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About the Artist: by Richie Unterberger & Bruce Eder

Mostly renowned for their 1964 Top Five hit "Have I the Right," the Honeycombs were pretty much a front for producer Joe Meek and the songwriting-management team of Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley. The group was originally called the Sherabons and was formed in Hackney during November of 1963 by Martin Murray. His day job was managing a hair salon, and when he formed the band, he brought along his assistant, Anne Margot Lantree, who was nicknamed "Honey" and used that on-stage — she played drums and, with her good looks, was a double attention-getter. Her brother John joined on bass, and Alan Ward played lead guitar. And for a lead vocalist, they had Dennis D'Ell (born Denis Dalziel). Their original name was the Sherabons (some sources list it as the Sheratons) — something Murray remembers seeing on the side of a van — and they got a three-times weekly gig at a pub called the Mild May Tavern, on Balls Pond Road in London's East End, where they were lucky enough to be spotted by Alan Blaikley, who was attracted by the crowds of teenagers they drew. Visually, the group was highlighted by Lantree's presence at the drums, her good looks topped by a then-fashionable beehive hairdo. Rhythm guitarist and leader Murray also added to the appealing eccentricity of the band's look with his bespectacled presence — to see him on the cover of their albums, one would think he was the group's accountant, but what made the picture even better was that he was a great player in his own right. At that time, their music consisted entirely of R&B and rock & roll standards interspersed with instrumentals. Blaikley liked their sound and had a song to offer them — he and his business partner Ken Howard's had written a composition called "Have I the Right" and were looking for a group to record it, and this East End quintet seemed to fit the bill. Enter producer Joe Meek, a mad genius in the recording field who was always on the lookout both for songwriters and for groups that could benefit from his expertise. He produced the group's first recording session, for "Have I the Right," and found their sound something he could work with — equally important, the bandmembers themselves were willing to play along with his sometimes wild and unorthodox recording techniques; they even added their collective footstomps to a key rhythm phrase on the finished song, recorded in multiple overdubs as the five members stomped their feet on the staircase on Meek's building, where he kept his home studio. The record was released on the Pye label, but not before the quintet changed its name. Sources differ as to whether it was Meek, Pye Records managing director Louis Benjamin, or the bandmembers who brought about the name change to the Honeycombs. But one consequence of the new name was to reinforce the attention paid to their most unusual visual asset, Honey Lantree at the drums. After an initial stall midway in the charts, the single was picked up by the renowned pirate station Radio Caroline, and "Have I the Right" reached number one in England (and also, subsequently, in Australia, South Africa, and Japan as well) and number four in America. With bee-sting guitar leads and D'Ell's wobbling vocals, which sounded like a Gene Pitney unable to hold notes, "Have I the Right" was a single that one either loved or hated, but couldn't forget. The relatively faceless group afforded Meek perhaps his fullest artistic expression in the studio; all the Honeycombs' singles and albums feature variable-speed vocals, ghostly organ, unpredictable runs, majestically thudding drums, and super-compressed sonics. A self-titled album followed in October of 1964, which highlighted something of the range of the members' talents: Martin Murray's superb guitar playing was showcased on "I Want to Be Free," while Honey Lantree shared the lead vocals on "That's the Way," and Ward's distinctly lead sound was all over everything. In between the single and the LP's release there was a frantic ten months of international touring, television appearances, and shooting spots in jukebox movies, made more complicated when Murray broke his leg. And amid that flurry of work, the group managed a couple more minor American hits — "Is It Because" and "I Can't Stop" — but their fortunes in their own country soon began to fade. "Is It Because" and their rendition of the Ray Davies-authored ballad "Something Better Beginning" barely made it into the Top 40, although "That's the Way" reached number 12. The Honeycombs weren't exactly one-hit wonders, though they never found anything to match "Have I the Right" in sheer impact on listeners around the world. But as a result of that single, their debut album was released outside of England. (The American version of their debut album was released by Vee-Jay Records on their newly created Interphon imprint, and, in fact, was the only LP ever issued on that label). Their sound was a strange combination of influences — Ward's ringing, stinging lead guitar, paired with John Lantree's bass, Murray's rhythm guitar, and Honey Lantree's drumming (all displaying a larger-than-life sound) generating a thumping beat, combined to form a sonic texture strongly reminiscent of the Tornados, Meek's previous resident band — and placed behind D'Ell's weirdly quavering vocals, often all ornamented with what sounded like an outsized roller-rink organ, the effect was sonically mesmerizing. The Honeycombs' records all possessed a manic and impassioned edge, even by the standards of the British Invasion. Between the outsized sound of the musicians and D'Ell's vocals, "Color Slide" and "Once You Know" seemed to embody the kind of passionate desperation that characterized many a teen crush, and each was a frantic, crisply metallic-sounding pop-symphony paean to romance as only the young seem to rush into and drown in it — like Phil Spector in steel. The ballad "Without You It Is Night" treaded on Roy Orbison quasi-operatic territory, while "That's the Way" — offering Honey Lantree's singing — gave a slightly more cheerful, upbeat outlook on romance. And all of it, with Meek's trademarked sound compression, hit the listener subliminally like a punch in the chest.As rapidly as their success came, so the band began to fall apart after less than a year. Frustrated by their inability to repeat their debut success, Martin Murray quit the group he'd organized and led in November of 1964 and started a new band, the Lemmings, who managed to get out one single on Pye before disappearing. He then went solo with a one 45 release to his credit. His replacement, Peter Pye, who'd previously sat in on the band's sessions during Murray's convalescence, joined as a permanent member in late 1964 and the group continued, cutting quite a few singles and two albums before Meek's death in early 1967 effectively finished the group as well. Their fortunes had faded long before that in England and America — by 1965, rock & roll had moved past the sound that the Honeycombs were known for, but it was just then that their popularity soared in northern Europe, Germany, and, especially, Japan and the Far East. They toured to rousing audience response and their records were soon aimed at those markets as well, with German-language singles and a whole Japan-only LP issued. This shift coincided with Howard and Blaikley's decision to move Honey Lantree out from behind the drum kit and into center stage (Viv Prince of the Pretty Things stepped into the drummer's spot on-stage). It was a long time to their second album, All Systems Go, which didn't see the light of day until November of 1965; and that same month, in Japan, an album called Honeycombs in Tokyo was issued. All Systems Go included a pair of covers of Ray Davies songs, one of which, "Emptiness," was apparently never recorded by anyone else. But Honeycombs in Tokyo featured several rarities, including the group's recordings of "I'll Go Crazy," "She's About a Mover," "Wipe Out," "Lucille," "Kansas City," "Goldfinger," and "What'd I Say," all of which seemed to represent their original stage act more accurately than the content of their two more widely circulated albums did. The group's fortunes declined considerably after 1965, however, and Howard and Blaikley by then had turned their attentions to a new discovery, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, who were more in synch with the post-Merseybeat/post-British beat taste of the times. The group shifted the focus of their work to the cabaret circuit, the last refuge of past-their-prime rock & roll acts. Meek's suicide in 1967 closed the door to chances of any further recording success, and they disbanded, though D'Ell released a pair of 45s for British CBS and Decca that same year. He later passed through bluesier, less pop-oriented bands, and also fronted various latter-day versions of the Honeycombs into the 1990s. In 2004, Martin Murray reactivated the group with a new lineup.