‘Our song made Joe Meek fall to his knees’: Honeycombs founder recalls life in infamous Holloway Road recording studio
- Credit: Archant
Most people who pass through Holloway Road wouldn’t even register number 304. Just a supermarket on the ground floor, with flats above. Nothing to see here.
Martin Murray, founder of 1960s pop group The Honeycombs, sees 304 a little differently. Here, 52 years ago, the band had legendary producer Joe Meek “crawling on his knees” when they first played the iconic Have I The Right? in his recording studio.
Their million-selling debut single went straight to number one in June 1964. But The Honeycombs, and Meek, would never experience such success again. Meek suffered from depression and was prone to bursts of rage. Three years later, at 304, he shot his landlady, Violet Shenton, before turning the gun on himself.
Not that Martin, of East Finchley, ever saw that side to him. This month, the 75-year-old guitarist returned to Holloway Road to launch 304 Revisited: his revamped takes of songs he recorded with Meek.
“Joe Meek was charming, genteel – and a genius,” Martin tells the Gazette.
“He’s been painted as aggressive, but I only saw him lose his temper once. That was with Alan [Ward, guitarist]. He wouldn’t play this particular part of the song the way Joe wanted. But Joe stamped his feet – and eventually Alan accepted it.”
Martin had first made contact with Meek in 1962, when he recorded in 304 as a session musician. Meanwhile, The Honeycombs were a regular fixture in the Islington pub scene – in particular at the former Mildmay Tavern pub, in Balls Pond Road.
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“One night at the Tavern,” Martin recalls, “everything just clicked. I told the band we were ready to audition.
“I had Joe’s number, but I knew he never answered his phone unless he was expecting to seal a deal. By chance, when I called, he did answer. He thought the call was coming from EMI!
“But he remembered me and asked what we had for him. I told him we were a fantastic group, with the surprise element of a female drummer [Honey Lantree, his fiancee at the time]. That was unheard-of in those days.
“We arranged the audition in 304 two weeks from then. In between that, we carried on playing in the Mildmay Tavern. One night, two men called Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley walked in. They were two unknown songwriters at the time and approached me with this song called Have I The Right?.
“I politely told them, twice, I had so much material that I couldn’t use any more. But they were persistent, and played it to me on this Spanish acoustic, right there in the pub. We took it and put it in our own arrangement.
“When it came to the audition in 304, we played three or four songs and Joe asked us if we had anything else. That’s when we pulled out Have I The Right?. He was near enough crawling on his knees when he heard it. He was stunned: ‘What is THAT?’
“He said he would make it bigger and better, which he did, and that it would be number one in three months’ time, which it was.”
The Honeycombs did not push on, however. Martin was ousted from the band later that year, and it disbanded in 1967 having never repeated the success of Have I The Right?.
“Stardom went to their heads,” he recalls. “They turned on me. I was the only one committed to the radio and TV sessions at 9am. They would still be in bed at 8.45am. They wouldn’t pull their socks up. I’m not in contact with any of them today.”
Martin, who went on to work as a small-time producer, recorded 304 Revisted with a new band, and as they gather outside number 304’s front door for photos, he has “nothing but good memories” of Holloway Road.
“I remember the studio being really small, but Joe’s equipment was the best money could buy. And Holloway Road had an amazing atmosphere at the time. I think it has gone downhill since then - like the world in general!”
304 Revisited can be purchased now on Amazon.