Wolverhampton venues are renowned for their diverse bills, and tonight at KK’s Steel Mill is no exception seeing the ’90s survivors Reef matched with the rocketing When Rivers Meet and local legends Voodoo Sioux. Like many bands of that period, Reef have enjoyed a renaissance of late and are creating some of their finest work in the process.
KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton – 30 June 2023
Words: Sophie James
Photography: John Inglis
2023 sees a reinvigorated lineup with founder singer and bassist Gary Stringer and Jack Bessant, joined by Devon virtuoso Amy Newton plus highly revered drummer Luke Bullen.
The thing is with Reef, ‘What You See Is What You Get’. No fancy pants effects, just a straightforward, honest, eminent rock band with a groove many others would give a limb for.
Tonight was a rearranged date following a spring postponement and an eagerly awaited personal one, as it’s been over 4 ½ years since the previous encounter.
The venue had filled slowly but steadily during the evening. Thus by the time the intro tape of Running With The Devil rolled, an almost capacity crowd was ready.
Launching into the title track of the current outstanding release Shoot Me Your Ace, the ‘Oh oh oh ohs’ already gave the audience an opportunity to loosen their own vocal cords and channel their obvious enthusiasm.
Stone For Your Love maintains that momentum. However, the first few bars of the next number were greeted with one of the biggest cheers of the evening and sent the audience into delirium.
“Sing with me. This is where I’m at,” reverberated back at Gary as the audience quite frankly ‘Lost Their Shit’. Now we had lift off, and that delicious ’90s groove with Gary’s raspy howl sitting atop was consolidated with Higher Vibration.
Following that quality quartet, a change of pace was the order of the day with the reflective Consideration. “I don’t think that kindness is a weakness” may well be a line that society at large should give more, er, consideration to. Then cue the Wolverhampton Choir once more on the refrain of “It’s gonna be alright…”
“The big man wrote everything on this one, words, music, the lot.” Maintaining that laid-back pace, saw second new track, Right On, aired. The intro chords reminded me of Temple Of The Dog, while at other times, the guitar was almost ethereal. The number showcased the contrast between Gary and Amy’s Vocals, which added a delightful new dimension to their sound.
Gary then dons an acoustic for the gospel-tinged I’ve Got Something To Say. “I know you’re hurting. I know you’re hurting. It will get better every day.” Again, the male and female harmonies were resplendent on this most uplifting, almost spiritual piece.
With the relationship between the band and the audience cemented, it’s time for the crowd to go nuts again. “Oh, Place Your Hands, on my hope.” So good to hear this on a Friday Night again as the floor came alive once more.
“I got lightning in my fingers. I got thunder in my feet, but you haven’t seen the Best Of Me.” Another that typifies their current, more direct approach. One of those that gets the head nodding from the onset of the beat. Impossible to ignore the young Mr Young influence, and adored the way that its funky breakdown was punctuated by Gary’s growl.
Come Back Brighter is a classic mid-paced trip down the time tunnel that emerges in the early to mid-’90s. An almost Psychedelic guitar lick introduces I Would’ve Left You, Amy’s head hung low, fully immersed in the groove, while Jack plays with rich metronomic regularity.
New Bird bridges the gap between the so-called ‘BritPop’ and the US Grunge. Here it is given a serious workout. “This is a song off the new record. I love this one.” Refugee is another example of their purple patch since the return to recording. It possesses a huge southern-influenced melody, plus the delicious understated solo gives Amy a chance to truly shine. “I’m a Refugee, a reckless heart been set free.” I would have to agree with Gary – my earworm from the evening.
“Think you know this one.” Give Me All Your Love fuses the worlds of Madchester and soul/funk land but is anchored in familiar waters by its raucous chorus.
Not appearing to show any adverse effects from his recent hospitalisation, Jack was in tip-top form, and his fuzzy, distorted bass tone underpinned the sound throughout. And it was that disconcerting depth of his instrument that prefaced the next number.
“When I was younger than now I am, I liked swimming, so I swam.” Summer’s In Bloom has to be one of the more idiosyncratic rock songs of the last four decades but yet resonated so much with a particular section of the audience, inducing some quite manic pogoing.
Revelation is quite possibly their most straight-down-the-line ‘Metal’ song. “Put down your phone and listen to me, these seven notes is all that we need.” Personally, this song will always be associated with the time they played it twice at Hammersmith as the event was being recorded for a Live Release.
Don’t You Like It led with an almost Chilli’s type funk verse before it built into an extended instrumental and vocal jam with Gary interacting with the crowd at the barrier and finished the main set in climactic fashion.
Returning for the encore, Jack donned an acoustic guitar for the appropriately entitled Mellow. “Any Rockers in the audience? There’s got to be at KK’s, isn’t there?” Lucky Number fuses elements of Oasis and Suvvern Rock, all reinforced by some bass playing reminiscent of ‘The Ox’ himself, and glorious it was too.
“Hideaway boys. You’re no longer in favour. You’re yesterday’s news and no longer the flavour.” Yer Old is a perennial live favourite. Its frenetic, inviting chants are tailor-made to appear later in the set to not only revive a potentially flagging audience but to go out on a compelling high.
In summary, a 20+ song set with a well-thought-out and balanced mix of classics and new crackers.
One would have understood if they had delved deeper into the quite magnificent new release, but as we are all aware, audiences can generally only take so much ‘change’.
In terms of major phases, is this Reef Mk III? Whatever, the combination of the unique sounding and affable Gary Stringer, the distinctive figure and consistency of Jack Bessant, the heads down no-nonsense approach of Amy Newton and the dynamic Luke Bullen maintain the standard of their rich heritage and lay a solid foundation on which to create new chapters in the Book of Reef.
Report on both Special Guests to follow separately.