Compiled by: Jack Foley
TWO years isn’t exactly an eternity, yet somehow the perception
has bedded down that The Bees’ Paul Butler and Aaron Fletcher
have been away for longer than was strictly necessary –
as if, after releasing their lauded, Mercury Prize-nominated debut
album, Sunshine Hit Me, in 2002, the Isle of Wighters
mumbled, 'we are going out for a walk, we may be some time'. And
Now, though, with two years of almost solid touring and three
fecund weeks at Abbey Road studios behind them, Paul and Aaron
are poised to unleash a second helping of hard-to-categorise,
impossible-to-ignore music on us.
And while diehard fans may lament the step up to the lush production
environment of Abbey Road from the fabled, assembly-kit construction
shed in Paul's parents' garden (which they swore they would never
contemplate leaving!), there is a reason for the change in pace.
Tired of the cold garden, Paul and Aaron have since shacked up
together in a nearby house, one floor each with a studio between
The plan was to record their follow-up here; until, that is,
Paul did a stint in the record-producer’s chair during sessions
for fellow islander Drew
at Abbey Road, and was exposed to the gravitational pull of the
studio where a certain four-piece from Liverpool once made history.
And the motivation? “We thought, simple: we’ll be
in the best studio in the world.”
The decision certainly seems worth it, however, for Free
The Bees is an excellent album - probably better than the
Mercury nominated debut.
Ask Aaron what impels him to write his dreamy but distinctly
ambiguous lyrics and he’ll shrink into a corner, like a
schoolboy who’s just been asked to recite a poem at prize-giving.
"A bit of fantasy, a bit of reality," he admits, modestly,
before admittng that his hope for a song is that 'you can relate
to it and then you can dream about it'.
And it's good to know that the band that once romped through
A Minha Menina also have a fondness for hurtling sonic
mayhem, with the gloriously funky Chicken Payback proving
that life across the Solent isn’t all lazy Sunday afternoons
spent flat-on-their-backs in the tall grass.
Chicken Payback has rightly been described as The Bees
at their most unbridled and least disciplined, a track that almost
collapses under its heavy, punctuating brass stabs, and Paul’s
exhortations to 'all the animals together' and the mysterious
Another sparkling highlight on an
album studded with gems is most recent single, Horsemen,
which positively glows with the influence of Paul and Aaron’s
A Brian Wilson-homaging beauty of a chorus, and yet another verbal
flourish that can’t stop your mind from wondering.
If Sunshine Hit Me marked the work of two shed-bound
mates, eyeball to eyeball across their analogue equipment, then
Free The Bees sees the band in their expanded form.
First as friends, and now as fellow Bees, Kris Birkin (guitar),
Michael Clevett (drums), Tim Parkin (trumpet) and Warren Hampshire
(hammond) had been playing with Paul and Aaron for years in any
number of incarnations – from special-occasion free-for-alls,
to back-to-mine jams – so, when it came to bolstering the
line-up and taking their music on the road, the original duo didn’t
have far to look.
Two years on, that scratch band has become a crack one. There
is no evidence of the growing pains that often bedevil follow-up
albums recorded with additional personnel and the dubious luxury
of a multi-track recording desk.
Even in Abbey Road, the maximum the band allowed themselves
was 16 tracks. As a result, The Bees' material sounds stronger
than it ever has before - fresh and exciting, as well as gloriously
Think Beatles, Temptations, Beta Band, The Hollies - you name
it, and it's there. It is the sort of long-player that Austin
Powers would have in his back catalogue.
But, as the PR on website, The-Raft.com states, quite correctly:
"Bands sifting through old vinyl, recording only on analogue
(think Toerag), wearing their influences on their sleeves –
such groups are 10 a penny in the current climate. And to a certain
extent it could be argued that everyone engaged at the musical
coalface is mining the same limited material, albeit sometimes
with more modern tools.
"It’s what you do with the stuff once you’ve
hacked it out that counts. And this is where The Bees stand apart.
They not only defy categorisation – they revel in such an
As for the effect on their music of recording in that famous
studio, The Bees clearly succumbed to its strange magic: listen
to the razor-sharp guitar, to the bass-that-thinks-it’s-the-lead,
on This Is The Land or opener The Ghosts, and
you’ll hear just why Paul and Aaron were lured out of their
It is clear that The Bees have a higher calling, and it’s
to their credit that, faced with the temptations of the relatively
stress-free existence of island life, they have chosen instead
to continue embracing the chaos and answering the call.