bassist Jack Bessant

Pound Your Chest and Yell

British Chart-Toppers Reef

Interview by Darren Kerr
Live photography by Rodney Gitzel

45-second excerpt from "Place Your Hands" (various formats)

Q, Select, NME, The Face, Sounds -- they've all featured Britain's Reef prominently within their pages of late. Something about these raucous R&B influenced rockers has endeared them to a press so vile and vindictive that slagging is a sport in which even threats of bodily harm are littered 'twixt all the hype and hypocrisy. Maybe it's because their down-to-earth, good-time-everywhere mentality is a welcome respite from the dour selfish stardom of Oasis, Blur and the other blasé "aren't we clever bastards" type bands. Maybe it's because breast signings and hotel TV throwing speaks to the part of us that remembers the decadent 70's rock star spinning tales of debauchery in Creem magazine.

band promo photo More than likely, though, it's due to the band's live performances, like at the Glastonbury festival where vocalist Gary Stringer swam through the first ten rows of the audience, despite efforts of the security crew to keep him out of the crowd, or the show where lanky 6'4" bass player Jack Bessant hung above a rabid throng, dangling perilously, literally held up by the seat of his pants which were caught on a nail. Domenic Greer Smith and Kenwyn House, drummer and guitar player respectively, round out the band, and their two long players, Replenish and new release Glow, should keep them supplied with Rizla papers, good smoke, and lager for a good long while.

I talked with Bessant the day after their coming out party at Vancouver's Web Café which saw the press in the room divided into two camps: the "I love these guys, don't mind me, I'm just looking over your shoulder for someone more important to talk to" and the "these guys suck retro backwash, don't mind me, I'm just looking around for someone more important to talk to." I ask Jack how this whole circus affects him. "Well, I'm not into having three cars or a lot of money," he says. "I just want to live my life and meet people all over the world you know, just go on different missions, you know, have a laugh."

Gary Stringer checks out the crowd I ask if he can sum up the essence of Reef, encapsulate the Reefian philosophy in a wee paragraph: "Fly the individual flag. We're in a band, and we're all individuals in the band, different characters in the band. There are different people who come to our shows, and they're all into different music, different things."

Cut back to the night before. Reef walk onto the stage at the Web Café. They stare out at the media hordes eating Sony sushi, and networking, networking, networking. "I see you all have your glowsticks" (referring to the glowing neon toy-type things that were given out at the door) says Gary Stringer. "Clever stuff," he adds, pointing to his head, which gets the audience laughing for, as we all know, everyone loves a funny British guy.

guitarist Kenwyn House Reef proceeded to play a strong set which was blessed with great sound. With every song they play, the audience warms up and some people even drop their guard and start dancing. They let Reef in. Other people don't let Reef in, calling them a bad Nazareth for the 90's. A few don't even do that; they just sit stone faced, unmoving. After the show, I offer the olive branch in the form of a fine buzz, but they tell me to offer tomorrow.

It's tomorrow, again, and I'm sitting in Kenwyn House's hotel room. The olive branch has since gone up in smoke and Reef's guitarist is feeling way anecdotal. He tells me of Europe's desire to have one passport type card. "It would be great, man," he says. "They want to make it so going from country to country is as easy as say going to Alberta from British Columbia -- but for some reason the French don't want it." He tells me about Japanese customs laws. "They're harsh, man, there's no differentiation between marijuana and heroin, it's all lumped into one category. You get caught smuggling or possessing anything in Japan they'll throw you in jail, a nice clean jail."

drummer Domenic Greer Smith "I remember one time, we searched through everything to make sure no remnants of anything were in our bags but, after we checked, an Australian girl put a 'bag' in my bag as a gift," he laughs. "So we went through customs and they searched every single thing because they found Domenic's rolling papers. Every single thing except my carry-on bag. A couple days later when I found her gift I thought 'Christ, that was close.'"

Jack Bessant's temperature has risen slightly, meanwhile. I've just asked him how he feels about all the Black Crowes's comparisons and, no sir, he doesn't like them: "We're nothing like them," he says hotly. "I mean, is my bass playing like the bass player in the Black Crowes? It's nothing like it. It's a real weak comparison in my eyes. I mean, Gary can sing well, and so can Chris Robinson, but he's got his own style. That's the only link I can see, that they can both sing. I guess if that's all the critics know, then that's what the inevitable comparison will be."

I'm gonna meet Jack halfway on that one. Glow is a straight on, funky rock album which grows on you like chest hair once grew on Grand Funk Railroad; thus, it is recommended to people who dig Mark, Don, and Mel, and, um,... the Black Crowes. You also might like it if you're into Counting Crows, Stone the Crows... but not necessarily The Crow soundtrack.

Reef are playing the Starfish Room in Vancouver on August 7 with Incubus and Rule 62.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on July 12, 1997

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