A Tribute to Butterflies On Strings
“When I dream / I dance the line / Between a great idea / And a waste of time.”
Considering the sheer size and span of the music industry, I doubt that many people (in the greater scheme of things, at any rate) are aware of Butterflies On Strings. But it might be safe to assume that most of you reading this post knew of them to some degree, and perhaps also that they disbanded on the 22nd January this year.
It always sucks when a band you love calls it a day, and although I wouldn’t go as far to say that Butterflies had the same impact on me as, say, Arcade Fire or Radiohead, the fact that the group came from the same place as me (temporally, geographically, sonically, whatever) made my ties to them a little more personal. Although they were predominantly London-based for much of their career, the roots of the band lay in the southern town of Basingstoke, where I spent most of the first eighteen years of my life growing up. Every few months, the group would perform gigs in the area (which were usually marketed as “homecoming” performances), and they were regular staples of the 100% Tent at the town’s annual music festival, Basingstoke Live. They even dedicated a song to this “brown box of a town” in the form of fan favourite ‘A Boy Named Crow’.
In this sense, then, I guess you could say they were a “hometown” band. There are countless people out there (especially budding musicians) who have followed these kinds of groups through their teenage years. You’ll go see a friend troubadour perform live at a dingy venue or bar one weekend, and from there, you’ll discover a whole host of other groups and artists that you never even knew about, all of them originating from your own backyard. Even if a good percentage of them are rather shonky in sound, it’s always inspiring to see your peers actively making music, performing to crowds, and having a good time with it.
I first discovered Butterflies when I set out to see my friends in The 4:20 perform at The Bang Bar one evening in 2010. After liking what I heard, I started to look for their name on posters and Facebook events, to see when they’d next crop up in Basingstoke. In total, I must’ve seen Butterflies perform at least eight times in the last few years, and I’d almost always see them with my close buddy Matt Fryer. Over the years, our fandom grew: we sang along with the lyrics at every gig we went to, bought their new EPs as soon as they were released, and even struck up conversations with frontman Allan Harrod a couple of times. They’re great guys who made for great company, on-stage and off.
What really cemented the link, though, was their sound. Say all you want about shiny guitar-pop (or “post-pop”, as they coined it on their website): it might not be particularly earth-shattering or visionary, but when it’s properly formulated, sometimes it provides all you need. I still find it striking how a relatively simple pop song can be so life-affirming when you need it most, and Butterflies had a whole bunch of songs of that calibre, and I’ve returned to each of them time and time again. Their brand of breezy, harmony-heavy indie-rock still resonates with me today, no matter how much obscure electronica and art-rock I can claim to follow.
No, Butterflies weren’t a group to change my life (or anyone’s life, really), but the bulk of their recorded oeuvre definitely soundtracked a good portion of the back end of my teenage years. Perhaps part of it can be put down to simple nostalgia, but these guys perfectly encapsulated a lot of what I was feeling at the time of living in Basingstoke. Like me, they sounded ambitious but restless, and maybe a little jaded, but they delivered their sentiments with such a euphoric supply of sweet melodies and driving rhythms that they were just the elixir Matt and I needed on bored weekends.
The Butterflies have left me with a great set of memories. Along with that handful of EPs and singles, there are a fair few photos and live videos clogging up my laptop’s memory; I own two group t-shirts (one of which Allan gave to me for free the last time I saw the group perform live); and I still own a couple of posters and setlists which Matt and I swiped from their 2011 performance at The Baker’s Arms. Also, thanks to them, I picked up the guitar again, started a few new friendships when I saw them live, and explored the haunts of my hometown further. Their sounds have even accompanied me since I left Basingstoke to come and live in the pastures of Warwickshire. ‘Sweet Years’ has been a favourite companion on the walk home through the glittering lights of Leamington; ‘Keep Our Heads’, for all its bittersweetness, always raises my mood; and ‘Frosted Houses’ reminds me of arriving in halls at Warwick University back in October 2011. I was nervous and racked with worry, but comforted by the fact that I’d brought a few friends from home with me in some regard.
Of course, I’m saddened that they’re no longer together as a band, but I wish each of the members the best of luck with their future prospects. As for their own own modest legacy as a band, the lyric at the start of this article is from old favourite – and frequent live opener – ‘Burning Slowly’ (available on the A Boy Named Crow EP). If Allan’s words were rooted in reality on this particular occasion, then I’d strongly agree with the first assessment. Butterflies were full of great ideas, and the band itself was a great idea. They will be missed.
To hear the entire catalogue of Butterflies On Strings for free, check out their website.