1993, not much interesting happened, the Sri Lanka Navy kills 35-100 civilians on the Jaffna Lagoon, Douglas Hurd is the first high-ranking British official to visit Argentina since the Falklands War and Salvatore Riina, the Mafia boss known as 'The Beast', is arrested in Palermo, Sicily, after 23 years as a fugitive….oh and a band called REEF formed!
Although most members of Reef have West Country connections, it wasn’t until the four members met in London that the band was formed. In 1993 while Jack Bessant (bass) and Stringer (vocals) were looking for band members, Kenwyn House (original guitarist) had met up with Dominic Greensmith (Drums) in London, and discussed forming a band. The foursome finally got together, and started to jam, producing the extremely rare "Purple Tape" demo.
They achieved commercial success in the early days, touring heavily in '94 and '95 supporting Paul Weller, The Rolling Stones and Soundgarden, amongst others. SONY used their track ’Naked’ in a TV advertisement for the new MINIDISC format which got them in the front rooms across the UK (and forced me to buy a MiniDisc player - the swines)….
During a 6 year hiatus (2004 to 2010), they indulged in various side projects, agreeing to reform as REEF in 2010 to play 6 UK dates. From here, they have gone on to appear at many UK festivals and events and in March 2016 the band released the single “How I Got Over” which is a Gospel hymn composed and published in 1951 by Clara Ward.
So there you go, a whistle stop tour of REEF from 1993 to present day, history lesson over, let’s get on with checking out how they got on in Exeter when they rolled into town to play at the Lemongrove venue.
We entered the main hall and was surprised to see that many of the fans were around the same age as me (late 30’s…..ahem, okay, early to mid 40’s), I guess with them not creating any new music in the mid noughties, not so many younger fans will have been accustomed to their music. Either way, it was filling nicely and wasn’t long until the opening act took to the stage to kick off proceedings.
Saunton Road are a trio, formed of Amy Newton (Guitar/Vocals), Jack Bessant (Bass) and their drummer who I think was called Simon? Amy runs Saunton Road Studios in Braunton and wasted no time in laying down some amazing bluesy rock which was really well received by the healthy crowd that had formed to watch their set. Their set ranged from some classic blues to an almost slacker/stoner approach which was perfect for warming the room up for the main event. Amy’s guitar playing was exquisite, some quality solos being performed over Jack and Simon’s bass and drums.
Midway thorough their set, Andy (Keyboard player from REEF) joined them for a beautiful track called ‘Turn Things Around’, Amy’s silky smooth vocals turning that little more smoky for this track. They played a track ‘Climb Every Mountain?’ that Jack said was used by Surfers Against Sewage for a campaign that they are running, the intro to the track sounding similar to a Primus track until the guitar and drums kicked in.
Their last number sounded so much like a REEF track it hurt, not that this is a bad thing at all! its killer guitar riff and solid baseline keeping things in check throughout. It was decorated throughout with some great harmonica playing courtesy of Jack.
They took a bow and left the stage to rapturous applause, we would see Jack very soon indeed, as for Amy and Simon, keep an eye on the Saunton Road website (sauntonroadstudios.co.uk) for information on gigs in and around the North Devon area.
After a brief intermission, the lights dropped and Gary led his band onto the stage to entertain the room for the next 90 minutes. Looking the spitting image of Rick Grimes from hit American TV show The Walking dead, Gary and co launched into their opening track ‘Just Feel Love’, Jack’s bass ripped through me, giving my fillings a damned good rattling!
After the classic tones of ‘Higher Vibration’, they launched into the bass heavy ’New Bird’ lifted from their 1999 Rides album which was so loud, I had to administer the earplugs! Keeping the crowd on boil, they played ‘Come Back Brighter’ which sounded as fresh as the day I first heard it way back in 1997!
As well as the classics, they mixed things up with a few new offerings, first up was the mellow ‘First Mistake’, stripped back to basics, it was a diversion from the more upbeat material that they’re renowned for. The song was a slow burner, Gary’s tremendous sounding vocals floating over the soundscape that Jesse, Jack and Dominic laid down. If this is an indication of their new music, I’ll be in the queue on release day!
Following this, the heart wrenching tones of ‘Consideration’ saw a few lit up phones raised aloft and waved in time to the song, Gary’s vocals setting the scene perfectly, just as strong as ever. ‘I Would Have Left You’ brought back the groove into the Lemongrove and soon after they kicked off, the room was bouncing along nicely!
One track that for some reason, didn't appear on the setlist was their latest offering 'How I Got Over', Gary picked 3 young ladies from the audience to join them on stage to perform backing vocals and what a great job they did! By the looks on their faces as they left the stage to join the audience, I'd say it definitely made their evenings!
It was coming up to the end of their set and there were still a few songs that they hadn’t played, leading up to the break, they dropped ‘Place Your Hands’, nuff said…. followed by ‘My Sweet Love’, ‘Summers in Bloom’ and ended with the track that made me walk into my local SONY Centre and drop £350 on the counter in exchange for a small box of electronics that played these new fangled MiniDisc thingies which, back in the day were amazing! The track was EPIC and it was a great way to end the set.
After a couple of minutes of chanting, shouting and clapping, the lads took to the stage once again to perform another 4 tracks to keep the crowds happy. Opening up with ‘I’ve Got Something to Say’ (with Gary on acoustic guitar), this surprised me a little, it sounded a lot more stripped back than I remember, more hollow, I know it starts off quite slow but I must have missed the hook where it burst into life as per the original version. All said, the track was great to sing along to and the room certainly enjoyed it. After ‘Lone Rider’ and ‘Revelation’, we were treated to the last track, the blisteringly upbeat ‘Yer Old’ which took the roof off the venue and left everyone completely exhausted as a result!
So, how did the band look, after being in a band since 1993, you’d expect to see a few crows feet around the eyes and their beer guts forming nicely? WRONG, Gary looked a lot younger than he actually is (must find out what moisturiser he uses), Jack on the other hand looked like a cross between Old Father Time and a young Gandalf from Lord of the Rings with his flowing grey locks and equally impressive beard! Either way, they looked like they were having fun up on stage and that at the end of the day is what it’s all about!
Just Feel Love
Come Back Brighter
Stone for your Love
Don't You Like It?
I Would Have Left You
Ball and Chain
Place Your Hands
My Sweet Love
Summers In Bloom
I've Got Something to Say
Lone Rider / How I Got Over
Words by Steve Muscutt
Photography by Rhodri Cooper