26th February 2015
Okay, so on our first podcast in November we promised to be releasing regular podcasts and now we’re nearly at March we’ve finally got our collective asses in gear, largely because we got the opportunity to speak to a South West rock hero in Reef‘s Gary Stringer. The Fix‘s Arran Dutton had what we in the industry call ‘a phoner’ with the Somerset rockers’ frontman to talk about the upcoming UK tour, which stops off at O2 Academy Bristol on Friday 6th March, new Reef material, touring with Paul Weller in the 90’s and Stringer’s writing process. The podcast also features a track from Bristol post rock band White Lion Parade.
You can listen to the interview via Soundcloud linked above. However, if you’d prefer to read it instead, here it is:
So, Gary, you’re off touring the UK! Which gigs are you looking forward to and what can the punters expect?
I’m looking forward to all of them, but the one at Bristol was nuts last time, I mean, the crowd were fantastic and we’ve always been supported so well there, those Academy gigs, I dunno, we must have done 4 or 5 of them and it’s such a good vibe so, I mean I’m a bit biased obviously, growing up in Glastonbury town, so Bristol is kind of the closest gig to me. Yeah, I’m really looking forward to that. The London shows are always crazy and I guess the first night in Brighton. Manchester was crazy so yeah I’m looking forward to all of them really.
As for what people can expect, maybe a bit of headbanging, bit of rocking out and a few new songs, we’ll play all of the Reef hits and a few songs off the albums over the years but we’ve spent two sessions in a studio now working on new material, so we’ve probably recorded eight songs and maybe three, four of them might make it through to an album, you never know, so it’s really exciting time and it’s great to actually be able to play something new for people to listen to, so, yeah, see how people react to it you know, so it’s exciting, yeah, I’m looking forward to the whole thing.
Is there anything more you can tell me about this potential album recording?
Well, there’s no doubt we wanna make a record, that’s top most in our minds. We’ve wanted to create again with Reef probably for the last 18 months we’ve been talking about it and by the time we got Jesse involved, which would have been in the Spring in the last year, six months after that we’ve started writing again, so probably by September 2014. Yeah, we’ve recorded eight songs but our remit is to make a wicked rock record – you’re gonna press play, you just gotta be smiling from ear to ear and happy with what we’re doing. It’s quite exciting to be writing music to hit that peak. We just wanna make sure every song is killer and if it means we write 30 songs and use 10 or 12 of them that’s what we’ll do.
So when you’ve written new songs and you’ve mentioned you’re going to go out gigging and test some of that material and find out the reaction, is that an effective way for you to almost handpick what will go on the album because of how it’s reacted to when you’re out?
It makes a big difference. We wouldn’t turn up and play eight new songs, we just wouldn’t do that, it’s a bit unfair on the audience you know, who have paid 25/30 quid for a ticket, you wanna play mostly songs that they know, songs that they’ve gone out and bought the ticket for in the first place, but I don’t wanna just come one of these heritage acts that just play the same old thing, but what’s important is to play a song, feel it and get it across to the audience. The reaction from the audience goes a long way to making you feel a certain way about a song, so if everyone’s eyes glaze over you think “right, we ain’t playing that one again” and scrap it from the record, so if people react in a positive way and get excited by it on a first listen then you know you’re on to something quite cool.
It’s important for us at this point to be creative and like I said earlier, just to try and write a great rock record, I mean, that’s what we’re going out to do and so far it’s going well. Yeah, yeah, throw a few songs in there and see what the reaction is from the punters and hopefully it’ll be a good vibe.
Great, so Jesse has been with the band now for just over six months, how’s that working out?
It’s going fantastic, it feels very fresh, it feels like the band is starting again in many ways because it’s been ten years since we’ve recorded an album so it does feel in a lot of ways like starting again. You’ve got a new energy in the band, a different guitar player, a different style and it’s quite cool to be going through that, especially when you haven’t made a record for so long. It’s actually shaking up the writing process and it does feel like being in a new band.
Yeah, it’s really exciting and Jesse is sound as a pound, he’s a lovely fella and we knew pretty much straight away when we had him in for the audition. We had three or four guys, and most of them were pretty good guitarists, but there was something special about Jesse. He’s got a timeless, without sounding clichéd, classic style of playing that really suits our writing. His sound is great as well and he’s a nice fella so it’s just all come together. It’s really easy at the moment and that’s something that’s good to be around.
I assume this is the first time you’ve been out on a proper tour without Kenwyn, how do you think that’s gonna be?
Yeah, it’ll be different. We must have done about eight or ten shows in the summer with Jesse and so that was a good amount of time for him to get his head around say an hour and half’s worth of material. We’ve done four and half/five records so it’s a lot of songs to try and learn and we basically chopped it into a couple of hours, a pool of songs we’re happy to play at the moment and Jesse’s up to speed on all of that so we’ll throw a couple of new ones in, a couple of songs people haven’t heard for a while and keep it going like that. So rather than getting him to learn every single album, every single B-side, we’ve got a couple of hours worth of material we’ll go out and play on the tour.
The last tour we did with Ken would have been November 2013; having the festivals with Jesse was great to sort of have something to aim for to get the songs up together. To be honest it came pretty quickly and it felt pretty good, so um, yeah, we’re ready and rare, I think Jesse’s really excited to be playing over sixteen shows in just over a month rather than one show, couple of weeks, one show, doing the odds and ends we were doing last summer. Feels like a busy time but it’s a good thing to be a part of — we’ll probably go back in the studio in April, get stuck into writing and recording new songs again and then we’ll be back to the summer and festivals!
Last year you headlined the Godney Gathering very close to Glastonbury, how was that for you?
I think it’s an absolutely fantastic festival. We’ve done it a couple or three times now and just to see it grow and also that year it was rained off in the field and they had to go inside, I was just so impressed with how that was run under such a short time frame. I think it’s a great festival, mate. The size of it last year was probably the biggest it’s ever been and it’s really starting to blossom into a cool little festival isn’t it? It’s got a good vibe, a family vibe, people can come and hang out, you can still rock out and let loose, so I think Mike Daniells has done a great job with it and so long may it continue and it’s UB40 this year, right?
Yeah, yeah – a massive headliner…
That’s a fantastic booking isn’t it, that’ll be great, everyone will have a cracking night.
Yeah, him and his wife Sue, they do an awful lot for that festival. It’s definitely one on the rise. What festivals do you have coming up?
We’ve got boardmasters in August and we’ve got a couple of other ones coming in that I can’t announce at the minute, but at the moment our focus is just on this tour and the recording. We’ll do a bunch of shows through the summer as well but I should think the album will probably be ready in 2016 and that’s where we’ll probably try and hit up the big festivals.
Do you have a wish list of festivals you’d like to go to, or is it just a case of who approaches you or a bit of both?
A bit of both. the Sea Sessions out in Ireland is one that I would love to go and do. I love Ireland, I love being by the sea, I love surfing so that would be a real great festival to play, obviously Glastonbury, I mean everybody wants to play Glastonbury, it’s a great thing to be a part of, great thing to go whether you’re playing or not. Over the last couple of years we’ve played a couple of shows up in the Highlands, which have been really good fun, Beautiful countryside, wicked folk, they get right into the music, yeah, can’t wait to go back.
I saw you at Glastonbury Festival and then The King Arthur in the town as StringerBessant, what’s coming up for that particular Gary Stringer project?
Well, StringerBessant, we’ve had a couple of show offers for the year but the radar is really just focussing on Reef at the moment if you can imagine writing and recording for that record is kind of taking up most of our time. I know Jack’s got a few songs that he’s been recording, I’ve got a handful of songs myself that are not really Reef songs, so what will come of them. I don’t know what will happen with StringerBessant, I’m sure we’ll do more stuff, but at the moment the eyes are on Reef and getting carried away with it, you know.
It sounds as if you have to focus on one thing at a time?
No, it’s not quite as clean cut as that, it’s kind of like, I did a handful of solo shows, I’ve been twenty odd years in music and I’ve never stood up with a guitar on my own on stage, never done it, so last December I went out and did, once we finished the studio with Reef and it was kind of Christmas time I thought if I did a few shows, that’s a good window to get in and just try out a hand full of acoustic songs I’ve been writing to just go and see if I can do it so I did four shows all around the west country and really enjoyed it and I’ve definitely got enough songs brewing up nicely.
If I go out today, I’ve got a barn at the back of the house or wherever I’ve got a guitar you’re always writing or you’re thinking of lyrics or a song melody and it comes into your head and you take it as a far as you can or get excited by it, rather than dictate what a song is going to be, you let it be and afterwards you think, “oh, that could work with Reef” or you tailor it and make it sound like a Reef song and make it fit into a certain feeling, but you know, you got other songs, gentle acoustic songs and what not, you know, you gotta work out what do with them, so it’s not quite as clean cut as that, but definitely at the moment most of my energy is going to preparing for the tour and getting everything in place to be able to record a record with Reef but I’m sure once the Reef records done, I don’t know, maybe September/October time I won’t wanna stop making music if you see what I mean, I’ve got about eight or nine songs that maybe I can record and do something with but it’s a bit like putting the cart before the horse right? I just love making music, it’s wicked, wicked to do every day.
How would you describe the music you’ve been creating as a solo artist?
Well it’s definitely different to what we do with Reef, I mean, it’s probably more akin to what we do with StringerBessant, maybe that’s the sort of style of music that seems to come out of me, I mean obviously I’ve done Reef, I’ve done the Them Is Me, which is like a knucklehead rock thing, StringerBessant is a polar opposite to that, it’s just very gentle acoustic, maybe piano or cello or maybe on ‘The SB Band’ album we made it more like a Neil Young band thing, so it’s more that kind of thing, but I think with the fact of just being so into the Reef thing at the moment, maybe with writing we’re just doing it a little bit more on our own at the moment when we have time off from Reef. That’s the only reason I don’t think it will make it on to a StringerBessant album next time around. Yeah, we’ll see, we’ll see.
I’ve probably got two or three songs we can play with the band, you know, like act kind of, cool, proper amps, valves, that kind of sound with the loose drums, maybe a piano and that kind of thing, then 5 or 6 acoustic songs where I’ve got them writing to the lyric and the melody and just try and see if it can work with an acoustic guitar and then maybe add one, two, three instruments that might make the song work, so something fair gentle, that’s kind of what’s coming out in that department.
On the whole you’re just writing and then you think “that’s a Reef song,” “this lyric could work with Reef” or you’ve been jamming a riff with the boys, you’ve got a melody and you’re just tyring to make a lyric that fits with and sounds like the song. But if I’m coming out and got a real mellow acoustic thing I’m not really expecting that to go on a Reef record so I wanna do something different. Maybe if we’ve got enough and it feels right I’ll maybe put some down at the end of the year, but we’ll see.
Going back to when Reef started, I know in ’94, your break came after Paul Weller heard a demo of yours, how did that come about?
We’d been in and demoed four songs, we weren’t signed, but Sony Soho Square had come and seen us at a gig, liked what they heard, they come and visited us, we lived in a house, West London, they came down, they liked the fact that we all lived together and we used to rehearse in my bedroom, I’d put the double mattress up and we’d rock out in there so they were obviously interested in the band so they paid for us to go and do four demos and we put two of them out on a 7”, one was “Good Feeling” and the other side was an edit of “Shoot To Live.” Paul Weller really liked “Shoot To Live,” I don’t know how he got it but he did and really liked it and just contacted our agent and asked us to be on the Wild Wood tour and still twenty odd years later is one of the highlights of touring for me.
They looked after us a treat. Just to see Paul Weller at work; he’d come down and watch us sound check and then watch the gig and then we’d watch his show. To see a guy who’s been involved with music that long still rocking out, still performing with the energy of a twenty year old it just gives you real inspiration to just keep playing music, keep creating and you’re excited by it. For young lads who hadn’t really done a whole host of big gigs that was really cool because we got to play some big places; the G-Mex up in Manchester, you know The Royal Albert Hall, six months previous we were just rocking out in our bedroom and that was it, maybe a few pub gigs. Yeah, it was fantastic.
One last question, possibly a bit controversial, but when I spoke to you after your StringerBessant gig in The King Arthur you said it was “blinding” and I wondered is there ever a chance you’d go back to a really old school pub gig in Glastonbury with Reef?
Maybe, I dunno! I really enjoyed the night with StringerBessant. The dynamic is so different. We went and did a show on Perranporth Beach and they did 600 tickets or something and it was absolutely rammed in this small club basically and you know you do it and you play with Reef and the energy and the volume was so loud, I mean, how it was still standing after that night I do not know. That’s the thing, you go into a really small room and you get this big ass PA pumping and it just goes off. So that’s the only thing about playing a pub like that I guess, I suppose you could do it. It would probably be a really cool experience for like 75 people right in the middle and then whoever else was able to get in would probably be short changed. Yeah, it was always good fun playing those pubs when we first started, really enjoyed it, whether it would work now I don’t know.