I'm trying for one a day. We've had lots of old stuff by now-dead people so far… let me try this a different way:
"Who Cares What The Question Is?" – The Bees – Octopus, 2007
The Bees are a group from the Isle of Wight (pronounced 'white' for you non-UK people), a small and odd place nestled in the sea near Portsmouth in England. The people from the Isle of Wight are a peculiar bunch and the islands itself is a strange reflection of the mainland. In some ways it's just like the rest of Britain and in other ways it feels like going back in time…
The Isle of Wight hosted a music festival for a handful of years back in the day, until the locals and the local council decided they'd had enough and the organisers' incompetence conspired to make the '70 festival the last. At that festival, incidentally the following performed:
[The] Taste, Tony Joe White, Supertramp, Kris Kristofferson, Chicago, Family, Joni Mitchell, Tiny Tim, Miles Davis, Ten Years After, The Who, The Doors, Sly & The Family Stone, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Free, Donovan, Pentangle, The Moody Blues, Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez, Richie Havens and Jimi Hendrix.
In one weekend: The Doors. The Who. Taste. Free. Jimi Hendrix.
Let me put this another way: in a single weekend, one could've seen Pete Townshend, Rory Gallagher, Paul Kossoff and Jimi Hendrix. Throw in Bert Jansch courtesy of Pentangle and that's an awful lot of six-string power right there, not even including the great guitarists in the other groups (Hi Robby Krieger) or others not primarily known for their guitar-playing (Hi Joni)
I had you at Hendrix, right? Yeah. Anyway, that festival is captured for all time on film in Message to Love which does a good job of capturing what was going on at the festival. It was such a colossal clusterf&ck that there was not another IoW Festival until 2002.
I first went to the Isle of Wight Festival in 2007. It was a last-minute thing, almost literally: I was asked to work it the afternoon before leaving. I was already exhausted and not prepared so was up most of the night before getting all my camping stuff ready. I seem to recall watching Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band while I got ready (spoiler alert: it's horrendously awful but kinda fun). My Granddad/Flatmate/Best Pal had died two months earlier which accounts for some of the exhaustion. I was screwed up, naturally. It wasn't the best physical or mental state but I packed my bag and didn't hesitate because The Rolling Stones were playing. I'd never seen them live and them playing a festival was a Big Deal.
Travel to the festival was OK except that instead of a nice, hard-wearing rucksack I only had a crap leather holdall, a bulky sleeping bag and a borrowed tent to carry. No wellies but a pair of Converse sneakers which gave me blisters just on the walk through the site on arrival. Again, a bad omen. I was scheduled to work at Glastonbury and had intended to buy all the necessary stuff but hadn't yet, so I really was unprepared.
Long story short: Festival was amazing and so. much. fun. The Stones were not good, but the rest of it was great and mostly because I spent most of my time at the Hipshaker Tent. This was run by a bunch of guys who liked old school soul and funk type stuff. Performing there were local band The Bees. I had technically seen the Bees before but as they were supporting Robert Plant the first time I saw him (Teenage Cancer Trust, Royal Albert Hall), I don't remember any of that. I wish I did, because The Bees are fantastic…
Their song 'Chicken Payback' was played during a DJ set of stuff which included seriously classic, Motown, Styx and Chess songs and didn't sound at all out of place. It sounds both classic and modern at the same time. The guys are accomplished musicians and as I learned that week, ebullient company. They were awfully nice to me as I bothered them for a setlist for their various live and DJ-curating sets even though I was exhausted to the point of incomprehension. Seriously, that's not a euphemism for drinking (I wasn't) or anything else (I never have). I was just done. But their set was outstanding. Highlight of my festival by a long chalk – and this at a festival featuring the Rolling Stones.
And also, just looking at the line-up now I realise I missed Country Joe McDonald and that bothers me now. I must've been working when he was on…
I saw and met a lot of famous people that weekend and heard some great music. A few weeks later, I endured the horrendo 2007 Glastonbury Festival (It was Somme Chic that year. Just a miserable bloody experience) and crumbled into almost complete meltdown from the being knackered and emotionally drained. To suggest I was living on the edge of my last nerve in mid-late 2007 is to underestimate quite how close to the edge I was.
But. And there is one: I had found The Bees. I watched today's video over and over, listened to the song over and over. I love their combination of old and new, and it was exactly what I needed at that point. I needed a band who didn't make my heart or soul hurt any more than they did. The Bees' music was fun. It was smart as well as catchy. It wasn't throwaway, but it wasn't something I had to throw my entire being into (see Lizzy, Thin; Gallagher, Rory; Martin, Dean; Beatles, The). It was great music that at the same time did not make demands on me to adore it. That particular track has some nifty slide guitar, and I am a sucker for slide guitar.
In short, it was precisely what I needed at a time when I needed it. I bought Octopus and listened to it a ton. I really love that record.
Two years later I worked the Festival again. By then I was properly prepared, well-rested and psychically improved (not better yet, but an improvement). The Bees were there once more but only to curate a DJ set as I recall. And one of the band remembered me from two years earlier. 'You gotta be impressed by that, right?' he asked, not arrogantly. 'Yeah,' I replied quite honestly although later wondered if it was because I was mad rather than memorable for cooler reasons. 'I enjoyed your set more than the Stones,' I added, honestly and not in an effort to suck up.
I didn't say 'oh, and your album helped get me through a dark time' because I didn't realise it did that until much later. About half an hour ago, actually. It wasn't a record I necessarily ascribed that much power to, but it really was what I needed.
The Bees are a great band. You should check out their music, you really should. And if I can't be at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 to hang out with my favourite loves, then my scatterbrained memories of 2007 will at least help fill that hole.
If anyone has access to a time machine I could avail myself of, let me know. I just want it for a weekend…