Live: Reef / A / Damp Matches

Gary Stringer and Reef show that the spirit of the 90s is alive and well (Picture: Niki Jones Photography)
Gary Stringer and Reef show that the spirit of the 90s is alive and well (Picture: Niki Jones Photography)

UEA, Norwich April 30, 2022

by Niki Jones

Babysitters of Norwich unite! For tonight your services will be very much required as Britrock legends Reef and A hit our fine city and drag us once-90s kids, squinting, bleary eyed, off our comfortable sofas and down to the LCR.

But before everyone gets too caught up in how much a pint costs these days and whether anyone has booked the cab home, we are greeted with some local flavour in the form of Norwich five-piece Damp Matches.

Mixing dirty blues riffs, post-punk energy and a distinctly mid-90s alt-rock vibe they are the perfect openers for tonight’s proceedings. Frontwoman Helena Lewis (bringing a much needed touch of glamour in her green cocktail dress) has a powerful vocal presence, trading barbs with bassist Will Calvert’s angry rap rock attack. They certainly peg themselves as ones to watch.

A: Like reconnecting with an old friend (Picture: Niki Jones Photography)
A: Like reconnecting with an old friend (Picture: Niki Jones Photography)

Conversely, watching A in 2022 is much like putting on a comfortable jumper. The last time we heard anything new from the Suffolk lads was in 2005, but as they jump into favourites Something’s Going On and Starbucks it’s like reconnecting with an old friend.

Frontman Jason Perry is still the effervescent ball of enthusiasm that he’s always been. Acknowledging that none of us is as young as we used to be, he coerces the crowd into an “age-appropriate” circle pit, where everyone can have a nice stroll and help “get our steps in” before launching into fan favourite I Love Lake Tahoe.

A - so many classics but so little time (Picture: Niki Jones Photography)
A – so many classics but so little time (Picture: Niki Jones Photography)

It all seems to be over as soon as it begins, and as the last chords of crunching closer Nothing ring out in our ears it’s a little sad that we have been denied so many classics. No Bad Idea. No Foghorn. No Old Folks!

But if the only criticism is that we’re left wanting more then we can’t really complain.

Jack Bessant, of Reef (Picture: Niki Jones Photography)
Jack Bessant, of Reef (Picture: Niki Jones Photography)

No such fear with Reef. They thunder onto the stage with brand new title track Shoot Me Your Ace before dishing up a perfect mix of the old and the new.

Classics such as Naked sound as vibrant as they did back in the day and sit comfortably beside new album material such as the fist-pumping Precious Metal.

Reef drummer Luke Bullen, who hails from Norwich (Picture: Niki Jones Photography)
Reef drummer Luke Bullen, who hails from Norwich (Picture: Niki Jones Photography)

The two remaining original members may be sporting a few grey hairs these days (more than a few in bassist Jack Bessant’s case) but they’ve lost none of their spark.

Frontman Gary Stringer rarely steps behind the monitors, preferring instead to be front and centre, connecting directly with the crowd, and by the time he straps on an acoustic guitar for the classic I’ve Got Something To Say he has them eating out of his hands, turning the venue into a campfire singalong that tugs at the heartstrings.

Reef deliver the perfect mix (Picture: Niki Jones Photography)
Amy Newton and Reef deliver the perfect mix (Picture: Niki Jones Photography)

They return to the stage for a wonderful version of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain (yes, the Formula 1 song), with Stringer ably assisted on vocals by guitarist Amy Newton.

Bessant looks genuinely chuffed with himself when he gets to play that bass line in the outro.

Looking chuffed: Jack Bessant (Picture: Niki Jones Photography)
Looking chuffed: Jack Bessant (Picture: Niki Jones Photography)

They close with a trio of classics – Good Feeling, Yer Old and the appropriately titled End – and we are left with no doubt that the spirit of the 90s is alive and well.

Even if it will take us most of Sunday to recover.

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