The Bees are back and the world is suddenly a better place. It's three years since the blessed Isle of Wight sextet came up with a new album, which might be the blink of an eye compared with the timescale on which a Blue Nile or a Kate Bush operates, but for fans of these free-spirited embracers of soul, jazz, and psychedelia it's been an anxious wait.
With an attendant dearth of live appearances, the band that gave us "Who Knows What the Question Is?" could have been provided with a ready answer to that inquiry. It was very clear what the question was: had we seen the last of The Bees? Those fears can now be calmed, and while this little gig – essentially an exercise in getting back in the groove – was somewhat rough round the edges, it boded well for Every Step's a Yes, out next month, and a November tour in which they'll be supporting Paul Weller.
Some people might think that The Bees should only ever be a headline act, but you can't always get what you want and playing support obviously suits them – they've previously done so with Oasis and with Madness. An apparent lack of ego is one of their most appealing attributes, and it shows in the way the band's three leading members – Paul Butler, Aaron Fletcher and Tim Parkin – share frontman duties and swap instrumental roles.
Steeped as they are in late-Sixties pop, the Bees have been accused of derivativeness but that is to overlook their tremendous gifts of melody and arrangement, and the sheer ebullience of their songs. On a tiny stage they cooked up a storm, and the new material suggested that their range is still expanding, with the harmony-rich, Simon and Garfunkel-like "Silver Line", the Jamaican-infused "Winter Rose", and the hippy stylings of "Change Can Happen". And if the sun-drenched new single "I Really Need Love" doesn't turn up soon in a TV ad then someone will have missed a trick.