Deep in the idyllic countryside on the Isle of Wight, a slew of sounds emanate from within a small shed. The breezy summer sounds are a stark contrast to the UK wind and sporadic showers that pepper the island. Is that the smell of tropical flowers and fruits mixed with the familiar odor of Jamaica’s finest import or just our imagination? It sounds like a water balloon fight between Paul Mcartney and Wings, The Specials, Pink Floyd, and The Stooges with Lee Scratch Perry officiating, but it’s not. Has a mad DJ mixed his entire record collection into some amazing new hybrid of sound? No, it’s actually the sound of Sunshine Hit Me from A Band Of Bees being recorded.
Friends for 10 years, Paul Butler and Aaron Fletcher have reached the grand old age of 23 having served an apprenticeship on and off the blessed isle, a training program that includes numerous outfits and many well received but small selling underground releases. Their experiences have not been in vain, apart from learning how to enjoy music for fun rather than profit they have led to what is bound to be one of the year’s most acclaimed debut releases in the UK. Made in the aforementioned Shed (their home studio set in a field) where the only neighbors are grazing sheep and cattle, Sunshine Hit Me is where smooth jazz chords are easily accommodated in sweet pop tunes, where light brushes of Afro hi life nuzzle up beside Beach Boys harmonies and looping skank grooves. It’s where lovingly crafted curiosities and finely prepared delicacies are commonplace and musical freedom is the password. “This is the point we’ve got to after doing all those other projects – funk stuff, avant garde pop, jazz, heavy rhythm stuff,” says Paul.
“Now we’re ready to do our own thing. Releasing albums is the best practice you can have, I’ve been involved in thirteen, Aaron in about five or six,” he explains.
Largely undocumented, The Isle of Wight scene has produced a plethora of bands in the past five years. At some point it seems a local by law was passed declaring that Paul had to be a member of every outfit on the island – P Nu Riff, Delta T, various liaisons with his pal Max Brennan, The Exploding Thumbs. “I like playing in bands, it’s true. But, people thought there was a scene apparently, and came over looking for the scene and they couldn’t find it anywhere. They had a job because really it’s confined to 3 bedrooms.” The Exploding Thumbs had grown to a 13 piece live extravaganza before it became obvious that with various members jotted around the country the group couldn’t stay together. Then destiny stepped in with the sweet but surly pop of “Punchbag”, a song that showed Paul and fellow Thumb Aaron that they had ambitions beyond the musical collective. It was time to re-enact their Chinese new year pact made on January 24th under their shared Year of The Snake birth sign, so they vowed to get back together and continue their collaboration the next time the snake year came by. Aaron says, “The main change is that before it was lo-fi, and now we’ve turned pro and we’re looking to a big audience. It’s been like a circle really- when we were at school together, and Paul started playing guitar we were writing little songs. It wasn’t a conscious attempt to get a bigger audience but when we wrote “Punchbag” we thought, bloody hell this could get played on the radio.”
Their partnership had originally been interrupted by the arrival of techno, Paul’s purchase of a sequencer, and interest in The Aphex Twin. “After a while I got bored so I went back to drums and guitar, “ he reflects. “I gave my sampler away in the end. Now I won’t have any computerized instruments in the shed, if I’m going to play something it has to have life and humanity in it. I was shocked when I found out how most studios work, its naff and lazy. I think the sampler is an amazing thing, but it’s meant to be there to help bands or artist who haven’t access to drums or anything. It’s brilliant for a bedroom but there’s no need for it to be like that in a studio. That ultra crisp modern sound doesn’t do it for me.” While Paul was recreating himself as The Wight Panther – pouncing from one island outfit to the next, collecting his studio equipment and instruments from a variety of sources – Aaron studied print and design across the water in Winchester. “But all the time I was thinking about music and making music. I got into DJing and learned loads about things I never saw on the island. If I hadn’t gone away A Band Of Bees would never have happened. It’s hard to hear music on the island or to try to buy new releases by going away my record collection grew.”
The pair compliment each other perfectly. Playing piano since he was 6, Paul is the multi instrumentalist muso (drums bass guitar, trumpet, saxophone, keyboards) with the technical know how, a self professed music tech-head determined to find the secret that made the recordings he loves sound so good. Aaron Fletcher is the inveterate record collector/ musical researcher whose lyrics range from the teasing to the emphatic and to the mind bending.
“The album has got a theme,” says Aaron, “you will get knocked down but you can get back up. We’ve had a lot of that recently so it comes out in the music. Like “Punchbag” is about physical and emotional violence, “Angryman” is about the violence inside, that’s where it comes from. I think when people are violent they can’t express themselves, they’re scared and they have to put themselves in a position where they won’t be scared.” “Binnal Bay” takes its title from one of the islands south face coves, the ambient background taped during a night gathered round the campfire. A Band of Bees are blissfully happy in their own little hive whiling away time in their studio a stretch of water and an expensive ferry ride keeping the outside world at bay. “Being on the island gives us a nice feeling of separation from lots of things. You have a lot of time to think for yourself, its not easy living on an island with fixed boundaries, a lot of people prefer the city but I love the peace of the countryside; it’s just perfect for relaxing and listening to music. Its amazing I couldn’t ask for anything else, the island is a complete inspiration.” Amid the pre-packaged production line pap and depressingly average one trick ponies that populate the landscape, A Band of Bees are something different.
A Band Of Bees are currently grooming their 5 piece live band at their weekly Isle of Wight club called Downhill. Meanwhile, Sunshine Hit Me provides the nectar- so let the buzz commence. Paul says, “We want to provide an option. There’s not enough choice out there for people to hear quality music. You hear so many records that have got something to satisfy everyone, it sounds horrible just to fit a format. We’re trying to break formats I don’t think all music has been written not by a long shot, there’s a lot of room for improvement.”