Gary James' Interview With Martin Murray and Jim Green
of Martin Murray's
They were the first group to knock The Beatles off the number one chart position. They were the first group to have two number one hits in Japan. They were the first group to ever have a girl drummer in the band. They were the first group presented with the music industry's newspaper's Shooting Star Award. They were the first group to perform in Thailand. They are probably best known for their million selling record "Have I The Right". We are talking about The Honeycombs or, Martin Murray's Honeycombs as they are known these days. We talked with Martin Murray about the group as well as Honeycombs' drummer Jim "Sticks" Green.
Q - Martin, you realize of course that when you go online you see not one, but two Honeycombs bands. There's yours and another is by a gentleman who used to play drums for Patsy Cline. Does this ever lead to confusion? Are there more than two?
Martin Murray - We have found on occasion, very rare, that it has. In England, we've put out situations to theater owners and management. There's one that belongs to a Mr. Tony Harte, who has the name illegally, right? That's number one. He has played with me in a band called The Honeycombs when I formed it some years ago. He felt that it was his duty that gave him the right to use the name. He couldn't do that because our name is legally registered here in the UK with a company's house, okay? They told him he can't do that, but what he did was, he didn't register the name, he just calls himself The Honeycombs II, but the "Two" is so microscopic, right? That it still looks like The Honeycombs when you look at it. The good thing about him; when I say good thing, it stops him from competing out on the road. He's just on a website. So, he doesn't come up in the situation to where it comes down to getting physical work. Number two, another band that I got together was a band called Butterscotch. They had stolen the name from an American band called Butterscotch and claimed that they had this American band's song. I can't remember the title. They had a hit, this American band, with a particular song and they claimed it was them, the English band. Because I played with them, they also took it upon themselves, but they called themselves The New Honeycombs. Now, the only way they got away with it is they registered it here with Trademark House. Officially, they do not own the name. Me and Jim own the name, me and Mr. Jim Green. We legally own the name The Honeycombs and are the ones by law that are actually entitled to use it.
Q - So you and Jim are partners?
Martin Murray - That's right Jim and I are 50/50 partners.
Q - Martin, you are the only member of The Honeycombs who was with the band from day one?
Martin Murray - Correct. I am the original leader / founder member of the original band from '64. We actually started the band in '62, but they weren't known as The Honeycombs then. We were getting the band together and it was known as The Sheratons.
Q - Like the hotel?
Martin Murray - Yeah.
Q - Why would this Tony Harte guy put a website up on The Honeycombs II if he isn't part of a working band?
Martin Murray - There's quite a simple explanation. Obviously when you have a worldwide name like The Honeycombs, if you're confusing the issue with agents, brokers, theaters, etc. and you are saying you are The Honeycombs or you come from a split band of The Honeycombs pretending you are all original members; you gotta remember that this man was never an original member, he was hired by us, okay, on a hire fee. What he's doing is, he took the liberty of trying to muscle in because he can't sell the name to any theater in England that's a Tony Harte band. No one knows that name. There's no name that has a track record, but The Honeycombs has an amazing track record. So, if you steal the name and decide to use it, you're going to get people's ear to prick up and say, "Oh, we've got The Honeycombs!", even though they haven't. It's a play on the band to bounce off someone else's success.
Q - So today, you are known as Martin Murray's Honeycombs.
Martin Murray - That's right.
Q - You were actually a hairstylist at one point, weren't you?
Martin Murray - Correct. I was playing music since I was eight years old. It goes back a long way in my family, theater and music, probably the 1700s, right? But in those days it was violins and cellos. For me, being a young musician, my parents knew how deeply I was involved in music. I was semi-pro in music from about the age of 15. I was going out literally every evening playing in pubs, clubs, weddings and bar mitzvahs. Things like that. I was earning a living that way, but my dad said to me, "Don't you think it'd be a wise thing to have some kind of solid career behind you?" At that time I was interested in hairdressing. So I went to hairdressing college as a backup situation. That was my profession. That actually became my profession and the music was a sideline.
Q - Were you styling both men's and women's hair?
Martin Murray - I started out as a barber. So I was shaving in those days with cutthroat razors and cutting hair as well. Didn't like it very much because of the '60s were beginning to happen. Big bouffant hairstyles were coming in and I was very interested in doing that, so I went back to my parents and said, "I'm not happy as a gent's hairdresser." My mom just casually said, "Why don't you become a female hairdresser? Do ladies hair." I said, "Great! I'd love to give that a try!" So we made applications to various colleges and universities and I passed out six months later with my degree as a fully fledged ladies hairdresser.
Q - From your perspective as a hairdresser, did you start to see long hair come in for men? Did you see guys on the street with the Beatles' hairstyle?
Martin Murray - That was a little bit later on for me. The Beatles cut did kick start a terrific trend. That was with Vidal Sassoon by the way. We were all into the Vidal Sassoon haircuts, the asymmetric styles that women were having, Mary Quants, the Bee Hives, the Cottage Loaves, etc., etc. We were doing those kinds of things. So yeah, it was the new high-fashion. I'd already quit ladies hairdressing by then. I was a fully fledged musician when The Beatles came along with The Beatles hairstyles. I was able to perform them on different bands with me that I wanted that style. I would do them for them. But no, it was actually after I left ladies hairdressing.
Q - Were you doing the Beatles' hairstyle on any famous bands?
Martin Murray - They were local musicians that were working with me at the time and just would like to have the very famous Beatles haircut. I must say at the end of the day, I cut so many that the majority of people that wanted Beatles haircuts, it didn't suit. You had to have a type of face for that Beatle style to really fit.
Q - What kind of face would you have to have had?
Martin Murray - You more or less got to have that John Lennon round look. You know, that plumping sort of look for it to look (right) and it's got to be properly feathered in the back, what you would call layering. It's got to be properly layered. You gotta look at the person's face and really tell them, "Hold on just a minute. You want The Beatles haircut, but this is not going to suit you. I suggest something else." And you would show them something else.
Q - When you saw The Beatles hairstyle, did you realize it was something that was going to catch on?
Martin Murray - Absolutely! Yeah. Sure. You gotta remember, it wasn't just their haircuts either. These Beatle suits that they had kind of set off the hairstyles. The whole thing went together. The whole image. What do you think Jim on that one?
Jim Green - Yeah, at the time it did. Everybody wanted a Beatles haircut
Q - Jim are you old enough to remember The Beatles?
Jim Green - Yeah. My uncle was actually in the Dave Clark Five. Dave Clark was quite big in the States.
Q - What was his name?
Jim Green - Lenny Davidson. He used to play guitar on our back door step where I lived. So, I grew up with that kind of music. The hairstyles at the time were the Mary Quants and after the Teddy Boy look you had to be whose type (was) the Mary Quant short cut hairs.
Q - Where The Beach Boys would dress in the same style of shirt and pants, they didn't wear matching suits. I'm hard-pressed to understand why a group like that didn't pick up on the Beatles suits. Aren't you?
Martin Murray - They actually wore beach type shirts, didn't they?
Q - They did.
Martin Murray - Short-sleeved. Striped. White pants. They were one of England's favorite groups and still are today. An amazing bunch of musicians. Very clever.
Q - No musicians in the States seem to have picked up on the idea of wearing long hair.
Martin Murray - That's right.
Q - When The Beatles stepped off the plane in New York City on February 7, 1964 with their long hair, it was if they came from another planet.
Martin Murray - Yeah. (Laughs). We did have some problems here. If a fella might be sitting on a park bench and rather gorgeous from the back, you might go and tap him on the shoulder. It didn't happen to me. It happened to people I knew thinking they are going to have a gorgeous girl turn around and this guy would turn around, a potted cigarette hanging out of his mouth and a big beard and a mustache. And they thought they were picking up some beautiful blonde. (Laughs). They used to call them beatniks, if your hair was passed your ears.
Q - Rolling Stone Encyclopedia Of Rock states The Honeycombs were part of the British Invasion. Did you in fact tour America in 1964?
Martin Murray - No, we didn't get to go there. This is an interesting story. When America, and I'll use those words as politely as I can because you are an American and it wasn't your fault: the Musicians Union put a ban on all British musicians going to America because they were caught with their pants down when this particular music happened. They put a ban on all British music acts going to America. We got caught right in the middle of that ban. What happened here is the British Musicians Union said, "Right. Stalemate. If you do not allow any of our bands to play in your country, we shall stop the influx of your bands and solo artists to this country as well," which took place. Now, the battle went on for quite a while, probably a year or so. All of a sudden the American Musicians Union backed down because they were losing huge income from the UK by us banning as well, the American musicians coming in. So, all of a sudden there was a truce. By the time they pulled all that together and they started to invite the bands over, The Honeycombs were more or less on the split. So what was happening was, by the time this British Invasion actually happened, The Honeycombs were already booked for other countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway, France, Belgium, Holland and couldn't get out of their contracts to go to the States.
Jim Green - We would've loved to have been there.
Martin Murray - We wanted to do everything we could do because obviously we were very big in the States, not just with "Have I The Right". We had a couple of other hits that hit into the Top 40 or 50, at least another two. I think "Crazy, But I Can't Stop" was one, and there was another one which I can't remember.
Q - Were you aware in the early '60s that something was going to happen in a big way with the music that was being created in England?
Martin Murray - Yes. The excitement was intense. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience, especially for The Honeycombs because, and I say that not selfishly, purposely, but we were very lucky, probably among the first if not the first band with actually having our music written for us by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, who were also our managers as well. They were such prolific songwriters and they were unknown at the time. They were the ones who were presenting us when we were playing in the pub with "Have I The Right" and a couple of others. Such prolific songwriters unknown at the time as I said. But after "Have I The Right" of course everyone wanted them, even TV and cinema and films. But we were very, very lucky. In fact, if you go to the first album, we only have one or two because Joe killed himself as you know, therefore the lack of albums out there had little to do with The Honeycombs. What actually happened was, in that situation we were able to perform out there like the other bands did, but we did have the advantage of having the songs written for us. Now that album, the first one, here I think it was just called "The Honeycombs", most people if you go to Google and I agree with this, that particular album has probably more number ones on it and any other album ever written. That's the way that album was built. They are not fillers. The bulk of the songs are there, capable of being released as singles.
Q - So, why weren't they?
Martin Murray - Well, some were and some weren't. Now this lies down to the independent situation. Now, Joe was the first independent record producer of Rock 'n Roll. There was one before him that he worked with, Dennis Preston. It was traditional Jazz he was licensed in leasing. With Joe, he came away from that and did middle of the road Rock 'n Roll. He had Tom Jones before anyone. He had Rod Stewart before anyone. Anyone who's anyone owes their history to Joe Meek. What we had in Joe was a genius, a sheer genius of a guy that recognized the talent of the songs. Why more of that didn't happen was because Pye Records, coming back to the independent thing, would tell Joe what he was going to put out, where us, the band and Joe disagreed. We told them, "No. We want to put out this one." Well, unfortunately, in the leasing contract, Pye Records had the last say as to what was supposed to be released from any music that we did with Joe.
Q - When you were touring, was it in a support position or as a headliner?
Martin Murray - We were always headlining. From the minute we had the number one. I wasn't with them all this time. From '63 right through '68. When it was reformed with Honey, it went out as a headliner in the '90s. So, it always headlined from then on. It was never second on the bill. We were always the top band, the headline band.
Q - Was the money good for a band in those days?
Martin Murray - It wasn't good, it was fantastic! My band was a registered company within three months of launching. It earned in three months, 3,000,000 pounds with records and venues. In those days, 3,000,000 pounds is equal to 40,000,000 pounds today. 3,000,000 pounds in the '60s would equate to about $50 million today
Q - What was it worth back then?
Martin Murray - That's what it was worth back then. That would buy you your Rolls-Royces, your houses, your swimming pools. It won't today. That was in the first three months. By the time the band ended, totaling would be in the region of triple that. So, you are talking about 9,000,000 pounds. Then of course the tax took a huge amount. This is why you guys in America won a lot of British stars, because we had super tax here. It was so high that you managed to get from us, Lulu, Tom Jones, The Bee Gees, because the taxes they paid out there were so much, much less.
Q - Martin, is that you singing lead on "Have I The Right"?
Martin Murray - No. That's Denny D'Ell. If you listen to the record you hear the rest of the band making a breath noise on the microphones.
Q - What happened to Denny?
Jim Green - He passed away a couple of years back (July 6, 2005).
Q - Can you mimic the way he sang that song?
Martin Murray - Yeah. We have a new lead vocalist of the band. His name is Zak Skjerdal. He's a very, very good vocalist and front man. By the way, there's a couple of things that you might not know: We were the first band ever to knock The Beatles off number one, and we are and were Princess Margaret's favorite band, hence we were commanded to do what was called the Royal Command Performance.
Q - What Beatles' song did you knock off the number one slot?
Martin Murray - I think it was "A Hard Days Night". That took place about July, August time of '64. Because of the demand of the public for "Have I The Right" to buy in the shops, every press in England, every record press, EMI, Decca, Phillips as they were then, was hired by Pye Records to press "Have I The Right" to meet the demand for the record. So therefore, no other records were getting pressed but ours, therefore we had to jump over The Beatles because theirs had stopped being pressed.
Q - Did you cross paths with The Beatles and / or The Stones?
Martin Murray - Many times, yeah. (Laughs). We'd suddenly find that we'd turn up at a TV studio and we were doing the same show or a radio show. We never did theater together although we went to a couple of parties The Stones were throwing. The Beatles we never actually worked with at all other than to see them at Studios, TV studios, radio stations. They were coming out as we were coming in. We were wavin' "Hi Guys. How'd it go? Great! Terrific." That kind of thing, but never actually worked with them. The Stones we did.
Q - Would you ever run into those guys at clubs?
Martin Murray - We never did much clubbing because we didn't have much time. We were flown in and out of places, shoved into Rolls-Royce motor cars at the airports. We didn't have time to talk to anyone. It was make hay while the sun shines. There was many times when we were shoved into a TV studio or a theater and the makeup girls would be banging the makeup on us as we were walking onto the set. We've got beards. We've just come directly out of the minibus and through the back doors of the studios and the girls are running out making us up as we are walking in. We are half asleep. All of a sudden you are in front of the cameras and you're in Hawaii!
Q - The life of a Rock star in the 1960s!
Martin Murray - Absolutely. You've got it.
Q - Back to The Stones for a minute: these parties you'd attend would be held where? At one of their homes?
Martin Murray - Yeah. Nine times out of ten they were usually held at a theater rather than a house, Later on they were at houses. We didn't make them (the parties) because we were away by that time. But nine times out of ten it was usually at the back of The Royal Albert Hall, in the dressing rooms.
Q - Did you talk to Brian Jones?
Martin Murray - Yes, we did. We got to speak to everybody. We were more or less the straight band. We were like The Hollies and The Searchers. They said to us, "What do you take? Why are you so lively? What are you hooked on?" I'd say, "Life, man, life." (Laughs). They wanted to hook us on their way of life and fortunately for us, we weren't interested. We just wanted to create our music, please our audience, earn our money and keep our heads I suppose and be sensible, proud musicians.
Q - Jim, what were you doing at this point in your life?
Jim Green - I was playing in bands from sort of 15. I started playing when I was about 12 years old. I was always around that kind of music. I was playing all over the place, all the usual venues. Then I was touring Germany. So, I never got to meet Joe Meek at all. But I was around about the same time. I was probably 16, 17, at that time.
Q - Were you playing these Hamburg nightclubs The Beatles played?
Jim Green - No. They were more Air Force bases. German Air Force bases. I did play places like Paradisio in Holland. I never did The Star Club in Hamburg or anything like that.
Q - Martin, I always thought Karen Carpenter was the first female drummer.
Martin Murray - No way.
Q - But you are saying The Honeycombs had the first female drummer.
Martin Murray - It goes back further than that. It's a very strange story. The guy that was playing drums for me, I didn't know at the time, I found this out perhaps a couple of years later; there was a girl around about the '30s or '40s, maybe going into the '50s, there was an all female orchestra. Obviously in that orchestra was a female drummer. The guy that played drums for me, and I never knew this at the time, when he left the band and Honey came into my music room at the time because we were an unofficially engaged couple at that time. It all had to be kept secret. In those days you frightened the girls away. Management said no girlfriends. No engagements. No nothing. That's another story. She saw the drums and she was learning guitar with me. She said, "The drummer has left the drums." He was leaving to get married. I said, "Yeah, he has." "Can I have a go at them?" I said, "Yeah, of course," wondering what she was going to do. She jumped on the drums and played like a true pro. She's just a natural, gifted drummer. Never had a lesson in her life. It came to light a little after that, that the guy who was playing drums for me, his mother was the drummer in the Ivy Benson Orchestra and his mother had taught him the drums. Honey was the first female drummer in the Pop world to make number one on record in the charts, ever. Whether there were other girl drummers around and about is unknown, there probably was but they were unknown. She was a known drummer. Karen Carpenter made reference to her by telling her mom when she protested against having females on drums, and we were about #4 or #5 in America, she made reference to Honey. "What about The Honeycombs?" Her mother said, "What about The Honeycombs?" She said," Well, they've got a girl drummer." And she went, "No!" "They have, and I'm going to play the drums." It was through Honey that Karen Carpenter took up the drums.
Q - Did you leave the band in November 1964 or were you asked to leave?
Martin Murray - That was a very awkward situation. This band was my band. I had handpicked everyone, brought them onboard and got the whole thing together. I called myself the Glenn Miller of the '60s because I did develop a sound. Through the equipment we had, which was all Burns equipment, British equipment, I managed to develop a sound which when I took to Joe Meek and obviously a girl drummer as well, he fell in love with us and more or less signed us on the spot. He enhanced the sound we had and made it even bigger and better. I think fame had gone to two member's heads, Danny D'Ell and John Lantree, Henry's brother, who I taught bass by the way. I think fame went to their heads. I was finding the situation now where we had to be let's say at a TV studio at nine or ten o'clock in the morning. So we obviously had to have an early breakfast at the hotel wherever we were, leave the hotel, be on the road for an hour or two and get to our marking spots for the TV lineup. What was happening was, they wouldn't get out of their beds. This is John and Denny. I used to knock on their door and say, "C'mon guys. You've got to have breakfast. We've got a get on the road to be at the TV studio and on our marks for the lineup of the cameras." They were very rude to me. They swore at me and told me to F-off and all those kind of nasty expletives, until I burst in on them. I would pull their, in those days blankets not quilts, and pulled them off of them. I'd say, "C'mon guys! I'm getting letters from the producer of three programs saying that if we don't turn up on time, they'll never use us on their shows again." So, they're still swearing at me and of course turning up late at the studio. I brought this forward to the management of the day and said, "Look, this can't go on. We're going to lose our careers. What we worked so hard for an fought so hard for is going to be taken away from us." I had the letters which I gave them (the management) and can lay my hands on them today if I need to. So, it was a very sad situation because I had to use a threat. In the end, I said to the band, "Look guys, if you do not pull yourselves up, then I'm going to have to quit." The management came up with an idea and said, "Martin, what about if we took you away as leader of the band." By this time we all had motorcars and we were able to get to the places ourselves rather than in a mini bus. I said, "I'd have no problem with that. I'll do anything to save the band." So I backed down from being the leader and now everyone was going to be responsible for getting to the venues on time themselves. They agreed, but it didn't happen. It was still only me and Honey turning up on time at the venues. That included theater, radio, TV and all the different venues one could think of. So I went back to management and said, "It's not working." I knew it wasn't. I said, "It's not working and I'm going to give them two weeks to pull their socks up. Other than that, I'm gone." I'd spoken to Joe Meek who now wanted to sign me for a solo career. I had that in my pocket.
Q - In addition to these radio and TV appearances, were you also performing at night?
Martin Murray - Yes.
Q - So the schedule was getting to the other band members. They were exhausted!
Martin Murray - Yes. That's true. They were. That's a very good point. We were all tired, but that's our profession. You have to do that. If a radio show says to you, "You are in our area on 13 August and I suppose you'll be going on stage at 8 o'clock in the evening, could you come in at 10 o'clock in the morning to BBC Radio in Yorkshire and talk to us?" "Yes, of course!" Because, as I said earlier, you have to make hay while the sun shines. You have to be business minded about it. If you start turning people down, top producers of radio shows, they are not going to want to have you on. They are going to ignore you. All the other bands were doing the same as we were doing, but they weren't turning up late for their spots. It was only my band.
Q - Maybe the guys had some groupies in bed with them.
Martin Murray - It did happen from time to time, but in general, no. It was they didn't want to get up early to be on the road to get to the radio program. Yes, there were sometimes girls around, not often I hasten to add, but sometimes there was. But that wasn't much to do with it either. They knew they had a job to do. They had their schedule in front of them. They knew the time was there for them to be up, to be at breakfast. Everything was in black and white for them to follow.