I’m in love with Honey Lantree, and anyone who cares about pop should love her too. Look at the cover of The Honeycombs ‘I Can’t Stop’ – she’s above the boys, looking to the left and slightly upwards, red lipstick and dark back-comb. If you could see her body, instead of just her head, you might expect to see her seated at a typewriter, clockwatching the last ten minutes of a working week, looking forward to tonight’s club, tonight’s friends, tonight’s music. She’d be wearing a skirt slightly too short for the typing pool and perhaps a little too much make up – but there’s no time to go home to the suburbs and change before the 100 Club. No time to waste.

Well, it’s not quite as ordinary as that. Although at one time a hairdresser, Honey Lantree was 60’s pop’s greatest drummer – The Honeycombs’ one woman popstomp explosion. For a week or more I’ve been immersed in the four Honeycombs songs on Castle/Sanctuary’s staggering new Joe Meek anthology The Alchemist Of Pop . Not only does Alchemist replace the fairly difficult to get hold of ‘It’s Hard to Believe and the various volumes of The Joe Meek Story as the definitive Meek comp, but it’s also absolutely compulsory listening for any pop fan. Hang on – I don’t want to talk about The Alchemist of Pop here – read Marcello Carlin’s Church of Me article for a brilliant overview of the whole thing – I just want to talk about The Honeycombs. About Honey.

Let’s take them one at a time. First – ‘Have I the Right’ – the BIG one. Where to start? A debut Number One in August 1964 – two minutes and fifty six seconds of hormones-out-of-control pop mayhem. As with all great records, the intro sets everything up perfectly – an urgent, slightly marching-on the spot, backbeat with tambourine topping and Meek’s trademark compressed beyond belief guitar and ice rink organ. Dennis D’ell’s weird growling and gargling delivery is one of the great pop vocals, cranking himself up to a frustrated howl on the chorus (“‘I’ve got some love and I long to share it!”) over Honey’s brutal thump. The slightly off-mike ‘Alright’ after the second chorus sounds as if D’ell has fallen to the floor unable to continue, leaving it to the guitar to carry the tune while he recovers. Here, Honey punctuates with skipping end -of phrase off beats – I told you she was good. The empty-cinema ambience of the production is amazing, Meek ensuring that you have to lean in and listen hard. But still you always feel that something in the mix is still out of reach, as yet unheard.

It’s no surprise that they never equalled ‘Have I The Right’, spending the rest of their short career casting around for another big hit. Follow-up singles either failed to chart or ran aground well short of the top ten, although they did manage a sizeable hit overseas with ‘I Can’t Stop’, which oddly was never released as a single in Britain. To put it bluntly ‘I Can’t Stop’ is fucking mental. An obviously speeded up Dennis D’ell yelps and growls over a stripped down and scratchy R+B/Merseybeat hybrid. The bridge is bonkers – D’ell squeaks a camp ” A-we can’t go on kissing – like THIS” while Honey alternates thundering rolls with a proto-glam thud. Martin Murray’s guitar solo, meanwhile, battles against insane amounts of compression which at times reduces it to a high whistle and only Alan Ward’s Vox Continental escapes the crush as Meek runs riot on the desk. D’ell declares in the second bridge, “You’ve driven/ me wild/ from the start – WOW!” and we go around again until Honey’s cymbal flaying finishes it. Genius!

The third Honeycombs track on ‘Alchemist’ is a 1965 Kinks cover, ‘Something Better Beginning’. While the original is a pretty good, slightly Mersey-cheesy album track from ‘Kinda Kinks’, this version is gigantic – the best Kinks cover I’ve heard. Better even than The Raincoats’ ‘Lola’ or The Nomads ‘ I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ – that good. From the off Meek punctuates another cavernous production with a blend of groaning baritone sax and muted trumpet, gliding in ballroom strings halfway through the first verse. This time Honey’s beat is pure driving pop-Motown, pushing D’ell’s hopeful vocal to a dramatic falsetto conclusion. Massive – but it only struggled to number 39 in the charts.

There was one last hurrah – a summer 1965 number 12 hit with re-recording of the Howard/Blaikley ballad ‘That’s The Way’ from the previous year’s album ‘The Honeycombs’. Here Honey gets the microphone, joining a mixed-down D’ell in a soaring bubblegum duet and she sounds, well – heartbreakingly beautiful. A few more singles stiffed in 1965/66 before the band ground to a halt sometime in 1967. Well, maybe not quite – The Honeycombs have existed in various forms on the clubs and pubs circuit until just about the present day, usually featuring Dennis D’ell as the only original member. Honey Lantree never featured again except for a rumoured 1996 attempt to put the original line-up back together. I read somewhere that her mother had kept Honey’s sixties drum-kit in her basement in Hayes and that she planned to use it again, but somehow it never happened. I just can’t imagine how the heck the kit had survived the beatings she must have given it thirty years before.

So that’s why I love Honey and her Honeycombs. Sometimes everything- the sound, the look, the songs – is so irresistible that you can’t help yourself. You can’t help making them part of a story, part of a dream. And that’s the way you fall in love.

Dr C