A few words from Simon (@HertfordSoul) who chose this album for me…
When I found out Chorizo’s favourite bands – Tindersticks, Super Furry Animals and Half Man Half Biscuit are among them – straight away I thought “right, I’m going to find the ultimate album that encapsulates a bit of all of those bands.” But even when I had thought of a couple of albums that could potentially cover all angles – the classics that are ‘Daisies of the Galaxy’ by Eels, ‘Joy 1967-1990’ by Ultra Vivid Scene and ‘Battle of the Bands’ by The Turtles were my initial choices – could I find them for 1p on Amazon?! No, of course I couldn’t! It was therefore time to change my approach.
I then thought “okay, what albums are quite varied in their music style but are also instantly listenable to?” There aren’t many in my opinion and, even with my favourite artists, I find I have to listen to their latest albums at least 3 times before I get into them. With ‘Free the Bees’ this was completely different, I was hooked from the off. This is the main reason I bought it for Chorizo. I hope he loves it as much as I do…
What did I know about The Bees already?
Just a couple of singles, Horsemen and the band’s best known song Chicken Payback. I bought Horsemen on CD single on the cheap and quite liked it, but was more taken with another song on the EP, a off-kilter acoustic number called It Isn’t Exact.
Chicken Payback sounds like a lost 60s record relating some long-forgotten dance craze that never quite took off and it has been a long-standing favourite in our household. I included it on my “Best of 2004” CD and a mate of mine had it for the first dance at his wedding. It was also on the playlist I compiled when my laptop DJ’d at my 40th birthday party in 2010. Don’t recall anyone dancing quite as well as this guy though.
About 8 years ago, I worked with a lad about half my age and we used to talk about music the whole time. I’d lend him records by various indie / punk bands from my youth in return for his more recent ones. He told me once that his all-time favourite band were The Bees. Strange (but probably quite revealing about me!) that I can remember that conversation but not my former colleague’s name or what he looked like. But I do remember thinking that if he rated them that highly, then The Bees must be worth further investigating.
So when this album arrived in the post, I was very happy because The Bees are a band that I’ve long intended to check out in more detail but never got around to doing so.
So what did I make of it then?
In short, I thought it was bloody great and I absolutely loved 11 of the 12 songs.
The spirit of the 1960s is ever-present throughout this album but not in an obvious fab four fellating way (hello Oasis) or in a “oh, aren’t we dangerous, getting stoned just like the Stones” way (hello Primal Scream). The 60s influences here are far more diverse and unpredictable which makes the whole caboodle far more interesting.
The sound of the album is just amazing and hats off to all the techies for that. King Bee Paul Butler is credited with production but if you’ve bought the remastered Beatles CDs the engineers names Paul Hicks and Guy Massey should ring a bell. The needles sound like they’re up in the red for most of the album making everything sound slightly overdriven and (unlike albums by the bands in the paragraph above and many others) it actually genuinely sounds like it was made in the late 60s. Probably helps that it was recorded at Abbey Road as well.
Looking at the sleeve notes, I’ve noticed that all 6 bandmembers sing and play a lot of different instruments. Lead singer Paul Butler even manages to tick boxes in every one of the main instrument groups: strings (guitar, mandolin); woodwind (sax, clarinet); brass (trumpet) and percussion (piano, drums and er, percussion)
This is not going to be a track-by-track review but I am going to start with the album’s opener “These Are The Ghosts”. It’s got a simple cyclical melody that starts off lowkey but then gradually builds and the band really start to bust loose. After a couple of lessons the melody really starts to get in your head and the whole song brings to mind “Sell Out” era Who so I’m right on board already! The last song “This is the Land” is also in familiar Who territory and you can not sound like The Who unless you can really play. The bassline on this is The Ox mixed with The Beatles’ “Taxman” but as alluded to above, these touches are not lazy Gallagheresque plagiarism. They are just one ingredient in a very tasty musical casserole. The piano that appears halfway through this track, played by that Paul Butler guy, is remarkable. It’s fairly low in the mix so it’s not entirely obvious at first but it sounds like someone playing random ascending and descending lines. It reminded me of Jerry Mouse running up and down the keys in the classic “Cat Concerto” like he does here (at about 1:20).
On the subject of inspired playing, there’s a stunning instrumental called “The Russian” where the drummer really lets fly. And guess who’s drumming on this song, it’s that Paul Butler bloke again! An instrumental track in the middle of an album that clocks in at nearly 6 minutes would usually have me reaching for the “skip” button after a couple of listens. If that song contains a drum solo then I might even be compelled to accidentally on purpose scratch the offending area on the disc. But not here. “The Russian” is a wonderfully captivating piece of music that shows that if you take a pinch of The Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m A Man” and a sprinkling of Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” and it actually works very well. More great brass on this track and it’s got even got a bit in the middle where it all slows down and then speeds up again.
Incidentally, I’m “old skool” (or actually just old?) and I like CDs that feel like they have a “Side 1” and a “Side 2.” So that’s another tick for this album then, with this instrumental bash closing out Side 1 before Side 2 kicks in with the gentle reverb-drenched soul of “I Love You.” That song’s got some wonderful Marv Tarplin style guitar figures on it as well as a brass section bit that sounds like it’s come straight outta Willie Mitchell’s Memphis studio.
Horsemen (the single that I already owned but failed to make much of an impression) has really grown on me. It’s a bit more straightforward “rawk” than most of the album. There’s a hint of Robert Plant in the vocals and of Free in the clipped chords of the guitar riff that propels the whole song along.
Talking of The Spencer Davis Group, I can’t believe I’ve got this far in and not mentioned the Hammond organ yet! I love a bit of Hammond organ and if you don’t then you urgently need to adjust your ears because there’s definitely something wrong with them. There’s Hammond organ all over this album, it makes an appearance on every single track apart from one and it’s ace. The only track which doesn’t have any Hammond organ on is called “The Start” and that’s the only song on the album that I didn’t particularly enjoy. It’s not that I hated it or anything, I just didn’t think it was anywhere near as good as the rest of the album.
One track that I really didn’t like at first but have come to enjoy a lot is “Go Karts”. Like many of the songs on the album, the lyrics are a bit peculiar / daft and the singer adopts a strong estuary accent which calls to mind the late Robert Wyatt. My fellow wizard Kicker is far more of an expert on Robert Wyatt than I am. I’ve never really heard any Soft Machine but in my imagination, this is exactly what they sound like.
On a slight tangent, those Pink Floyd chaps are quite popular aren’t they? I’m not a fan. I didn’t get where I am today by listening to “Dark Side of the Moon” which I’ve never actually heard but I somehow know I wouldn’t like it. In my teenage years, I told someone that I didn’t like Pink Floyd and they told me that I was missing out and I really must hear the early stuff. He played me some very psychedelic late 60s weird thing with really odd lyrics and it was actually alright. On the back of this, I borrowed an album called Relics from Chiswick library but I thought it was shit. Anyway, the reason why I’m telling you all this is because this track “Go Karts” by The Bees sounds a bit like that. But much much better.
Still love “Chicken Payback” obviously.
“One Glass of Water” is very catchy and a little bit reminiscent of “Susannah’s Still Alive” by The Kinks which is obviously a very good thing. More exceptional drumming, by regular drummer Aaron Fletcher this time. Funny lyrics in the chorus here: “I’m no King Kong, I may be hairy but I’m not that strong.” Another favourite “Wash in the Rain” has a similar feel to it but with a big dollop of psychedelia and The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “6 O’Clock” thrown in as well.
I also love “Hourglass” which bounces along very nicely with a Small Faces “Lazy Sunday” feel and a charming little lead guitar bit after each chorus.
But if forced to pick a favourite I’d have to go for track number 3 “No Atmosphere”. The verses spotlight that wonderful Hammond organ sound and it puts me in mind of the circus-y organ on “Life” by Sly & The Family Stone as well as Big Pink era Dylan / Band. The whole song has a real “live” atmosphere to it and once again the needles are right up in the red. I love the recurring “freak out” section, driven along by a repeating 2-note guitar riff. At the end of the song, that bit goes really crazy. Brilliant stuff. But enough of my yakking, just listen to the damn song yourself, preferably with headphones.
And if you enjoyed that then there are more copies of the album going for 1p on Amazon right here.
I don’t know why but I thought The Bees were Australian. In fact they originate from a completely different remote outpost of the Commonwealth with a possibly undeserved reputation for inbreeding. They’re from the Isle of Wight. Now I don’t want to upset any IOW residents who might stumble across this review but my mate Pompey Mike used to commute to work there on the ferry and he claims it is a cultural wasteland where time stopped in the 1980s and local hero Mark King out of Level 42 is worshipped as a thumb-brandishing god.
I spent a couple of childhood holidays there and all I have is vague memories of big dinosaurs at Blackgang Chine and visiting Alum Bay and The Needles (now, THERE’S a band name!)
Don’t really know what point I’m trying to make with this bit other than The Bees come from the Isle of Wight so um, well done to them and well done to the Isle of Wight!
Thanks very much to Simon for sending me such an enjoyable album.