For a year or so, I used to sit next to a dude called Richard on the bus to and from school. He was into music too, and we’d often spend the 45 minute ride sharing earphones and listening to some new album. In January 1997, Richard said “I think I’m going to buy the new Reef album”. I was pretty excited, because (a) their single ‘Place Your Hands’ had been massive that previous autumn, and (b) Richard buying it meant that I could make a copy for myself. The week it came out, though, he said “I bought this other album instead” and I was horrified. What about Reef? What about me?! The other record was ‘Beautiful Freak’ by an American band I’d never heard of before called eels. I was very annoyed, but ended up enjoying that eels album all the same.
Reef had already put out one album at that stage, which had sort of passed me by. They were from the west country, and had achieved a small level of fame on the back of a song that was in a TV advert for MiniDiscs. (Kids, ask your weird, tech-savvy uncles). That song, ‘Naked’, hadn’t done a lot for me, though it was clear that Reef didn’t sound like most of their peers. Their brand of rock and roll was pretty heavily influenced by funk - crunchy guitars but with jammy basslines and irregular, scat-inspired vocals. They were not exactly Cast or Dodgy, but sounded more like a British Red Hot Chili Peppers, a band that I didn’t know at the time.
The song ‘Place Your Hands’ really made them famous, though. Built over a simple guitar riff, it was an instant anthem. It doesn’t hurt when the chorus is basically the phrase “Put your hands up” again and again. (I am aware that the lyric is actually “put your hands on”, but that doesn’t make a damn bit of sense). The single cracked the top ten, was absolutely ubiquitous, and was adapted for use on Chris Evans’ TFI Friday, a TV series that has been mentioned on Youth Groups surprisingly frequently.
In January of 1997, they followed it up with the equally great single ‘Come Back Brighter’, which also made the top ten singles chart. I don’t know what appealed to me so much about them. As I said before, I think it had to do with them being slightly out of touch with the rest of the burgeoning Britpop scene. These dudes had long hair, were surfers, sang loose songs that were meant for parties, weren’t London-centric.
Whatever they were doing was working. Despite Richard’s neglect, the band’s second album, ‘Glow’, went straight in at number one when it was released at the end of January ‘97, replacing the ‘Evita’ OST at the summit. I got the album from somewhere, and my abiding memory of it is my friend Robin - another passenger on the Oakwood coach - singing the song ‘Summer’s In Bloom’, trying to ape Gary Stringer’s unique voice. Listening to the song right now, again I’m struck by how much it doesn’t sound like everyone’s perception of Britpop. The vocals are bluesy, the bass is all the way up, the guitars are muddy. These were clearly guys who were influenced by more than just ‘The White Album’.
I remember that we got a good laugh of the song ‘Consideration’, which would be Reef’s third single. It’s a slow, tender, Motown-influenced ballad. Not bad in theory, right? But Stringer’s foghorn vocals were best suited to balls-out rockers, and his falsetto didn’t suit something this delicate. That said, I’m listening to it now, and it’s not bad at all. A gospel choir is joining Stringer and telling me “it’s gonna be alright”, and I’m swaying appreciatively. The single has aged a lot better than I recall it being.
The final single from the album was ‘Yer Old’, a more crowd pleasing stormer which was an obvious live favourite, and the way he sings “Loife” at the end of the song could not be more west country. I love it.
After that, my short-lived interest in Reef dropped off a bit. Their next album ‘Rides’ came and went, and didn’t make much of an impact. In fact, it’s the only one of their records whose album art isn’t on its Wikipedia page. The album charted at a very respectable number three, despite its lead single ‘I’ve Got Something To Say’ being another slow-ish one, whose video shows a white-suited Gary Stringer squatting on the bonnet of a car.