Dennis D'Ell

Singer of 'Have I the Right?'
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The Independent Online

The Sixties group the Honeycombs, with their lead singer Dennis D'Ell, is best known for "Have I the Right?", which went to No 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 Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley.

D'Ell was born Dennis 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.

The BBC employees Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley 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. Howard and Blaikley 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, the cleaning lady called and told them to hurry up. Leased to Pye Records, "Have I the Right?" was promoted by the pirate station Radio Caroline and the publicity surrounding a group with a girl drummer was enormous.

The Honeycombs had further success with "Is It Because?" and made the album It's the Honeycombs (1964), 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 Forty. When Meek resorted to his regular activities, the Honeycombs had another Top Twenty hit, with "That's the Way", and made the album All Systems Go! The group floundered after Meek's suicide in 1967. They split up and did not reform until 1994.

D'Ell became a solo singer, usually of soul songs, and his "Better Use Your Head" (1967) became a 1970s favourite on the Northern Soul circuit.

Spencer Leigh