Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Reef’s Gary Stringer

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz an artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Reef frontman Gary Stringer takes the ultimate test

In 1996, Reef won an all-day charity football tournament against bands including Oasis and Dodgy. But who did you beat in the final to claim the Britpop Derby trophy?

Apollo 440.”


“We’d loved playing football together from the beginning, when Reef lived in a cottage in Isleworth, west London. That competition was ace. You had Robbie Williams turn up and the whole Oasis/Blur rivalry was going on and – surprise, surprise! – they were drawn against each other, which was a great pantomime. You had Liam with his hat on surly-ing it around in midfield, and I remember him scoring a glory goal. We knocked Blur out of the competition, but I don’t remember much about that match other than a woman running on the pitch topless during it, and also [Blur bassist] Alex James stopping and nonchalantly having a fag midway through the game. Good fun!”

Reef are known for the TFI Friday jingle ‘It’s Your Letters’ (adapted from your 1996 single ‘Place Your Hands’). In 2015, host Chris Evans tweeted a clip of his top five versions of the jingle. Other than Reef, name any other artist in the list.

“It didn’t matter how big you were, if you went on that show you had to sing ‘It’s Your Letters’ to the tune of your new single – so there’s a lot to choose from! Let’s go for Blur, Foo Fighters, Spice Girls and Supergrass?”

WRONG. The hall of fame included Faith No More, The Wannadies, Tony Bennett, James and Bee Gees.

“People would sing ‘It’s Your Letters’ at me in the streets, at gigs… to this day, it’s still quoted at me. Chris Evans helped us because when we dropped ‘Place Your Hands’, he was the Radio 1 Breakfast Show host and played it all the time, which made it a hit. And then the ‘It’s Your Letters’ jingle sealed it in people’s memories. When they did the TFI Friday 20th anniversary [in 2015], they tried changing it to ‘It’s Your Emails’ which didn’t work as well! Backstage during that reunion, we all looked at each other and thought: ‘I’m 21 again’.

“We had some crazy times at TFI Friday. I remember after playing the show once, we took a private plane to Denmark to play a sold-out show and as we looked through the window, we could see the Hale–Bopp Comet.”

When you appeared on the pop panel show Never Mind The Buzzcocks in 2000, your impersonation of which Salford star prompted host Mark Lamarr to enquire whether you’d had a stroke?

“[Laughs] Absolutely no idea! I’ve tried to put that Never Mind The Buzzcocks performance as far out of my mind as possible. I was so stoned and it’s embarrassing to look at. People were prodding me to check I was still awake. I’d regressed to 14-year-old Gary by that point. It’s not a pretty watch.”

WRONG. You mimicked Bez.

“Oh God! At that point, we were going through a weird period and smoking a lot of dope. It wasn’t long after that we took a break. No one from management had turned up to that show, so it was just me, left with my bag of greenery in the green room. Coupled with the beers, I was a mess. Not my proudest moment!”


Which Britpop band made Reef’s ‘Consideration’ their ‘Single of the Month’ when they reviewed it for Select magazine in April 1997?

“Wow! I don’t know the answer. So… Feeder?”

WRONG. It was Suede. After describing the song as “great”, bassist Mat Osman enthused: “To review this properly, I’d have to be sitting at the end of a pier in San Diego at 8am. And I think they were when they wrote this.”

“Bless them! Thanks Suede! I’m learning things through this! We only ever said hello to them a couple of times, but that’s a lovely, sweet thing to say. We didn’t hang out with many Britpop bands. It was very competitive at that time, almost like you were facing off with every motherfucker backstage.”

Who are the most unexpected people who’ve turned out to be fans of Reef?

Paul Weller loved ‘Choose to Live‘, the B-side to our first single ‘Good Feeling’, and put us on his ‘Wild Wood’ tour. I remember us driving down the A4 to the Royal Albert Hall to play our first show with him and stopping at every red light, rolling our windows down and shouting at everyone else: ‘Guess where we’re going? To support Paul Weller!’ George Harrison once came up to me at a party saying: [He adopts the late Beatle’s Liverpool burr] ‘My son’s into your band’. I was impressed by that! If we’re really mining the celebrity archive, I once had a piss next to James Brown at Fuji Rocks festival!”

Reef’s third album, ‘Rides’, charted at number three in 1999. Which two records beat you to the Number One spot?

“Oh jeez! Pfft, no idea, but I’ll take a stab at Blur’s ‘The Great Escape’?”

WRONG. You were pipped to the post by ‘ABBA Gold: Greatest Hits’ and Catatonia’s ‘Equally Cursed and Blessed’.

“Ah, good old Catatonia! I can live with that. I wanted to be Number One – of course I fucking did! When we had a UK Number One [with Reef’s second studio album ‘Glow’ in 1997] our manager rang us up on the Sunday the chart was announced and just said ‘One’. I was over the moon. Look, when our first single ‘Good Feeling’ charted at Number 24, I could have retired then and died happy with ‘He had a Top 30 single’ carved on my headstone.”

Reef’s original guitarist is called Kenwyn House. But which UK soap contains a bedsit called Kenwyn House?

“How come we never picked up on this?! Brookside?”

WRONG. It’s EastEnders. It’s located at 41 Victoria Square and previous tenants include Pat Butcher and Laura Beale.

“Nooo! How did we not know this and exploit it to the max? That’s passed me by all these years, but it’s a fabulous piece of trivia.”

After Kenwyn left Reef in 2014, he was replaced by Jesse Wood, the son of Ronnie Wood, and you’ve played with the Rolling Stones on multiple occasions. Any good memories of hanging out with the band?

“Back in 1997 when our album ‘Glow’ came out The Rolling Stones were playing Brixton Academy, and Mick Jagger rang up Sony executive Muff Winwood and asked for us to support them, which was exciting. I remember Keith Richards entering the auditorium, and it looked like a fight in a comic strip: a massive hullabaloo of arms, cameras, booms and people shouting, and he was in this throng of moving madness. Their audience looked at us with blank expressions when we were on-stage, thinking, ‘Who the hell are these guys?’. So I remember introducing ourselves as: ‘We’re Reef. It rhymes with Keith’.

“We once played a small club in London, and Ronnie Wood came up and played the Faces’ ‘Stay With Me’ – he had a look before going on-stage like, ‘Let’s knock their fucking heads off!’. We’re quite mellow in comparison.”

According to the Twitter account Place Your Hands, which is bizarrely dedicated to tracking sales figures of that song, how many copies did the track sell last week?

“Ooh, I don’t know, but I do pop on there every now and again to have a look. Is it 1,000?”

WRONG. It sold 1,480 copies

“Wow, that’s amazing! I can buy Christmas cake this year. The guy who set it up – and has been doing it for years – messaged me to ask, ‘Are you cool with this?’ It’s just a bit of fun. It’s staggering to have been involved in such a big song that people have tales about from all over the world… and is still selling 1,480 copies a week!”


Can you name any two acts who appeared on Top of the Pops alongside Reef when you performed ‘Naked’ on June 1, 1995?

TLC doing ‘Waterfalls’ and Sleeper?”

WRONG. You could have had: Curtis Stigers, Therapy?, Pulp, Radiohead or Black Grape.

“Not a bad line-up! The bar was brilliant fun afterwards. One time, Ken and Dom [Greensmith, former drummer] nicked the milk float out of the EastEnders set and drove around Albert Square, before turning up to the Top of the Pops studio in it, which was a laugh.”

Reef graced the cover of NME in 1997, heralded as ‘Here to save British rawk!’. What three things did the accompanying cover line claim you do?

“Shag in caves? I can remember that, but not any of the other ones!”

CORRECT-ISH. HALF A POINT. It was loot, streak and shag in caves.

“OK! George Drakoulias, who produced our second, third and fifth records, used to joke about us taking our clothes off all the time, so we were always doing that, that’s for sure. Looting? I don’t doubt it! Make sure it’s tied down.”

Ever steal anything from any other bands?

“No comment, officer!”

You could also add fight, because in that interview you threatened to kidnap a journalist who gave you a bad review…

“That sounds about right! We were young and chesty and the press then could be quite toxic. But we’d fight each other just as much. A review of one Birmingham show pointed out that Dom just smashed up his own kit and walked off, which didn’t read great. Our tour manager’s first trip with us was to Australia where Ken and Dom had a punch-up at the airport; that was par for the course then. We were scrappy and territorial then, but now everything’s peace, love and yoga [Laughs].”

Released in April, Reef’s latest album ‘Shoot Me Your Ace’ was produced by Andy Taylor. When Taylor left Duran Duran, their webmaster was so upset that she took down the band’s website, replacing it with a message that declared: ‘Duran Duran without Andy Taylor is like…’?

“Erm… the sky without stars? The M4 without cars?”

WRONG. Your versions are far more poetic! According to Popbitch, it proclaimed: ‘Duran Duran without Andy Taylor is like anal sex without lube’.

“[Laughs] Fair bloody play!”

Has Andy Taylor felt like the KY Jelly in Reef?

“[Laughs] Well I’m sitting in the same room at home where I picked up the phone to hear him say: ‘My name’s Andy Taylor…’. He’d asked me to come over to Ibiza to play some songs, and then later to sing more on his collection. Before I knew it, he turned up to England the summer we were playing Glastonbury [2019] and we said: ‘Why don’t you come play two or three songs with us at the end of the night?’. Then he came down to our rehearsal space and started jamming with us, and that turned into ‘Shoot Me Your Ace’. It was recorded quickly over a weekend in a creative crescendo of a period of fun that lasted 18 months.”

The verdict: 1.5/10

“Maybe we could say this week that the score’s only out of five? [Laughs]”

Reef’s latest album, ‘Shoot Me Your Ace’, is available now. The band tour the UK from September