Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Sweet Sound That Created A Real Buzz

Let’s dip our collective toes into early 90s waters today, where the after tide of the 80s still lingered. One of my favourite tracks from 1991 was ‘Monsters And Angels’ by the trans-Atlantic group Voice Of The Beehive. It was a beautifully crafted pop song with lyrics that were meaningful without having the pretence of being so.

The group Voice Of The Beehive had in fact been around since the mid 80s. At the heart of the group were California born sisters Tracey Bryn and Melissa Brooke Belland, daughters of former Four Preps member Bruce Belland. Tracey moved to London in the early 80s and soon her passion for music led her to her first band called The Love Bombs. The Love Bombs, though short lived, gave Tracey the chance to develop her playing and song writing. Younger sister Melissa travelled over, initially for a holiday, but before long the sisters were looking to put their first band together.

They started mixing with a lot of the London based indie acts of the mid 80s. They also decided on the name Voice Of The Beehive for their own proposed band. They arrived at the name simply by going through a series of different options before finally hitting on one that sounded right - Voice Of The Beehive. They recruited guitarist Mike Jones, and for a period played as a trio with guest bass player/drummers. Ex-Madness drummer Dan Woodgate and bassist Mark Bedford started playing as guests, including on Voice Of The Beehive’s first single ‘Just A City’ in early ‘87.

Woodgate stayed on as a long term member of the band and a new bassist Martin Brett joined soon after, giving the band a stable five piece line-up. Given the positive buzz over their first single, Voice Of The Beehive was soon signed to a major label London Records (Polygram). The next few months saw the band touring and recording at a steady pace, leading to their major label debut single ‘I Say Nothing’ in October ‘87. Controversy over a couple of the lyrics threatened to stymie the band’s progress (the prudish BBC naturally were at the bottom of it), but the song still managed to reach UK#45 on its initial run at the charts (OZ#73).

February ‘88 saw their second single ‘I Walk The Earth’ launched from the beehive and again just missed the top 40 (#42), but all the while the group’s profile was on the up and up, thanks also to sisters Tracey and Melissa making regular promotional appearances on TV. Voice Of The Beehive would crack the top 20 with their next single ‘Don’t Call Me Baby’ (the song taking its title from a line said by Ann-Margret to Elvis Presley in the film ‘Viva Las Vegas’). The song reached #15 in the U.K. and #51 in Australia, aided by a cleverly produced music video that got strong airplay.

Voice Of The Beehives’ debut album ‘Let It Bee’ (pun strongly intended) was released shortly after and on the back of ‘Don’t Call Me Baby’s success, and the re-release of ‘I Say Nothing’ (UK#22), the album peaked at #13 on the British charts mid year (OZ#54). Voice Of The Beehive were now the headline act at tour venues, now being supported by the likes of Big Bam Boo (see waaaay earlier post). Meanwhile, the U.S. were starting to take notice, ‘I Say Nothing’ becoming a favourite on college radio and reaching #11 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Track charts, and early ‘89 saw Voice Of The Beehive undertake their first U.S. tour, doubling with That Petrol Emotion.

The band took the rest of 1989 off, but late in the year recorded a version of ‘I Think I Love You’, originally intended for a various artists compilation, but for a while at least the track remained under wraps. Voice Of The Beehive laid down some tracks in late 1990, that after much reworking and remixing, would form the basis for the band’s second album. Keeping with the whole bee motif, ‘Honey Lingers’ was the title decided upon, and in late summer ‘91 the album was released. ‘Monsters And Angels’ was the lead out track, and though it was a slow burner, the song eventually reached #17 in Britain (OZ#94) and became the group’s first mainstream U.S. chart hit (#74). Personally, I think it deserved to chart much higher and it remains to this day one of my favourite songs of that era. Meanwhile ‘Honey Lingers’ crept up the charts steadily to peak at #17 in Britain and #69 in Australia.

Then ‘I Think I Love You’ was finally unleashed upon the world. Radically reworked from the original Don Was (see earlier post) produced version that had been shelved, the song performed strongly in Britain reaching #25 in late 1991, only seven places lower than the original Partridge Family version from 20 years earlier. Surprisingly the record label didn’t release ‘I Think I Love You’ in the U.S., instead placing it on the B-side of the Beehives’ next single ‘Perfect Place’ (UK#37). ‘I Think I Love You’ finally took off in Australia though in mid 1992, peaking at #10, and on the back of that ‘Perfect Place‘ reached a respectable #41.

The rest of 1992 was a period of personal and professional disappointment for Voice Of The Beehive. Drummer Danny Woodgate started splitting time between the Beehive and his old band Madness, upon their reuniting, eventually opting to rejoin Madness. A series of half finished projects and twists of fate conspired to rob Voice Of The Beehive of much momentum built up in the preceding years. Work began on their third album, but by 1994 their contract with London Records was in tatters and both guitarist Mike Jones and bassist Martin Brett had called it a day. The Beehive sisters continued on their own, signing to a new label and by late 1994 album #3 ‘Sex And Misery’ was in the can.

The first single ‘Angel Come Down’ sank with barely a trace, a far departure in sound from the group’s previous singles, it simply failed to find an audience. On that basis, the album’s release date was pushed back indefinitely by the record label. Finally in early 1996 the album was released in conjunction with the single ‘Scary Kisses’ but by this time record label support had been reduced to almost nothing, and Voice Of The Beehive’s run on the British charts was officially ended. Despite a modest chart effort in the U.S. with ‘Scary Kisses’ (#77) Voice Of The Beehive were unceremoniously dumped by both U.K. and U.S. recording labels, bringing to a sad end the band’s tenure.

Post Voice Of The Beehive, Tracey Bryn has gone on to write and illustrate children’s books, Melissa Brooke Belland has turned to artistic sculpture work, bassist Martin Brett formed a new band called Dollshouse, Mike Jones continued to play and also produce for other bands, and Woodgate continued on with Madness. The line-up reunited once in December 2003 for a live show.

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