Throughout the nineties, the phenomenon of Britpop came in several forms which didn’t necessarily always involve teenagers with guitars. As it grew, the collective concept of Britpop came to be defined as a creative, cultural revolution against the conservative, classist society of the eighties. The sound was a secondary consequence of the motivation for change in what was a very bleak period for the working classes. As a result of this, the musical influences of Britpop are nearly as varied as the music industry itself and despite being associated with the melodic sound of soft rock, this revolution encouraged every aspect of music.
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Formed in Glastonbury in 1993, English rock band Reef borrowed much of their style, sound and attitude from the transatlantic era of Grunge during the early nineties. This was a totally different style of Britpop influenced by the heavy rock sound of AC/DC with the melancholic tone of The Rolling Stones and then later the rustic sound of Grunge. Therefore Reef were something of a hybrid of nearly every derivative of rock n roll which sometimes proved difficult when categorising themselves. Yet the band still shared the same motivation as the rest of the Britpop community to make a better future and to buck the trend of the disillusionment of the lower middle classes. Growing up in Devon surrounded by water, Gary Stringer’s upbringing was starkly different from teenagers in Birmingham, London or Manchester but his hopes and aspirations were exactly the same thus proving that music is universal for all.
Reef’s 1994 debut single Naked was penned in the era before Britpop and reached number 11 in the UK chart. At just 21, Gary had no idea what was about to happen and was happy to be guided by the record label as to Reef’s next move. Being so young and naive to the industry, Reef were happy to be led and heavily influenced by the omnipotent producers who were making the most of the golden era of the CD. This was still in the era when the industry was completely ran by all powerful and all conquering record producers who had benefited greatly from Thatcher’s upwardly mobile capitalist ideology. There was more money in the industry than ever before with fans wanting to buy their whole record collection now on CD which ultimately made record companies some of the most powerful in the world.
As with most rock bands of the nineties, Reef never classified themselves as an archetypal Britpop band, having been influenced by the American Grunge scene. To Gary, music should be devoid of class, background or geography and never had any desire to be grouped together into a definite category. Consequently Reef were only ever a Britpop band by association but never thought they fitted with the archetypal Britpop mould. However, at such a potent time for British music, they were extremely happy to ride the wave of Britpop and enjoyed the many opportunities that it provided. Therefore it’s impossible to determine whether Reef were strictly a band of this phenomenon but in hindsight it doesn’t really matter.
Reef’s 1997 album Glow was to catapult the band into musical royalty and became the band’s biggest selling album. Released in January of that year and produced by the Greek-American music executive George Drakoulias. Yet the first single from the album was released four months previously and as soon as the band heard the song, it was obvious that something special was about to happen. Stringer knew that there was something different about the song when the whole production crew came to listen to the song. Place Your Hands peaked at number six in the UK singles chart teaching number four in Scotland. Catching the second wave of Britpop, this complemented the social rebellion of the time despite the song being influenced by the death of Stringer’s grandfather.
The success of Place Your Hands exceeded Reef’s expectations, becoming a soft rock anthem for the post millennial generation. Yet a special reworking of the song for an interactive segment on Channel Four’s TFI Friday would help to cement the song’s status as one of the defining songs of the nineties. It’s Your Letters was re-recorded by a host of artists who frequented the TFI Friday studio but very few were as memorable as Reef’s original version and this helped to create a longevity for the song. Gary and the band were just happy to be heavily associated with the show which came to define a generation and benefited from the utter chaos it created. Chris Evans was the ringleader in what was a carnival of cutting edge live televisual entertainment and always managed to simultaneously balance the many aspects of the show in the air at the same time. If there was a show that was the Light Entertainment version of Britpop then TFI Friday was it.
Reef’s follow up single I’ve Got Something To Say reached Number fifteen in the UK singles chart in 1999. By this time, the beacon of Britpop has sadly been distinguished. An incredible thirty years since the release of their debut album, Reef remain one of the most active performers on the live circuit and irrespective of their association with Britpop, for many, they still epitomise the positivity and freedom of youth. Therefore despite not being a quintessential member of this movement, it’s impossible to overlook Reef’s contribution to nineties culture. It was a great pleasure to welcome the iconic Gary Stringer to Beyond The Title and whatever he does in the future shall forever be testament to the reputation of this great era in music.