SMART SOUNDS by Colin Bell. Reviewing The Honeycombs, The Three Degrees and The Isley Brothers cd’s.

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304 HOLLOWAY ROAD REVISITED The Honeycombs

For those of you of a certain age like myself the album title will be immediately familiar. It is of course the address in North London of the legendary RGM studios home of maverick genius producer Joe Meek. If you haven’t seen ‘Telstar’ the excellent film of his life you really must. The Honeycombs gave Joe his third (and last) No.1 with the thumping ‘Have I The Right’ back in 1964. Founder of the band Martin Murray intended this new album to be released in 2014 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that achievement, the deadline overran due to this and that but is now here. Martin wanted to utilise the technology now available to re-imagine, rework and re-arrange The Honeycombs songs and keep to the spirit of Holloway Road. The majority of the songs were written by the emerging team of Ken Howard and Alan Blakley who were to have major success and endless hits with notably DD.D.B.M & T, The Herd and even Elvis. Indeed ‘Its so hard’ recorded by DDBMT appears on this album. So do these reworkings work? Yes in the main they do and I get Martins desire to put a new take on things. HITR becomes a slower tempo orchestral country tinged affair as opposed to the Dave Clark style stomper it was back in the day. Opening tracks ‘Leslie Anne’ and ‘Mary Jo’ both uptempo numbers sound fresh and ‘retro’ at the same time and there is no doubting the musical ability on display. Totem Pole 9 (theme from Howards Way) yes. you read that right! manages to come away sounding like a homage to the Tornados ‘Telstar’ Deliberate? don’t know but brought a smile to my face. I have to say the track that didn’t work for me was ‘That’s The Way’ The Honeycombs second hit, here given a reggae style makeover, reminding me of Blondie’s ‘Island of Lost Souls’ (I didn’t care for that either!). But overall as aforementioned Martin has made a refreshing, enjoyable and engaging album.

For more information go to http://www.angelair.co.uk

STRATEGY (OUR TRIBUTE TO PHILADELPHIA) The Three Degrees

I have to confess straightaway that back in the 1970’s when the girls were huge with songs like ‘When Will I See You Again’ ‘Year of Decision’ ‘Take Good Care of Yourself’ et al I was to put it nicely… underwhelmed..ive always strived to be honest in 45 years of reviewing. To me those hits were too cabaret, over produced and to my ears dare I say soulless. So having said that I approached this new release with some trepidation. Celebrating 50 years in the business original members Helen Scott and Valerie Hobday along with (relative) newcomer Freddie Pool (she joined in 2011) have released this first new studio album in 25 years. Whether its the injection of Freddie, the superb choice of material, all covers/tributes to the O’Jays, McFadden and Whitehead, Billy Paul, The Trammps, Harold Melvin etc this is a whole different ballgame. This is SOUL, all those negatives I had are swept away. This is Proper with a capital P, the arrangements are stunning, I particularly single out ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ (always a personal favourite song), but there is not one track that doesn’t now ooze with real emotion and a real groove. This is an all new Three Degrees for me. Maybe they now have more freedom to record the way they want to, whatever, the end result is light years on. They may be covering old songs but this album is as relevant as any contemporary soul artist. Listen to the very ‘now’ lyrics in ‘Love Train’. I wasn’t aware until reading the press release that they are in the Guiness World Records as the longest running female vocal group in history. On this showing they’ve earned that status. Superb. And in closing I dedicate this review to SMART member and old friend Andre who worked a lot with the girls back in the day at Kings and probably wholeheartedly disagrees with my opening comments!….

MASTERPIECE/SMOOTH SAILIN (2CD SET) The Isley Brothers

I guess you could see this release as the third coming of the Isleys. The first being the Tamla glory days of Twist and Shout, This Old Heart of Mine, and my favourite Behind A Painted Smile and many more in the 60’s. Then moving into the 70’s with a revamped sound that brought forth hits like That Lady and Summer Breeze. This 2CD set released for the first time and recorded for Warners in 1985 and 1987 features the original three man line up of Ronald, O’Kelly and Rudolph Isley. In relation to the previous 2 decades this is the Isleys in a new direction using other songwriters as opposed to their own material. Covering Phil Collins ‘If Leaving Me Is Easy’ for example and making it a 7 minute exquisite soulful blissed out track. Indeed Masterpiece relies on lush ballads as befitted US R’n’b radio stations at that point in time. Out goes raw and in comes silky and that ubiquitous use of synthesizers and the (for real drummers) the prolific use of sodding drum machines..ahem, anyway despite the fact this has 80’s production stamped all over it you cant drown the sheer quality of vocals of the brothers, lets be clear they could sing the phone book and it would still encapsulate soul. Masterpiece isn’t for dancing (well only upclose and personal!) But to chill to it is right up there. Try ‘Come To Me’ as a prime example. Perfect to relax to and bathe in the warmth of a timeless band. Smooth Sailin, despite its title is a bit more of an upbeat affair Ron Isleys distinctive vocal is more to the fore on tracks like ‘Everything is Alright’ and the funk element is more prominent, as are the synth/drum…Smooth Sailin Tonight and ‘Come My Way’ standout, however I think of the two CD’s in this package Masterpiece just edges it for me. You, quite rightly, will make up your own minds.

For more information go to http://www.cherryred.co.ukcolin-head

Til next time, keep warm, Colin

 

The Honeycombs – Hastings Pier 29th August 1964 by Andre Martin

Andre Martin…Here we are at the end of August 1964, and what an exciting month that has been for us in Hastings – this is Saturday 29th, and we are back at the Happy Ballroom, for the next episode of its musical history. Has the Pier management decided to start the fight back against the new local competition, and start booking bands that are building their own reputations, this week we have The HoneyCombs and the support from Brighton – Shelly – formerly known as The Sabres, who were about to embark on a future playing in Europe, and would become top names in both Denmark and Scandinavia within the next few years. This was to be one of the last appearance from the band in Hastings.
The Top of the Bill, The HoneyCombs – started in November 1963 as an amateur band founded by Martin Murray, Its members were Murray, a hairdresser, his salon assistant Honey Lantree her brother John and two friends, Originally they called themselves the Sheratons. The group played dates in the West End of London, and at the Mildmay Tavern a North London pub. Among those attending an appearance of the band in February 1964 were aspiring songwriters Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley. Howard and Blaikley would become a prolific British songwriting team, writing songs recorded by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, the Herd, Lulu and even Elvis Presley, but in 1964 they had just started their career They got into conversation with the group, which appeared interested in a few songs the duo had just written. The group had already arranged an audition with indie record producer Joe Meek The audition resulted in a recording of Howard and Blaikley’s “Have I the Right?”. Meek himself provided the B-side, “Please Don’t Pretend Again”.
“Have I the Right?” was released in June 1964 on the Pye record label. Louis Benjamin Pye’s later chairman rechristened the group The Honeycombs, a pun on the drummer’s name and her job as a hairdresser’s assistant. The sales started slowly, but by the end of July the record started to climb in the UK Singles Chart. At the end of August the record reached No. 1. “Have I the Right?” was also a big success outside the UK, hitting No. 1 in Australia and Canada, No. 5 in the US ] and No. 2 in the Netherlands. Overall sales of the record reached a million. The Honeycombs also recorded a German version of the song: “Hab ich das Recht?” Both the English and the German versions reached No 21 in the German charts: the English one in October, the German one in November 1964. That would have made the Pier Managements day – with a No 1 Hit record recording group playing in the Happy Ballroom. Elswhere the competiton at the Witch Doctor would have been the regular 7 nights a week, plus Sunday afternoon offering with such artistes this week as Neil Langdon & The Burnetts, Dave Champion & The Strangers, Peters Fables and Danny Mitchell & The Sound Sensations. Top billing that week would have been on the Sunday with Alexis Korner R&B Incorporated featuring Herbie Goins. The Weekend would have started off with the regular TV trip to Kingway London for Ready Steady Go, and on this weeks show —Gerry and the Pacemakers – “It’s Gonna Be Alright.” –Dusty Springfield – “Can I Get A Witness?”–Mark Wynter – “Love Hurts.”–Lulu – “Can’t Hear You.”—Filmed acts appearing “Rag Doll” (Four Seasons record).–a “You Never Can Tell” (Chuck Berry record). So that it for this week everybody – now looking forward to September 1964 and all that will hold for us in Hastings & St Leonards !       Andre Martin

Andy Qunta… ‘Have I The Right’ – Another gem!