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White-jawed & yellow-faced – FIFTY BEES 3

Updated: Jan 21, 2020

Get ready for a recap! (like the start of your favourite TV drama, when there’s a 60 second reminder of what happened last time ;)).

The story so far is that we’re just a bit excited about the next FIFTY BEES exhibition, which will be held at the Brewhouse Theatre in Taunton next year. I’m a ‘Bee Artist’ in this one, which means I’ll be writing a song in response to the bee I'm given by exhibition creator and awesome needlefelt artist, Lydia Needle.

I’ll record the song and press it to vinyl. Jac Husebo will be my partner in songwriting crime (let’s hope it’s less crime and more cool ;)).

And that’s the recap! You’re bang up to date, so the next bit of news is we’ve been given the bee we’ll be responding to for the exhibition... and getting it was a pretty big deal.

In my head, I’d romanticised the moment. I’d look lovingly at the bee and fall for her (or him). After a bit of research, out would pour lyrics for a pretty folk song and we’d all be skipping to the pub with a spring in our step and a song in our hearts... then along came the White-jawed yellow-face bee to say balls to all that ;).

Meet Hylaeus confusus... the female and the male:

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The female White-jawed yellow-face bee. Photo by Steven Falk

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The male White-jawed yellow-face bee. Photo by Steven Falk

Not what you were expecting? Me neither! They’re not exactly your typical ‘on a poster, mug or T-shirt’ type of bees are they? ;) At 4.5-5mm, they’re tiny and bleeping hard to properly find out about too! An initial search brought up a few pictures and some footnotes. This bee wasn’t going to make it easy for me, but things that are genuinely worth it are rarely easy, so I began to dig deeper - to try and discover more about these little guys, as I was starting to think that nothing would connect us.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The white-jawed yellow-face ones had a very special secret in store, if I just searched below the surface to uncover it.

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The bees had a secret to be uncovered...

These tiny bees have actually led me home. Well, to my dad’s home and birthplace in South Wales to be truthful. After a bit of detective work, it turns out that our bee has been spotted in the Rhondda Valleys close to where he was born.

Dad was a professional singer...

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Dad compared at The Webbington & worked with everyone back in the day, from Frankie Howerd to Tina Turner. If only we still had the photos of that!

... and I’ve never seen the street where he grew up. I’ve never set foot on the coalfields that cover the mines my grandad used to work (before he’d clean up, get a drink inside him and go out singing too), and now our bee has led me here – to a place they make their home, a place that’s in my blood and to the music that’s been in our family for years. Our bee has led me to a history I should know more about and a place I’ll be singing about for next year’s exhibition.

I uncovered the secret by finding the brilliant Liam Olds. Liam is an Entomolgist, and has founded the Colliery Spoil Biodiversity Initiative – a not for profit project that aims to raise awareness of the bio diversity value of colliery spoil tips, to try and change often negative perceptions of these habitats. Liam had recently given a talk on the bee fauna of the South Wales Coalfield, our bee got a mention and by finding the talk I found out where our bee wanted to lead us.

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'Then & now' photos of the colliery spoil tips, by Liam Olds

What’s more, Liam has generously offered to spend some time with me chatting about our bee and exploring the coalfields, so this weekend I’m visiting there for the very first time... to see the land the bees call home, my dad’s home too and to create a song which will be a response to this landscape, the area and the connection that has knocked me for six!

I’m not ashamed to say that there were tears of astonishment when I discovered the secret of our bee. It’s amazing that Lydia’s project and the White-jawed yellow-face bee has connected me with my family history in a way I never could’ve expected... and if that doesn’t underline ‘the interconnectedness of all things’, I don’t know what does :).

FIFTY BEES - The interconnectedness of all things exhibition begins at The Brewhouse in Taunton from March 11th 2019. Watch this space for more updates & follow Fifty Bees on Instagram or Twitter.


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