Spectropop remembers

DENNIS D'ELL (1943 - 2005)

Dennis D'Ell, lead singer of the Honeycombs, has died of cancer. He was 61. The group is best known for "Have I The Right?", which went to # 1 in 1964. It was recorded by the maverick producer Joe Meek and was the first hit song to be written by the team of Howard and Blaikley.

D'Ell was born Dennis James Dalziel, the son of a lorry driver, in Stepney, east London, in 1943 and trained as a signalman for British Railways. After winning a talent contest, he joined a local band, the Sheritons, which featured Martin Murray and Alan Ward on guitars, John Lantree on bass, and his sister, Anne Lantree, on drums. As Anne's nickname was "Honey" and she and Murray were hairdressers (that is, combers), they became the Honeycombs.

By new year 1964, the group was regularly playing at the Mildmay tavern, in Stoke Newington, north London, where they were spotted by the songwriting team of Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley. The pair recorded some demonstration records of their songs, including "Have I The Right?", with the Honeycombs. Joe Meek offered to record them, but went into a tantrum when they arrived late to meet him due to London traffic. The songwriters won him round and "Have I The Right?" was recorded in three parts - the backing musicians, the vocals and then the stomping on the stairs. While they were jumping up and down, Meek's landlady called and told them to hurry up. Leased to Pye Records, the record was soon dropped from the BBC Light Programme but was played relentlessly through the summer on the pirate Radio Caroline, with the result that it became a million-seller, topping the charts in Britain, Japan, Australia and South Africa, and reaching # 4 in the United States.

The Honeycombs had further success with "Is It Because?" and made the album "It's The Honeycombs", but D'Ell was uncomfortable with Meek's speeded-up trickery and criticised him in an interview with New Musical Express. Meek then recorded the Ray Davies song "Something Better Beginning" at standard speed, admittedly with some distortion, but the record only nudged into the Top 40. When the producer resorted to his regular activities, the Honeycombs had another Top 20 hit, with "That's The Way", and made the album "All Systems Go!". Success overseas, notably in Sweden, delayed the group's demise, but they floundered after Meek's suicide in 1967 and split up.

On leaving the Honeycombs, D'Ell joined a Tottenham and Stevenage house band, and released a few solo singles. His "Better Use Your Head" of 1967 became a favourite on the Northern Soul circuit in the '70s. In the mid-1980s, he formed the Southside Blues Band before reforming the Honeycombs for a 30th anniversary concert in 1994 and some later events. During his final years, he was half of a duo, the Shuffle Brothers.

(Sources: Spencer Leigh, the Independent; Alan Clayson, the Guardian)

Dennis James Dalziel (Dennis D'Ell), singer: born October 10th, 1943 - died July 6th, 2005.