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Tuesday 31 January 2023

Polar Bears

Ride and The Charlatans began a double header tour of North America yesterday, the two bands swapping headlining duties each night. Pet Shop Boys and New Order did a similar thing last year, as did Suede and Manic Street Preachers. I can see the attraction for the bands- split the costs, shift more tickets, play slightly shorter sets without the pressure to be top of the bill every night. For the fans too, it's a winner- in the combinations mentioned here there can't be many people who'd pay to see one of the bands without even the slightest interest in seeing the other. If Ride and The Charlatans want to repeat it over here, I'm definitely in. They played together back in the early 90s, a tour of seaside towns billed as the Daytripper tour (I say tour, it may have Brighton and Blackpool only). 

Back in 1990 both bands released their debut albums, The Charlatans Some Friendly in October and Ride's Nowhere a week later. Both albums had songs titled Polar Bear too. I think I remember reading somewhere that the bands became aware each other were writing songs titled Polar Bear and both went ahead, finding some kinship in it. 

The Charlatans' Polar Bear was a live favourite, the group having built up a fanatical following following the release of debut single Indian Rope. It chugs in on funky guitar and organ, a distorted woodwind topline snaking around for two minutes before Tim steps up to the mic, voice quite low in the swirly mix, singing about  a girl who's 'freezing to death with no clothes on/ She doesn't know what day it is', the song bubbling up for the line, 'I've never had one of those'. The verse, 'Life's a bag of revels/ I'm looking for the orange one', was a fan favourite, inspiring a fanzine and oft quoted in reviews in the music press. Later on Tim gets more oblique, 'Have you seen my polar bear?/ It's the white thing over there'. Polar Bear split opinions in the group, some thinking they didn't do the song justice and overproduced it, others wanting it to be a single. In the end, with Martin Blunt threatening to quit if it was the next single, they put out The Only One I Know instead which would seem retrospectively to be the correct decision. 

Polar Bear

Ride's Polar Bear was the last song on side one of their debut, a Mark Gardener written song, and also has lines about an unnamed girl. 'She knew she was able to fly', Mark sings, 'Because when she came down/ She had dust on her hands from the sky/ She said I touched a cloud'. The guitars are a squall of noise, the drums and guitars grinding their way forward through the intro. The second verse contains one of my favourite Ride lines, the sort of line only a nineteen year old can get away with, one of those profound middle of the night thoughts that seem daft in daylight, stoned silliness- 'Why should it feel like a crime?/ If I want to be with you all the time?/ Why is it measured in hours?/ You should make your own time'. We should all make our own time eh? I might do it today.  

Polar Bear


JC said...

Not knowing/caring that much about Ride (I Know, I know!!!!), this has been a revelation on many fronts. The news about the tour and the fact that both bands had early songs with the same title. Oh, and the info about the Charlatans humming and hawing a bit about the choice of next single, but as you say, the eventual choice was vindicated.

Great piece of writing (again)

Adam Turner said...

Thanks Jim