AL BOWLLY’S DEBUT AS A SOLO VARIETY ACT .

HOW AL CROONED WITHOUT AN ORCHESTRA
(REPRINTED FROM THE MELODY MAKER Dated SEPTEMBER 1933)

SENSATIONAL ACCOMPANIMENTS BY NEW PIANISTIC DISCOVERY …

On Monday night, September 11, 1933, fully half an hour after the Holborn Empire had closed, there was an extraordinary scene in Holborn, when a mob of a hundred or more people, mostly women, asked Al Bowlly for his autograph, around a sand-bin on which he was perforce made to write his signatures. He had just enjoyed a personal triumph on the stage, where he appeared for the first time a a solo variety artist.


PIANIST PAR EXCELLENCE

Solo is perhaps the wrong word, as it would do less than justice to Al’s brilliant accompanist, a young man from Singapore by the name of Monia Liter, a pianist of exceptional all-round ability. comes from a poor family and is in many respects a self-taught musician. Not only does he play the piano with the ability of a concert virtuoso, but in some way or other he has acquired a style seemingly every bit as futuristic as Fred Elizalde’s. Some of his blue harmonies when he was accompanying Al were most arresting, and he certainly is an accompanist of no mean order.
Al also gave him the opportunity of featuring a solo, when he played a most interesting transcription of “Please”. It is said that Liter is also a fine arranger, and it seems quite evident that we shall be hearing a great deal more about him in the near future.

A SIGH FOR THE BAND

Although Al had safeguarded himself satisfactorily in this matter, it cannot be said that no one missed the usual band support which he enjoys. It is indeed questionable whether any crooner can possibly be as good without his usual orchestral accompaniment. Opening in a simple curtain set, Al introduced himself with “Some of These Days”, without the use of a mike. His voice and his deportment were easy, although he has yet to acquire the art of avoiding restless movements of hands. He got into his stride with “Learn to Croon,” using one of two mikes which was definitely superior to the other, and this number suited him down to the ground and produced a warm response from the audience. Monia Liter’s delicate variations in the accompaniment, both on piano and celeste, were charming to a degree. The next number was “I Cover the Waterfront,” sung leaning against the proscenium arch and without the mike. This is a number in which Al always registers a tremendous amount of sentiment, and those near enough to the stage could plainly detect real tears in his eyes ! When he concluded his last chorus, this time with a very inferior mike, the reception could only be described as rousing.

THE NUMBERS

He followed this number with “Minnie the Moocher,” in which the usual band harmonies were definitely and sadly missed, notwithstanding the fact that Liter was as good as any two average pianists together. After this came Liter’s piano solo, and then Al again, singing “A brivela der Mama” alternately in Yiddish and English with the mike on. The next number was “If You Were the Only Girl in the World,” and it was here that the first real sign of inexperienced stagecraft showed itself, because, without looking at what he was doing, he put out his hand to seek the support of the piano and groped vainly for it as he was too far away. Nevertheless, the number provoked loud cheers and the first part of his signing-off tune, again “Some of These Days,” was drowned in the applause.

BEFORE THE TABS

So enthusiastic indeed was the audience that, after taking several bows, he was compelled to come before the tabs and sing yet another number, choosing “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?”. In this number many a lesser artist might have come a cropper, because, for some reason or other, he had slipped on an old ragged jacket of such peculiar Norfolk cut that it aroused a few titters in the auditorium. Nevertheless, these soon died down as he progressed into this number, which suits him so well, and he definitely held up the show at its conclusion. Making all allowances for his obvious anxiety to please on this, his first solo variety date, there can be no question that Al has sung better, but he did enough to prove that he is a great draw and a real top-liner and, had he been better served with more efficient mikes, he would undoubtedly have sung to even greater effect.


He certainly has no peer among British crooners.


AL BOWLLY ANSWERS IN NUMBERS

  • How old were you when you started singing – 6
  • How old were you when you were a choir boy in South Africa – 12
  • At what age did you start crooning – 16
  • How many countries have you visited – 19
  • How many records have you made – 1,000
  • How many favourite vocalists have you – 1
  • How many ties – 60
  • How many instruments can you play – 7
  • How many shaves a day – 3
  • How much do you weigh – 11 stone 2 lbs
  • How tall are you – 5′ 7 3/4″
  • How many cars have you had – 24
  • How many real friends – 4

Reprinted from the Melody Maker 1941

2 thoughts on “AL BOWLLY’S DEBUT AS A SOLO VARIETY ACT .

  1. Wistful Nostalgic September 4, 2020 / 2:12 am

    Thank you for posting this review of Al’s concert. It makes one long to get in a time machine and attend and see him and Monia! Oh to have been there to see him. He must’ve been just wonderful!

    I have made some comments on some of the comments the reviewer made ( who does write with some very old fashioned English reserve).

    “His voice and his deportment were easy, although he has yet to acquire the art of avoiding restless movements of hands.”

    Not “restless” at all! Graceful movements expressing the lyrics and mood of the song (as he did in My Melancholy Baby on the Pathe film). I expect this reviewer was used to people who stood still like statues and did little to interpret the song? I would tell Al to ignore this man and to keep on using his hands!

    “He got into his stride with “Learn to Croon,” using one of two mikes which was definitely superior to the other, and this number suited him down to the ground and produced a warm response from the audience.”

    A rather reserved description. I bet this means that he got a lot of claps and happy smiles from the audience!

    Like

  2. Wistful Nostalgic September 4, 2020 / 2:13 am

    For some reason I had to break up my comment into two parts.

    “The next number was “I Cover the Waterfront,” sung leaning against the proscenium arch and without the mike. This is a number in which Al always registers a tremendous amount of sentiment, and those near enough to the stage could plainly detect real tears in his eyes !”

    How very touching! This backs up Ray Noble’s memories of Al often having tears in his eyes after he’d finished singing. If only we had a recording of Al singing this song. I’d love to hear him singing it.

    “When he concluded his last chorus, this time with a very inferior mike, the reception could only be described as rousing.”

    I bet this means he got loads of cheers and clapping that went on for about three minutes!

    “So enthusiastic indeed was the audience that, after taking several bows, he was compelled to come before the tabs and sing yet another number, choosing “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” “

    Only what Al deserved! I bet this means that he got clapping and cheering that went on for over 5 minutes with shouts of “Encore! Encore!”

    “He certainly has no peer among British crooners.”

    Indeed, and no man has met his standard yet and never will! This is because he was a song stylist of great talent with a magical presence, making him much more than a “crooner.” He sang songs of a variety of styles of his era.

    The descriptions of Monia’s playing were nice to read too. He and Al were so perfect in working on a song together as seen in the two Pathe films. They were so in sync with each other.

    Like

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