FOR THE FIRST TIME – THE FULL FACTUAL STORY OF AL BOWLLY AND HIS LIFE OF MUSIC AND SONG.
WRITTEN AND RESEARCHED BY RAY PALLETT
All but one member of the band stayed on to work with Lew Stone. The music of the Lew Stone band became more sophisticated and the band became even more popular than its predecessors. Lew took a very special interest in Al, giving him the direction and encouragement he needed. His arrangements took into consideration Al’s vocal range, etc., perhaps more so than any other leader with whom he worked. The Lew Stone band was a compact and friendly unit; Lew Stone was Jewish and the musicians enjoyed playing in his band. Each member of the band was given a nick-name beginning with the name “Joe” — Al became known as “Joe Sex”.
The first record made by the Lew Stone Band with Al Bowlly was “Nightfall” and “Rain, rain go away” recorded in October 1932. This was the first in a long line of well over one hundred titles recorded from 1932 to 1938 by Lew with Al Bowlly, many of these considered to be among Al’s finest. In order to give Al the opportunity to concentrate on his vocal work, especially on records, Jimmy Messene sat in on many sessions playing the guitar, just as Bill Herbert had done earlier when Al was with Roy Fox. Al Bowlly travelled the country with Lew Stone and his Band, their first provincial appearance being in Yorkshire on February 13th 1933. The Lew Stone band continued the Tuesday night broadcasts from the Monseigneur Restaurant. And whilst with Lew Stone, Al had the honour of appearing before Royalty at the London Palladium in a Royal Command Performance.
Also, more films followed. In 1933 the band appeared in “The Mayor’s Nest” in which Al not only sang but had an acting part in playing a Cockney character — George, the tramp. His “big” number in the film was “The Wedding of the Slum town Babes” which he sang sitting on a doorstep while some children enacted a mock wedding. Another film featuring the band was “Up for the Derby” and whilst Al was heard singing he was not seen. In the films “Just my Luck”, “The Love Contract” and “Bitter Sweet” Al was seen in the band but not heard. In February 1933, the News Chronicle ran an unusual dance band competition featuring one English and one American record. On the English record was featured Jack Hylton on one side and Lew Stone with Al Bowlly on the other, both singer and band having equal billing. The American record featured Wayne King on one side and Guy Lombardo with Bing Crosby on the other side, again singer and band having equal billing. The competition was for members of the public to guess the sales of each record. The sales in 1933 were certified by a firm of chartered accountants as being nearly 28,000 for the English record and nearly 20,000 for the American one.
In 1933 Monia Liter arrived in England. As mentioned earlier, he was to become Al’s personal accompanist for his solo recordings and variety appearances. Whilst appearing on the stage with Lew Stone, Al had been spotted by impresario Val Parnell of Moss Empires, who believed in Al so much that he decided to give Al the chance of appearing on the “Halls” in his own right as a solo variety artiste, This he did and Al made his debut on September 11th 1933 at the Holborn Empire where he shared top billing with Louis Armstrong — that an honour in itself. But it was Al Bowlly that was besieged after the show in Holborn by a mob of female autograph hunters. Al’s signature tune throughout his solo appearances was “Some of these day’ . Al also featured “Brother can you spare a dime ?” as a speciality number which went down so well since it had the name “Al” in it. This was the same year that Al won the distinction of being the first crooner to be given a solo spot on the BBC. It was a very proud moment when he stepped sang two hits of the day that he later recorded, “The very thought of you” and “True”.
This then, was the start of Al Bowlly’s career as a solo variety artiste. Pathe made a short film of variety act, in which he also sang “The very thought of you”, which was shown in between its at the cinema. In November 1933, the Lew Stone band, of which Al was still a member, changed its evening engagement from the Monseigneur Restaurant to the Café Anglais, and the success of the band and its vocalist continued to rise. Appearing on radio, record, stage and even the screen as well as with the Lew Stone Band, then reckoned by many to be Britain’s best, it was to say that Al had reached the top of his profession. Once again he moved into better class accommodation at No. 17 Orange Street, Piccadilly. It was reckoned by many that by this period, 1933, Al had perfected his vocal style; this indeed, is born out by the many wonderful records that Al was now making. However, he didnt neglect his other great passion, physical culture. So keen on this was he that he now started boxing lessons from the ex-featherweight champion of Great Britain, Johnny Brown.
In 1934 Henry Selmer and Co., published a series of would be teach-yourself music books each bearing the name of a member of the Lew Stone Band. For example, Nat Gonella on playing and Lew Stone on orchestrating. One of these was entitled “Modern Style Singing Crooning” by Al Bowlly, but some people believe that some or maybe all of this book was “ghosted” for him. Nevertheless the book is interesting and in it is discussed various aspects of singing ranging from general aspects to breathing, tone production, vibrato, etc. The book also explains, albeit briefly, how to read music and contains plenty of voice exercises that the budding crooner is strongly advised to practice . During this period when Al was appearing and recording both with Lew Stone and as a soloist. he continued to make scores of excellent records with the Ray Noble Orchestra, which was the house band at HMV.
Only on one occasion did this house band, which consisted mainly of musicians from Ambrose’s and Lew Stone’s band, ever appear in public outside the recording studs. This was in the summer of 1933 when the band (including Al Bowlly) went over to Holland for a short summer season. The Noble band with Al also appeared in a short film in which they performed the tune of the day “Sailing on the Robert E. Lee”. Ray Noble had the pick of any musicians in London and it was indeed a privilege for Al to have been the regular vocalist with the orchestra. Ray Noble’s arrangements were considered brilliant and way ahead of their time, and nowadays their many records are considered to be the best and most imaginative dance records made in Britain during the period 1930-1934.
During this period these records were also issued in Europe, India, Australia and America and they proved to be very popular in these countries, especially the U.S.A. This popularity led up to Ray Noble being asked to form a band to play at the Rainbow Room, New York’s top night spot on the 65th floor of the RCA building in the Rockefeller Centre. Al later recalled how he learnt of this engagement. “A phone call came through to me early one morning while I was still in the bath. ‘It’s Mr Noble’ called the maid from the hall, ‘he wants to know if you’ll go to New York with him’. Would I ! It was the big break that I had been looking for, a chance to do something new, see fresh faces and make new friends.” So Al handed his notice in to Lew Stone and the arrangements for the trip to New York were made.