Tommy Bruce had one of the most individual
of vocal styles to emerge during the early 1960s. His rasping
"sandpaper and gravel" vocal cords were coupled with
an unashamedly London accent- long before British regional accents
were generally accepted as normal. Consequently, his style was
unmistakable at a time when other artists were trying to move
to a kind of mid-Atlantic smoothness- gradually shifting away
from rock and roll and presumably towards the kind of 'easy listening'
that tin-pan-alley was more comfortable with. Certainly, Tommy's
lively rendition of "Ain't Misbehavin'" came as a bit
of a shock and a welcome change from the stuff we were getting
used to in the UK during 1960.
Tommy had no real musical training and
his rise as a pop star was as big a surprise to him as anybody
else. The story of how he came to cut his first disc is now part
of UK pop folklore, but well worth retelling. Tommy was working
as a porter in Covent Garden- still then in its hey day as a
major wholesale vegetable market. He had, however become a friend
of his neighbour Barry Mason- who at that time was a struggling
singer and songwriter. Barry was so taken with Tommy's unusual
voice that he encouraged Tommy to make a demonstration recording
of the only song Tom knew well- "Ain't Misbehavin'".
The rest- as they say- is history. The song's release- previously
a #17 hit for Johnnie Ray in 1956- with its backing attributed
to 'the Bruisers' was a rapid success. The former vegetable handler
found himself held back from the very top only by the American
star Jimmy Jones and Cliff Richard.
Although Fat's Waller's "Ain't
Misbehavin'" would prove to be Tommy's only really big hit,
it was enough to establish him as an exceedingly popular performer.
Indeed this modest star soon found himself 'on the road' in many
concerts and starring in the popular TV series "The Stars
and Garters" alongside Kathy Kirby and Vince Hill. Although
"The Bruisers" were originally session men employed
by Norrie Paramor for work on Tommy's first releases he soon
found a group of competent musicians to back him while on tour.
They even managed one minor hit (the Van Dyke penned song "Blue
Girl") without their coarse voiced vocalist and became a
popular singing group in their own right. Despite backing Tommy,
the Bruisers weren't from London at all- they were from Birmingham.
Although Tommy Bruce's musical career
turned sharply downwards during the late 1960s he nevertheless
enjoyed a popular following in cabaret or along with other stars
at nostalgia concerts. Sadly, Tommy died as a result of prostate
cancer on July 10 2006.