A WEEK after the Sunday-of-Lost-Data I have a little honeyed tale for you. Yesterday the postman brought a thrilling package of CDs, all printed and proper... my first ever album artwork for the fabulous debut release by Telling the Bees ~ a band of four lovely Oxford based musicians who might describe their music as ...darkly crafted folk, classical, cinematic, prog, acoustic-chill, psychedelia!
Untie the Wind, as the album is called, is a wonderful conjuring of a darkly imagined England, and for me has a very strong flavour of something friendly yet strange, and it is this folkloric old and yet not old world that I have tried to conjure in my drawings for them.
I was inspired by the old folk custom that inspired the band's name: that in English villages back in the days of superstitions... it was very important to inform the beehives and their inhabitants of any news: changes of ownership, births, deaths and marriages, otherwise they would take umbrage and leave their hives en masse. The custom was for a newly bereaved widow or heir to go up to each hive, tap it three times with an iron key and then inform the bees that their master had died. Sometimes the hives were adorned with black ribbon to show that the bees were in mourning, or left a small piece of wedding cake to share in matrimonial celebrations.
Telling the Bees will be performing at gigs and festivals across the country and if they buzz through your corner of the woods, I urge you to go along and dance to their evocative mandolins and English border bagpipes, fiddles and cellos, concertinas and songs.
Do click on the pictures to enlarge them.
"A Bedfordshire woman was telling me the other day," says a writer in a Northern daily paper, "how her son had been stung all over by bees. 'And no wonder,' she said, 'he never told them he was going to put them in a new 'ome, and everybody knows that before you goes to put bees in a new 'ome, you must knock three times on the top of the 'ive and tell 'em, same as you must tell 'em when anyone dies in the 'ouse. Ef you don't, they'll be spiteful, for bees is understanding creatures, an' knows what you say to them."
- Just the same as a month before,--
- The house and the trees,
- The barn's brown gable, the vine by the door,--
- Nothing changed but the hives of bees.
- Before them, under the garden wall,
- Forward and back,
- Went drearily singing the chore-girl small,
- Draping each hive with a shred of black.
- Trembling, I listened: the summer sun
- Had the chill of snow;
- For I knew she was telling the bees of one
- Gone on the journey we all must go!
- Then I said to myself, "My Mary weeps
- For the dead to-day:
- Haply her blind old grandsire sleeps
- The fret and the pain of his age away."
- But her dog whined low; on the doorway sill,
- With his cane to his chin,
- The old man sat; and the chore-girl still
- Sung to the bees stealing out and in.
- And the song she was singing ever since
- In my ear sounds on:--
- "Stay at home, pretty bees, fly not hence!
- Mistress Mary is dead and gone!"
some verses from TELLING THE BEES by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)