Reef - Somerset, February 2016

Photography: Jenny Hands, Creative Direction: Bull/ Yacht Associates
Photography: Jenny Hands, Creative Direction: Bull/ Yacht Associates

Reef are perhaps one of the most important British bands to emerge within the last 20 years. The Somerset rockers have had a hugely successful career filled with hit records and performances on the biggest stages. One justification for this is the simple fact that they are different. They are different in the sense that it's actually really difficult to categorise or pigeon-hole their music into a specific genre of rock. Their early career with albums such as Replenish and Glow perhaps demonstrated more alternative leanings whereas later records such as 2000’s Getaway presented a more classic rock sound. It many ways it would be fair to say they created their very own genre. Whilst Reef have been active throughout the last 2 decades, recent years have seen it's members focusing on other projects. But they are now back and 2016 looks to be a huge year for vocalist Gary Stringer, bass player Jack Bessant, drummer Dominic Greensmith and new boy, Jesse Wood on guitar. With a Spring UK tour around the corner, and with anticipation building for the release of their new album Live At St Ives, there's a huge amount of excitement around the band. We catch up Jack at his Somerset home where he is building a new recording studio. With itineraries becoming densely populated for the band, we feel incredibly privileged as we sit down with the bassist to chat about the band’s plans for this year.


Jesse Wood is now a permanent member of Reef. As the son of a Rolling Stone (Ronnie Wood), there would always be raised expectations around his ability to deliver but he is absolutely a guitarist of huge talent and substance. What does it mean to have Jesse in the band?


Feel. Jesse has got a real nice feel. He's grown up with music and he's been playing a long time. The band sounds awesome. It sounded great with Kenwyn but we've come on as time has gone on and we've got more experience. Like yesterday, rehearsing for this tour, the sound broke through even more and it was like ‘wow this is really cool’. Jesse has got quite a hard, heavy sound. He's quite funky and grungy as well, and he doesn't mess about with massive solos. He does come up with some cool parts and I'm very excited about it. When we first came out in our early 20s, that was a whole different feel. I was discussing it with Dom yesterday. Back in the day we were quite physical on stage and perhaps that was detrimental to the actual sound we were making. It was all sort of full on and sometimes it would be quite racey and crazy but now, we still want to be a good band on stage for people to watch and for us to get in to the spirit of the moment but the whole thing is about 3 times as heavy. Gary's voice has matured so much. We have become this sound now that there's no way we could have been back then. Now it's just so cool and it's just right for Jesse to be hear right now. There's some heavy rock out there at the moment and I think we're matching it, if not surpassing some of the sounds. Gary has got some an awesome voice but we have got this sound behind him that's all wicked!


You have an album out shortly, Live in St Ives. How did the concept of a live album come about and after a career of almost 2 decades, an an incredibly strong body of material, how did you decide the set list for the show it was recorded at?


The idea of the live album was that we haven't really put anything out for a while. Because we decided to leave Reef for a while and we didn't do gigs for a long time, our old manager came on board an asked if we wanted to do a tour. We said 'yes ok, let's do a tour' and we had management for just that one tour. He then moved to Australia, but then Dom's wife whose a film maker made this film called Winter and she said 'can you guys just write something for my film'. She kind of encouraged us to write, and we wrote this song called Bark At The Trees which we released independently ourselves. We were quite excited about the creative process and we were enjoying being Reef but Kenwyn didn't want to do anything. He didn't want to further that so he went off and did his stuff, and we were like 'well we want to, man, let's audition a guitar player' so that's how that came about. From there we've been playing with Jesse for a while. It's taken a while, as it would anyone, to get all the riffs and patterns in to his brain and put his own touch on there, and all respect to him. These were the songs we played last time when we did a few festivals. We did a few warm up shows before St Ives with Jesse, and also this player, Andy Wallace, playing Hammond and keys. He's really cool. So from those warm up shows we kind of got the set for the live recording at St Ives. We did a few gigs in the summer and a gig at the House Vans in London just previous to the recording of the St Ives show which was really cool. That's how we came about the set really. They are the songs that are really working right now for Reef. The whole gig isn't on the record because we are releasing it on vinyl so we couldn't have too much on there.

Reef's bass player, Jack Bessant. Photography: Jenny Hands, Creative Direction: Bull/ Yacht Associates

What are your memories of that particular show? 


We did 2 nights there. It was such a great room to play in. Me and Gary went surfing on the first day in Porthmeor Beach which is right in front of the Tate Art Gallery in St Ives. We had a wicked surf, went into the venue and there was a farmers market on in there. It just had a really cool vibe in there, a really nice scene and everyone was really welcoming. I just though ‘wow this is a great room to do this in’. It was a well chosen room by our agent It was just such a great choice. The weather was really with us, we had great waves, the sun was out and it was just wicked to be in St Ives, wicked to be in this really cool old building and the lovely memories of George Drakoulias (music producer) being with us. He flew over to oversee this live recording and the recording of the single. To have George with us, walking around St Ives, in the venue and and rehearsing the Falmouth University Choir was amazing. We had the Falmouth University Choir for Place Your Hands and for How I Got Over which is the single we are releasing and a couple of other Reef songs they were going to sing on so it was kind of all happening. For 2 days there was quite a lot going on. It was amazing - lots of really talented people in that 1 room and what we've got out of it is a really cool live record. It's really wicked. It's cool in an old school way how it's motivated itself quite quickly after we did it.


Just reflecting on that point, your recorded it in October and it is now only February! What you have described there, that's taken some organising. Thinking about the number of people involved, the amount of talent that's there and everything coming together as it did, that's a huge undertaking and to be ready now in February, that's a real success.


It's brilliant. We had this manager who moved to Australia. We were manager-less. Jesse Wood on board, we had some interest from publishing with our back catalogue and we contacted Lincoln Elias who signed us back in the day, when he used to work for Sony S2 with Muff Winwood. Lincoln came to see us live with Jesse about a year ago when we did a few local  gigs just to get Jesse on board. And Lincoln was like ‘you guys are brilliant live’ and now he's managing us with John Bryce doing day to day management. John and Lincoln organised the whole thing really well. So it's really great to have management again and the whole thing has stepped up. Lincoln is only doing that because we feel it's going to be amazing. There's a whole team behind us and we’re all loving rock n roll music. Because we have management now they were able to organise it leaving us to concentrate on the music a bit more. Then we happened to get that piece on The One Show and of course we were on TFI Friday so that all fit in nicely with it as well. So it's all looking really good! I just wanna get out there and play rock, man!


Tell me about your forthcoming single How I Got Over which is due for release on 11th March and also what plans you may have for a new studio album.


On the live recording, you've got 2 new songs recorded in St Ives: Just Feel Love and Ball and Chain which sound really cool. We may re-record those for a studio album as well as say another 5 songs after the tour in April/May - that's kind of what we want and what we have our sights on at the minute but it depends on the reaction to the single which is a cover of an old gospel song. We will do it anyway. We will work out a way of financing it ourselves but hopefully we will have a good reaction from the single and people will be like ‘that's cool, let's help you record a studio album now’ and let's do it quite quickly because we've been playing these songs for a while and let's get George over again or let's go to LA and let's get either an EP or an album out by the end of the summer. That would be really cool. We are going to be playing these 7 songs at the forthcoming gigs. We’ll be playing the classic songs as well for everyone's entertainment. 

Photography: Jenny Hands, Creative Direction: Bull/ Yacht Associates

Your Spring tour sees you playing 20 dates throughout the UK, your most extensive tour for some time. Together with your plans for new music, it would appear that there is a huge commitment and an exciting new chapter dawning. Would that be a fair statement?


You are hitting the nail on the head, man! You know your vibes! I think the fact that Lincoln’s helping us out again and he’s chatting with George around this sort of cross-over song to get us back out there again, is great. The information they sent us about How I Got Over was that when Aretha Franklin recorded it in 1971 in a gospel church in America, they made a live album, Amazing Grace, with this song on it. We were referred to this live recording that she did in this church with kind of a gospel band backing her, really great players, and they thought that would be quite a good song for us to do just to put us back out into the radio waves. It's sometimes hard for people to categorise Reef because we've got that Place Your Hands sort of up-spirit and then we've got things like Ball and Chain which is kind of like heavy, dark rock. We'd never get something like that on mainstream radio to show what we’re about so this gospel song sounds really cool. It was really challenging to take this song on. I'm excited about that song. I think it's a really good choice just for a bridge to get us back out there. It's a rocking song but it's very joyous. We need a bit of joy! It's great to have some management and some focus.


As well as the March tour you will be playing the Isle of Wight Festival in June. What does the Reef calendar look like for the rest of 2016.


Hopefully, we can record this studio record, maybe an EP or an album, or 2 EPs spread over the summer. We’ll just see how that pans out. We've got the Glastonbury festival. It’s great to be playing those places. When we play Glastonbury we are playing a big tent. It's gonna sound pretty awesome and we’re gonna get that old school vibe going where the tent’s rammed, it's sweaty and we’re fucking having it! It's like we're starting again and we have to pay our dues. Me and Gary played it a few years ago with the Stringer Bessant Band. It's quite a cool stage with a great PA. 


As well as Reef you have of course undertaken other projects. Are there any plans for a Stringer Bessant collaboration?


Our focus is becoming Reef because we need to commit to it. Gary is gonna try to put together a solo record which is really cool. I did a record last year called Jack Bessant with the Cheddar Experiment Band, playing with local players. But it's all about songwriting. We used Just Feel Love from that. We did a different version but we've Reefed it up. At the end of the day it's all about songwriting, and that’s what was great about me and Gary doing Stringer Bessant: stripped back, writing songs, trying them out, and we're continuing that thing but not quite right now. We've written 2 lovely records together and we have the opportunity at any given point to go out perform together. We want to do trips together where we go to the outbacks of Scotland and different places, and we can do that! It's quite a lovely thing to have as well. It's cool that Gary is doing his solo record and I'm going to carry on recording stuff. 


In bringing this feature to a close, a particular point we feel needs to be stressed is how incendiary Reef's live performances are. Their music doesn't consist are countless layers, nor do they rely heavily on effects which means they are as strong live as they are on record. But don't take our word for it. Be part of their March UK tour and experience it first hand - details available at www.reefband.com. In the meantime, enjoy this fan-filmed footage of one of their new tracks Ball and Chain from their Bristol show last year.


The new single How I Got Over and the new album Live In Ives can be ordered from www.reefband.com.