The Cutter meets up with Reef to pop the champers on twenty years of rocking the main stage and ‘drinking everything under the sun’….
Two decades of unstinting service at anything is always worthy of commemoration whether its navigating the toe-to-toe of marriage or sitting behind the same desk each day taking orders from a boss who wears shit chinos and insists on using terms like ‘spit-balling’. When that twenty years is being posted at the frontline of the most combustible, unstable, and fickle world that is rock n roll then the achievement is all the more remarkable.
That is precisely what Reef have been celebrating this past month with a six-date 20th anniversary tour sprinkled across the UK. This isn’t a cashcow reunion or a convenient ruse to flog a new album. There is no reunion and, save for a couple of ace new tracks, there is no new material. It’s entirely a celebration of their songs, their longevity, and their fans.
This is a typically benevolent gesture from a band who, since their inception in 1993, have blended high-octane live performances that disintegrate the fabric of your socks with a laid-back surfer dude mentality. Because with Reef – and prepare yourselves for the biggest cliché of them all but one that’s wholly apt in this instance – it’s always been about the music. The vibe and the sharing of it.
With that in mind I asked Gary Stringer, Reef’s easy-going frontman, for his consideration on twenty songs from his contemporaries that have given him a good feeling throughout the West Country rocker’s existence.
First though I grabbed a few words following a storming set in Manchester…
How did tonight differ from the ‘old days’? Is the touring experience always roughly the same?
We’ve only been doing eight to ten shows a year and they’ve been festivals, and festivals have their own vibe. For your own gigs though…it’s been great tonight and to be honest they’ve all been like that. Glasgow went off. Birmingham went off. Bristol went off. All in their own different flavours. We love playing live and performing. We love playing in front of crowds, experimenting and getting into music.
When we first started I was nineteen. I’m forty now. The venues were a lot smaller then and you’d come off absolutely soaked.
What has been your personal highlight from the past 20 years?
Definitely playing Glastonbury festival in 1995. I grew up in Glastonbury town so playing there was a really big deal. We were all in shorts on stage, walking around with cider. I could see people in the crowd that I knew.
Do you still get nervous before a gig?
I don’t overly suffer from nerves. As long as I can sing then I’m all right.
Do you know that’s the case straight away? As you walk on stage you know it’s going to be a good night?
Most of the time I’m on form. I don’t want to come across as a twat but I think I’m singing better now than I did back in the day. When I was twenty years old I’d drink everything under the sun, stay up and have a laugh, just going crazy. But now I just enjoy singing more.
What are you most proud of?
Musically I’m proud that we flew our own flag and did our own thing. Especially around the time of Britpop – we had long hair and just rocked out. A lot of people were saying the Britpop thing was trying to get over Nirvana but we loved that record. That made me excited – that rock music.
We always knew that we weren’t really a band for the inky press – we weren’t that sort of band – so I’m just really stoked with how long we lasted and how much fun we had. We had a blast and we could play with any of those guys and hold our own.
A large part of your success has been due to your live performances. From so many do any absolute stinkers stand out or all-time highs?
We got paid an awful lot of music around 1996 to play at a student union. It was a stupid amount of money and there were about fifteen people there. That was quite tough.
Highs? Headlining the second stage at Glastonbury in 1998. Going to Australia. Going to Japan. Going out to America. Driving from San Jose to Seattle to do a gig or Spain to Norway. The whole lifestyle thing is really good fun.
Do you miss it?
No, I’m different now. I’ve got kids. I still enjoy it: hearing people sing your song back at you is a buzz.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever encountered from a fan?
In Japan you felt like The Beatles. It’s crazy. I found a girl in my hotel room once. How did she get in there? In the lobby there’d be forty girls. You catch a train and there’s a little gang of them following you.
How has the music industry changed since you started out?
The amount of money has changed. We made three records in Los Angeles and we were out there three months at a time in accommodation. The record company would fly over first class and they would stay at the Chateau Marmont for weeks on end. We had Ocean Way block-booked, big studios that cost a fucking fortune with a big producer wanting a string section. (These days) that sort of money is there only for the biggest artists.
I read in Billboard magazine the other week about the sales that Pearl Jam needed to get a number one. They sold around 190,000 albums and Paul McCartney sold around ninety thousand to get second or third. That made me think the sales are different. Jesus wept! For an American number one to sell that few to get in the top five.
When Glow come out we sold a hundred thousand records in the UK in the first week alone and that’s just here in a small country like this.
We never got anywhere near the American charts. I think we were number 50 or something.
Are there any bands around today that remind you of yourselves?
No but there’s a lot of cool bands out there. I like Matthew And Me. Really mellow and well crafted songs. Check them out.
Gary Stringer’s twenty songs for twenty years
KILLING IN THE NAME – RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
CREEP – RADIOHEAD
HAS MY FIRE REALLY GONE OUT? – PAUL WELLER
LOSER – BECK
HUMAN BEHAVIOUR – BJORK
CANNONBALL – THE BREEDERS
CAUGHT BY THE FUZZ – SUPERGRASS
LAST GOODBYE – JEFF BUCKLEY
ROADS – PORTISHEAD
SABOTAGE – BEASTIE BOYS
COMMON PEOPLE – PULP
SHIMMY SHIMMY YA – OL’ DIRTY BASTARD
PARANOID ANDROID – RADIOHEAD
WHERE DO I BEGIN? – THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS
SONG 2 – BLUR
TEARDROP – MASSIVE ATTACK
NO ONE KNOWS – QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE
DREAMING OF YOU – THE CORAL
THERE’S NO HOME FOR YOU HERE – THE WHITE STRIPES
LONE WOLF – THE EELS