Stage Times: Reef

Gary Stringer talks working for a fiver, weeing with James Brown and playing Carly Simon’s living room ahead of Reef’s 2022 tour

“When I say this is the best record we’ve ever made I don’t think anyone believes me…”, laughs Gary Stringer, chatting ahead of the release of Reef’s sixth album, Shoot Me Your Ace. Mostly made in an alchemy of raucous, old-school energy over a single weekend right before the pandemic forced them to shelve it for years, it was “the quickest and longest” album Reef have ever made, and their most explosive. 

Toughening up the Stone’s-flecked blues-rock of classic 90s hits like ‘Place Your Hands’, ‘Consideration’ and ‘Naked’, Reef’s latest record plays loud and dirty for something much heavier and harder. 

“I think that’s just what happens when you put two guitarists in a room,” says Stringer, talking about convincing Duran Duran’s Andy Taylor to leave Ibiza and hole up in a Somerset studio to work on the band’s new sound. “Me and Andy certainly connected on AC/DC, I think that’s one of his first loves and certainly one of mine. Bon Scott was a big part of my youth growing up. AC/DC were like these punk yobs that had great guitar sounds and daft rock‘n’roll lyrics. Those sounds have always stuck with me”.

“We’ve always touched on that sound in Reef, you know, but we’ve also had a bit of R&B and a bit of gospel and a bit of metal too. That’s always been real comfy for us. It ain’t rock‘n’roll if it ain’t got the roll, and if you can’t make the girls dance it’s just hard rock, you know? And that’s not me. I want to be able to boogie, the way the Stones would make you boogie. I want people dancing at the front. I want them dancing at the back too!”


With Reef heading out on tour throughout April, we asked Gary about his favourite memories of the gigs that defined the band. 

The First 

I think the first gig we did might have been in Putney or somewhere like that, maybe The King’s Head, but the first one I remember was in Hoxton Square at The Bass Clef. I remember they paid us a fiver. Between us. We walked out with this fiver and went, ‘what the f**k do we do with that?!’ So we cut it into quarters and got it framed. 

We played all over the place when we were starting out. We put flyers together on pieces of wood – they looked they were made on an Etch-A-Sketch, with us cutting out letters and photocopying them. But we were really lucky that we got signed so quickly. It was like a dream. We sent demo tapes out to everyone – we sent one out to U2 – and we had rejection letters left, right and centre. And then one day Lincoln Elias came down to the house where we were all living, we did a show at the Marquee, and he signed us the next day. It was bonkers. We were still rehearsing in my bedroom at the time, putting a mattress up against the wall!

Reef - Place Your Hands (Directors Cut)

The Best 

The first time at Glastonbury was pretty special. That would have been 1990-something… early doors for us, where we played a show on The Other Stage around lunchtime. We’d done Reading and Leeds I think, and we’d just been signed, but I grew up in Glastonbury town and that first time on stage at the festival was just amazing. I remember having cauliflower cheese and bacon with my mum during the day, and then I went and got a gallon of Mudgley cider and walked into the festival in my shorts. That was me gone for the weekend. It was perfect. 

That felt like the biggest deal for us, even though we went on to have these amazing experiences – playing Mount Fuji in Japan, going to Australia, playing The Royal Albert Hall with Paul Weller, Brixton Academy with The Stones. Also when I was in Japan I had a piss next to James Brown… I was in the toilet and these two big dudes walked in, escorting James Brown to have his wee in the stall next to me. Luckily I was already pissing at this point.

reef weird ( Promo Video, Glastonbury 1995 )

The Worst

Okay, we did a show for our first record in Birmingham, and things weren’t going great for Dom [former drummer Dominic Greensmith], so he smashed his kit up. I think he did like 20 minutes of moaning and shouting, and he obviously didn’t have a good sound or whatever. I’m sure eight times out of ten it wouldn’t have wound him up, but on this night, he lost it. I mean he really smashed the kit up and he stormed off. In a way though, as bad as that is, I guess it added a certain element of ‘who gives a f**k’, you know? It was pretty rock’n’roll. 

We lost all that edge another night though – when we drove the van up to a gig in Leeds and found what looked like a biker gang’s bring-and-buy sale in the car park. We just did a big arc and drove out again, all the way home.  

The Biggest 

The mainstage at Glastonbury was pretty bloody big – bigger than when we headlined Reading and Leeds I think. We’ve done Wembley too, and we’ve supported a lot of huge bands – Paul Weller, Soundgarden and The Rolling Stones.

We supported the Stones at Brixton Academy, and that felt big even though it wasn’t, because it’s the Stones, right? It was over in a flash, but it was just beautiful to have been asked. Anyone would jump at the opportunity to go and play with the Stones, so getting that phone call was just incredible. What a fabulous band to have got to be on the same stage with. I remember the crowd was hollering ‘what’s your name?’, and ‘I shouted back, ‘We’re Reef! It rhymes with Keef!’.

REEF - Shoot Me Your Ace (Official Video)

The Weirdest

That might have to The Viper Room in LA. It was pretty bonkers to have Johnny Depp in the crowd. We did a gig on a boat in Cornwall once too. But then there’s the time we played in Carly Simon’s living room, but that’s probably also our smallest gig…

The Smallest

…We were on a West Coast tour and we got booked to do a private gig on Martha’s Vinyard, which is right over on the East Coast, where a lot of the hoi polloi hang out. Ex presidents have got homes there. It’s pretty posh. But when we got there we realised it was Carly Simon’s house. We stayed the night in this place, but there was literally no one there. It was a dinner party, so it’s us and about 15 girls and boys – playing for these kids who were eating a meal. Carly wasn’t even there. I don’t know what our fee would have been back then, but that was bonkers. I mean, I guess it was better than playing chicken bar with bottles being thrown at you, but it was just as weird!

Reef begin their tour on April 9 in Manchester, visiting venues throughout the UK until April 30. Tickets are available here.