‘R’ is for Reef, The Rolling Stones and Royal Blood

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The criminally underrated Reef have gone through a few personnel changes over the years since their formation in Glastonbury 1993, but when I bought two of their CDs they were comprised of singer Gary Stringer, guitarist Kenwyn House, drummer Dominic Greensmith and bassist Jack Bessant. I think it’s fair to say that the band’s unapologetic rock sound on these two albums was partly influenced by 70s rockers such as Led Zeppelin as well as contemporaries such as Red Hot Chili Peppers and Soundgarden.

Reef’s debut album Replenish (1995) introduced the world to Stringer’s delightfully entertaining rock vocals and ad-libs which are in full effect on the second stomping single and best track on the album ‘Naked’ with its relentless guitar riffs and great drumming and their more 70s sounding debut single ‘Good Feeling’. Does it sound stupid for me to say that it was Reef that got me into Led Zeppelin? I have fond memories of chilling out to this album in my student daze while the British weather battered at the windows and I was cosy in warm room with a hot drink and maybe some marginal narcotic filling the air. No surprise then I guess that the Zeppelin-esque ‘Mellow’ and ‘Replenish’ are my other favourites on this album before ‘Choose to Live’ wakes me up out of my stupor.

Glow (1997) reached number one in the UK album charts perhaps helped by the band’s appearances on the hit TV show TFI Friday singing a version of their single ‘Place Your Hands’ retitled ‘It’s Your Letters’ for a regular write-in slot on the show. It’s a hugely uplifting and catchy track with an amazing guitar hook and great to hoot along to, but I actually favour the seventh track, second single, ‘Come Back Brighter’. I fucking love that song along with eighth track ‘Higher Vibration’. For someone who suffered severe peaks and troughs of depression in the 1990s, these songs really spoke to me, energised me.

Reef continued to develop their style away from Zeppelin and ‘Yer Old’ seemed to have a more of a Rolling Stones vibe to it. I can imagine Mick Jagger strutting around asking “So what you gonna do?”.

The Rolling Stones are not a band I know all that much about despite them being a global phenomenon as well known as The Beatles who I am massively into. That said, I am a big fan of their early songs and so when I came across the 3-disc set Singles Collection: The London Years I snapped it up with glee as among the 59 tracks listed on the cover it appeared to have all the songs I like on it. Based on the dates of when the songs were recorded I think the ‘London Years’ were 1963-1971 and this was certainly a very productive period for the band.

My favourites on the collection are ‘It’s All Over Now’, ‘Out of Time’, ‘The Spider and The Fly’, ‘The Singer Not The Song’, ‘Ruby Tuesday’, ‘She’s a Rainbow’ (which seems to be cropping up all over the place this year), ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ (a song that I recall Del Amitri playing live as an encore at a gig at Loughborough Student’s Union in the 90s) and the three stone-cold classics ‘Time Is On My Side’, (actually a cover version recorded in 1966) ‘Paint It Black’ (also recorded in 1966) and ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ (recorded in 1968 and released in the UK as a B-side to ‘Honky Tonk Women’). The album also includes well-known songs that I’m not such a big fan of such as ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ and ‘Street Fighting Man’.

I think my interest in these songs mostly stems from their use in iconic scenes within movies compared to actually sitting down with friends and appreciating their albums like I did with their supposed rivals The Beatles. For instance ‘Time is On My Side’ is a brilliant track for the Denzel Washington film Fallen, and ‘Paint it Black’ in Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket and ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ in Interview with the Vampire are just a couple of others I can think of.

Royal Blood are an English rock duo with Mike Kerr on vocals and (bass) guitar and Ben Thatcher on drums. Formed in Brighton in 2011, their sound revolves around Kerr’s unique guitarwork which utilises effects pedals and amps to produce a multi-layered sound giving the impression that a much bigger rock band is playing. I guess they are the UK version of a harder sounding, less Blues influenced, Black Keys. The Black Keys were my kind of entry point to buying Royal Blood’s self-titled debut album Royal Blood (2014) since they showed me (at Rock City in Nottingham) what a rock two-piece could do given the right songwriter and techniques, and of course The White Stripes were equally as impressive.

I think I also saw Royal Blood on the TV show Later… with Jools Holland which sealed the deal for me. Here were two guys banging out massive sounding balls-out rock tunes the like of which I hadn’t heard in years. Royal Blood debuted in the UK album charts at number one and was nominated for a 2014 Mercury Prize losing out to Scottish band Young Fathers’ album Dead. But Royal Blood won two NME Awards, a Brit Award and a Kerrang! Award that year, so can’t complain. The singles from this short album (with a 32m 38sec runtime) were ‘Out of the Black’, ‘Come on Over’ and ‘Little Monster’:

My favourite of the three singles is the inviting ‘Come on Over’, perhaps because I can hear shades of Muse in the guitar riffs (I am thinking of Muse’s ‘Hysteria’) and the lyric “there’s no God, and I don’t really care”. Also I’m aligned with the almost 167-million Spotify plays that indicate that the jaunty ‘Figure It Out’ is a boss track. There’s a dash of 70s glam rock influence twisted into at least one track and shades of Jack White in Kerr’s vocals (a prime example is ‘Loose Change’ with it’s nifty tempo change to disguise the fact they’ve run out of lyrics).

I’ve enjoyed digging through these albums, especially Royal Blood, but now there’s the tricky matter of kilograms of CDs from bands with names starting with the letter ‘S’. This could take some time…

Photo by Vale Arellano on Unsplash

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