June 21, 2011

RRIP: A Fitting Farewell To Red Riders

On the weekend just past I saw the Red Riders play their final show, and it was one of the most genuinely exciting and joyous nights of music I can remember for a long time. What could have been a sad occasion was in fact a celebration of Red Riders’ eight year career, with them playing to a room full of people who all felt the same way – that this was their band, everyone’s band, and what a pleasure it was to be a part of. Like everyone else watching the show, Red Riders have been one my favourite groups, who also just so happened to put out their records with Ivy League. That very agreeable arrangement encapsulated, for me, that rare utopian coming together of fandom and business that made us want to start a record label in the first place – you get to release records by bands who you really love.

I’ve spent the day after their last show playing all of their releases in chronological order, from the “pink horse” EP right through to ‘Drown In Colour’, and in doing so have compressed all of the pleasure I’ve got out of listening to their music down through the years into one short, sharp blast down memory lane.

Memory Lane was in fact, for me, Portobello Road in London around 2003. That was where I first heard Red Riders as I walked along that famed promenade with Andy Cassell. Myself, Andy and Pete were living high on the hog at the time, poncing about the globe on account The Vines and Jet enjoying some commercial success thanks to some well placed iPod commercials, insanity, booze, and naturally, some very good songs. Oh, how quaint those days seem now.

As usual it was Andy C who had the demos – he was always the one with his nose in front. They were, he explained, from a newly formed band of Sydneysiders who had, like every second band at the time, sold out their second show at the Hopetoun, and were quite the talk of the town. Although we did actually have the internet and even emails even back then, these kinds of tales still held some kind of magical allure when relayed across to the other side of the world from your home town, and a combination of homesickness and Missing Out Disease invariably reared its head, pricking up one’s ears.

As Andy handed me his iPod he said something like “This sounds a bit like The Jam”. Two minutes later having listened to “Slide in Next To Me” it was fair to say that it sounded almost exactly like ‘Start’ by The Jam. Somehow though, that was actually okay. It was clear that the band could have no idea that such a song ever existed, because no-one would ever attempt such a brazen recreation if they had any prior knowledge of the song that inspired it. Similarly “The Sun Don’t Seem To Come Up” was “Let’s Spend The Night Together”, so at least they had impeccable influences, even when they had no idea they had influences.

That was the essence of what made me come to like the Red Riders so much as I listened to those demos over and over. Their unbridled excitement and naivety jumped out from every song. Their enthusiasm for what they were doing, and the fact that you felt that they were in the middle of discovering something unbelievably exciting within their own little group was incredibly refreshing. More than that though, they had great songs. There seemed to be a never-ending supply of them coming out in that rare and completely exhilarating surge that happens at the very beginning of a bands formation when everything clicks and they can barely keep up with their own ideas. In Al and Adrian, they had two distinct song writers and personalities, and in a tale that has been told a thousand times by other reminiscing fools like me, when they came together those differences served to make the resultant songs better than they would have been if just one hand had been involved. Whereas Adrian knew the names of chords, could actually play scales and even knew what effects pedals actually did, Al’s style was rawer and more instinctual, his songs a series of stuttering, slashed chords and yelped vocals. The mix of Adrian’s more measured approach to Al’s heart-on-sleeve style lifted the songs way above what they would have been if served up without the input of their counterpart. A vocal harmony from Al on one of Adrian’s songs would add some grit, a melodic guitar line from Adrian on an Al track would give it focus without taking away any of its original energy.

The rhythm section of Matt on bass and Tom on drums was a strange mix of precision and borderline sloppiness that I still find intriguing in the best possible way. The way they played together almost exactly mirrored the yin and yang of Al and Adrian’s song writing. I guess Red Riders had that thing that some people in bands get to experience once in their life if they’re really lucky – “chemistry” as Mondo Rock put it. For whatever reason, the combination of those four people coming together at that particular time just had a particular something, that couldn’t be forced. Hey, I’m not saying they were The Beatles, and thank God Alex played that skiffle set at the local fete when Adrian turned up, but it was pretty great.

I was so enamoured the first time I got to see the band play at Spectrum. That chemistry was blindingly obvious, and wherever the venue and whatever the situation in those early days, they just had so much spunk and spirit, but most importantly again, those songs. I remember the first time I heard them play “What They Say About Us” one night at the Newtown RSL I considered my wig well and truly flipped. It felt like it took forever to convince them to sign with us (I can’t actually remember how long it was now) the result being that we were able to have a traditional, Victorian-era style courting period that’s rarely seen in today’s bit- torrent version of label/band “romance.” The advantage of that in the long term was finding out that they truly are four (plus Brad equals five) of the nicest, most genuine people you could ever hope to meet. Everything was always easy, even if it involved difficult decisions because they are such gentlemen.

I could go on to recount every little twist and turn of the past eight years, but everyone who loves the band will have their own memories, favourite shows and late night recollections, and mine are just part of a much bigger collection. To me the Red Riders were a club that the band invited you to join with no door policy – everyone was welcome. They wrote fantastic songs, made great records, played some of the most exhilarating shows I’ve seen, and remained true to themselves for the whole time. Watching them play their last show, it felt like they were doing the right thing in saying goodbye while they were still in their prime. To hear those songs one last time felt like a genuine privilege. Bands aren’t supposed to last forever, and the Red Riders chose to go out in style, while they were still great, young and handsome. I even love the way they broke up.

By Andy Kelly

Side note: When we heard Red Riders were breaking up, we got all nostalgic and started listening to their tracks again. We found so many rare gems + interesting demos (see My Love Is Stronger Than Your Love) that we had a chat with the band + came up with 20 of our faves to put up on iTunes so you could all hear them too. R.R.I.P – Demos and Rare Tracks is available now.

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