This collection, in some ways a companion set to the 'city' album, 'Walk in the Park', celebrates the country. The original inspiration for this came many years ago: I was walking through the village where I lived, and there in the lane came across some discarded and rain-sodden pages from an old magazine. On closer inspection, these turned out to be three issues of the 'British Bee Journal' from 1937. Drying them out, I read them from cover to cover, and was immediately gripped by the image of the stolid bee-keepers, dutifully practising their ancient art, and planning for the year ahead, while the storm-clouds of war, etc. loom on the horizon.
'Slow Motion' [11.44]
A gentle opening to the album, featuring electric piano, guitar, half-speed drums, and the sounds of nature waking up.
Voices: Speaking, Victoria; Singing, Sarah
More of the same, designed to lull you into a false sense of security.
'Do Bees Exercise a Faculty of Reason?' [1.12]
The first of 3 readings from the 'British Bee Journal', 1937.
'The Bee Song' [1.09]
Voices: the Vocalettes
The 'Classical' section of the album begins with a charming vocal duet in celebration of the coming of spring, and in praise of our friend the honey bee.
'Spring is Come with Love to Town' [3.01]
Voices: the Vocalettes
A setting of a poem I found in a book of facsimiles of manuscripts from the Harley Collection (the original of which resides in the British Museum, London, along with a very large number of other manuscripts from the early Middle Ages to the Renaissance, assembled by Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford (1661-1724), and his son Edward, with their librarian, Humfrey Wanley).
The piece is sung in the original Middle English, but my translation of the words into modern language goes like this:
'Spring, who all this gladness brings, has come with love to the world; with flowers and the singing of birds. In the valleys are daisies and the sweet notes of nightingales; each bird makes melody. The song-thrush chides them continually. Their winter woe is gone when woodruff blooms. Wondrously many are these birds that sing and warble so on their wealth of joys that all the wood resounds.'
'Spring is Come with Love to Town' is rather more fanciful, and therefore suitable as a title. The pronunciation used is a combination of what was correct for the period, what I thought would be more easily understandable to the casual listener, and a certain amount of personal whim.
'To Talk of Many Things' [1.44]
A second extract from the 'British Bee Journal', this time cast in the form of a public lecture.
'The Maypole Song' [4.21]
I felt that a slightly dancey atmosphere to this piece conjured up the image of sprightly maidens around a maypole. My analyst seemed very interested in this, and kept making a lot of notes as I explained it all to him.
'My True Love' [6.52]
A traditional song, introducing the 'Folk Festival' section of the album.
'Gonna Miss You When You're Gone' [3.10]
A vocal and acoustic guitar song.
'Losing Faith' [7.05]
This track forms the link to the 'Brass Band' section of the album. I've always wanted to write some brass band music, and now my chance has come!
'Lima Foxtrot' ('Losing Faith', Variation 2) [1.19]
It's just a name. If you tried doing a foxtrot to this, you would probably be risking serious injury.
'Tango Victor' ('Losing Faith', Variation 6) [1.37]
In this short battle between a waltz and a tango, the tango wins on points. Nothing to do with television.
'Slow March' ('Losing Faith', Variation 5 ) [5.38]
Based on a very slow rendition of part of Losing Faith, this variation could, I feel, be easily adapted by some newly-emerging - if somewhat avant-garde - country as a national anthem.
'Elastic Band ('Losing Faith', Variation 4) [1.01]
Blame the heat - or the long liquid lunch - but after a straightforward opening, as the band give us their interpretation of the 'Music From an Imaginary Spy Film', things start to go horribly wrong . . .
'Chippings from Syston' [1.29]
A final reading from the 'British Bee Journal' of 1937, evoking memories of a bygone age. What a pity that events elsewhere at the time gave a clear indication that this age was indeed about to become bygone. The Olympic Games of the previous year, 1936, had taken place in Berlin, and had been used by the German dictator, Adolf Hitler, as a publicity vehicle for his extremely militaristic National Socialist (Nazi) regime. Also during that year, Germany had sent military forces into the Rhineland area, which they had specifically been forbidden to do under the terms of the Versailles Treaty at the end of World War I, and to Spain to assist the future right-wing dictator, General Franco. At the end of the year the British King, Edward VIII, had been forced to abdicate, in part because of his undisguised admiration for Hitler and the Nazi party. In October, 1937, he visited the country as Hitler's guest, and in the same month, a treaty was signed between Germany and the Italy of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Within just over a year, the Germans had occupied neighbouring Austria and Czechoslovakia; within 2 years they had invaded Poland and precipitated another World War. For most of those reading the 'British Bee Journal' at the turn of the year 1937, the world would never be quite the same again.
'The Bells' [13.22]
Additional Music: William Byrd (c.1539 - 1623)
This suite in 4 continuous parts was inspired by Byrd's 'The Bells of Osney'. In fact, Part 1 is a slightly edited arrangement of this piece, given a slightly odd flavour by a judicious application of spectral mutation to the finished recording. The other sections don't have any names, but all of them have samples from Part 1 in them, forming the basis of the new compositions.
Written, arranged, performed and produced by Andy Murkin, unless otherwise indicated.
An 8CD 'Virtual Boxset' of The Birds & The Bees and related music is available on YouTube, beginning here
In 2015, there was a 4CD 10th anniversary re-release of The Birds & The Bees with A Walk in the Park. Read more about that here
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