GARY STRINGER (REEF): “It’s Tough For New Bands To Go Out, Find An Audience And Make It Pay”

Gary Stringer (Reef)

Caught up in the whirlwind of Brit Pop in the mid-’90s, Reef took on an altogether Rockier approach combining a Bluesy Hard Rock groove, with Gary Stringer’s raspy, powerhouse of a voice along with some elements of Pop, Indie and even Dance spreading their appeal far and wide. After sometime away, Reef reformed and are now back with their second post reformation album Shoot Me Your Ace and are about to hit the road in its support. Mick Burgess called up lead singer, Gary Stringer, to talk about the tour, the new album and working with former Duran Duran guitarist, Andy Taylor.

Have you played any shows since the lockdown was lifted yet?

We played some festivals in the summer in the open air, in big fields which were great fun. The shows were just incredible. It felt amazing to play in front of a crowd again. Towards the end of 2021 we played our first indoor club show in almost 2 years in Swansea. The energy in that room was outstanding. There was a real buzz in there which was incredible. That’s what’s so exciting about the thought of coming out on tour again, just to hear that buzz and chatter from the crowd and the heat just before you go on will be amazing. It’s wicked. I can’t wait to kick that off in Newcastle.

Talking of touring you’ll be over in the UK for 12 date tour starting in Newcastle on 7th April. Have you thought about the setlist yet?

We’ve been looking at 30 odd songs and we’ll definitely play stuff off the new record. There’ll be some old and some new and we’ll play some we haven’t done for a while too. There’ll be plenty from the first two albums and some from the others too and we’ll do something from Together as although people don’t count that as a record but I do as it had 4 or 5 new songs on it.

You have been choosing local support bands to open your show. Is this your way of supporting the next generation of Rock bands?

We are choosing a few local bands to support us on different dates on the tour. There’s some really good ones too like Guerrilla Riot and Scarlet Rebels. I think it’s good to get the young ones out on tour. It’s tough for new bands to go out, find an audience and make it pay. It’s hard for kids to find the time to get into the arts. We want to get the new bands in and give them that opportunity. I think it’s really exciting for these young bands to get the chance to go out on a major tour.

You’ve been working with Andy Taylor from Duran Duran. How did that come about?

I met up with Andy Taylor after he’d heard me sing with Skindred and he asked me to come over and meet him in Ibiza. He asked if I’d sing a couple of songs on a solo album that he’s been making. I ended up going back again and we ended up doing 5 or 6 six songs and it was great. The first time I was over he’d said that he didn’t want to play live again but by the second visit he’d warmed to playing shows again.

Did you get the chance to play any live shows with him?

He came over to England and he jumped up on stage with us at the Glastonbury Festival. We asked him to come down and jam at our rehearsal space and that turned into a few days and I don’t think he’d jammed with a whole band for quite a while.

Did he start writing Reef material with you too?

Something just clicked and before we knew it, we had 8 or 9 songs written together. Me, Jesse and Jack already had 2 or 3 that we had written so we thought we should make a record. Jesse introduced us to a drummer called Luke Bullen, who’d played with Joe Strummer and Bryan Ferry and he came down to do a couple of days of demoing. We cut 6 songs in one day and 6 the next.

Where did you end up recording the album?

We travelled up to the Baltic Studios in London for the weekend and we hit all twelve songs out live and we’d done this just before the pandemic started to bite and closed everything down. We’d done all of the drums live and the bass too, there’s not one bass overdub on the record and 90% of the guitars are live with a couple of solo overdubs done later. I sang 5 or 6 in one take too so the guts of the record was done that weekend in March. Nobody does that anymore.

That’s really quick in this day and age to make record a record.

The whole thing was such a roller coaster with such momentum. I was going to celebrate by going to the pub to watch Wolves play but the game was off and then the following Monday, the whole country shut down. We had this momentum that took us to the point of doing this record so quickly and then we were stuck with the record for two years waiting to finish it. That was my entry into the pandemic. We’ve never done a record that quickly before. We’ve always recorded live and have done some in a few weeks but never this quickly so in a way this is the shortest and the longest record we’ve ever made and we had to wait to finish it off properly, to get it sequenced, mixed and mastered.

Has he been acting as producer too or has he just been writing and playing with you too?

Andy has been doing all of that with us. He’s not in the band so he’s not out on tour with us although he may turn up and play with us somewhere. We had a good couple of years with him and his attention span was with us right through the pandemic. I also sang on his solo record. We jammed with Andy and hung out with him. He was great. We wrote about 12 songs together but we cut two off, a Soul ballad and an acoustic ballad as we just wanted to keep it a straight Rock ‘n’ Roll record that has a nice swing to it. So, Andy wrote with us, produced us and played with us. He’s a very talented song writer and a very talented Rock guitarist. We connected over AC/DC and he’ll tell you about seeing them at the Mayfair back in the ’70s. We had a great couple of years with him and enjoyed working with him very much.

You got lumped in with the whole Brit Pop movement by the press and were embraced by the mainstream Pop world, fans of Indie music and Rock fans too. It’s not that often a band can crossover in such a way. Why do you think you were able to do that?

We’ve done all sorts of styles into our music and have incorporated Soul and R&B, Metal, Pop and Indie into our music over the years. I’m proud that we’ve tried lots of different things but this is a straight up Rock ‘n’ Roll record. We’re a Rock band who you can headbang to and boogie to in equal measure. We came along when Grunge was starting to hit big and Oasis and Blur were becoming popular so guitar music was up front and centre and it wasn’t foreign to hear guitars on the radio anymore. Guitar based music had smashed the doors wide open again. Paul Weller had heard our single and invited us onto his tour which was a huge leg up for us. It all grew from there. It was incredible and exciting and we managed to straddle a few styles. I wasn’t bothered about being lumped in with the Brit Pop scene as to me it was just a continuation of guitars in music.

You have Jesse Wood, son of Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones on guitar with you now. How did he end up in the band?

Jesse joined when Kenwyn left. The original line-up took a break in 2004 after 10 years. Me and Jack went off and played on a few things. Live Nation asked us to come back in 2010 and booked us for six shows and all sold out and we got some festivals off the back of it. After a couple of years of doing that, my creativity needed to be satisfied rather than just playing the old songs. I suggested that we started writing again but Kenwyne wasn’t keen. He had a band with his girlfriend and he wanted to concentrate on that. There was no fall out at all, in fact Kenwyne helped with the auditions. In 2014 we auditioned a few people but when we played with Jesse he just fitted perfectly. He’s totally different to Kenwyne, he’s more Steve Cropper and has a fabulous sense of rhythm. The way Jesse plays, he’s in the pocket and he’s almost an extension of the rhythm section, which really works for Reef. We then worked on a record called Revelation that came out in 2018. That was our first in years and I couldn’t believe it when it charted. I didn’t think anybody would remember us. Now that our new album will be out soon, I’m so excited. I’m a lucky, lucky man.

Has his dad ever drop by for a jam?

Ronnie has played with us. He played with us in a small club in London called Nells which has a 600 capacity. We kept it quiet and the show was sold out. He came up and joined us onstage and we did “Stay With Me” and “How I Got Over”. The people who had tickets that night couldn’t believe it. It was a great night.

Talking of The Stones, they’ve just announced some tour dates. Would you fancy doing that?

I’d bite your arm off if you offered me that. It’d be amazing. We’ve actually played with them at Brixton Academy. They knew Muff Winwood and called him up and said for him to get his boys down the Academy to open for them. It’s just amazing to think that Mick Jagger knew our band and asked us to play with them. For him to say come and down and play was absolutely fabulous. When someone in the audience shouted out, asking who we were I replied “We’re Reef. It rhymes with Keef”

What are you planning for the rest of the year?

We have some shows in Europe lined up and then some UK festivals in the summer and we’ll probably do some winter shows too, so it’ll be a busy year. It’s been a fabulous ride and I’m going to hang on for as long as I can.

Reef’s latest UK tour starts on 7th April at Newcastle University.

Shoot Me Your Ace, Reef’s new album is out on 15th April.

See for more information.

Interview By Mick Burgess


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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