This is the seventh of my ongoing series of blog posts on the Making Of my new album as Granfalloon, Calendar - Volume 1. To read the first in the series go here.
Track 7 - BEE ON A STRING
(Animals & Nature)
During the original 52 Project in 2014, I was posting each track week-to-week, as they were “finished”. This song was easily one of the more popular songs from that time, to the point that it existed in my live sets from around then as well. It’s a song based on a story a friend told me that when they were 8 years old, they learnt two facts about bees… TWO facts…
BEE FACT NUMBER ONE
Bees cannot fly backwards.
BEE FACT NUMBER TWO
If you were to catch a bee in a tupperware box and place that tupperware box in your fridge, you will lower that bee’s body temperature to the point where it will go to sleep. There was a history of street magicians in the Victorian era using this knowledge as part of a trick called ‘Bringing The Bee Back To Life’* where they would pretend a cold, sleeping bee was dead and then warm it in their hands and “bring the bee back to life”.
Combining these two facts my friend, as an 8 year old girl, caught a bee in her local park in a tupperware box. Then she placed said tupperware box in her fridge and lowered the bee’s body temperature so it would sleep and whilst the bee was rendered comatose, she tied a very thin piece of cotton round one of its back legs.
Then, she took the tupperware out of the fridge. The bee warmed up and then woke up and, safe in the knowledge that the bee could not fly backwards and sting her, she took that bee for a walk around the park.**
When she told me this story, I wrote the song. It felt only fair to write the song about the ordeal from the bee’s perspective.
NOTES FROM 2014
Deadline: 1st October 2014
Based in science (partly). I know somebody who as a child used to cool bees to a certain temperature to make them sleep, tie some thread round [sic] their leg and take them for walks round the local park.
I’m going to listen back to the 2014 demo of this as I write here… The original was a (more) lo-fi affair. I was playing acoustic and added my Omnichord, Clyde*** to the mix along with some vocals. Listening back it seems that I hadn’t discovered the D chord at the halfway point of the Middle 8 either.
There’s also an outro on the new Calendar Volume 1 version based on the Middle 8***. This idea came from bassist, Daz Woodcock and gave us a more dignified dismount with that off kilter three beat ending. Drummer Andy Lyth and I experimented with a Bossa Nova feel for the groove of this track and it kind of worked but we settled on a straighter 60’s infused beat to give that song a little more zest in its pacing.
Stylistically, I remember taking a lot of inspiration from Super Furry Animals and in particular, the singer Gruff Rhys’s vocal delivery. It really just felt like the sort of song they might write. Though they would probably have an extended techno breakdown in the middle.
Cleg’s guitar runs on the intro and well… throughout the interlude sections of the songs are wonderfully ludicrous high speed bluegrass licks. They lend the track an acid fried country vibe that I appreciate.
This is one of the tracks on the album that features Garreth Knott on the trumpet. We had a good day of orchestrating the parts between me and him, and Cleg in particular. Horn parts remain a fairly new thing for me to get my writing chops around. I feel comfortable arranging for strings but I’m still feeling my way with those horns.
I find that more time playing with specific musicians can influence my songwriting and arranging. I’ll tend to (subconsciously) start writing to the strength of the band I’m playing with. With Garreth a fixture of the Granfalloon live lineup, there’s already been a move towards a brassier sound but all things take time. Volume 2 of the Calendar album already has more defined parts for the trumpet and tenor horn. Consider this our tentative first steps into that world. Reference points for the part as we were writing it included MORE Super Furries and Nick Drake’s ‘Hazey Jane II’.
Many thanks to Chris Hawkins for giving 'Bee on a String' support and airplay on BBC 6 Music and for his lovely words about it...
I worked with Roomer Animations for this video and they outdid themselves with their wonderful bee animations. I especially love the magical woodland scenes towards the end of the video. Little Easter egg for you… the silhouetted girl walking the ‘bee on a string’ is modelled on my pubescent crush, Michaela Strachan.
Here’s Gruff Rhys singing about a child who talks to his pet turtles, Venus and Serena, who he uses as paternal substitutes.
That's all for now. Thanks for reading! See you next time.
*Definitely not the correct name. Please let me know if you find it out.
**She’s a fairly well known wildlife artist now. Big into conservation and animal care. Make of that what you will.
***Yes I name my instruments. Some people find this practice a bit ‘sick-in-the-mouth’ making but not I! For the record, my Omnichords are named Clyde, Bonnie, and George. And I have a Q-Chord called Suzi Q (sorrynotsorry).
****This is probably a good time to mention that what I call a Middle 8 is rarely 8 bars long. To me, it’s the bit partway through the song which isn’t the A Section or the B Section. There’s a part here before each Chorus that others might call a Pre-Chorus (clever buggers) but I prefer to refer to those as Bridges because they ‘bridge’ the Verse and the Chorus for me. Anyway, geeky structure talk over.