Songwriting & singing for the FIFTY BEES

Updated: Jan 20, 2020

A little while ago at the crack of dawn, I woke up, half-asleep, scrambled to find a scrap of paper and scribbled down some lyrics about the Clydach Vale Countryside Park and the coal tips I’d visited with Liam Olds. We'd gone there together, so he could show me where he’d found the White-jawed Yellow-face bee... the inspiration for the song I was writing for the FIFTY BEES arts project.

That half-light, between night and morning, is often when I wake up with lyrics or ideas in my head and to be honest, the breathtaking beauty of Clydach now, and the contrast with the way it had been when it was a coal mine, had been on my mind ever since I’d spent time there.

The stunning landscapes of the Clydach Countryside Park

If you haven’t read the last blog about my visit to the park, have a little look here because after that day and subsequent visits, I couldn’t stop thinking about how nature had literally grown out of the coal dust to create an earthy, grassy, bramble-covered, tree-filled oasis... perfect for a bee who likes bramble flowers and dead wood!

The place where Liam Olds found the White-jawed Yellow-face bee, in the brambles

Nature now grows on the memories of the very different lives that came before, and that felt really powerful to me... as did the tributes and memorials I’d seen both there, and as we drove around the area. The lasting tributes to the miners who died, and to those still suffering from the effects of the work they used to carry out, are permanently etched on the landscape.

Life they never saw, tributes here for ever more

I didn’t have a melody at that point (it came later, one hour, one Sunday afternoon) but when I woke up that particular morning, I knew what I wanted to say about the ex-mining communities my family was once part of, about people that have been through so much and about nature slowly returning ‘home’ to bring beauty, new life and contrast to the once blackened landscape – just as I was coming home to where my bee had led me.

Soon after I’d got this down on paper and sung it into my phone, Jac Husebo and I got together, got our rehearsal on and worked on the guitar, the backing vocals, the speed of the song and basically rehearsed the efferty jefferty out of it! ;) Jac was absolutely brilliant – really connecting with the feeling and story behind the song, and doing some awesome impressions during practices too! That’s what you get when you write with an actor! ;)

This guy! ;)

We also had a captive audience with Petal and Flower. They sat and chilled out with us as we practiced and seemed to like what we were up to, so that was surely a good sign? We took them to Clydach too, so they must’ve got a feel for it all as well!

Approved by the hounds... and Graeme! ;)

On that particular visit, it unexpectedly snowed and it was magical exploring the park as the flakes fell around us (and completely bleeping freezing of course ;)).

Let it snow at Clydach Countryside Park

Anyway, with a week or so to go until we were off to Orchard Recording Studios to record the song, we had a huge stroke of luck. Local musician, teacher and artist, Lucy Hawkins, agreed to play fiddle on the track and Lucy’s playing brought a haunting beauty to it, with the sounds fitting so well with the story behind the song, the feel of the Welsh landscape and the fragility of life in the mines.

Loving Lucy's playing

Recording day was as it should be really... nerve-racking, fun and full of tea (shouldn’t every day be full of tea? ;)) and a special thanks goes to James and Charlotte at Orchard, who were awesome. James’ attention to detail when it comes to the instrument sounds, tuning and quality is second to none (he even restrung Jac’s guitar to make sure the sound was perfectly bright - and wow did the difference show). Charlotte was just brilliant at the mixing desk, during and after we’d recorded our respective bits!

Studio scenes

Who's this bunch of chancers? ;)

As I’m a massive lover of vinyl, I wanted to play the track on a wooden Crossley record player at the exhibition, so the song was mastered for vinyl as well as digital – and after that, all that was left for me to create was the cover artwork, the vinyl label and the wooden postcards I wanted to make, to help visually tell the story behind the song (not much left on the list then, Jenn ;)).

The idea was to share a song lyric on each postcard, to bring to life the beauty of Clydach and the sorrow in the story, as well as the hope of nature returning to the coal tips.

I chose to tie everything together with wood and with the humble, but beautiful, bramble - reflecting my bee’s love for a wooded, brambled habitat. The simple flower in bloom on the record cover, represents nature coming to life once again on the sites of the old mines. As I say in the song, it’s:

“A change to lift the dark” with “beauty shown, on yesterdays you’ve grown”.

You can read all the lyrics on the back of the cover, if you fancy it...

Telling the story inspired by the White-jawed Yellow-face bee

...and I’ve got to say, the weight that lifted from my shoulders when it all came back from being pressed, on time and in one piece, was HUGE! Finally got a bit of sleep that night ;).

The simple, beautiful, flowering bramble ties the story together visually

Anyway, here’s a sneak peek of how it looks in the exhibition...

A part of the story of FIFTY BEES III

... and if you’d like to listen to the finished song on vinyl, do go and visit FIFTY BEES. It’s on from Monday to Saturday until May 6th, at The Brewhouse Theatre in Taunton and the song does sound different on record, in the space with all the other awesome artworks.

You can also download the song now on iTunes (yipeeee!), by going to the iTunes store and searching for Jenna Myles. The 'Coming Home' bramble cover will then pop up.

Talking of all the other awesome artworks, our final FIFTY BEES blog about the entire FIFTY BEES III exhibition, will be out soon. The pieces included in it are really special - each one with their own incredible tale to tell.

So many great companion pieces in the exhibition - and bees. Beautiful bees.

To be honest, it’s meant so much to me to know that this time around, my own little bee had a story to show me too. It had some life lessons to teach me along the way, and so much more to open my eyes to than I ever could've imagined.

Thank you, Lydia, for trusting me with Mr and Mrs White-jawed Yellow-face! I’ll never, ever forget them.

An amazing exhibition to be part of

My artist statement at the exhibition

To discover more, you can listen to our radio interview with Lydia on our Frome FM Show right here. Just choose the March 3rd show to listen.

Talking all things FIFTY BEES on Frome FM

Lydia, myself, and sound artist Helen Ottoway, were also interviewed on BBC Somerset and you can listen to that chat right here.

And of course, you can follow FIFTY BEES on social media - here's the Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

#somersetcool #fiftybees #artinsomerset #music

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