’t able to get them to another level (although they appeared on both The Big Breakfast and TOTP2).
I also loved Dustball (who became Dive Dive, and later some of the members became Frank Turner’s backing band), they started off as a spikier sounding Ramones, and then took on poppier apsects of late grunge. I missed the start of Foals locally as I was working in London by that time and got a bit out of touch with the local scene (I have seen them lots of times in London, and a couple of secret Oxford shows since), I love them though, I also got really into the whole Blessing Force scene that sprang out of Foals’ art community, but a lot of those bands have come and gone now… I saw a local band recently called Orange Vision supporting Autobahn on their Oxford date and they were good, they have a great front man, also Cassels are one to look out for.
So here we are in 2015 and you’re about to publish Issue 8 of The Network. You are still going for paper copies with is highly commendable, people still think I’m mad building websites but social media is so disposable. Anyway, with Ride back together do you think you’ll keep it going now?
The fanzine is really dependent on how active the band is as sales are only really sustainable when they are active, and obviously content is better then too…I hope that they remain active for many years to come, if they do I will continue to support them, part of that is publishing the zine, it’s a labour of love….
Any hopes or wishes for the future of RIDE?
I hope that the band gets to record another classic album, I sense that that is their wish too but that they are being cautious and protective of their sterling heritage. I am prepared to be patient and I think that most Ride fans are too. If we give them time and continue to nurture them with our love, then I think that anything is possible…fingers firmly crossed…:)
Mark (pictured below) hitting the button to launch this website at Brixton Academy, Oct 2015