All The Bee sneak up on you. While the music is quiet and seems unassuming, the effect it has takes hold and won’t let go. Kirsty McGee and Gitika Partington sing and play in ways that are outside of the commonplace. Partington has been working in acapella music for year. Her four books of choral arrangements are proof of that, as are the acclaim received for her seven albums from BBC 6. Not to imply that McGee is a slouch. She has lived hither and yon, singing, recording and with fans like Danny Boyle who used her song ‘Sandman’ in his thriller Trance back in 2014.
While holed up during lockdown, the two met online, working remotely for the next three years on All The Bees. Meeting only three times, they created a gentle work, one that weaves a spell based on the voices, both single and massed that touch your brain and your soul, weaving a spell of almost unimaginable beauty. While the volume level may be low and the songs tread lightly, the impact is unquestionably strong.
None of the usual antecedents seem to apply. While there may be hints of folk groups from the past fifty or sixty years, what they have conjured is quite unique. Reference points from Nick Drake to Kate Bush, Jesca Hoop and Vashti Bunyan only hint at what these two have created. Massed voices take shape on ‘King Crow’ and rather than wrangling with leads, only serve to add to the flow of track. The voices go off in directions and snake their way through the work merging with the banjo in ways that create something mystical.
Coming in on a soft synth, ‘Down to the River’ initially works without massed voices that join in later. Piano is sprinkled sparingly while McGee and Partington work their magic. The deft touch used to unfurl the voices and instruments leaves one speechless. They weave these spells, healing their own broken parts as well as those of their listeners.
The vocals framing ‘Dog Star’ using close harmonies leave one grasping for an apt comparison, only to discover there are none. Quite simply, there is no one else on the scene making music like this. When’s the last time you heard a song composed based on the Victorian tradition of “floriography”? During that period of time people would use the language of flowers to convey love or other messages using strongly symbolic words, layering meaning like leaves. Fascinating, compelling, and totally out of the realm of the common place today.
The final song, ‘Stone from the Ocean’ sounds like something that could have come from a spiritual songbook. Yet the lyrics are reflected in such an incredibly unique fashion one questions why they have never heard the song before, “Nothing ever became smooth without a fight/ You’ve got to suffer through the darkness before you see the light/ Nothing ever became smooth without a fight.” The reason is simple, a song like this has never gone down so smoothly.
From separate careers Kirsty McGee and Gitika Partington joined forces to form All The Bees. From the uncertain moments of the pandemic, we have received a most unexpected and inspirational blessing. Musicians this special, and music this extraordinary doesn’t come around very often.