Tonight was the release party/show for Bearpit Brothers‘ second EP, Something Cruel, the latest instalment in their ongoing reclamation of late 50s/early 60s pop and rock from the dead embrace of Family Favourites. On the EP the trio (Robert Ruthven, Jim Byrne and Larry Alexander, augmented tonight by drummer Angus Ruthven) recreate an era on the cusp of the morally rigid post war era and the sexually permissive Technicolor sixties. Songs about sex were veiled back then, the act itself only hinted at, seemingly innocent but with a dangerous undercurrent. However tonight was a cause for celebration and the dark underbelly was for the most part hidden beneath a lusty and jubilant delivery of very melodic songs with added lustre from Alexander’s dextrous fretwork, teardrops and rain dripping from his strings.
It was a sixties themed night with some of the audience dolled up in thrift store reclamations as shades of Roy Orbison and Cliff & the Shadows stalked the stage in a fashion not dissimilar to the Sheffield greaser Richard Hawley. Playing most of the songs from both EPs it was obvious the band were having great fun with the mini operas they’ve conjured playing up the melodrama in songs such as Love And Hate. A new song, Snap In Half showed that they’re steadily approaching the Merseybeat era although the template here seems to be The Searchers with Alexander playing some well-jangled guitar. An encore of Orbison’s Running Scared paid full tribute to the man although singer Ruthven just couldn’t manage the soaring immensity of the voice (but then again who can) and there was a fine countrified ramble through Byrne’s Daddy’s Car, a song that graced his album On These Dark Nights. They don’t seem to play live often but if you get a chance to see a show then grab it.
The band were well supported by poet Stephen Watt, winner of the Poetry Rivals Slam Championship a few years back. His observations on the plight of bats (without them there’d be na na na na na na na …Man), The Man who Wouldn’t Dance to Ska and the tragicomic tale of midnight buses from George Square were entertaining and well delivered and above all great fun, like listening to a local John Cooper Clarke. The other support, Ryan Morcambe, singer/songwriter, harked back to sixties frantic strumming with harmonica carrying the melody. His best song tonight was the folky thrash of 12 Rounds which had a fine whiff of Greenwich Village about it.
When Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed the first EP from Bearpit Brothers we waxed about their kodachromed 50’s spangled pop. Two years on and their second EP is lined up for release and the brothers themselves say that they’ve moved onto the early sixties. Well, there’s a lot of folk who say that the sixties didn’t really start until 1964 when The Beatles hit global dominance while there does seem to have been a watershed with the advent of the Pill. As Philip Larkin famously wrote,
Sexual intercourse began/In nineteen sixty-three/ (which was rather late for me) /Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban/And the Beatles’ first LP.
We mention this because while the band might be dipping their toes into the rising tide of sixties pop they’re holding on to a lifebelt of innocence, a raft of teenage dreams with the hormones held in check, the songs limited to allusion and portrayed as melodrama. Musically they continue to inhabit a pre Beatles world, crooner vocals, old school married to a pop idiom, think of the Larry Barnes’ stable of brylcreemed balladeers such as Dickie Pride or Vince Eager. Next drop in a dollop of sumptuous guitar draped pop of the type purveyed by John Barry and Joe Meek, both influenced by Buddy Holly but able to add their own idiosyncratic touch. Cap this with Cliff and The Shadows and we’re somewhere near where Bearpit Brothers are at these days although a top notch production and some spectacular guitar playing rises the EP well beyond mere nostalgia.
On to the songs then. Say Goodbye is a pop confection of the first order, pizzicato type guitar underpins singer Robert Ruthven’s warm croon as he evokes tearful railway platform goodbyes. There’s a glorious melange of acoustic and electric guitar midway through which rings to the heavens. Love Born In The City is a paean to young love hit by Cupid’s arrows lifted aloft again by the deft guitar work which does recalls Hank Marvin strutting behind Cliff. Love And Hate moves into Roy Orbison territory, darkly dramatic with a flamenco flourish on the chorus with some low riding twang guitar to boot it sets the scene for the sour title song which follows. Something Cruel has an exotic touch, castanets clicking away as Ruthven realises he’s been taken for a fool, recognising clues too late. Here we’re reminded of Billy Liar, lured by his dolly bird, Liz, only to bottle out at the last moment. This kitchen sink cinematic touch continues on the closing song, Ruby Wine although here it’s the fatalistic element of Poor Cow that’s evoked as Byrne recognises the hopelessness entwined in the relationship.
It’s only 16 minutes long but Something Cruel grabs the listener and is a wonderful evocation of a more innocent time. The EP will be available at the launch gig at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe this Saturday, 22nd August.
A trip back in time in more ways than one to see the pre fab four inspired Bearpit Brothers launch their retro rock E.P. (unfortunately not on vinyl but you can’t have everything). The Bearpit Brothers consist of Jim Byrne, a musician who’s played for the past three decades in Glasgow but who continues to just bubble under the mainstream and the remaining members of rockabilly band The Creeping Charlies (Robert Ruthven and Larry Alexander), a band whose profile is so low it makes Byrne seem like a megastar, dogged as they were over the years by catastrophic problems. The Charlies were regulars on the gig circuit when Byrne was playing with his band Dexter Slim and The Pickups and recently Ruthven and Byrne decided to join forces and give birth to this band of brothers.
We reviewed the results here, only four songs so far but they’ve lovingly recreated a period when rock’s original wild men had been virtually neutered by the media and tin pan alley held sway. The period between Elvis going into the army, Jerry Lee shamed, Little Richard finding God and the worldwide domination of the Beatles is often thought of as barren but both within and out with the charts there was a host of good music produced. Spector, The Brill Building writers, early Motown, Roy Orbison, Bobby Vinton and others vied with light orchestras, syrupy strings and Frank Ifield and these days not many folk listen to old Frank.
The Bearpit Brothers capture this well produced, melodramatic style of 50/60s music almost as well as Richard Hawley, a man whose music speaks of Saturday nights at the ballroom under a glitter ball followed by a long walk home with a bag of chips in hand, the glamour of his evening enough to buoy him up during the working week. There wasn’t a glitter ball in sight tonight but there was an old standard lamp and a Dansette adorning the stage as Ruthven, Alexander and Byrne (accompanied by Lejoe Young on a single snare drum and Angus Ruthven on beat box) strolled on. It might have been nice to have them in matching tuxes and doing some Shadows type steps but I suppose you can only take a concept so far. As it was the quintet stepped up and delivered a fabulous recreation of the E.P. with some excellent vocals and outstanding guitar work from Alexander. His pitter patter raindrop intro to I’m At Sea was excellent and his warm and swooning guitar was ever present reaching new heights on Blue Boy. Ruthven’s physical presence belied his honeyed voice as he crooned away and he seemed humbled by the applause offered. With only four songs to promote this was a short set but they fleshed the show out with Byrne taking the lead on A Picture of You and a song called Lemon Crush which had some sparkling guitar from Alexander and was worked up into a clamorous climax. Called back for an encore the called up the time machine again for an old Dexter Slim & The Pickups song, Facial Scar. Admitting that remembering the lyrics might be a problem they battled through with some fine twangy guitar and by the end they were all word perfect. A fine ending to a fine set.
Earlier we were treated to some culture (as opposed to dirty rock’n’roll). Local writer Elaine Reid read a piece which captured the inquisitive and impressionable mind set of a child interjected with some black humour. Impressively delivered the piece could fit well within a Wes Anderson script. Poet , Aidan MacEoin, from County Clare but domiciled in Glasgow read several of his pieces accompanied on guitar by the spindly shock haired Craig Ralston who played some slow but dramatic bluesy runs as MacEoin’s wonderful brogue captured attention. His droll tales and wit reminded us of the Liverpool poets at times and we could have listened to him and Ralston for the best of the evening such a balm was he. Overall a fine night and the first time for us in the Glad Cafe, a beacon of sensibility in the South Side by all accounts.