Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Nightshift Review

Got the following review in Oxford's long-running music zine, Nightshift.

Last time Telling the Bees sent us an album to
review, they were thoughtful enough to enclose a
false beard for us to wear while listening, worried
that they might be too beardy for us. Not that
they should have been overly concerned. We’ve
long been enthralled by Oxfordshire’s rich folk
music scene, particularly those acts, like Telling
The Bees and Sharron Kraus, who come steeped
in the earthy pagan traditions of English folk
with its gothic storytelling and darkly
psychedelic edge.
Telling The Bees are made up of four local folk
scene stalwarts: singer and multi-instrumentalist
Andy Letcher, bassist and guitarist Colin
Fletcher and string players Jane Griffiths and
Josie Webber. They take their band name from
the ancient custom of telling the family beehive
of any notable goings-on lest they get upset and
fly away and, as you’d expect, they’re in that
solid tradition of native folk that has passed
from minstrels into the modern age via Fairport
Convention and more recently singers such as
Seth Lakeman and Kris Drever. In fact one of
‘An English Arcanum”s highlights, the rousing
‘Otmoor Forever’, echoes Drever’s
interpretation of Boo Herwerdine’s ‘Harvest
Gypsies’, with its tale of displaced working men.
Equally, there is a tendency to romanticise a
transient lifestyle, as on the sorrowful love
ballad that is ‘Playing At Gypsies’, but while
some might balk at the rustic storytelling style,
Letcher’s warm, rich voice is as welcoming and
captivating as a roaring hearth in a country inn.
Here he’s superbly backed up by Griffiths’ and
Webber’s sumptuous string arrangements which,
while playing safer than they did on the band’s
debut, ‘Untie The Wind’, add texture and
atmosphere to the songs. Never more so than on
this album’s high point, the closing ‘Apple’,
where they circle ominously round an haunting
lament that would sit well on the best of
Fairport’s catalogue.
Amid the songs there are a handful of
instrumental tracks here to fill out the album,
played on border pipes or fiddle and guitar and
given weight by Webber’s harsh cello thrum, and
it’s an album that rewards repeated visits, much
like a favoured country inn. Sup long and
heartily, good friends.

Dale Kattack

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