by Margaret Chrystall
AT last year’s Loopallu Festival in Ullapool, 80s rockers Reef were a big hit.
“And Ullapool was a big hit with us!” laughs singer Gary Stringer.
“I’d be up there every year if you want! Landscape, people, whisky – and at the festival, what a reception!”
Now the band from Glastonbury is back in the Highlands, headed for Belladrum on Saturday.
There’s a big buzz about it with a massive number of likes chalked up for the band on the festival’s website.
Gary has a vague memory of playing a charity gig in Inverness in the mid-90s at Caley Stadium with Bob Geldof on the line-up.
Gary said: “I remember playing a trick on the band after chatting to a policeman and getting him to put me in cuffs and take me onto the tourbus as if I’d been causing trouble – that created quite a stir with the band and crew!”
Offstage shenanigans sorted, there’s the same energy onstage – but just what is the lasting appeal of this band of surfy-rockers?
“I have no idea!” said Gary. “But we enjoy playing and put out a load of energy and if you get some of that back, it builds. You chuck a bit out there and it comes back, so you chuck some more and before you know it, you’re all having a good time.
“Then, it’s not hard work at all. It’s just getting into the songs and enjoying the energy of the music.
“That’s what we’ve always done, really. We’ve never been a big media band – we left Britpop to itself and we just got on with it.
“So maybe it’s better not to question why.
“Just go with it!”
The four-piece – whose hits from 1997 album Glow included Come Back Brighter, Consideration, Yer Old and biggie, the number six hit single Place Your Hands – carried on performing until a break between 2003 and 2010 when Reef came back with a reunion tour.
This year it’s the band’s 21st anniversary as a band. Guitarist Kenwyn House announced in April he would be leaving Reef to concentrate on working with his new band Goldray, so Jesse Wood, guitarist for the The Ronnie Wood Band and son of Ronnie Wood, has replaced him.
“That 2010 tour sold out across the country, so that was all a good vibe,” said Gary.
“We’d played the Reef stuff till the break, when it was beginning to feel like work,” he said.
But during the time away, as well as having a family and moving back to his own childhood home patch near Glastonbury, Gary formed a band Them Is Me with bassist Jack Bessant. They now have an album out, Yard, from their acoustic project StringerBessant where both musicians play acoustic guitars and a second more band-led album.
Gary explained: “Yard is very bare with maybe a cello and a couple of pianos, guitars and it’s the polar opposite to Reef.
“StringerBessant is very delicate and I’ve had to learn to play acoustic guitar – I was never really a guitarist. This is so gentle
“With the rock band it’s not controlled – it’s feedback, and tossing your hair about and getting sweaty.
“You can do a couple of weeks of shows of the acoustic thing and then you feel like rocking out and having a head bang. All of that is in me, so I don’t ever get bored.”
The two projects are a good fit and Gary confirmed that at a recent home event, the Godney Gathering, StringerBessant had taken the teatime slot, while Reef headlined.
“At a festival you can get away with a lot of different styles.”
Place Your Hands
Singer Gary Stringer said of the Reef anthem: “It’s got it’s own Twitter account and it’s the song that’s kept us going royalty and radio-playwise.”
There’s been a recent flurry of buyers – Belladrum fans? – for the song, according to the song’s Twitter feed.
Gary said: “Get this! In the last two weeks sales have gone up to over 1000. It’s nuts! It normally just sells just around 250 copies a week, but it’s amazing for a song that is more than 20 years old.
“So I think they must have put it on some 59p special or something!”
One of the more unusual covers of the song – not the one that accompanied the letters section in Chris Evans’ Channel 4 TFI Friday programme and caused a spat between the host and the band – has got the thumbs up from Reef.
Gary said: “The Ukelele Orchestra Of Great Britain recorded their version and sent it to us and we all thought it was great.”
Now there’s talk of a new Reef album.
“But we want to concentrate on – maybe – writing a new record. We started to jam last month for a couple of days and we’ve got a couple of days this month. It’s really exciting and hopefully we can come up with a new record. I was a little bit apprehensive before the first session, but after we did the first jam, we wrote three really cool songs and we had really good fun. so maybe there’s another record in us. We’ll see!”
“StringerBessant also did an EP called Wild Day which included a cover of the first Reef song me and and Jack had ever written together, called Mellow.”
Gary recalls writing that first song almost in a oner – something that only happens rarely, most recently with a StringerBessant song.
“I’d been away in Morocco surfing and had just got back and Jack had this guitar line.
“When we came back, we thought we wanted to form a band. We were 18 or so, and we’d moved to London. I’d just been travelling, he’d just been travelling.
“We got together and he showed me this acoustic guitar line and it came with a melody.
“I remember going home and lying on my bed and there’s this zone you go into. All these words just came really clearly, all about my experience away, hearing the sea coming up and down the beach and feeling the sun.
“I’ve had that happen a couple of times since. We were working on another StringerBessant album last year.
“I had that same feeling when I wrote the lyrics of this song called Walk To Zamberk which is on the SB band record.
“Reef had been doing a date in Czechoslavakia – after all the rest of the band and the crew had gone back, me and Jack had stayed up partying, meeting new friends, playing table football, drinking whisky and just enjoying ourselves.
“Before we knew it, we came out of this marquee and the sun was coming up. We’d had a lovely time and it was just the feeling of walking back to our hotel room – or floating back to the hotel room – through the sun.”
It’s an SB tour that Gary fancies for a return to the Highlands after Belladrum.
“Me and Jack love surfing and walking and we’re desperate to come up and tour some small shows around the Highlands so we can go up to Thurso for a bit of cold water surfing!”
Reef plays the main Garden Stage at Belladrum on Saturday.