Hallowe'en with Telling the Bees in Sussex
31st October 2015
Somehow I'd not managed to see either of my friends Andy Letcher and Jim Penny's bands until recently. I caught Wod at the barndance in Dorset a few weeks ago, and this was my first encounter with Telling the Bees. And I picked a good one! Despite recently appearing on the cover of Folk Roots magazine and getting rave reviews for their third album Steer By the Stars, they'd just played a gig in Sheffield to half a dozen people and very little atmosphere. This was the complete opposite, in a church in a village full of eccentric characters, everyone coming out to see them and properly listen.
From Plumpton station, I had a magical walk along bridle paths in mist and moonlight, under silhouetted twisty trees, up a hill to the church of All Saints (I'd somehow expected a village hall gig, so this was a lovely surprise) with a 1300-year-old yew tree just outside (predating the church by centuries). Beautiful acoustics, and a stained glass window with Jesus appearing to be high-fiving the viewer (with some cherubim busting hiphop-type moves in nearby inset circles).
They played two sets, all songs written by Andy, plus a couple of instrumentals on which he played his English bagpipes (to start the second set). Highlights were the Oxford May Song (a kind of anti-seasonal song, celebrating something exactly six months away), "Otmoor Forever" and the lovely drifing title track of the new album which they encored with. Colin's basslines were always fascinating yet unobtrusively served the songs (he mostly played electric, but the double bass got used on at least one number). The interplay of Jane's violin and Jim's concertina was sublime, and quite Spiro-like at times.
This had been organised by villagers Jo and Mikey, that being Jo from Jim's third band, Red Dog Green Dog, who I travelled with to Dorset for that dance in September. They'd mentioned putting on gigs in the village, which implanted the idea for me to make the journey. We ended up back at their house, playing tunes around the kitchen table, welcoming in the Celtic New Year. I mostly just listened to the twisty-turny and harmonically unpredictable Breton tunes which are too complicated to pick up on first hearing, but every now and again there was something played that I was able to join in on with my saz, as I appear to be doing, lower left:
I also ended up introducing Andy [double PhD and author of Shroom: A Cultural History of Magic Mushrooms (Faber&Faber, 2006)] to the Google DeepDream algorithm, which I'd only recently been shown and he was oblivious to. Here's a before-and-after of the East Chiltington Yew...
...and of the man himself (quite appropriately with a couple of birds growing out of his hat, a few spare eyes, and a weird beetle thing crawling on his chin — click for a closeup):
The day before, Jo had given a talk to 1500 people at The Dome in Brighton as part of a TEDx event, on her work with music therapy and dementia (she administers a charity called Rhythmix). Apparently that went extremely well, so she was deeply relieved, and invigorated by the experience. That should appear on the main TED website once they've had a chance to carry out the usual vetting, and then I'll embed it here.
[09/12/15: it's finally online!]