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The Honeybus Story

pre-1967 1967 1968-70 1971-73 All Music Guide

Pete Dello (real name Peter Blumson) and Ray Cane (Raymond Byart) had been working together in various London groups since the early 60's. Dello was lead guitarist with Red Tallis & The Tallismen and Cane handled bass duties with The Outlaws.
They joined up in Grant Tracy & The Sunsets and the pair wrote a number of the band's single sides for Ember and Decca. The singles weren't successful and, after turning down places in Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers, Dello and Cane took a break from gigging to concentrate on writing, producing and arranging.
During this period they wrote a clutch of single sides for The Applejacks (including the beat classic "Baby Jane") as well as arranging material for Lionel Bart and playing on sessions for The Roulettes and Unit 4+2 among others.
They found themselves back on stage in 1965, backing soul singer Steve Darbishire as The Yum Yum band. The line-up was completed by Terry Noon, who had spent time with Them and Gene Vincent's touring band, on drums. The group cut five singles for Decca between 1965 and 1967, mostly written by Dello and Cane, and became a popular live draw on the London club circuit.
Dello succumbed to a collapsed lung on the eve of a major tour and after several months' recuperation, decided to quit the band to put together a new project to showcase his and Cane's new material.

Christened Honeybus by Cane, the pair installed Terry Noon as their manager and entered Regent Sound studio to cut their debut single in spring 1967. The recording was made using Russ Ballard and Bob Henrit of The Roulettes and two tracks were laid down. Licenced to Decca, "Delighted To See You" b/w "The Breaking Up Scene", both written by Dello, appeared on the label's Deram subsidiary in June.
The top side is a lively pop jaunt featuring a kazoo solo while the flip shows a more dynamic sound, influenced by the new psychedelic scene. Despite it's commercial potential, the single flopped, it's failure possibly aided by the slightly risque lyrics of "Delighted". Around the same time, the song was also recorded, though not released, by Birmingham band The N'Betweens who later found fame as Slade.
The group finalised their line-up with the addition of another Londoner, session man and former Honeycombs member Colin Hare (Colin Nichols) on guitar and Folkestone-born Pete Kircher, also an in-demand session player and previously with The Loving Kind (who also featured future Jimi Hendrix Experience bassist Noel Redding and issued a string of singles on Piccadilly) on drums.
This is the line-up which cut the next two Honeybus singles and two of the finest recordings of the 60's. "Do I Figure In Your Life" b/w "Throw My Love Away" was released in October. Dello wrote the top side (although reverted to his real name Peter Blumson for the credit), a lush, introspective ballad scored for woodwind and string quartet. Cane's "Throw" shows a strong R & B/jazz influence.
"Do I" is irresistable and should have been a huge hit but inexplicably missed the charts despite heavy airplay and good reviews. It has since become something of a standard, being recorded by Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart and Dave Edmunds among others, as well as later being revived by it's author.

In March 1968, "I Can't Let Maggie Go" b/w "Tender Are The Ashes" became the third Honeybus single and the one which would ensure their place in the history books. "Maggie" captures the Honeybus ethos perfectly with it's baroque arrangement and fragile harmonies. Dello wrote both sides with "Tender" continuing the series of harder flip sides.
The single hit number 8 in the UK and became a huge hit in dozens of territories but the resulting merry-go-round of gigs, press and TV conflicted with Dello's vision. He saw Honeybus as essentially a studio project and had had enough of life on the road during the early 60's. With a record in the top ten, the record company screaming for a follow-up and album and widespread adulation, Pete Dello quit his own group.
Such a blow would have signalled the end for most bands but the remaining members of Honeybus were more resourceful than that. First, they recruited Jim Kelly on vocals and guitar, then set about recording a follow-up to "Maggie". Before Dello's departure, both "I'm A Gambler" and live favourite "Francoise" had been mooted, but his compositions were now unavailable.
It was six months until Cane's "Girl Of Independent Means" b/w the group composition "How Long" featuring Kircher on lead vocals was released. A great upbeat single featuring brass and an insistent hook, "Girl" nevertheless failed to sustain the group's success. The song was probably too far removed from it's predecessor and was released too late to register.
Next, Cane came up with "She Sold Blackpool Rock" which appeared in May 1969 with Colin Hare's first recorded composition "Would You Believe" on the flip. "Blackpool" is a charming, string-laden piece which possibly tries too hard to emulate "Maggie". The single flopped in the UK but sold well in Europe, prompting the recording of an Italian language version.
The band had virtually called it a day by summer 1969 but at Terry Noon's insistence the sessions continued and soon they'd completed an album's worth of new material. Pete Kircher left the group during the sessions to join Englebert Humperdinck's touring band and was replaced by Lloyd Courteney and old friend Bob Henrit, now with Argent.
The album was eventually released without promotion in February 1970, by which time Honeybus was no more. Rather confusingly titled Story it remains a classic of the era, twelve shining gems written mostly by Cane with a couple from Hare. Blending Beatlesque pop ("She's Out There"), folk ("He Was Columbus"), country ("Ceilings No 1" and "Ceilings No 2", the same song played at different tempos), baroque pop ("She Said Yes") and gentle psychedelia ("Under The Silent Tree"). The title track was lifted as a single coupled with the non-album "The Right To Chose" but went nowhere, the same fate that greeted the album.

Following the break-up of Honeybus, Jim Kelly released a handful of unsuccessful singles on Deram including "Mary Mary" which was written, arranged and produced by Ray Cane.
Colin Hare blossomed as a songwriter, recording a fantastic solo album March Hare and three singles for Penny Farthing in 1971. Pete Dello, Pete Kircher and Jim Kelly all guest on the album alongside guitar ace Billy Bremner. The Dylan influence is evident as is a strong country-rock edge and plenty of pristine Honeybus-style pop.
Around the same time Pete Dello was coerced into putting together a solo album by Terry Noon. Dello had laid low since leaving Honeybus in 1968 though he had released "I'm A Gambler" as Lace and "Taking The Heart Out Of Love" as Magic Valley in 1969. Dello was using the same musicians as Hare and the sessions bled together, resulting in dozens of songs being recorded.
The Nepantha label issued Into Your Ears credited to Pete Dello & Friends in 1971. The album contained re-makes of "Do I Figure In Your Life" and "I'm A Gambler" among it's selection of heartfelt ballads, quaint fairytales and humorous sing-a-longs, all arranged by Ray Cane. It received rave reviews but Dello's fear of the pop treadmill prevented it from reaching it's deserved audience.
These two albums were Honeybus records in all but name, though a single coupling Dello's "She Is the Female To My Soul" and a re-make of the March Hare track "For Where Have You Been" was issued under the Honeybus name on Bell in 1971.
The band signed to WEA who were set to release a new Honeybus album but the deal fell through and just Dello's "For You" b/w "Little Lovely One" appeared as a single in 1973. It wasn't until 1993 that almost twenty tracks from these sessions were released as Old Masters, Hidden Treasures on the Pop Almanac label.
"I'm A Gambler" was re-issued in 1973, this time as Red Herring, and two Into Your Ears cuts, "Arise Sir Henry" and "Uptight Basil", were released by a young American singer called Leah and produced by Dello.
In 1976, "I Can't Let Maggie Go" was used in a UK TV commercial for Nimble bread, prompting a re-release of the song on Decca. The flip side featured one of the ill-fated 1973 recordings, Dello's gorgeous "Julie In My Heart". Incidentally, the version used in the advert was not the 1968 version but a re-recording specially made by Dello.
Another release of "I'm A Gambler" appeared on Arista soon after, this time as Magenta. This flurry of activity effectively marked the swan song of Honeybus and it's individual members.

See For Miles' 1989 compilation Honeybus At Their Best, which includes the entire Story album and most of the 60's single cuts, sparked a fresh wave of interest in the group which led to an expanded CD version (including all the 60's cuts) and CD re-issues of the Colin Hare and Pete Dello albums complete with non-album bonus tracks. In 1999, Repertoire Records issued a CD called The Honeybus Story which contains all of the 60's/70's Honeybus single sides, most of the Story album and two interesting Italian language cuts from the early 70's recordings.
In July 2002, Sequel Records issued the almost definitive She Flies Like A Bird: The Honeybus Anthology double CD set which contains all of the band's Deram recordings as well as a selection of previously unreleased BBC sessions, the early 70's singles, a clutch of tracks from the aborted Recital album and the remaining demos from the Old Masters, Hidden Treasures CD.


The story of the Honeybus is almost a cautionary tale. Considering that most of us have never heard of them, it's amazing to consider that they came very close, in the eyes of the critics, to being Decca Records' answer to the Rubber Soul-era Beatles. The harmonies were there, along with some catchy, hook-laden songs and usually tastefully overdubbed brass and violins. The pop sensibilies of the Honeybus's main resident composers, Pete Dello and Ray Cane, were astonishingly close in quality and content to those of Paul McCartney and the softer sides of John Lennon of that same era. What's more, the critics loved their records. Yet, somehow, the Honeybus never got it right; they never had the right single out at the proper time, and only once in their history did they connect with the public for a major hit, in early 1968. Their best known lineup consisted of Pete Dello (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Ray Cane (vocals, bass, keyboards), Colin Hare (rhythm guitar, vocals), Pete Kircher (drums, vocals), with Dello and Cane writing most of their songs. Dello and Cane, songwriting partners and ex-members of various minor early-'60s rock bands, were the prime movers behind the Honeybus. In 1966, they formed the Yum Yum Band with ex-Them drummer Terry Noon, which became popular in the London clubs and released five singles on the English Decca label. A collapsed lung put Dello out of action in early 1966, and it was during his recuperation that he began rethinking what the band and his music were about. He developed the notion of a new band that would become a canvas for him to work on as a songwriter they would avoid the clubs, working almost exclusively in the studio, recreating the sounds that he was hearing in his head. Those sounds mostly featured lush melodies and lyrics that suddenly blossomed with the upbeat radiance of flower-power and the Summer of Love. Out of this came the Honeybus, with Noon stepping aside to manage the group and being replaced by Mike Kircher. The group was one of the best studio bands of their period, reveling in the perfection that could be achieved through multi-tracking and overdubbing, and an approach that also mimicked the Beatles' breadth, playing with either admirable taste or reckless abandon, depending on the song. Their debut single, "Delighted to See You," which was cut with the help of Roulettes Bob Henrit and Russ Ballard, sounded more like the Beatles than anything heard in British pop-rock since the Searchers had faded from view in early 1966. The B-side, "The Breaking Up Scene," could have been the work of the Jimi Hendrix Experience or the Creation. The critics were quick to praise the band and the record, but it never charted. Their second single was also unsuccessful. Then they hit with their third release, "I Can't Let Maggie Go," in March of 1968, which rode the British Top 50 for three months and peaked at number eight. The record should have made the group, but instead it shattered them. Pete Dello resigned during the single's chart run. He had been willing to play live on radio appearances and the occasional television or special concert showcase during which the group used a Mellotron to replace the overdubbed strings and other backing instruments on their songs but he couldn't accept the physical or emotional stresses of performing live on a regular basis, or the idea of touring America, which would have been the inevitable result of a British hit of that side. Perhaps a Brian Wilson/Beach Boys-type solution, with an onstage replacement, might have worked, but instead Dello left, and with him went his songs. Jim Kelly came in on guitar and vocals, while Ray Cane, whose talents and instincts were a near-match for Dello's, took over most of the songwriting, and the Honeybus proceeded to play regular concerts. Cane was a good songwriter, but the group never recovered the momentum they'd lost over "Maggie." The enthusiasm just wasn't there, and the music around them was changing into something harder and louder, and by mid-1969 it was all over. Their one completed album, The Honeybus Story (sic), was released in late 1969, but without an active group to promote it, the record sank without a trace. This was a real pity, because it was a beautiful album, with the kind of ornate production and rich melodies that had become increasingly rare with the passing of the psychedelic era. Ironically, the Dello lineup got back together in 1971 to record a new body of songs for the Bell label and a complete LP for British Warner Bros, which was never issued. Dello and Hare had recorded solo albums without success before those final group sessions, while Cane wrote songs and produced other groups without making any impact. Eventually, everybody except Kircher (who has played with everyone from Engelbert Humperdinck to Status Quo) gave up music as a profession.

Bruce Eder, All Music Guide


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