There’s a widespread notion that the fifties were a monochrome time. Drab, black and white, sooty, dismal. The music matched this notion, dreary, formulaic, string laden pap until the likes of Little Richard, Jerry Lee and of course Elvis kicked off only to be battered into submission after three or four exhilarating years at which point the tin pan alley merchants regained control and stayed so until those wacky Liverpudlians reignited the fuse.
A closer look dispels these notions. The fifties, at least towards the end, was an optimistic time. Instead of monochrome there was a vibrant colour captured in vivid tones via cheaper film processing and the likes of Kodachrome. Our parents (or grandparents) danced at the local Palais which might have a glitter ball and swish, deep red, velvet curtains and went to the movies to see Rock Hudson in super saturated colour movies. They listened to pop music which might have abandoned the abandon of the rock’n’rollers but which captured the rich hues and sentiments of the period, think of Bobby Vinton’s Blue Velvet, released on the cusp of the Beatles’ takeover.
All of the above is a prelude to this fine E. P. (extended play we used to say) from The Bearpit Brothers, a grouping of members of The Creeping Charlies and Jim Byrne, a west end balladeer. The Creeping Charlies appear to be one of Clydesides best kept secrets, a no holds barred rockabilly influenced band who have suffered indignity upon indignity regarding their career while Jim Byrne is a crooner who cohabits the worlds of Hoagy Carmichael and Woody Guthrie. Together they delve into the velvet underground of fifties pop, a Technicolor dream of pre fab four melodrama.
The pizzicato pluckings that introduce the opening song, I’m At Sea give way to some swooning guitar lines and immediately one is reminded of Richard Hawley’s similar fifties fetish. There’s a wonderful melancholy in the air here along with a lushness that envelopes the listener. The vocals croon and swoon with an affected air, heartfelt but somewhat stilted, a tin pan alley singer told to emote and trying his best. This is pastiche perhaps but there’s a genuine love of the period peeking through. Burdon Of Your Cross is somewhat looser and even swings as a gospel influenced lyric is garlanded with some exquisite guitar duellings with twang and reverb battling away, a wonderful song. Blue Boy is a mini melodrama story song, the likes of which were popular long before The Who expanded the concept into album length. The guitars sound like Hank Marvin in space while the lyrics (complete with whispered monologue) are sinister and weirdly enough call to mind Graham Greene’s teen gangster, Pinky, in Brighton Rock. They finish off with Don’t You Wish, a Ricky Nelson type farewell that suffers in comparison to the previous songs but which cleaves to the concept of revisiting those bygone years.
The Bearpit Brothers unleash their E.P. at the Glad Cafe on the southside on 23rd November.