INTERVIEW: Jesse James Wood, Not Quite The American Outlaw But An English Musician Making Waves Just The Same

By Megan Hughes

The year was 1993, Gary Stringer and Jack Bessant were looking for band members.  Unbeknownst to them they were about to form a group with the four people who were going to release a Gold selling debut album in 1995. The band became well known and acclaimed for their numerous chart topping singles Good Felling, Naked, Weird which were all released prior to their debut album.  Album number two was a bit more experimental and was the process which created successful singles such as: Place Your hands; Come Back Brighter; Consideration and Yer Old – no surprise that it shot to number one in the UK album charts upon week one of its release.

Come 2004 they group decided to take a step back for a well-deserved rest.  They excited fans with a reunion tour in 2010 and have kept themselves relatively low key since then – cherry picking performances and projects, surely the sign of strong musicians who know exactly what they want to do.

In 2014 Kenywn House and announced he was to leave the group to focus on alternative projects.  This is when Jesse Wood joined the band, yes you are correct the son of Stones man Ronnie Wood – however, rest assured Jesse Wood is a musician of incredible art, skill and capability all within his own right.

Jesse Wood Playing Glasgow QMU with Reef April 8th 2022

Dominic Greensmith announced his retirement in 2018 and was replaced by the great Luke Bullen who has worked with the likes of: Bryan Ferry, Joe Strummer, KT Tunstall – clearly a man with enough experience to take on the fans of Reef.

Fast forward to April 8th 2022 and Reef are on tour and playing Glasgow venue QMU – the atmosphere is electric; the crowd is a buzz and the band bring the house down easily.  Front man Gary Stringer enters the stage with his trustee tambourine whilst shaking his hips – his entrance is met with gasps and comments from lusting women in the crowd ‘I’d love to be his tambourine’ and ‘Oh he’s still got it’ – safe to say he is still a man in demand.

Gary Stringer Reef Front Man – Glasgow, QMU – April 8th 2022

The gig was the second night of their tour after kicking things off the night before in Newcastle.  It was everything you would have expected and more.  The band has a phenomenal stage presence and is an experience to be enjoyed – even if you only know a handful of songs they’ll make sure you love the night. And you might be in with the chance of hearing a cover or two as their encore had all attendees thoroughly enthralled.  I had, wrongly, assumed that an obvious encore number would have been hit single Place Your Hands as it is arguably their most popular single.  However, Stringer had me thrown when he jumped right into the song half way through the gig leaving me stumped trying to guess their encore anthem.

Which is why I nearly lost my mind when I heard the first few bars of their encore: a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Chains. Please enjoy the rather shaky and short clip below which came to an end as I felt the warm liquid of what I hope was a pint hit the back of me – people make Glasgow.

My week got even better though beause after seeing Reef live in my home city of Glasgow I was then given the very privileged opportunity to interview the bands very own guitar hero Jesse Wood.

Jesse Wood Playing Glasgow QMU with Reef April 8th 2022

So on Good Friday morning I was perched at my desk with the number already dialled just waiting for the allocated time to approach – I’ve never hit a call button so fast in all my life. I was greeted with the warmest of hellos and the beautiful noise of birds tweeting in the lovely Sophia Park in Cardiff. Trying to waste as little time as possible – which is hard with the amount of talking I do – I tried to cut to the chase.

Are you glad to finally be back touring and experiencing the fans again after all the lockdowns?

Oh fantastic, good vibes all round. The difference is everyone is a bit more passionate and into it. A bit more loving; a bit more fun and connected I’d say. Total happiness and joy from band to crowd.

How’s the tour going so far, excited to play anywhere in particular?

Yeah, we started in Newcastle last week, the came to Glasgow where you were then we went to – where was it? – Manchester, played The Ritz, great place where Oasis made a lot. So was really happy about that.  And yesterday, last night we played in Exeter.  That was, that was sold out so pretty nuts as-well – was delighted.  Playing in Cardiff where I’m speaking to you right now in the sunshine.

Then tomorrow I go and play London, my home town. It’s always got to be London cause I’m brought up there but Glasgow is great too.

Although Glasgow is renknowned for being a lively crowd with great character, maybe I’m biased, I’m not too sure if it was just the good manners and nature of Wood that had him include Glasgow in his latter statement.

Did this album go to plan or did COVID-19 derail things?

Yeah, uh no – it was supposed to come out in 2020. We finished a week before we first went into that lockdown. The first lockdown, so it was all sorta’ planned 2 years ago really. Um, so, yeah – like everyone else in the world had to put things on hold.  Luckily, we had recorded it quite old school y’know – recorded it live over a couple of days… I think it took us 2 days to record it which wasn’t very long.  So it’s gone from taking not very long to taking really long.

We did a couple of overdubs and stuff like that.  There is a song on there called refugee and I had to work on the solo so did that in November 2020 once we were allowed to go to the studio again. And, Andy Taylor [Duran Duran]  produced it and mixed it then thus,.. so we were doing little bits when we could and I think Andy did some little bits in his place in Ibiza. He’s been living there for years. But yeah it all worked out and is coming out this month, so it’s great. We are all real happy.

What was it like working with Andy?

Just so great, created a two guitar weaving … kind of partnership which was great.  Came up with some good riffs: he came up with some ones; I came up with some ones – overall great fun. He’s a great guitarist, great producer – you name it.

The passion Wood was speaking with here felt like a very tanagble emotion – it was infectious not to be just as enthusiastic about the music as he was.

And it’s a different sort of direction to what George Drakoulias can do as well which is good.  He’s, it’s great working with him on the other Album that I done with Reef and their past ones sound so good. So yeah it was great, good fun. 

You joined the band just as social media was beginning to snow ball.  How do you feel it has impacted the terrain for artists?

Well it’s like a currency now isn’t it. It is what it is really, good and bad I guess in some ways.  But for us as a band, it’s been really great. It is a great tool to have to instantly let , I think we’ve got something like 17k followers or something like that – it is a great way to just go ‘poing’ – here is what we are doing today or here is our new single go to this page and then they’ve got a page where you can put all the stuff in the one place: your album, your merchandise or a bundle. Your newest videos etc. I found that pretty cool being an old fart.

You know things like that, yeah I think it’s great.  It is a great tool really for the band and to have.  Whatever, whether you are just starting out or if you’ve been about for a while like us lot.  Yeah it’s positive.

Going hand in hand with social media has come streaming services.  How do you feel this benefits or hinders artists?

It’s amazing isn’t it.  But it is a good and a bad thing. It could be seen, it’s just different.  The structure changes.  Instead of going to buy something in a shop, you get less of a cut of the streaming for sure. So that is the negative of it.

I’m glad you mentioned that as it leads me to my next question.  Pre pandemic a strong argument for streaming had been it can broaden fan bases and provide more touring opportunities bit with the lockdowns that disappeared. What are your thoughts?

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  It is a problem.  It is a very lopsided thing at the moment I thin for, whatever even if you are a big band – whatever band it is still, it still favours – it doesn’t favour the artist as much as it should, I believe. Make of that what you will but – It is quite a passion and I need to say the right thing here.

The corporations are the big guys in it.  It’s been going on for years but hopefully I’ll help change that one day.

Take Taylor Swift for example she has taken so much power back just be re-recording her music and sharing that herself and setting a bit of a president that whoever creates deserves the credit.  What are your thoughts?

Yeah you know what the artist it has come from or the band or whatever y’know should be … it should all be the other way round. And I have plans in the future to help up and coming artists and try and steer it in a more positive and rewarding way for the artist. For sure.

I think there are some people who are about and doing it already.  There is a guy .. Gomez, I can’t remember his name right now and he is brilliant.  And Tom, he is doing some great stuff with parliament. Yeah…it’s, y’know… in times of change there are more times of change to come.

Well I think there is going to be more communal behaviour coming round, good times and good music coming round I reckon.

In times of change there are more times of change to come – even when listening to Wood speak I couldn’t help but feel the need to cling onto this phrase. How thought provoking and potentially very bohemian; Wood is just the definition of good vibes but it is clear that he is a force to be reckoned with in the battle of equality for the artists.

Are you listening to anyone the now?

Oh god, you know I haven’t listened to anything but reef for ages; trying to remember different solo’s; trying to do this; trying to have stuff to improvise.

See I try not to listen to, too much other stuff.  But Jack on the other hand, wonderful Jack Bessant – our bass player: he puts on our mini rig which is a little portable speaker system and he plays some great old classic rock, classic reggae.  All that sort of stuff.  So I’ve been listening to old bits and that; soul and a bit of Neil Young and a bit of this and that. I have been a fan of royal blood though –

At this point I lost all composure and jumped out of my seat screeching how much I love Royal Blood – keeping to my plan of playing it cool.

Yeah? Well I slightly know the drummer Ben Thatcher – we text on Instagram, which is another good reason for Instagram.  So I’m a bit of a fan boy of them.

Jesse Wood and Jack Bessant – Glasgow, QMU April 8th 2022

And I am now wondering what is going to happen to The Foo Fighters because that beautiful human being Taylor Hawkins has left us, and I just hope that – it is just tragic – that everyone is alright in that camp. Cause you know we are all connected at the end of the day and that is really f***ing, excuse my language, horrible, it was a really horrible day when I found that out.

Did you know Taylor Hawkins personally?

I was lucky enough to meet him many years ago when he was drumming with Alanis Morrisette and me and Luke, who is now a drummer in reef, we had a band from the old days called wood spirit.

Well it was like the mid-90’s and we supported Alanis Morisette, it was called the point in Dublin; I think it’s the three arena now-a-days or whatever – and we couldn’t believe it.  And we had made it and it felt like we had made it and we got to meet him.  His drumming on that album – uh, what’s the album called? I think it was Jagged Little Pill, it was amazing and it was very attractive, even then before he did the Foo Fighters.  Then Luke, me and him met; I met him back stage with my wife Fearne backstage at a Radio 1 Norwich gig thing.  I was hanging out with the Foo Fighters which was really…amazing for me. 

I can confirm I managed to keep my composure this time around at Jesse ever so casually mentioning his wife – yes the Fearne Cotton.

Would you say you have noticed or feel different about going on the road since becoming a dad?

Oh yeah, you miss each other.  That can be … you have to keep to a little routine and keep your head together.  We are lucky, we are only going out three days every week so it’s not like we are gone for a month or two. It’s the best of both worlds at this point so I am absolutely grateful. I am alive and it’s all good.

Where are you guys playing over the summer?

We aren’t doing Glastonbury or anything like that.  Got a few things … gosh I can’t remember them off the top of my head.  We’ve got one called Ocean down in Devon actually, that is going to be fun and by the sea. Hopefully we might do a couple in Europe.

What would you say to date has been your favourite festival to play?

Glastonbury. Done it twice with reef, it was brilliant.

The first time we played it was a smaller stage, the William Green tent and it was mental; it was I don’t know – five thousand people, I don’t know how many but it was going out the tent; and there had been a slight delay, something happened – a technical delay or something so it was about a twenty minute delay.  So it built up and by the time we got on there, everyone was at Glastonbury and everyone was up for it…it was f***ing great.

To interview Jesse was an opportunity I am most grateful for, he is an eloquent speaker who takes great care and consideration in his words. The passion behind his music and his drive to help artists is admirable and honourable in equal parts – the music industry would do well to listen to people like him.

Reef are still touring,  you still may be able to secure tickets to a venue near you.  Their new album, Shoot Me Your Ace, is due for release April 29th 2022 – be sure to stream and buy across all available platforms.

Instagram – @reefband @jessejameswood @mrgarystringer @luke.bullen @jackbessant

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