Ah, Voice of the Beehive, that takes me back. They first came into my existence somewhere back in 1987 with their video “I Say Nothing”, a dayglo, kickass ‘indie’ record that went straight for the jugular. It burst forth from my TV with two California sisters, Tracey Bryn and Melissa Brooke Belland, fronting the band. What made them even better was that Woody from Madness was the drummer. Having grown up with Madness, this was a bonus.
The two sisters, having loved the British sensibilities of The Kinks and Madness, came over from LA, forming the band in 1986. Originally Mark’ Bedders’ Bedford, also of Madness, was their bassist, but later Martin Brett came in. Last but not least came Mike Jones, the ‘Welsh wizard of a guitarist’ hailing from Cardiff. The Beehive was complete. Their debut album, Let It Bee, was released in 1988 and “Don’t Call Me Baby” became a hit, reaching number 15. They then scored another four top-40 hits.
Almost 35 years on from that moment, they are releasing Let It Bee, as an anniversary edition, on London Records. Recorded in London and Rockfield Studios in Wales, it reached number 13 on the album charts. It’s now been reissued as a 2 X cd in digipak with a 36-page booklet, ‘Bee-sides’, live tracks and demos. Or on honey yellow vinyl in a gatefold, with sleeve notes from Tracey. There are lots of extra tracks, and one is “Cartoon City”, a track from the London archives about their experiences in Hollywood.
The two sisters were effervescent and fresh, with an energetic rhythm section and jangly guitars. Despite their colourful, flamboyant exterior, they weren’t afraid to delve into the heart of the human jungle with irony and wit.
“I Say Nothing” has a life-affirming feel with emotionally honest lyrics. ‘That’s why I drink, so I’ll be who they think I am, but don’t say nothing… I’m not what they believe, and if they find out, they will leave’ it’s vibrant and punky. Sugar-coated, they may seem at first, but there’s a sting in those lyrics. “I Walk the Earth”, an early single (written by Brad Nack), is about strength and independence and is as empowering today as it was 35 years ago.
“There’s A Barbarian In The Back of My Car” is vigorous and fun, recalling Tracey’s friend of those early days, Zodiac Mindwarp. ‘He’s drinking all my beers, he’s wearing all my clothes, and if he winks at me again, I think I’ll take him home.’ It doesn’t take itself too seriously and is great to dance to.
But beyond the ‘happy-go-lucky’ exterior, the Beehive weren’t ones to shy away from hard-hitting lyrics. One of my favourites was “7 Shocks”, which was a live Bee-side (sorry). With the lyrics, ‘Time will pass you by, you’ll miss it if you bat an eye….’ It’s full of edginess. ‘Make sure you’re awake in thought, make sure that you express your heart’. “Sorrow Floats” is another one; it’s almost poetic. It has a gorgeous, melancholic guitar intro on this sad ode to alcoholism. ‘She wakes up and cracks a beer, wants to feel she isn’t here, sometimes she cries, and she doesn’t know why’, it used to bring a tear to the eye, and still does.
“This Weak”, another punk-edged one, is a bittersweet tale about the hypocrisies of life. ‘Don’t talk to strangers, always be kind, there’s good in everyone, and they’ll be good enough to get you from behind…and I never want to feel this weak again.’
There are some gorgeous covers in the form of Lou Reed’s “Jesus”, which captures the Velvet Underground vibe (it has a great harmony outro ‘, I’m waiting for my man’.) Blondie’s “In the Flesh” is dreamy, 60s pop, whilst The Comsat Angels “Independence Day” is feisty with tense guitar and drums and itchy feet lyrics ‘. I can’t relax because I haven’t done a thing, and I can’t do a thing ’cause I can’t relax.’ Led Zeppelin’s “D’Yer Maker”, like the original, is reggae-ish, with a cheeky side.
“Tattoo Song” was a bee-side ballad penned by Tracy’s own hand. It’s full of more clever observations, ‘Lots of girls want diamond rings, diamonds get stolen, then they don’t mean a thing.’ It’s full of sharp observations, ‘A tattoo stays with you when the years get lean’.
The Beehive’s energy is as needed today as it was in the 80s. Reconnect with them again or discover them with this buzzing re-release of an underrated band.