With All My Heart – Al Bowlly with Ray Noble And His Orchestra (LSA 3067 – 1972 )

LSA 3067 FrontRay Noble, an Englishman with exquisite musical taste, led one of the greatest bands of all time before he came to America. The only trouble was the band wasn’t his. Instead, it was composed of leading musicians who played regularly with numerous other bands in England but also assembled for Noble’s recording dates.

So good and so successful Were they, that Noble decided to come to America. This time, though, he didn’t organize another all star band. He let Glenn Miller do that for him.

Glenn knew his way around musicians. He’d already organized a band for Smith Ballew, and had helped the Dorsey Brothers start theirs. And, of course, he was a top arranger. Besides, Noble was having problems of a different sort when he arrived in the States. It seems the musicians’ union wasn’t ready to give him his card.

But Ray was able to find other employment, for he had already established himself as an outstanding composer via such hits as Goodnight Sweetheart, By the Fireside, Love is the Sweetest Thing and The Very Thought of You. So, while Noble went to Hollywood to write songs for the movies, Glenn began whipping his band into shape. It was quite an impressive crew, too. Just take a gander at the brass section. Charlie Spivak and Pee Wee Erwin played trumpets; Glenn, of course, and Wilbur Schwichtenberg were the trombones, Wilbur Schwichtenberg?! That is Will Bradley’s original name. The reeds featured Bud Freeman on tenor and Johnny Mince on clarinet, and the rhythm section had Claude Thornhill on piano, George Van Epps, about the best guitarist in the business at that time, and a magnificent bassist named Delmar Kaplan. Bill Harty, the manager whom Noble had brought over from England with him, was the drummer. More about him later. And Al Bowlly, who’d also come across with Ray, was the vocalist. More about him later, too-much more.

When Ray returned to New York, a union member in good standing. the band was well set. Some of the men looked as much to Miller for direction as they did to Noble. This, of course, led to friction. From many reports, even though its music may have sounded wonderfully relaxed, this was never the most carefree band in the world, It sported such an all-star line up that Noble was bound to be somewhat in awe of the musicians. Will Bradley talked about this recently. “I remember one night I wasn’t feeling too well and during a radio broadcast I went for a high last note on an arrangement ,I think it was a top D flat. I missed it. Only air came out I tried again. Again only air.” Did Noble lace into Bradley? Hardly. “I say, old boy,” he remarked almost apologetically, “did you lose one of your relatives?”

Mistakes were few and far between in the Noble band. Even though it was filled with top-notch musicians, it rehearsed often and well. Both Noble and Miller knew how to get the best out of their men, and it showed. Both tended to be perfectionists, as evidenced by the time they spent working for just the right sound and effects in a recording studio. On one date, in fact, they were so completely dissatisfied with what they’d done that they scrapped all the sides. But the time they spent in the recording studios was nothing com-pared with the time they spent on top of Radio City in the swank Rainbow Room, the band’s first and most important engagement. This turned out to be a seven-days-a-week affair with hours from nine p.m. until three a.m. Obviously, the band members got to know one another pretty well. Obviously, too, the grind began getting them down after a while. Sometimes, if there were no dancers in the room, the band might be dismissed early. This happened one Monday night. the men were down-stairs on the sixty-fourth floor-one floor below the Rainbow Room,. changing their clothes-when manager Harty rushed in and said, “Sorry, but an important customer just came in and he wants some music. So we’ve got to go back” And back the band went-all except Claude Thornhill. Noble waited a few minutes for him, but still no Claude. So the band began playing. And then in the middle of the first tune in walked Thornhill, immaculately dressed in his tuxedo jacket, shirt and tie. Only one thing was missing-his trousers! Yes, obviously the grind was beginning to wear down some of the men.

The “important customer” who caught Thornhill sans trousers later became the Governor of New York. His name: Nelson Rockefeller, It’s interesting to note that the Rockefeller family continued for twenty years thereafter to be good friends and admirers of Claude Thornhill. There must be a moral here somewhere!

Being tardy, according to Bradley, was part of the regular routine of the Noble band. ‘Ray and Harty,” he recalls, “had a habit of coming in at least forty five minutes late for rehearsals. After a while we all caught on and everybody came in fifteen or twenty minutes late.” Noble, the composer and creator, was inclined to be a dreamer. He was a man of tremendous personal charm ,tall, lanky, and rather like the guy in a British movie who didn’t get the girl because he kept falling into the swimming pool. Harty, as might be expected, was more of a business-man-shrewd, caustic, very perceptive-who took on the node of Noble’s hatchet man.

Both Noble and Harty were sharp enough to bring with them the man whose voice highlighted so many of their English recordings. This was Al Bowlly, an intense, warm, lovable, sentimental, bushy-browed chap. Bowlly had a unique way of phrasing and enunciating, as you can hear on these recordings. One night backstage he crooned a new song for me. one which, he told me, Glenn Miller had just written and which brought tears to AI’s eyes as he sang it. It was called Now I lay Me Down to sleep, but it was never recorded with its original lyrics. Several years later, however, Glenn did record it with its revised title, Moonlight Serenade.

Glenn’s musical presence was very much in evidence in the band, just as it is on many of the sides on this record. The four instrumentals, ‘Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, Dinah, Bugle Call Rag and Chinatown, My Chinatown, are strictly the Miller of that period ,sort of an expanded Dixieland approach with numerous catchy, novel effects, plus plenty of blowing room for such soloists as Freeman, Mince, Erwin, George Van Eps and Thornhill.

Freeman’s work is brilliant on these sides. His solo On ‘Way Down Yonder in New Orleans is most fascinating: his passage on Dinah is especially poignant and swinging. Bud’s wild harmonic and rhythmic excursions fascinated the guys in the band, according to Bradley, who reports that, “Glenn used to tum to me and say, ‘betcha a couple of drinks he doesn’t come out of this one,’ and I’d say, ‘Iwo drinks he does.’ 1 almost always won, too”

There are several other sides which sound quite Miller-ish, such as Slumming on Park Avenue, Big Chief De Sola, Double Trouble and Why Dream?, which uses some ooh wah brass effects, reminiscent of Glenn’s own band. Of course, Millers scores, great as they were, were not indicative of the typical Noble sound. This is much more in evidence on the smoothly phrased ballad sides, with light piano fill-ins, and especially so on “Down by the River”, played with the half-time rhythmic concept that permeated so many of Ray’s earlier recordings.

In many ways the most typical Noble sound of all, however, was that of Al Bowlly’s voice, which is so pervasive and so persuasive on many of the slower numbers. He succeeded in projecting a wonderfully warm and intimate mood, reflected especially here in Yours Truly Is Truly Yours, Where Am I?, The Touch of your lips (Noble’s own song), Why Dream? and With All My Heart And, of course, there is also the Noble personality, the light-hearted joker who’s really not quite the buffoon he pretends to be, on two Irving Berlin songs ,Slumming on Park Avenue and Top Hat.

So much a part of the entire Ray Noble musical picture was Al Bowlly, that when he left the band late in 1936 it lost much of its identity. Five of the star musicians had departed before Al , Thornhill, Freeman and Bradley firth, then Miller and Spivak but, as good as they all were and as much as the band’s high musical level was lowered when they left, losing them was not as critical as losing Bowlly. Bowlly returned to England, re-established himself there, and then, sadly, was killed in a nightclub that was bombed during an air raid in April 1941.

Though Noble remained in America for many years, he was never again to lead a band as musically satisfying as the one which made these recordings. In February 1937, shortly after the latest side contained herein Slumming on Park Avenue was made, the band broke up under rather unpleasant circumstances, with charged and counter-charges being hurled between the musicians on one side and Noble and Harty on the other. The two Englishmen went to Hollywood to perform on a radio series which they claimed had been promised to them. Out there, Ray, apparently more interested in a career as a comedian, organized a new band, one which possessed neither the charm, the excitement nor the musical finesse of his former orchestra. It is this former ensemble that must go down in dance band annals as one of the most tasteful, versatile and musicianly outfits of all time.

George T Simon

We Danced All Night (CDN 5131 – 1958 )

cache_17365968Ray Noble, born in Brighton in 1907, is unique in the history of modern dance music. He is the only English bandleader to have become popular on both sides of the Atlantic through having lived and worked on both sides of the Atlantic.

Various British bandleaders, such as the late Jack Hylton, have visited the U.S.A., and some even recorded somewhat fleetingly there, and of course during the inter-war years, when dance music reached its zenith, many Americans visited us, some stayed, some left. Few are remembered now anyway. Yet the doctor’s son who at nineteen won a contest in the infant Melody Maker for arranging a long-forgotten tune called There’ll Come A Sometime became the Musical Director for the Gramophone Company at 22, having already won his spurs as arranger for Jack Payne’s resident B.B.C. Dance Orchestra.

After five years of directing every conceivable recording session, from light classics to low comedy, from salon and dance music to accompanying the great theatrical personalities of the day, Roy Noble received and accepted an offer to go to the U.S.A., taking with him his Irish drummer, Bill Harty, and his South African vocalist, Al Bowlly, then regarded as Britain’s answer to Bing Crosby. He formed a new band of American talent — and what talent! His personnel reads like a mid-thirties Who’s Who of Swing.

He had Sterling Bose, trumpet-playing hero of a hundred sessions all the way from New Orleans to New York via St. Louis; Glenn Miller, the dour trombonist from the crumbling Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra, and even in 1935 giving broad hints of the fine dance-music arranger to come; Bud Freeman, to this day still very active and regarded as the greatest white tenor saxophonist in jazz; Johnny Mintz (also spelt Mince and Meuenzenberger) on clarinet, afterwards a shining light in Tommy Dorsey’s great band; Claude Thornhill, one of the most forward-looking of arrangers, on piano; so it goes on, almost a case of “You name them, Ray Noble used them.”

It had been the same in England; he used the very cream of talent available in London, the resulting records were hailed then as masterpieces of their kind, and they have since become connoisseurs’ items.

Not only a great arranger, Ray Noble composed many songs during the thirties that have passed into the standard category, Goodnight, Sweetheart, Love Is The Sweetest Thing; The Very Thought Of You, I Hadn’t Anyone Till You, and Cherokee, the number which in 1939 inspired the late Charlie Parker to begin his experiments and create an entirely new conception of modern rhythmic music.

Two more Ray Noble songs are heard on this record, admirably sung by Al Bowlly, who charmed the American girls but who returned to this country in 1937 and was killed by a Nazi bomb in 1941.

As a light comedian in Edgar Bergen’s Charlie McCarthy show, Ray Noble showed yet another facet of his many-sided abilities, yet despite many years in the forefront of American show-business, he has never lost his British accent and demeanour.

At a time when it was generally accepted the world over that the American bands were far superior to all others, Ray Noble quietly but impressively proved the theory wrong. After all, as I have said, he is the only British bandleader to have proved good enough for the Americans to keep.

Brian Rust

Al Bowlly Souvenir Album (DFE 6245 – 1955)

DFE 6245Few popular singers have won the admiration and affection of the public to the extent that Al Bowlly did . It was a tribute not only to the uniqueness of his voice and style but also his personality – gay spontaneous ,sincere – that shone through his singing .

A South African of Greek descent Al Bowlly joined Fred Elizalde’s band at the Savoy hotel in 1928 . His companion on the trip to Britain was Monia Liter , with whose band he had been singing at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.

From 1929 Al Bowlly worked with Roy Fox’s orchestra until Lew Stone took the band over in 1933. It was while he was with Lew Stone that the titles on this record were made . Monia Liter , who had joined the Lew Stone band plays the piano accompaniment.

In 1935 Ray Noble and Al Bowlly visited the United States , where their tour with a band of American Musicians was a great success. When Al returned to England he started on his own as a singer , later teaming up with Jimmy Mesene in a double act . But the war came , and during an air raid on London in April 1941, al Bowlly was killed.

 

 

This is Ray Noble (LPT- 3015 – 1952)

This Is Ray Noble

…. from the treasury of Immortal Performances.

LPT 3015 FrontIn the early thirties, American record  buyers were both surprised and delighted by some very lovely music played by an orchestra with which they were totally un-familiar. With little fanfare, for neither the dance band era nor disc jockeys had yet descended upon us,  the delicate strains of some very lovely songs were introduced via RCA Victor records (some people had heard them earlier on “His Master’s Voice,” the English version of RCA Victor) to first a comparatively few but discerning devotees.

But as more and more of these records were released, more and more people started to notice Ray Noble and his Orchestra. And the more they noticed, the more they began to wonder who this Ray Noble chap was and, at the same time, to marvel at the exquisitely tasteful music that his orchestra played.

Ray Noble, beside being an Englishman, was also a tremendously talented composer and arranger. (This set contains three of his best-known songs: The Very Thought of You, Love Is the Sweetest Thing, and Goodnight Sweetheart.) He was also a pianist, although those delicate piano passages on several of the selections on this record are actually played by his band pianist, a seldom heard of fellow named Harry Jacobson.

The band which made seven of these eight selections (Tiger Rag was recorded by a different outfit, a group of men which Noble bad put together primarily to make a trip to Holland and with which he waxed just a few sides) was not an established orchestra. It was strictly, what is called in the trade, a “studio” outfit, meaning that the musicians held regular jobs with other orchestras but played together under Noble for the express purpose of making recordings. (Ralph Flanagan and Buddy Morrow started recording with studio groups also, switching only to a regular, set personnel when they decided to appear publicly with their orchestra. Noble’s band, though, didn’t perform anywhere except in the recording studio.)

The instrumental line-up included four saxophones, two trumpets, two trombones, three violins, one viola, piano, guitar, bass violin and drums. The singer,. Al Bowlly, who is featured on five oldie tunes, The Very Thought of You, Time on My Hands, Love Is the Sweetest Thing, Lying in the hay and Goodnight Sweetheart, was a very sentimental South African, who along with drummer-manager Bill Harty came to the United States in 1935 with Noble for a brilliant engagement in the Rainbow Room at Radio City in New York. He sang like no other singer; his style was warm and endearing, just like Bowlly himself, and the music world lost a fine artist and a fine fellow when Al was killed during an air raid on London in World War II.

So great was  Noble’s fame and so respected was his work among musicians, that he was able to front a brilliant aggregation when he did come to these shores, an orchestra that was organized for him by the late Glenn Miller, and which included, in addition to Glenn, such famous musicians as Claude Thornhill, Will Bradley, Charlie Spivak, George Van Epps, Bud Freeman, Johnny Mince and Peewee Erwin. Once firmly established here, Ray branched out beyond the dance band field, centring his activities on the West Coast, where he is currently concentrating in radio as a combination orchestra leader and comedian.

All this, of course, would never have been possible, were it not for the wonderful music that he and his English Musicians made during the early thirties, music which is herewith presented as a classic example of good taste and good musicianship within the field of dance orchestras.

Notes By George T. Simon 

Editor Metronome Magazine

Memories of Al Bowlly – Vol.4 (OCLP 7545 – 1959)

OCLP 7545    When Al Bowlly was killed by a German land-mine in his flat in London’s West End on April 17th, 1941, Britain lost her top-ranking light vocalist, “Bing Crosby’s most dangerous rival” as one critic put it in 1934. Of Greek extraction and South African by birth, Al Bowlly perfected a style of singing ballads without raising his voice, yet with golden tone and as sincere an inflection as any of today’s soul-baring emotionalists. He played excellent guitar, taught by his fellow-countryman Len Fillis; he sang with bands of renown in many parts of the world, from Calcutta and Singapore to Munich, Paris, New York and London. A list of the leaders with whom he recorded covers over 90% of British dance music personalities, and they all loved him. His singing career paralleled that of his partner and friend Ray Noble. From 1928 until late 1934 the “His Master’s Voice” house band was under the direction of Noble, who was also Musical Director for The Gramophone Company.
During the time he was with “H.M.V.” he was responsible for assembling the instrumentalists for recording sessions of groups variously known as Ray Noble’s Orchestra, New Mayfair Dance Orchestra, New Mayfair Novelty ‘Orchestra, and New Mayfair Orchestra. There is no doubt that Bowlly’s vocals were the predominant feature of the recordings. His fine voice was one of the main factors which drew American attention to British’popular music of that period. It led to Bowlly and Noble going to the U.S.A. in 1935 where the partnership continued successfully. Noble tells us that “Al Bowlly saw everything as black and white; if you were his friend, nothing was too good for you. If you were his enemy—look out!” There must have been very few, if any, in the latter category. “Al loved to sing, and was always happy singing,” another friend of his tells us. In that happy spirit, “H.M.V.” dedicates this record to his memory.

Memories of Al Bowlly – Vol.3 (ODLP 7519 – 1958)

ODLP 7519    When Al Bowlly was killed by a German land-mine in his flat in London’s West End on April 17th, 1941, Britain lost her top-ranking light vocalist, “Bing Crosby’s most dangerous rival” as one critic put it in 1934. Of Greek extraction and South African by birth, Al Bowlly perfected a style of singing ballads without raising his voice, yet with golden tone and as sincere an inflection as any of today’s soul-baring emotionalists. He played excellent guitar, taught by his fellow-countryman Len Fillis; he sang with bands of renown in many parts of the world, from Calcutta and Singapore to Munich, Paris, New York and London. A list of the leaders with whom he recorded covers over 90% of British dance music personalities, and they all loved him. His singing career paralleled that of his partner and friend Ray Noble. From 1928 until late 1934 the “His Master’s Voice” house band was under the direction of Noble, who was also Musical Director for The Gramophone Company.
During the time he was with “H.M.V.” he was responsible for assembling the instrumentalists for recording sessions of groups variously known as Ray Noble’s Orchestra, New Mayfair Dance Orchestra, New Mayfair Novelty ‘Orchestra, and New Mayfair Orchestra. There is no doubt that Bowlly’s vocals were the predominant feature of the recordings. His fine voice was one of the main factors which drew American attention to British’popular music of that period. It led to Bowlly and Noble going to the U.S.A. in 1935 where the partnership continued successfully. Noble tells us that “Al Bowlly saw everything as black and white; if you were his friend, nothing was too good for you. If you were his enemy—look out!” There must have been very few, if any, in the latter category. “Al loved to sing, and was always happy singing,” another friend of his tells us. In that happy spirit, “H.M.V.” dedicates this record to his memory.

Memories of Al Bowlly – Vol.2 (ODLP 7518 – 1958)

ODLP 7518    When Al Bowlly was killed by a German land-mine in his flat in London’s West End on April 17th, 1941, Britain lost her top-ranking light vocalist, “Bing Crosby’s most dangerous rival” as one critic put it in 1934. Of Greek extraction and South African by birth, Al Bowlly perfected a style of singing ballads without raising his voice, yet with golden tone and as sincere an inflection as any of today’s soul-baring emotionalists. He played excellent guitar, taught by his fellow-countryman Len Fillis; he sang with bands of renown in many parts of the world, from Calcutta and Singapore to Munich, Paris, New York and London. A list of the leaders with whom he recorded covers over 90% of British dance music personalities, and they all loved him. His singing career paralleled that of his partner and friend Ray Noble. From 1928 until late 1934 the “His Master’s Voice” house band was under the direction of Noble, who was also Musical Director for The Gramophone Company.
During the time he was with “H.M.V.” he was responsible for assembling the instrumentalists for recording sessions of groups variously known as Ray Noble’s Orchestra, New Mayfair Dance Orchestra, New Mayfair Novelty ‘Orchestra, and New Mayfair Orchestra. There is no doubt that Bowlly’s vocals were the predominant feature of the recordings. His fine voice was one of the main factors which drew American attention to British’popular music of that period. It led to Bowlly and Noble going to the U.S.A. in 1935 where the partnership continued successfully. Noble tells us that “Al Bowlly saw everything as black and white; if you were his friend, nothing was too good for you. If you were his enemy—look out!” There must have been very few, if any, in the latter category. “Al loved to sing, and was always happy singing,” another friend of his tells us. In that happy spirit, “H.M.V.” dedicates this record to his memory.

One Fans Search for “The Voice” – The Journal – Saturday Magazine – 14th September 1983

MANY people have hobbies, but for some the interest becomes more than that, taking up most of their spare time and a considerable amount of energy. In some cases it very nearly amounts to an obsession. Over the next weeks DICK GODFREY will be telling the stories behind some of these passions. Today he explains how popular local radio broadcaster and preacher Frank Wappat become a leading light in the revival ofinterest in the popular music of the 1930’s

FRANK Wappat reckons to have invented the first method of adding artificial echo to records. That is debatable. He also claims to have “re-dis-covered” Britain’s first pop star. That isn’t. Both achievements. and the enthusiasm that dominates much of his life. were the result of a meeting at Jarrow Grammar School where the young Frank was a pupil in the late 1940’s. A dislike of physical activity, and a forged letter from his mother meant that he was excused games and spent those periods in the school hall when he met another 11-year-old who had fascinating hobby. He collected gramophone records. Each month. the lad compiled a list of his latest acquisitions and Frank decided to do the same. But after a couple of months or so he had just four discs while his friend had dozens.

“One day I was passing a junk shop in Jarrow and saw a pile of records in the window at 6d (2 1/2p) each. I had five bob (25p) in my pocket and so I bought the ten cleanest records I could sort out.”

These were the days before such things as LPs and 45 rpm singles so Frank’s bargains were brittle and breakable 78s. He duly added them to his list. The record of part of Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony he recognised, but who on earth were Roy Fox, Ray Noble and Lew Stone .Wary of revealing his own ignorance, he assumed that everybody knew who these men and their bands were and didn’t think much more about it. But he did think quite a bit about The Voice. It cropped up several times on the Roy Fox and Ray Noble records. The labels, though, didn’t say who The Voice belonged to, simply identifying it as a “vocal refrain”.

It was unlike anything else he had heard. “It could sing jazz and sweet and low stuff,” he explains. “There was something haunting and plaintive about it. but it could also be swinging and effervescent. “The more I listened, the more I grew to like it. I’d never heard a singer who had all those attributes. even though the recordings were diabolical.” The collection grew and soon it became more than simply a matter of adding numbers to his monthly lists .

He began to concentrate on Roy Fox and Ray Noble because they had The Voice. He also began to take notice of the serial numbers on the records and was soon able to know which numbers to look out for because it would appear, if only briefly. But the more he listened, the more dissatisfied the became with the quality of the records. They somehow lacked the texture of the live music he heard in the dance halls he visited. And so the Wappat echo technique was born. At the time when these records were made, echo was considered an evil.” he explains. “The record companies did everything they could to remove it. I wanted to add it on.” His solution was both ingenious and successful .By coupling two needles together one behind the other and wiring them both to his speaker he could get what sound engineers call delay echo .The idea was never patented .By the time Frank had perfected the technique. recording tape was being used in studios and echo , now no longer outlawed , could be added very easily. But that juvenile exploration developed into a life-long fascination with the technical side of recording that runs parallel to his enthusiasm for the contents .

There was still. though. the matter of The Voice . Nobody he spoke to could tell him who it was . At the age of 16. Frank took a holiday job in a record shop and took the chance of asking a local musician if he’d ever heard of the singer who appeared with Roy Fox and Ray Noble. “Oh, that was Al Bowlly.” said the drummer instantly . At last The Voice had a name .Frank learned that Bowlly was a South African who had performed and recorded in Britain in the 1930s and had been killed when a bomb struck his London flat during the Blitz of 1941 .

Now that he had a name. young Frank could apply himself to finding out more about the singer and to track down yet more records .”They were pretty hard to find, but at least I knew who it was ” In the early 1950s, Frank wrote to the record companies asking them if they could re-issue old Bowlly and other Thirties material. But this was the height of the “Beat Boom” and the company bosses said that nobody would be interested in pre-war pop . Wappat thought otherwise . He wrote a letter to the Evening Chronicle asking if anyone had any old Al Bowlly records. He got 20 replies .Three said that they did have records and the others were just interested. All 20 turned up for a get together and the Al Bowlly and Lew Stone Society was formed. A year later, 21 years ago this month in fact. the Al BowIly Circle started as a separate identity. That letter sparked off a revived interest in the music of the 1930s that was eventually to cover the globe. Not long after it appeared Frank Wappat was approached by a radio producer at the BBC in Newcastle who wanted to do an interview on the Al Bowlly Circle and what had then become the Thirties Club .The resulting interview was also broadcast nationally on the old light Programme in the days before Radio Two.

“All of a sudden. I round myself bombarded with about 300 letters from people all over Britain. It was a revulsion away from Beatlemania really, and the destruction of the system of dance music and swing music as people had known it “

Everybody was saying how pleased they were that somebody was fighting pop music and bringing back the real singers. Thus it was that Frank Wappat , by then working as a clerk in a Newcastle office found himself at the head of a musical revival. One of the letters was from the veteran bandleader Lew Stone. who enclosed seven pound notes for the train fare to London and an invitation to meet him at Putney Railway Station that Sunday. That meeting ,the first with one of the men who had become his musical heroes, led to the formation of a London branch of the Bowlly Circle . Others soon cropped up all over the country as the word was spread.

“It was like a magnet.” says Frank “Everything was coming to me, records, old photographs, programmes, every thing.” Letters from the Continent started to arrive. Frank started to produce a magazine that now circulates in 18 countries world-wide . So why the fascination with a singer who almost everybody seemed to have forgotten.For a start, there is The Voice, mellow, slightly husky tones riding on a rich sea of brass and reed, provided by the dance bands he sang with “Perfect phrasing, beautiful timing. perfect pitch. Bowlly’s pitch was far better than Sinatra’s,” enthuses Frank Wappat revealing the rivalry that still exists between fans of the two singers . But it’s more than that to a dedicated enthusiast like Frank Wappat and many more people nowadays .

Al Bowlly’s place in the musical hall of fame is secure as Britain’s first pop star. Until he arrived on the scene. Frank explains. singers were considered as unnecessary evils by record companies whose main concern was with the dance bands that dominated popular music at the time . Barely did they warrant a mention on the record labels which simply had “with incidental singing” or “with vocal refrain” alongside the title of the tune . The singers were known. dismissively at the time. as “crooners”. Then Al Bowlly appeared on the scene “He had everything that other singers at the time lacked, Most of the men sang like emasculated toms and the girls had deep voices like Dame Clara Butt. When Bowlly appeared. he had the voice and the looks . Band leaders found that when he sang a love song women didn’t bother dancing and just gathered around the band stand .

But Al Bowlly became a victim of his own success. He spent some time in America and returned to Britain as a star . A lot of band leaders ,still suspicious of crooners as a breed , wouldn’t use him because he had become too big .While across the Atlantic , Frank Sinatra was performing and recording with the Tommy Dorsey Band , Al Bowlly was forced to sing with the much smaller “combos” which was all the record companies felt that solo singers needed .His  career then lacked the push that elevated the likes of Sinatra to true international star status . Then came the fateful night a bomb demolished his flat in London.

A singer died and a legend born with all the elements that have become sadly familiar to a younger generation of pop fan.  An attractive young singer with with an intriguing career  who dies when so much has yet to happen  That is the fascination that is inspired  Frank Wappat on his 20 year campaign to get Bowlly the recognition he feels he deserves . His success is measured in the number of LP’s of  Bowlly material now available and the books and plays that have been written about him. But Franks commitment to the music of a bygone age doesn’t end with Al Bowlly. His massive collection of 78’s covers the whole spectrum of 30’s music.

He stopped counting sometime ago . These days he goes by weight . His collection is stored in a room in the church he runs in Albion Road ,North Shields .The floor is stressed to take three tons and Frank reckons he’s close to the limit  “At a rough guess that’s around 15,000 records” Bowlly is believed to have recorded around 1200 titles .Nobody is exactly sure how many because so many were anonymous and that is part of the fascination , listening through a pile of old 78’s and checking their vital serial numbers to see if any may contain The Voice ,the thrill of the hunt .

And there is one quarry that causes Frank Wappats’ eyes to  light up . Bowlly signature tune was “Buddy can you spare a dime” with it’s very fitting line “Say don’t you remember they called me Al ” He is known to have recorded it twice but for various reasons neither version was released . But Frank knows that one of the recordings was with Ray Noble and his band rumoured to have been withheld by Decca Records because they had also released a version by Sinatra. Franks researches have told him that a dozen test pressings were actually made .He even has a serial number .Somebody somewhere must have one he enthuses it’s only time before it comes to light . But Frank Wappat  gets more from his absorbing interest than the excitement of the chase and the excuse to collect the obscure tracks that true enthusiasts for any hobby thrive on . He also makes a bit of money .

And that goes back to those early echo experiments .Over the years he has developed his own system of remastering old 78’s  by taping them via a series of filters and other devices that eliminate the hiss  crackle and pop .The cleaned up tapes are then sold or leased to record companies who release them on LPs which ironically sound a lot better than the originals although of course they don’t somehow have the magic of the 78s . All of this dedicated activity would seem to add up to an obsession, especially when you learn that Frank Wappat has been known to get massive enlargements made of the photographs of 1930s recording sessions to see if you can read the titles on the sheets of music

“Obsession , No ! ” he insists with a grin . “With obsession , people tend to become warped and twisted and think of nothing else and I’m not , it’s just the consuming interest , that’s all .”

Recalling Lew Stone and Some Food For Thought – Oxford Mail – 19th January 2015

rabbit foot Stuart_Macbeth_d_photographer_Andrew_Ogilvy.jpg.gallery…..  On my break the other night I took a short walk across Piccadilly Circus and up Jermyn Street. I went in search of The Monseigneur Restaurant. You wont find it in on the map. It closed down in 1934.
So why the interest? Because back in the early 30s, The Monseigneur was home to some of the best music in England. Its founder, Jack Upson, made his fortune in the shoe trade. Dolcis shoes was his family business. When he found himself in need of a venue to entertain his many lady friends a restaurant seemed the obvious choice.
A restaurant like the Monseigneur could stay open long after the pubs had shut. On Thursdays it stayed open as late as 2am.Patrons walked in down through the fan lit door on the right, guided by gold balustrades. Downstairs in the basement the walls were frescoed in lavish red and blue amid rich, silk tapestries. The band swung out to a clientele including the future King Edward VIII.
Roy Fox and Mantovani led bands here. And so did Lew Stones band between 1932 and 1934. Among his personnel were the trumpet player Nat Gonella and 30s heart throb Al Bowlly on vocals. Listening to him, it was said, was like having lemonade poured down your spine. He died nearby aged just 43 when a Luftwaffe bomb exploded outside his flat.
So what’s it like now? First of all the building wasn’t bombed or bulldozed. The ground floor now houses Gotti’s Italian Restaurant. But walk down the steps into what’s now the Jermyn Street Theatre and you’re standing in the very room where Stone’s band broadcast live on the BBC for 90 minutes every Tuesday night at 10.30pm.
Dancing at home was a big deal during the depression. With as many as five million radio sets in the country its easy to understand how Lew Stone became a household name. Nowadays it takes imagination to keep the glamour alive.
After the Monseigneur closed the building was converted to a cinema, later renowned for showing sleazy movies. Its transformation into a theatre in 1994 restored its respectability.
Martin, a helpful member of the theatres staff, is the only person I meet who has any knowledge of the buildings provenance. He walks me through to the office and shows me one of The Monseigneur’s original menus, preserved in a frame. Aside from the backstage dressing rooms its the sole reminder of the hotspot this place once was.
I walk out onto Jermyn Street, home of high fashion, where Beau Brummell once polished his boots with champagne. Directly opposite the former Monseigneur there’s now a Tesco’s Metro.
In true 30s style I buy a pack of fags and pitifully puff my way back to work. I hope to make it onto the X90 before oblivion covers my tracks. I checked, and Lew Stones name didn’t even make it on to the menu.

Stuart Macbeth

 

Hollywood,Mayfair And All That Jazz – The Roy Fox Story (1975)

………. IMG_1937Back in London I started immediately to form my new recording band. First of all I had to find someone who knew the best musicians and could help me by suggesting the kind of boys I needed. I’d heard of a very fine arranger who was a pianist named Lew Stone, and a top drummer called Bill Harty. I got together with them and, after they had agreed to join me, they told me of a vocalist who had been out of work for quite some considerable time and was finding it pretty difficult to make both ends meet. I thought that if this singer was all that good why wasn’t he working. But Lew and Bill pressed the point and, at last, I asked this man to come along and give me an audition. When he arrived, I noticed he made a good appearance – most necessary, of course – and he had a pleasing personality. Lew Stone accompanied him at the piano and when he started to sing I was sure he was the person I was looking for. His name was Al Bowlly. I soon made up the band with the best musicians I could find and we started turning out records for Decca by the dozen.

We recorded at least twice a week, making four titles at each  session and that was the very beginning of the hundreds and hundreds of discs I made during my career. The new band was an instant hit on records and, sure enough, I have never seen such publicity as Decca gave me. My photographs and records were in the windows of nearly every record shop, we had the full front page of the Daily Mail, and our records were played by the BBC almost every time you listened and also on the Continent. Yes, we were on our way. One of the very first things we did was a recording of The Peanut Vendor. It was just one of the many sides Al Bowlly did with that first band, which started him on the road to being one of the most famous of all British vocalists.

The Peanut Vendor was recorded in February 1931. So popular were our records becoming that one day I was asked by a man who was building a new club in the West End to come to see him. His name was Mr Upson and he owned the Dolcis Shoe Company. He told me the new club was going to be the smartest thing in London and would be exclusive. He said he had found when he went to other clubs they were generally too crowded to dance and that was why he was opening his own club so that he could provide a bit more comfort. He was going to call this new night spot The Monseigneur. It was right in the heart of Piccadilly. Would I be interested in opening with my band? He made it sound so worthwhile with the amount of money he offered and the fact that I wanted some place to be seen by the public apart from just making records, I had no hesitation in accepting. There would be only a few short weeks before the opening and there were one or two changes I intended making in the band. I engaged the brass section from the Billy Cotton Band and when it was time for the opening, the personnel in the band were Al Bowlly (vocalist), Lew Stone (piano), Bill Harty (drums), Don Stuteley (bass), Syd Buckman, Nat Gonella (trumpets), Joe Ferri (trombone), Ernest Rine, Jim Easton, Harry Berly (saxophones).

Opening night was really something! The Prince of Wales, the Duke of Kent, King Alfonso (of Spain), they were all there and the room was decorated so beautifully. All the walls were dark blue and draped with red silk and a large painting of Monseigneur hung near the cocktail bar – very French and in the most excellent taste.

When thinking of Al, I can’t help recalling that when we finished our first week and he received his first cheque , he was so happy to have had the chance of working again after so many ups and downs that to  show his gratitude, he invited Dorothea and  me to a little Italian restaurant in Soho  . We went along with him and he ordered a very special dish he thought we would both like and during the course of this delicious chicken entrée, I thought I heard a most peculiar kind of sound. After much detective work I discovered Al was chewing on a chicken bone. I queried this and he said: ‘Boss’ (he always called me Boss), `haven’t you ever tried chewing chicken bones? They’re the best part and very good for the teeth.’ Well, I knew Al had beautiful white teeth but I never realized how he kept them looking that way.

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