How Reef wrote Place Your Hands, by Gary Stringer

Reef circa 2000
(Image credit: Chris Lopez/Getty Images)

Jack [Bessant, Reef bassist] and I moved to London from Somerset in 1993 to find fame or fortune, or at least form a great band. After we met Kenywn [House, guitar] and Dom [Greensmith, drums] we all moved into a place together in Isleworth in West London. Within six months, we got signed to S2, and were flown out to New York to shoot a Sony MiniDisc TV ad, which featured our song Naked

It was all very exciting. By the time we started writing songs for our second album, Glow, we’d already had a Top 10 album (Replenish) and three Top 30 singles. Everything was going great, and we were bursting with ideas.

Our initial plan was to record Glow at Abbey Road, with George Drakoulias. We got introduced to George when we were out in America playing shows with Kyuss. He’d work with The Black Crowes and Primal Scream, and we fell in love with him, because not only is he one of the sweetest men in music, but he also has an incredible knowledge of, and passion for, music. 

While we were at Abbey Road, Jack got this vintage Fender Telecaster bass, and one day he showed me the bass line from which Place Your Hands originated, and I started singing this mellow melody over it, “Oh take me down, to the water, you will see my coloured dreams…” 

After Abbey Road we moved to Real World Studios, and Kenywn came up with that great, hooky riff, which gave the song this real explosion of energy, and I knew I had to change the melody to something more upbeat.

Around this same time, while we were on tour, my grandfather passed away, and so we called in to see my nan. Afterwards I started to put my feelings about grandfather’s death into the lyrics. The opening lines, “Place your hands, on my hope, run your fingers through my soul…” are basically about wanting a hug, wanting a human touch, and reaching out for some love. 

The song sounds really happy, but if you listen to the lyrics, they’re actually quite poignant and sad. And once the great Benmont Tench added a fabulous piano solo, the song fell into place.

As soon as George and the big dog at the label, Muff Winwood, heard Place Your Hands, they knew it was a big deal. We didn’t know, we were young and writing on instinct, but they heard a hit. We released it as the first single from the album, and [then Radio 1 DJ] Chris Evans went crazy for it, and played it every morning. It ended up charting at Number 6. That set the album up brilliantly, and Glow entered the charts at Number 1 a few months later.

These days, Place Your Hands has taken on a life of its own. It still sells over 1,000 copies a week: nearly 1,500 copies last week, in fact. There’s actually a Twitter account (@PlaceYourHands) which charts its weekly sales. I’m thankful and proud that it’s connected with so many people over the years. It’s so pure, the sound of a bunch of little scruffy herberts rocking out and expressing themselves.

Gary Stringer was speaking with Paul Brannigan. Tickets for Reef's Shoot Me Your Ace Tour are on sale now

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.