‘I wrote it about an ex who borrowed my car to take out another girl’: Voice of the Beehive on Don’t Call Me Baby

‘We wanted a Phil Spector kind of feeling. The studio we recorded it in was so hi-tech we couldn’t even work the salt shakers.’

Tracey Bryn, singer/guitarist/songwriter

When we were teenagers in Santa Barbara, my sister Missy and I had an idea for a band that would make fun of how serious rock’n’roll could be. But we didn’t actually have a group. Then I left California and went travelling around Europe with my boyfriend. London seemed familiar and comfortable and, on the flight home, I felt I was heading in the wrong direction. Two weeks later, I had sold everything and was back in London, squatting and making demos of my songs with Mike Jones, a guy who lived down the street and had recording equipment. I loved his crunchy but melodic guitar playing, which reminded me of the Pretenders. I called Missy and said: “Why don’t you join us?”

Meanwhile, my boyfriend was shopping his own music around and took a tape to Food Records. They put it in the wrong way round. My song In the City was on that side and they said: “We’re not interested in you, dude, but who’s the girl?” My relationship ended there and then! But Food put out our single and got us signed to a major label.

I had heard Robert Smith from the Cure saying one of their songs was a crack at a teenage anthem. I wanted to try that too, but didn’t want us to sing: “Baby, why don’t you love me?” I always hated it when guys called me “baby”. I remembered a movie where Ann-Margret says “Don’t call me baby” to Elvis Presley. I had liked the line so much I’d written it down in my journal, so when I was looking for ideas, I thought: “Ah-ha!”

Mike and I came up with the tune and I wrote the lyrics – about a former boyfriend in America, who used to call me baby and had borrowed my car. I thought he wanted it for errands, but it turned out he was taking another girl for hotdogs and milkshakes. The line “meeting at midnight while avoiding all the neighbours” is about the way he’d hide both of us, because he was afraid of one a neighbour busting him and saying: “Hang on, yesterday you were with Tracey!”

After Don’t Call Me Baby became a hit, he got in touch and said he wanted to come and see us play in LA. I said: “If you wanna hear this song that’s about you, you’ll have to get a ticket.” When we came off, he was waiting backstage. I had a floor-length pink fake fur coat on and he said: “Why have you dressed in your pyjamas?” I told him: “You can’t embarrass me like that any more. Now get your little butt in the line with everybody else.”

Melissa ‘Missy’ Brooke Belland, vocals

I was about to start studying child development, but when Tracey called from London I jumped on the first plane. It was a crazy thing to do but our parents didn’t try to stop us. My dad had been in a quartet called the Four Preps and he said: “You’ve got to try this while you’re young.”

London in the late 1980s was such an exciting city and everything happened very quickly. Food Records hooked us up with Daniel “Woody” Woodgate on drums and Mark “Bedders” Bedford on bass. They were both from Madness and became our rhythm section. Bedders left to do his own thing before we made an album, but they gave us credibility and took us to another level.

When Martin Brett took over on bass, he challenged Woody musically and they sort of made each other even better. We were all really into Phil Spector’s wall of sound and wanted that kind of feeling. Generally, when Tracey had a song idea, she would give me a cassette and ask if I wanted to sing harmonies or anything. With Don’t Call Me Baby, I had to fight the record company to be allowed to sing the opening verse, but it worked out.

We recorded it at Puk Studios in Denmark, which was so modern and hi-tech we couldn’t work the coffee machine or even the salt shakers. I remember the producer saying: “We are here for excellence and won’t expect anything else.” We’d always joked about winning Grammys and such but I remember suddenly thinking: “Oh my God, we’re not here to joke around. We’re gonna be excellent.”

• The remastered and expanded edition of Voice of the Beehive’s debut album, Let It Bee, is reissued for its 35th anniversary by London Records.


Interviews by Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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