Tuesday, 12 May 2009

What's that pounding in my head?


There is an episode of ‘Hammer House of Mystery & Suspense’ where an investigative journalist tries to track down Ray & Ron Verne, a saturnine pop duo from the 60’s that disappeared suddenly and under circumstances shrouded in mystery and rumour. He eventually tracks down the brothers to a rundown rural mansion filled with jukeboxes: one of the brothers is completely insane, the other a skeleton with a black wig on. I don’t know why, but I always associated them with Paul and Barry Ryan.

Identical twins, the Ryan’s came from a showbiz family and were recording from the age of 15. Never major stars, they had a handful of Top 20 hits and a lot of magazine covers, but never seemed likely to break into the big league, although Paul Ryan had developed into quite an interesting songwriter. Despite their decidedly second division place in the music world, Paul struggled to cope with the pressures of stardom, and found himself on the verge of a nervous breakdown. To alleviate Paul’s fragile mental condition, it was decided that he would back out of the spotlight and concentrate on writing songs for the more ambitious Barry to perform, a fair solution, but one that doesn’t take into account that you can’t really have one recognisable identical twin.

The LP ‘Barry Ryan Sings Paul Ryan’ was the first release under the new arrangement, and contained the monster hit ‘Eloise’. The arrangements are huge on this LP, and very typical of 1968: grandiose to the point of being over-blown, puffed up with pomposity as pop became rock and self-consciously Important. A good example of this is the opening track ‘Theme to Eutopia’, an ultimately rather daft anthem for an imaginary country that sounds like Jim MacLaine’s preposterous ‘Oratorio for Womankind’ in the film ‘Stardust’. ‘What’s That Sleeping In My Bed?’ is lighter in atomic weight and almost whimsical, but proof that Paul could write a good little song as well as a great big one.

Despite a few more hits (and superstardom in Germany and the low countries) Barry Ryan disappeared himself in the early 1970’s: no decline and fall, no slow fade - he just stopped, and didn’t come back for twenty years. Altough there were rumours that Barry had been horribly disfigured in an accident, it now seems that he simply stopped performing and recording when Paul became too ill to write any more material for him. It is telling of the influence that Paul must have had on Barry in that Barry only returned to the stage (on the Golden Oldies circuit) after Paul died in 1994, and can still be found belting out ‘Eloise’ in various provincial theatres to this day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

handsome chaps. are they talking to the banker?