Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and Ride played the show on August 24th.
There’s something about the summer that immensely suits Ride.
Perhaps it’s nostalgia: their feedback-heavy, hazy sonic soundscapes evoke memories and images of summers past from the first act of their career over thirty years ago. Even more so in late August, with the lower sun casting a particular kind of light over our green and pleasant land that the band so aptly soundtrack.
Not that the Oxford gang are a heritage act. Arguably the most creatively successful of the reformed acts of the era, the two albums released in that period sit comfortably with Nowhere and Going Blank Again.
Indeed, their walk-on music (R.I.D.E., taken from 2019’s This Is Not A Safe Place) is more blistering and industrial than anything from the nineties. Before a note is played, being the good egg he is Andy Bell congratulates Phil Smith (Noel Gallagher’s long-time tour DJ) on his choice of music.
With this being their only scheduled UK show of the year – and their first since April – there is a palpable joy within the group, the delight on Bell’s face apparent as he eases his guitar into the ragged jangle of opener Seagull.
Meanwhile on the sublime Taste, as Bell works his magic, fellow singer and guitarist Mark Gardener, drummer Loz Colbert and bassist Steve Queralt all close ranks as a band, playing their respective instruments as one until Bell’s guitar pedal unfortunately cuts out. Regardless, the song in question maintains its youthful vitality, even if its writers are in their fifties.
However, for the first time in their career (as Gardener informs us), some additional assistance is required. Due to a fractured hand suffered some weeks ago, Bell requires assistance on guitar in the second half of the set, with James Dare stepping in to provide support, bolstering the sound when required.
While Bell has been incredibly prolific over the last decade or so, the lack of new material from Ride has been notable, but he reassures the audience that a new album is on the way in 2024, ‘when the time is right’.
Impatient fans are given a tantalizing insight into what it may sound like with new song Monaco. The answer? Classic Ride, with an impressive wall of noise and affected Gardener vocals, recognisable progression of their newer material like the spindly riff of Future Love or the yearning Lannoy Point (which ends with the comment, ‘we live in hope’, from Gardener).
Meanwhile, there is a place where the glorious Vapour Trail goes on forever and it is a happy, harmonious place.
A short but sweet performance, then Ride give way to Bell’s old bandmates (barring a certain swaggering frontman) as the crew drapes the entire stage in flowers.
An ever-evolving collective, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds‘ set-up gives equal prominence to keyboardists Jess Greenfield and Mike Rowe, whose instruments are situation front of stage either side of the guitarists (Gallagher, Gem Archer and bassist Russell Pritchard) who smoothly work as a trio with an unspoken understanding. Along with the other musicians, it’s a crowded platform but the delectable sound ensures there is no fat.
Having been touring for nearly three months, the group is a well-oiled machine and match fit. Archer is clearly enjoying himself, providing the intricacy for the driving motorik of opener Pretty Boy while his comrade Gallagher settles for the comfort of the acoustic guitar, his preferred option for the last few years.
Not that he’s lost it on the electric guitar; In The Heat Of The Moment stings more viciously than ever before, even if drummer Chris Sharrock does his best to steal the limelight by throwing and catching his sticks.
Despite his reputation as ‘The Chief’, there’s an evident relaxed bonhomie within the group. At the end of a weary Going Nowhere, Sharrock ends a few bars early leaving Archer playing an outro with no rhythm section to support. Gallagher wastes no time in jokingly admonishing his drummer, informing both he and the crowd that Sharrock will be ‘shot in the morning’.
For a solo project it’s relatively democratic – playing many of the solos, Archer gets several moments under the spotlight, as do Greenfield and Rowe during the mid-section of the piano-house AKA…What A Life! with the rest of the band shrouded.
A big fan of regional banter, Gallagher mocks the Somerset crowd by claiming he knows nothing of the area, but also shows his tender side in dedicating Don’t Look Back In Anger to a girl in the audience who had been crying during the reworked, aching Live Forever.
Yet for all his affability, with Noel Gallagher it’s always about the songs, and what songs they are. Of the newer material, the slinky bossa nova of Council Skies works much better live than on record, while the mighty Easy Now has taken its place in his canon of anthems.
Elsewhere, the joyous We’re Gonna Get There In The End (complete with Motown brass) is perfectly placed within the set, while the acoustic and piano-only Dead In The Water (slightly older, from 2017) is a near-religious experience.
The older High Flying Birds material fares equally well; the propulsive You Know We Can’t Go Back supplies yet more vigour, while If I Had A Gun… remains a melancholy delight.
And then, of course, there’s the Oasis material, which ticks all the right boxes. For the hardcore, the aforementioned Going Nowhere (never played by Oasis) is a highlight, The Importance Of Being Idle retains its Kinksian mischievousness and Little By Little continues to grow in stature and scale. But best of all is The Masterplan (arguably still Gallagher’s high watermark), still as grandiose as ever and preceded by a dedication to Andy Bell. Let the speculation commence.
Yet on this basis, Big Brother has never needed Oasis less.