THE VOICE OF AL BOWLLY – Ray Pallet (1975)

“CROONING” IS A WORD THAT DOES NOT DO JUSTICE TO AL BOWLLY. HIS VOICE CONTAINED A REAL SENSE OF ARTISTRY, POWER AND ORIGINALITY, IN ADDITION HE HAD A GIFT OF INJECTING REAL MEANING INTO THE MOST BANAL OF LYRICS …

Al Bowlly was always anxious to please whoever he was working for. He took great care to ensure he put over a number correctly. He even used a dictionary to help him get pronunciation correct. Al really sold his song. He could sing anything, jazz, blues, comedy, ballet,. country and ballads. It was, of course, as a singer of romantic songs that Al really excelled, and this was the way he won his reputation. He really projected a song with strong dramatic scene and gestures. Those who have seen any of his film clips on television would have noticed this. He could sing in several languages including Dutch, French, German and Yiddish .He was also successful on the South African market being able to sing in Afrikaans.

Whatever kind of treatment a song required, Al could provide and make each type of song seem his speciality. To illustrate this, one need only play a cross section of his records. Al recorded most kinds of material with the exception of sacred music. This surprises me since Al was a very religious person .Other singers of the day such as Sam Browne and Bing Crosby did and it is a shame that Al didn’t as he could have put over such material so well with his intimate and sincere style of delivery.

The voice of Al Bowlly has a remarkable range, greater than many of his contemporaries or successors including stars like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra . It seems as if Al could sing baritone tenor, alto and falsetto, although he was generally billed as a baritone. The range can be heard on such numbers as “If you’ll say ‘yes’, Cherie”, “Maria, My Own”, “Love is the Sweetest Thing” and “Blue Moon”, plus many others.

Al’s breath control was perfect . I’ve rarely heard him take a breath or pause for one. He had a strong sense of rhythm and a feel for music and these qualities came over in his singing. Al’s vibrato and intonation were perfect and his diction good, although at times I have heard a trace of a “Cockneyish” accent. Some singers sing in their “speaking” voice. It seems as if Al spoke in his “singing” voice !

There were many shades to Al’s voice and whether the song was happy or sad he sung it with exactly the right feeling. l{e was very emotional and was able to live out the words of a song and, according to Ray Noble, even turning away from the microphone with real tears in his eyes. He was able to get right inside a song and enact its meaning; no other singer then or since has put so much into a song as Al did. It is interesting here to quote Al Bowlly’s own words upon this aspect of popular singing …

“If you cannot impress yourself with the story you are conveying through the medium of your voice, how can you expect to impress others ? If it is a sad lyric, it is not sufficient for you to be sad you must be moved. If your lyric expresses grief’, you must live for a moment in the atmosphere of the story and be grief-stricken. A lot depends on your sensitivity to the emotions. If you can feel the fullest degree, anger, pain. fear, love, hate, sorrow and happiness, they will animate your song and give it an artistic value. Without these emotions your voice is worthless, whether it has quality or not.

Gimmicks are by no means a new innovation. Al Bowlly and others used them in the 20’s and 30’s. Pop stars of today use “way-out” gimmicks to attract attention, but before the war gimmicks were more subtle. Two of Al’s gimmicks are quite noticeable on his records. One is, to sing the last line(s) or words in falsetto. He used this technique in his early days in Germany and continued with it throughout his career. It is very effective when used on such numbers as ” Its time to say goodnight” and “Why stars come out at night”. The other gimmick was to add a word or two immediately before the vocal chorus.

ln 1937, shortly after a recording session, Al lost his voice due to a wart on the vocal chords. An operation performed to remove the wart was so successful that many people believed his voice even better afterwards, being deeper and richer. There is a “change of voice” between Al’s early recordings and his late ones, but there are other reasons that could account for this. Firstly recording techniques were improving and therefore Al’s voice tended to come over better in later recordings. Secondly, Al was getting more experienced and his voice more mature as his career progressed. Thirdly, the style of number Al was singing was changing as the decade slipped by. Compare some of Al’s work before the operation (e.g. “Blue Moon, to some afterwards (e.g. “I can Dream, can’t I”). ln my view “Blue Moon” sounds more like Al after the operation and “l Can Dream, Can’t I”, more like Al before . It seems just as likely that the change in the voice was due to the other reasons mentioned, just as much, if not more, than the operation

Al’s voice was unique. He did not copy anyone’s style and no-one really set out to copy his. Some people have commented that on some occasions Al copied Bing Crosby, but that is not a true statement taken in isolation. Bing originated a style of singing that set the standard for the 1930’s, and because of this one could argue that every popular singer of the period was influenced by Bing. Some made every effort to sound like Bing. Denny Dennis was often billed as England’s Bing Crosby” while Al Bowlly was referred to as “England’s answer to Bing Crosby” which, of course, is a totally different statement.

Often Al would use scat singing as Bing did (and I think Al did this better than Bing, having greater range) and he also sung numbers associated with Bing. Both singers had in common their sincerity in putting over a song. But none of these things meant that Al was copying Bing’s style for he simply had no need to since he had a style all his own.

As regards anyone imitating Al. many people consider that the post war singer, the late Steve Conway, copied, or at least sounded like Al. I do not agree with this entirely. On certain vowel sounds, there is a similarity but Steve can sound just as “Jolsonish” as “Bowllyish” But any people did draw the comparison and believed Steve to be Al’s replacement. Even Lew stone was to have wanted to engage Steve as vocalist if he had reformed his successful dance band after the war . However, there was one man who, in my opinion, did deliberately try to copy Al, and this was Ray Warren, who broadcast on Radio Eirann and made a few records. On the titles I have heard Warren sing , he sounds very much like Bowlly sounded on his early solo recordings, copying his scat singing and “falsetto” gimmick. But since his voice did not have the professionalism smoothness or polish that Al’s had, one can still describe the voice of Al Bowlly as the one and only .

THE AL BOWLLY STORY – PART 9

FOR THE FIRST TIME – THE FULL FACTUAL STORY OF AL BOWLLY AND HIS LIFE OF MUSIC AND SONG.

WRITTEN AND RESEARCHED BY RAY PALLETT (1975)

Both Al and Jimmy had been feeling the pinch work-wise. As mentioned earlier, there was very little session work available and they could not find good musicians available for accompanists. And so the two of them decided to team up and form a double act. Mesene was a very competent guitarist and they would not have to rely on anyone else for accompaniment. The act was known as “The Radio Stars with Two Guitars” and their debut was at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in January 1940. Mesene’s voice did not blend particularly well with Al’s, which could properly be partnered with any other male voice. It is now generally felt that this was the beginning of the end for Al.


“The Radio Stars with Two Guitars” was not, unfortunately, a top-of-the-bill variety act, although it was Al’s “bread and butter”. After hours, Al kept on working as a soloist and broadcasting with Lew Stone and one or two others. He made a few records with bandleaders Maurice Winnick and Ken Johnson, plus some solos for HMV. Al’s voice showed signs of weakening. was now singing in keys lower than copy key. His range was decreasing and he was singing in what was only a little more than a whisper. Al Bowlly was no longer Britain’s leading vocalist, for Joe Loss’s singer, Chick Henderson, had now toppled him from his No. 1 position. With all these problems, as well as the war, Al was not nearly as happy as he had been a year or two before.


Nevertheless Al and Jimmy were doing their part in entertaining the troops and war workers up and down the country. There continued to be little session recording work for Al. The recordings he made in May 1940 with Macari and his Orchestra were the last he ever made with a dance orchestra, but unfortunately they were never issued. Al continued to make solo records up to July 1940 when Al and Jimmy Mesene entered the recording studios to make the first record of their double act. They went on to record another two discs later in 1940 and one in 1941,


Al Bowlly was a personal friend of bandleader Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson; not only did they record together, but he sung with the Johnson band at their resident engagement at the Cafe de Paris in Coventry Street, Piccadilly. The titles that Al had recorded with Ken Johnson were jazz arrangements of two of Shakespeare’s sonnets.”Blow, Blow thou winter wind’ and ‘It was a lover and his lass’. Certain theatrical people considered it extremely unlucky to perform Shakespeare in this way, and this record did turn out to be a bad omen for what followed. A tragedy in the music world occurred on March 8th 1941 when a bomb destroyed the Cafe de Paris and Ken Johnson was among the thirty-four people killed there.

Al was naturally very upset when he heard this news, not only because he lost a good friend, but for the following reason — he now believed his own passing was soon to come. During the early months of 1941, Al continued with his variety work in the provinces and in March he received a letter from a woman telling him of a vivid dream that she had had. In the dream she saw Al and a black man talking, when suddenly both of them were blown to pieces. Later the same week he learnt of the death of Ken Johnson who, since Al was very superstitious, he believed to be the man in the dream. Being a deeply religious person, Al was not afraid to die, but he believed he still had more to achieve and more to offer in his career.


He pressed on working both as a soloist and duettist and on April 2nd 1941 Al and Jimmy Mesene went into the HMV recording studios to record another two songs. The two titles recorded were “When that man is dead and gone” and “Nicky the Greek (has gone).” And ironically these two sadly prophetic songs turned out to be the last that Al was to record, for in just fifteen days time he would be dead.


After the recording session, Al and Jimmy carried on working in the provinces and broad-casting from the BBC’s wartime studios in Bristol. On Wednesday night, the 16th April 1941, they had been appearing at the Rex Theatre at High Wycombe, after which Al hurried back to London to fill a late night solo appearance at the Berkeley Hotel. At the hotel, Al met a friend who was a BBC engineer and Al invited him back to his flat in Dukes Court. Dukes Court (No. 32 Duke Street) was at the corner of Duke Street and Jermyn Street in Piccadilly and among Al’s neighbours on the second floor were a judge and two Lords. Outside, London was suffering one of the heaviest airs of the war so far.

After supper, the engineer left Al’s flat. Despite the heavy blitz, Al decided, as many did, not to bother to go to the safety of the shelter. Instead, he went to bed with a “cowboy” book. In the carry hours of Thursday morning, the air raid continued. Al was still in bed when a land mine came silently down outside Dukes Court. Brickwork, plaster and glass flew everywhere, and as soon as the “All clear” was sounded, the hall porter hurried round to make sure all his tenants were safe. But on entering Al’s room he found him dead on the floor by the side of the bed, evidently killed outright by the blast from the landmine. Al had died in the early hours of April 17th 1941.
On Saturday, 26th April, nine days after he died, Al went to his last resting place, a communal wave at the Westminster City Council Cemetery, Uxbridge Road, Hanwell in North London. Among those present at the funeral were Chick Henderson, the singer who had beaten Al in the popularity stakes during the months before he died. A minister of the Greek Orthodox Church conducted his funeral service, whilst a memorial service was held in his honour at the Anglican Church Jermyn Street.


His epitaph was surely “Say, don’t you remember, they called me Al”.


THE AL BOWLLY STORY – PART 8

FOR THE FIRST TIME – THE FULL FACTUAL STORY OF AL BOWLLY AND HIS LIFE OF MUSIC AND SONG.

WRITTEN AND RESEARCHED BY RAY PALLETT (1975)

Soon after arriving in America he entered hospital for the operation, after which it was reported in newspapers that during the operation he had to actually sing to guide the surgeon’s knife, the slightest deviation of which could have ended Al Bowlly as a singer. Fortunately the operation was a complete success and Al became full of joy and thankfulness that he could sing again. He often thanked God for his voice, which he believed to be a charisma, and for his success. Al was religious, deeply so. He belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church and attended frequently.


Now that Al’s voice had come back to him he was feeling on top of the world. Journalist Sidney Petty, after an interview with Bowlly, said that he had never seen a man so madly happy. Al had lost all his false friends and found one or two real ones who made up for everything. Al said at the Petty interview, which took place some while after:— “I’ve never been so happy, so cheerful, so contented of mind, as I have in the last seven months. I think right now I’m the happiest man in the world. I’ve got something that I’ve been looking for all my life, Honest to God, in my whole life — and I’ve had some good times. I’ve never been so happy.”


During the autumn of 1937, Al Bowlly had been through hell, but he came through it all a wiser and happier man. Perhaps he believed, as many do nowadays, that his voice even improved as a result of the operation, becoming deeper and richer than it was hitherto. After the operation, Al didn’t want to remain in America for long, although he did record there again. Indeed, as soon as his throat healed he was back in the recording studio again in New York with studio orchestra billed as “Al Bowlly and his Orchestra”. When you listen to the six titles recorded, there is no doubt that Al’s voice had returned in all its splendour.


Back in London in December 1937 he was now eager to resume his work with renewed enthusiasm now that he had a “new voice”. The first bandleader to approach him was Sydney Lipton, with whom he signed a contract in which there was also a clause allowing Al to work with Lew Stone. However, Al “fluffed” one or two titles with Lipton, who later released Al from the contract, thus enabling him to go freelance. Al was soon recording and broadcasting with Syd Lipton, Maurice Winnick and Lew Stone, the man who had shown such great friendship towards Al. For his solo recordings he was now on the exclusive HMV label. He also sang with Felix Mendellsohn with whom he made a short film in which, unfortunately, he did not sing.


Not long after his arrival back in England, Al was introduced to Helen Bevan — a very charming and attractive girl. This developed into the only permanent relationship that Al had, although he didn’t marry her.
As well as free lancing in the record and radio studios, Al continued with his variety act, appearing up and down the country, sometimes appearing with accompaniment by Archie Slavin and brother Mish. During 1938, the musical partnership between Al and Lew Stone was re-formed and in February of that year they made their first records together since 1934. Al appeared on most of the records that Lew made in 1938, and a view held by many people is that these records even surpassed the ones they made in the period 1932 to 1934. In 1938 Al free lanced with the Lew Stone Band on radio and records and also appeared with the band at Butlin’s holiday camps at Clacton-on-Sea and Skegness. This was the first time that a top line band had ever appeared at Butlin’s.

August of 1938 the famous Gaucho Tango Orchestra leader, Geraldo, formed a new band lie mgr, a wider and sweeter variety of music. Geraldo realised how popular Al was and asked him on the recording sessions for the new band which Al agreed to do. He thus recorded with Geraldo from September 1938 to April 1939 during which time they cut twenty-nine titles. On each of these titles Al sounds completely at home with the band, and many collectors agree that these are among his best band recordings, certainly of those he made since his return from America.


1939 was not a very good year for Al. Although he was well established as a solo artiste and made sixteen records as such, free lance recording work was scarce. Only Geraldo, Bram Martin and Reginald Williams used Al on their dance band recordings. Record sales at this period were not air at high and in particular the three titles Al cut with Reg Williams are about the rarest of all those – England — showing how low sales were. Al spent most of his time making personal appearances nationwide and these were successful as Al certainly had plenty of “pulling” power.


However, in 1939 Al became worried about his voice once again, and in June of that year he suffered a severe throat infection which prevented him from working for several months. On the last record he made before the infection, which was made with Bram Martin and his Band, Al sounds a little like he did on the Ronnie Munro record he made before his voice gave out in 1937. Although he not require surgery on this occasion, his voice started to deteriorate and to some people’s minds it had lost much of its sparkle. However, he was still able to put a song over with all the feeling and professionalism for which he had always been noted. It is noticeable from subsequent recordings that the power and range of Al’s voice was beginning to diminish.


As soon as his voice returned to him he was able to fulfil a promise he made sometime earlier. The promise was to record the four winning songs in a song-writing competition. The four titles were recorded, but not for commercial issue, the pressings being given to the winners of the
In September of 1939, World War II broke out, and this seemed to be the beginning of the end of the dance band era in Britain. Bandsmen were being called up and the dance bands were no longer the big attraction they were. Poor old Al Bowlly was now not getting the amount of work he would have liked. He had not been called up for military service since he was too old. He was to spend the early part of the war entertaining the war workers and blitz-weary population of London and elsewhere. During this time, Al had become very friendly with fellow singer and guitarist Jimmy Mesene. Mesene used to sing with Nat Gonella and met Al when they were both on same bill. They were both of Greek extraction and shared the same religion and profession. personality-wise they were poles apart. Jimmy Mesene was a swash-buckling devil-may-care sort fellow — smart talking, brash and intemperate. Just the antithesis of Al who was quiet and modest. In 1940 Al was the best man at Jimmy Mesene’s wedding.


THE AL BOWLLY STORY – PART 7

FOR THE FIRST TIME – THE FULL FACTUAL STORY OF AL BOWLLY AND HIS LIFE OF MUSIC AND SONG.

WRITTEN AND RESEARCHED BY RAY PALLETT (1975)

In the States, Al had reached a new high spot in his career. However, realising that the sophisticated New York life was not for him, and feeling overall that he could do even better in England, he decided to return home to London. So at the end of 1936, Al quit the Ray Noble Orchestra,and with Al’s departure the band lost much of its identity and shortly broke up. Ray Noble recognised Al’s vocal talent back in 1930 before he had his big break and it was through Ray that Al made so many excellent records and was invited to America. With Al and Ray breaking up, what was surely one of the greatest dance music partnerships, ended. Their last record together was made in October 1936 and entitled “Where the lazy river goes by”, and “There’s something in the air”.

It was not until he announced his departure from New York that he realised how many friends he had made in the New York music world. Some of them got together and presented Al with a parting gift — a large leather suitcase with a silver plaque inscribed :— “To Al Bowlly from Ave Lyman and all the music men of New York City.” This indeed was a very appropriate tribute and gesture for Britain’s favourite popular singer who had also won the hearts of the American public and music world.

However, Al’s visit to America was a chapter in his life he did not speak very much of because from a domestic angle America had unhappy memories. For his second marriage to the beautiful Marjorie broke up. It was not long after they were married when they separated. Although America was not the happiest time for Al personally, professionally it was the high spot of his career. Ray Noble later recalled that when Al was on tour through the States he left a trail of broken female hearts behind him and he was meeting Crosby and the rest of them on their home ground and beating them at their own game.

Back in Britain, Al was home in time for the 1936-37 New Year’s celebrations in London in which he took part. The news soon got around that he was back and he resumed his variety work and guested with one or two dance bands. But this was not a happy time for Al for he was often confronted by an air of hostility among some of his “friends” who may have been envious of his success in America. As well as these problems, his throat started troubling him slightly, but he still pressed on with his work. During his stay in America, Al went out of the public eye somewhat in this country as his voice was seldom heard on the radio. Sam Browne had become Britain’s favourite singer. Later in 1937, in the Melody Maker poll, Sam was still top vocalist with Al Bowlly No. 2.
Al Bowlly’s ambition at the beginning of 1937 was to get his own show on the road, and so with his younger brother, Mish, who came over from South Africa, Al formed his own band called “Al Bowlly’s Radio City Rhythm Makers”. The band made its debut on March 1st 1937 at the Birmingham Empire, where they scored a resounding success. They toured for several weeks, playing in such well known places as the Hammersmith Palais de Danse.

They crossed the Irish sea to play in Dublin , but on the very first night there his throat started troubling him and on the next day he actually lost his voice. So for the rest of the week he had to apologise on the stage for being unable to do anything other than conduct the band. The following week showed a gap in the engagement diary and the weeks ahead showed better prospects of any work. So the inevitable happened and the band broke up. Dissatisfaction had been felt among the musicians who were generally relegated to fairly minor parts in the act. To quote the “Melody Maker”, the moral was that even such a popular artiste as Al Bowlly could not run a stage band as a mere accompaniment unit in those days when jazz bands were expected to be a complete variety show in themselves. The sad story of Al Bowlly’s Radio City Rhythm Makers is unfortunately summed up as seven weeks rehearsal for four weeks work. Moreover, the venture resulted in a heavy financial loss for Al.

The Rhythm Makers never recorded and since his return from America Al did not make records until June 1937, by which time his voice had returned to him. This was the longest in his recording career since his arrival in England in 1928. In July 1937, shortly after a session with Ronnie Munro and his Orchestra, Al lost his voice once again. On the Munro disc sounds as if he had a cold — but it was much more serious than this. His surgeon diagnosed a wart on his vocal chords and there was no surgeon in England capable of performing the operation was necessary. The only surgeon that could perform this delicate operation was in America, and he could only offer a 50 – 50 chance of success. Notwithstanding this, Al decided to have the operation,and the trip to America, together with the medical fees meant that he had to find a large sum of money. This was not easy so soon after his heavy deficit over the Rhythm Makers Band and subsequently being made redundant due to loss of voice.
Al had now reached what was probably the lowest ebb in his life. Al was the sort of person who could be elated one day and in the depths of depression the next. He was now the most depressed that he had ever been, and absolutely frantic with worry over the diagnosis, for his voice meant everything, to him. This had a very bad effect on his health and he lost over thirty pounds in weight. He later stated in an interview:— “The day came when I woke up and found my voice had gone. I stayed in bed. I cried and went on crying. I tried to force my voice — tried to force out some sound, to swear at myself, to give vent somehow. I reckon I knew how a women would feel when she sees her child dying away. The voice was gone — oh, but / can’t begin to tell you how I felt There aren’t enough words.”

Al now had to find the money for the trip back to America and for the operation. There was some money owing to him from some “devoted friends” but when he went round to see them they just said ‘tomorrow’ or ‘the next day’. He could not raise a penny. These “friends” started rumours that his voice was failing through drink. Just one friend and his brother Mish came to the rescue, and kept his spirits up, and together raised the money that was so desperately needed. In the autumn of 1937 Al returned to the U.S.A. for the operation. Since his voice had gone, Al had to turn down some very good offers that he received for engagements. Just before he was to have his operation he was offered a very lucrative job to star in a stage show in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Al could have brought with him any acts he liked to fill half of the show. Nevertheless, with his voice in jeopardy, he had to turn down the job.

THE AL BOWLLY STORY – PART 6

FOR THE FIRST TIME – THE FULL FACTUAL STORY OF AL BOWLLY AND HIS LIFE OF MUSIC AND SONG.

WRITTEN AND RESEARCHED BY RAY PALLETT (1975)

This was to be the high spot in Al’s career where he later claimed to be earning over £150 a week. Arrangements made, Ray Noble, Al Bowlly, plus drummer Bill Harty, set sail for New York in 1934. Al took with him his girl friend, the lovely Marjorie, and after they reached the States, they married in New Jersey. However, the first thing they did on arrival in New York was to meet officials of the Music Corporation of America who had arranged for them to stay at a classy hotel. Arrangements were already in hand for forming the band which was to contain such American stars as Glenn Miller, Charlie Spivak, Bud Freeman and Claud Thornhill. Unfortunately Ray Noble ran into problems with the American Musicians’ Union which delayed the final formation of the new band.

Such was not the case with Al Bowlly who, whilst awaiting formation of the Noble Band, commenced recording with Victor Young and his Orchestra. Four tracks were recorded, two with Al as the principal artiste and two featuring Al as vocalist with the orchestra. These recordings were indeed a fine start to his career in America where he went as a band vocalist and became a star. Indeed it was in January 1935 that Al went over to the top-flight HMV company for his solo recordings and this was the highest compliment that could be paid to a popular recording artiste in those days.

His first “HMV” solo (recorded by the associate company, Victor) was “Blue Moon” — a record considered by many to be Al’s all time finest, One of the first things that made an impact on Al when he arrived in America was the high cost of living. He later wrote :— “Within ten days of our arrival I realised I was actually spending sixty dollars a week more than I was earning. Naturally I learnt to be more careful with my expenses !”. Early in 1935 the Ray Noble Orchestra opened at the Rainbow Room where they were an instant success, appearing nightly and broadcasting from there. Al was now employed solely as star vocalist not now as guitarist also. The large American radio audiences responded overwhelmingly towards Al and he later recalled :— “The first thing that amazed me was the terrific pull of radio in America. Rudy Vallee showed me the letters he received after one broadcast.

It was not uncommon for him to receive as many as seventy-five thousand pieces of fan mail following each broadcast. And in addition, a barrage of telephone calls from his admirers immediately following each programme. I was filled with envy when Rudy showed me his well organised office that he maintained just to deal with his radio fans. But within ten days of opening at the Rainbow Room and broadcasting on network radio, I had the happy experience of seeing the same type of fan mail staff and phone operators frenziedly busy handling the incoming enquiries about the “new British singer”.

One of Al’s favourite fan letters came from a girl who wrote : “When your voice comes on the air, it’s just like fizzy lemonade being poured down my spine !”. On February 9th 1935 the Ray Noble Orchestra started its recording career in America, during which time Al cut thirty-eight sides with the band in addition to those he made as a soloist and with Victor Young. The band also did many sponsored radio programmes, the most well known being presented by Coty Cosmetics.

Al also signed personally with NBC for thirty-six half-hour programmes with the Al Goodman Orchestra.A short time after their appearance at the Rainbow Room, Ray Noble arranged with the Music Corporation of America for the orchestra to appear at other prominent night spots, including the elite Astor and New Yorker, plus also the concert halls. In 1935 the Orchestra appeared in the film “Big Broadcast of 1936”. Being on the set enabled Al to meet his one and only singing idol, Bing Crosby, with whom Al broadcast whilst in the States. In the 1936 unity poll in America, Al’s popularity was such that he came second in the poll to Kenny Sargent knocking Bing into third place.

Al later recalled an amusing anecdote from his New York days. On the occasion in question Al was in a desperate hurry getting changed at his hotel as he was already late, and he broke his braces. He telephoned to the hotel office asking for a new pair to be sent up urgently. Presently there was a knock at the door and upon opening it, Al found a carpenter holding a brace and bit. The carpenter said “Look here Mister, if you want anything done to the furniture, you had better let me do it.” Al frantically explained that he wanted a pair of braces to hold his trousers up, only to be told that in America these are known as suspenders !

Al’s popularity in the States was such that he was often mobbed as he arrived and left the Rainbow Room. One particular night Al arrived only a few minutes before he was due to go on, and not wanting to disappoint the army of autograph hunters he hurriedly signed a few books. as he was about to sign one of them he noticed that the page was folded over at the top. He signed the page to see typed above the space where he would have signed, the words “Please pay the bearer on demand the sum of eight thousand dollars”. It was addressed to Al’s bank realising that he had been discovered, the crook who had tried on Al one of the oldest con-tricks tried on the famous, hurried off and lost himself in the crowd.

I mentioned at the beginning of the story that Al was a very patriotic Britisher. One of my favourite stories about Al happened one night in the States when he was in a theatre and the British National Anthem was played. Al stood to attention, but while the Anthem was being payed, an American in the seat behind him tugged at Al’s shoulder and told him to sit down as he couldn’t see the stage. As soon as the Anthem had been played, Al turned round and after one blow from Al the man who couldn’t see the stage had to be carried out of the theatre.

Whilst in America, Al retained his interest in sports, and in his few spare moments Al, with of the other members of the Ray Noble Orchestra, would go along to watch the ice hockey at the Madison Square Gardens. When watching any sports contest, Al could get very excited if he disagreed with a referee’s decision, or something of the like. It was easy to tell if Al was getting excited as the veins on his face would become enlarged and very noticeable. When Al went to the Madison Square Gardens, he used to sit between two members of the band so they could restrain him should he get excited. Otherwise he could get carried away and get involved in arguments with one of the players or the referee.

In 1936 Al and Ray Noble returned to London for both a summer holiday and to fulfil some commitments. During this spell in England they made what turned out to be the last Noble/Bowlly record in England. It was the now sought-after 12″ 78 entitled “The Ray Noble Medley” on which Al sang “The Touch of your lips” and “Goodnight Sweetheart”. It was also at this time that Al appeared in another Pathe’ short film in which he sang “My Melancholy Baby”, teaming up with Monia Liter once again for this. After the short holiday and back in America, Ray Noble decided to tour with the band from the Canadian border to the deep south.

There was now absolutely no doubt that Al had “arrived” and the fans of those days could be quite hysterical and violent as this incident that happened in Boston demonstrates. Al happened to leave the rehearsal one day just as nearby factory workers were coming out for their lunch break. Several factory girls recognised him and he was s surrounded by shrieking females, kissing him and tearing at his collar, tie and shirt to get And some of the girls were trying to cut off locks of his hair with scissors. Poor old Al was desperately trying to hold his trousers up with one hand and protecting his eyes with the other .Luckily the police arrived on the scene and rescued him, his clothes in shreds and his face coverall with every shade of lipstick.

THE AL BOWLLY STORY – PART 5

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.

THE AL BOWLLY STORY – PART 4

FOR THE FIRST TIME – THE FULL FACTUAL STORY OF AL BOWLLY AND HIS LIFE OF MUSIC AND SONG.

WRITTEN AND RESEARCHED BY RAY PALLETT (1975)

He had been without regular work for nearly eighteen months since he left Fred Elizalde at the Savoy Hotel. Al returned home to his landlady with his good news but realised that having entertained Mr and Mrs Fox, he was now broke once again and he didn’t then know when the Fox band was to start work recording at Decca. His landlady had never heard of Roy Fox and was, of course, displeased at Al’s inability to pay the rent. However, Al could turn on the charm when he wanted to and managed to persuade his landlady to let him stay on. The Roy Fox Band commenced recording in January 1931 but since it was still only a recording band, Al still had no regular daily engagement. However, he was becoming quite well known in the recording studios where he was spending time hoping to find free lance work with any band that happened to need a vocalist for a recording, and in this way he made dozens of records with all manner of bands and groups.

Al’s first record with Roy Fox was made on January 5th 1931, the titles being “You’re lucky to me” and “Thank your father”, the “vocalist” on the label being mistakenly credited to Kenneth Allen, Fox’s ex-vocalist from the Café de Paris. During Al’s time with Roy Fox, which lasted over the next twenty months, over 150 titles were recorded and all but a handful featured the voice of Al Bowlly. Roy Fox and his Band continued to record but its big break did not come until the Spring of 1931 when Roy arranged for the band to be auditioned for the new luxurious Monseigneur restaurant which was to soon open in Piccadilly. The audition at which Al sang Ray Noble’s recent composition “Goodnight Sweetheart”, was a success. Roy won the contract and the band opened there on 27th May, 1931. Al Bowlly was so grateful for his pay after his first week at the Monseigneur that he took Roy Fox for lunch at an Italian Restaurant in Soho !

Up to May 1931, Al had no regular work, only recording work with Ray Noble and Roy Fox, plus free lance work with other lesser known bands; this recording work was Al’s main sauce of income at the time. Once settled at the Monseigneur Restaurant, the Roy Fox Band became one of the high-lights of London’s night life. Playing in the band were several musicians that were later to achieve success in their own right, in particular Lew Stone, Spike Hughes and Nat Gonella. The quality of the music and especially the presence of Al Bowlly, attracted many of the West End “Society” people to come to listen and dance to the Roy Fox Band. In fact, among the Restaurant’s socialite clientele, Al became as well known and well liked as. Fox himself. Roy soon arranged to broadcast weekly from 10.30 p.m. to midnight every Tuesday on the late night dance music programmes put out by the BBC.

Thus the fame of both the Band and Bowlly spread. “Al Bowlly” soon became a well known name among those in the entertainment world and members of the public who took an interest in popular music. To give Al a chance to concentrate on his vocal work, he was frequently relieved of his guitar playing duties by Bill Herbert, who later appeared regularly with Billy Cotton and his Band. Life was now sweet for Al; he had a regular job and had money in his pocket once again. He moved into better class accommodation, taking a flat in Charing Cross Mansions in the West End. Life was now one big round of hard work, with rehearsals and recording during the day, plus also a night’s work at the Monseigneur. But Al was strong — he could take it, and because he never tired of singing he loved his work. His voice was his main interest in life, and with physical culture, his second passion, he was well placed for the hectic life he was now living.

In 1923 after he joined Edgar Adeler, Al’s singing, then ahead of its time, was sometimes considered effeminate. Even in 1931 some people held this view and reckoned that popular singers, or crooners as they were then known, like Al Bowlly, were representative of the “soft and decadent youth”. One anecdote that Al later recalled was that he once heard a customer at the Monseigneur making offensive remarks about crooning while Al was singing. At the end of his vocal he went over to this person and knocked him down with one blow. Obviously this particular individual realised to his cost that Al Bowlly was not a representative of the “soft and decadent youth” ! As mentioned, during his employment with the Roy Fox Band, Al achieved a measure of fame in his own right, and he was now asked by Decca to make records as a soloist.

Apart from the Afrikaans recordings already mentioned, and three titles recorded for Decca in November 1930 and issued sometime later, Al’s first regular solo recording work began in September 1931 when he recorded “Were you sincere” and “I’d rather be a beggar with you”. Al went on to make many solo records during his career, firstly on Decca and later on HMV. It was in December 1931 in the nearby Lyons Corner House that trumpeter Nat Gonella introduced Al to a well known local girl, Freda Roberts, a daughter of a merchant seaman. Al, not knowing her and having very little guile, fell for her and on 18th December 1931 married her in the St Martin Register Office, London. None of the boys in the band expected him to be serious about her, let alone marry her, for he was so popular in the West End that he could have virtually had the pick of any woman from the cream of West End society. But he calmly announced to the band, shortly after the event, “I got married today” — and the bandsmen were stunned. The members of the band were not really surprised when they learned a few weeks later than the marriage had broken up. Al returned to his flat after work one evening to discover his pretty young wife with another. This was a terrible blow for poor old Al and the whole band felt bad about it, for although professional musicians were often noted for their “earthy” way of living, Al was really the exception. Although the marriage broke up in January 1932, it was not until January 1934 that his divorce was finalised, after Freda had sued Al for adultery.

In 1931, Lew Stone, the pianist and arranger with Roy Fox and his Band, became musical director for the British and Dominion picture company. One of the earliest films for which Lew did the music arranging was “A night like this” released in 1932. In this film Lew Stone can be seen in several sequences conducting a band consisting of Roy Fox’s men in which Al sang one or two numbers. Thus Al could now be seen on the cinema screen. Two of the songs from this film were “If anything happened to you” and “In London on a night like this”. Both songs were recorded at the time by Al with Fox’s men under the pseudonym of “The Rhythm Maniacs”.

During 1932, the Monseigneur management sought to control the activities of Roy Fox too tightly and in September of that year he announced his intention of leaving the restaurant. Since the majority of the band, including Al Bowlly, were under contract to him, he could have insisted that they all leave the Monseigneur with him. But instead he released them to work for the “new” band at the Monseigneur, which was to be led by Lew Stone under the billing of “Lew Stone and the Monseigneur Dance Orchestra”. Inevitably there was some bad feeling, and even thirty years later Lew Stone was not keen on commenting on the switch. Things were said on both sides and at one stage Roy Fox was going to sue Al for breach of contract, thus bearing out what an import-ant member of the band Al was. However, the case was dropped and Al went on to work with Stone. Lew had claimed that he was going to form a completely new band when asked to do after Fox had decided to leave, and later he said “I did not take over the band — the band took over me.”

THE AL BOWLLY STORY – PART 3

FOR THE FIRST TIME – THE FULL FACTUAL STORY OF AL BOWLLY AND HIS LIFE OF MUSIC AND SONG.

WRITTEN AND RESEARCHED BY RAY PALLETT (1975)

At the end of July 1928 Al Bowlly went back to the continent again when the Elizalde band went over there for three months .They first went to Paris to play at a restaurant along the famous Champs Elysees. The other band playing was the Noble Sissle Orchestra. Al got on famously with the coloured French musicians and even sung a few numbers with Noble Sissle who liked his style. Then the Elizalde Band moved on to the Casino , Ostend in Belgium, but the band were not allowed to gamble there – much to Al’s dismay . However he soon found his way to the sea front each day where he passed the the time away with the Belgian and French girls on the beach. Incidentally the band did find somewhere to gamble . The stay in Ostend lasted six weeks and in October 1928 the Fred Elizalde Band crossed the channel and returned to the Savoy Hotel where they stayed for a further eight months.

During their stay at the Savoy, the band made frequent broadcasts over the BBC, but the sound quality of these were very poor and it was not until January 1929 that, after many complaints, a second microphone was installed to improve the sound balance. Unfortunately Al Bowlly came over very badly in the broadcasts; his high notes appeared to waver and he could do himself no justice at all. Late in April 1929, the band had a three week engagement at the London Palladium in which Al was the featured vocalist. But once again, he could do himself no justice with this orchestra. Apart from the record already mentioned, Al made a further five titles with the Elizalde hand. In the main these records did little justice to Al either — particularly as the company for which most of them were made, Brunswick, did not have its own, or indeed any permanent recording studio at that time.

Fred Elizalde was a hot tempered person and he had recurring rows with the management of the Savoy Hotel over the style of music that should be played, and this led up to the band leaving the Hotel during the Summer of 1929. This initially put Al out of work. During his spell at the Savoy he only managed to save £17. However, he managed to team up once again with Edgar Adeler who had now come to England, and together with Len Fillis and Al Starita, formed a quartet called the Blue Boys. With this group Al made appearances in England and Ireland; but the two Al’s in the quartet seemed always to be at loggerheads which, on more than one occasion, nearly ended in a fight. This resulted in the band breaking up after only a very short lifetime.

Although he had achieved a degree of success with Elizalde, and to a much lesser extent with the Blue Boys, who incidentally did not record, Al had still not established himself in England. Len Fillis had coached Al further in playing guitar and by the time he was with Elizalde and the Blue Boys, he had become a competent rhythm guitarist. During the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, Len Fillis made numerous records on various labels under his own name and names such as “Honolulu Serenaders”, “Brooklyn Broadcasters” “Linn Milford and his Hawaiians”, “Al Vocale”, “Ferrachini” and several others. On many of these Fillis used a vocal duet and often this was between Les Allen and Al Bowlly, occasionally both were allowed a solo spot. The first of these records with Al Bowlly was made in May 1929, the next in November and throughout 1930. Although Al appeared on these records he didn’t earn very much money as many of these were made for small and insignificant labels.

The Summer of 1929 was indeed a lean time for Al; he had no recording work — not even with Len Fillis ! Poor old Al Bowlly could not even afford to pay his rent and his landlady explained that in these difficult times, if he couldn’t pay the rent he would have to leave. The only thing for Al to do was to swallow his pride and sing in the street. So with his guitar in his hand he went out and found a busy street corner in Piccadilly and sang to the passing crowd near a busy underground station. He pulled his collar well up in an attempt not to be recognised in this undignified pursuit. Al just managed to pay his rent out of the £2.17.0d which was his week’s takings as a busker.

It was during 1930 that Bill Harty, a drummer who had made Al’s acquaintance, introduced him to Ray Noble, a talented young pianist who led the house band at the HMV recording studios from 1929 to 1934. Ray Noble was to play a very important part in the musical life of Al Bowlly from 1930 onwards. In June of 1930 Al had made a couple of solo tracks on HMV in Afrikaans for the South African market. HMV wanted a few more titles in this language and these were made with an accompanying orchestra led by Ray Noble. On being introduced to Al, Ray Noble asked him if he sang in “printed key”. Being anxious to record with Noble, Al said “yes” immediately and it was not until some months later that Noble realised Al’s true range was about one third lower. This story, which was related by Ray Noble himself, shows how wide Al’s vocal range was.

In November of 1930, Ray Noble invited Al to sing with his HMV house band, the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra. The titles recorded were “I’m telling the world she’s mine” and “How could I be lonely ?”. These were excellent samples of Al’s singing and both Ray Noble and HMV were sufficiently impressed that Al became Noble’s regular vocalist at HMV. This was then the start of what was probably the greatest combination in British dance music history, and Noble and Bowlly went on to make well over 200 recordings for HMV. The Ray Noble orchestra was, except for one occasion, purely a recording band and never existed outside the HMV studios.


Although in 1930 Al appeared in the recording studios with Ray Noble, Len Fillis, Harry Hudson and a few other bandleaders, these were only free-lance jobs and he still hadn’t had any regular work since leaving the Fred Elizalde band at the Savoy Hotel. However, towards the end of 1930, Bill Harty, the drummer, had some news that raised Al’s hopes of getting a regular job. Harty was then working with American bandleader Roy Fox who had been invited from the U.S.A. to play at the Café de Paris. Although Roy’s engagement there had ended, he had been awarded the contract to lead a recording band for Decca and was looking for a “new” vocalist. But unlike Noble, Fox had plans for his band to work regularly both in and out of the recording studio. Bill Harty arranged for Al to meet Roy Fox at the Coventry Street offices of Ralph Dean. Al was introduced to the immaculate Roy Fox and Mrs Fox, and he asked Roy to listen to the record he had previously made with Ray Noble, which he had brought with him.

After hearing both sides of the record, Ray told Al that he would be hearing from him. Al was still desperately trying to impress the American bandleader, and with less than £3 in his pocket he invited Mr and Mrs Fox for lunch at a nearby restaurant. At the restaurant, lunch ever, Al went over to the bandleader playing to the patrons and after a hurried conversation got up with the band and sang “I love the moon” plus a couple of hot (IA ferry) numbers. When Al returned to his table Roy Fox said simply “O.K. you get the job.” Al pressed Roy into giving him written confirmation of the engagement, which he did, and to Al’s delight the salary placed him among London’s highest paid dance band vocalists. Al Bowlly left the restaurant feeling on top of the world because he knew his first big break had come now that he was vocalist and guitarist with Roy Fox and his Band.

THE AL BOWLLY STORY – PART 2

FOR THE FIRST TIME – THE FULL FACTUAL STORY OF AL BOWLLY AND HIS LIFE OF MUSIC AND SONG.

WRITTEN AND RESEARCHED BY RAY PALLETT (1975)

Al Bowlly was an inveterate gambler and could never resist trying to make money in this way . In fact, on more than one occasion gambling lost Al his money just when he needed it the most .This is what happened at the Grand Hotel, Calcutta, when he lost all his money in a wild bid to break the bank. Not only this, but he lost the job at the Hotel by accidentally getting involved in a fight. Al Bowlly was emotional, could get quickly excited and easily got involved in fights. Now he was without money and without work. But being good at sports, Al was able to get a job as a jockey – and actually rode in the Calcutta races of 1925.

Not very much time had passed when a large jazz orchestra, led by Jimmy Liquime, arrived at the Grand Hotel in Calcutta. Al Bowlly walked in and offered his services as a vocalist and banjoist . He got a job as banjoist because his vocal style, which caused some amusement in the band, was considered effeminate in certain quarters, The type of singing that was in vogue then was the Jolsonish “shouting” style, and the band already had a singer providing this type of singing . Playing piano in this band was a man who was to play an important part in Al’s musical life later on, becoming his personal accompanist. It was Monia Liter.

The Jimmy Liquime orchestra was a sensation and trumpeter Jimmy became a star. The band did record at the HMV Dum Dum studios in Calcutta, but as yet no recording containing an Al Bowlly vocal has been traced, although experts again believe that he did record vocally at this time.

Meanwhile, the Raffles Hotel in Singapore had been without a regular band since Edgar Adeler had left, and hearing of Liquime’s success in Calcutta, the Raffles-management wrote offering the band a permanent engagement, At the end of 1926 Jimmy Liquime accepted the offer and the band set sail for Singapore. However, they had not been playing at Raffles very long when the band began to break up. Al consequently left the band fairly early in 1927 in an endeavour to renew his friendship with Edgar Adeler . This he did; they went on to make a few records together in Berlin and London.

ln the early spring of 1927 Al made his way to Germany where his first known vocal records were made .His first engagement in that country was as vocalist with a newly-formed band at the Regina Palace Hotel in Munich, under the leadership of violinist Robert Gaden. Al’s singing impressed the clientele of this plush hotel and his guitar playing similarly impressed the members of the eight-strong Gaden band. Al Bowlly stayed in Germany one year; he did not record there with Robert Gaden, but left this band to go to Berlin to sing with jazz band-readers Arthur Briggs, Fred Bird, George Carhart and John Abriani, all of whom recognised Al’s vocal talent.

In May 1927 the first known record on which Al was featured was made in Berlin. This record was entitled “Song of the Wanderer” and “Hallelujah , made with Negro trumpeter Arthur Briggs, Savoy Syncopaters’ orchestra.

During his stay in Germany it seems that Al became something of a jazz celebrity .This is born out by the fact that his name as vocalist appeared on many records he made in Germany with dance bands, including his very first, and that he made several records as a vocal soloist .Al’s first ever solo record was a very excellent version of the old favourite “Blue Skies”‘ His solo records were issued on the Homochord label, and publicity leaflets were produced for these which included a very young photo of the singer. on these records Al was accompanied on piano by Edgar Adeler and Heinz Lewy.

From Germany Al Bowlly went to Paris for an engagement, and while there received an invitation to re-join Edgar Adeler and his orchestra back in Berlin. A last minute change of plans resulted in this engagement moving from Berlin to Munich to where Al was also invited. But a telegram that Adeler sent to Al was misfiled at Thomas Cook’s Paris office, which cause a delay and when he finally reached Munich Al found that the band had moved on once again without him

Al had worked his way up to being a recognised band vocalist on the continent. However , now had only enough money to last him two weeks and there seemed no prospect of him getting a job in Munich. Al’s ambition at the time was to come to England and make a name for himself as a singer, but as yet his name was quite unknown in this country. ln Munich Al met a man who knew Fred Elizalde, a band-leader of Spanish descent, who had a band at the Savoy hotel, London, and who needed a vocalist. He promptly sent Elizalde Al’s solo record of Muddy Waters” and Elizalde was suitably impressed. So much so that he offered Al a job with the band, but at a salary of only £14 a week – considerably less than he had been earning on the continent. Although he was virtually broke, he didn’t jump at the offer but wrote back to Elizalde demanding more money .This gamble paid off, for Fred Elizalde agreed to meet Al’s demand and even sent him an advance of £20 on his salary to pay for his fare from Germany to England.


We have already seen that Al was a sportsman and liked to gamble, Money did not mean very much to him; he was not a business man and all through his career he never had a really good manager. So long as he had enough to eat and a place to sleep, Al Bowlly was happy. This all meant that money slipped through his hands like water, He would spend it on cigarettes ( at some stages he smoked very heavily), gifts and loans to “friends” which were often not paid back. Al rarely saved any money, his philosophy being to live for today . The only form of investment that Al embarked upon was gambling. Very often he would gamble away his last few shillings in a hope to make some money. This is what he did, in effect, when Fred Elizalde offered him a job and Al wrote back asking for more money. For not being known in England, this could have lost him the job .This time, however, the gamble paid off. But when Elizalde sent him the £20 advance of salary, he spent £5 of this on entertaining friends and put the rest on a horse – and lost
his money . Having thought how nice it would be to arrive in London with some money in his pocket, he now was in the predicament of having a good job waiting for him at the Savoy Hotel and no money for the fare.

Al Bowlly was generous to a fault; he would give someone the shirt off his back if he thought it was a deserving case. But frequently his generosity was not returned to him. Having mentioned how generous he was, it ought to be emphasised that Al was a man of extremes . If you crossed him he would not hesitate to strike you and he was a good fighter. However, Al was not one to hold a grudge, Fortunately, just when he needed it the most, his generosity was returned, for on this occasion a friend offered to lend Al the money for first class travel from Germany to London and enough to pay his hotel bills at either end of the journey. This offer saved the day as far as Al was concerned and after arriving in London he scrimped and saved, living in inferior accommodation in Soho’s Gower street, in order to pay track the money that was lent to him.

After his arrival in London in June 1929, Fred Elizalde became the first band leader in England to employ Al Bowlly and he did so as both a vocalist and guitarist. Al’s first record in England was “Just imagine” and “Wherever You Are” billed on the label as Fred Elizalde and his Music with vocal refrain.

THE AL BOWLLY STORY – PART 1

FOR THE FIRST TIME – THE FULL FACTUAL STORY OF AL BOWLLY AND HIS LIFE OF MUSIC AND SONG.

WRITTEN AND RESEARCHED BY RAY PALLETT (1975)

Al Bowlly was born Albert Alick Bowlly in Lourenco Marques in Mozambique, then Portuguese East Africa. Al always maintained that his birthday was 7th January 1898, a date confirmed as correct by his family. However, it is believed by some that 1890 was nearer his true year of birth, ln the “Melody Maker” of 25th April 1941, the columnist who wrote the tribute after Al’s death said he was older than anyone thought. Lew Stone, with whom Al worked for many years, said that Al was 42 in 1932, and in 1938, in a conversation with a friend, Al claimed he was then 46. Al always managed to look younger than he was since he was very keen on physical culture and therefore hid his age well. Since his birth appears not to have been registered, we will probably never know Al Bowlly’s true birthday. Therefore we start our story with a doubt and what is one of the “mysteries of Bowlly”. There are other mysteries also, some having been solved in this Souvenir and some that have not or cannot be solved. All these mysteries help to make Al Bowlly one of the most fascinating entertainers of all time.

Al Bowlly had three brothers and four sisters, one of his brothers, Mish, later to become a pianist and to work with Al in the 1930’s. Their father, Alick Bowlly, who was a director of a company running a store, was Greek, being born on the Greek island of Rhodes. Their mother came from the Lebanon . They met on board ship bound for Australia and were married soon after their arrival in Adelaide. lt wasn’t long before the Bowlly family (then with two children) moved from Australia to Lourenco Marques where Al, the fourth child, was born. Al was only one year of age when the family moved to Durban and then shortly to Johannesburg, which has been the family home ever since. Although his parents came from Greece and the Lebanon, and he was born in a Portuguese colony, Al always maintained that he was of British nationality and indeed became a very patriotic fellow.

All of Al’s early life was spent in Johannesburg, and it was there that he attended school. Although he got good school reports, especially in music and scripture, he was a truant and described himself in later life as a ruffian. The first school he attended was a poor people’s school but as his father’s business became more successful, the family moved to a better district and Al to a better school . All through his school days Al proved himself to be good at sport – boxing, shooting, running, sailing and horse riding – winning prizes in these sports.- Al maintained his interest in sport throughout his life. At Al’s school were good music and singing teachers and he was a very eager pupil in these subjects, for even at an early age young Bowlly realised he had a voice and loved using it. He sang in a very fine local church choir, where he was taught even more about singing and music. School hours were from 9.00 a.m. to 3.30 p.m., and at the age of nine years his parents, realising that he had too much time on’ his hands, fixed Al up with a job as a lather boy in his brother-in-law’s barber’s shop, where he worked from 4.00 p.m. to 7.00 p.m. each day, At fourteen he left school with ambitions to make music his career, but his parents decided he should work full time in barber’s shop where he was taught the hairdressing trade.

The Dutch farmers who came in from the veldt and the gold miners were making good money, and business at the shop was therefore very brisk. Al even went on to open up a shop of his own where he became known as the “singing barber” – and he made plenty of money. However, money didn’t mean very much to Al even then or in his later life, and he was just hoping for the day when he could start earning his living by singing. ln the meantime Al would practice the banjo and the guitar and became able to play with the local swing bands, where he earned what was then good money – ten shillings a session. Al got his musical inspiration not from the Negroes in America, but from the mine boys and natives of South Africa. This, together with his singing at school and playing in the local bands, held him in good stead for when his big chance would come as he knew it would. And in 1923 it came Edgar Adeler and his Syncopaters, then a well-known band in those parts, came to play in Johannesburg and Al marvelled at the sound of this professional orchestra. Each night he went along to listen to this band and on the sixth night he asked Adeler for a job and was given an audition. The band-leader who came from South West Africa, and who was of German descent, was not impressed with Al’s voice but offered him a job as guitarist with the band. With the opportunity of touring with a top line dance orchestra, Al was on top of the world. His parents were naturally sad to see Al leaving home, but they knew his heart was set on a career in the music world. and that no amount of arguing would change his mind.

This, then, was the start of Al’s professional career – a big adventure which was to take him high and take him low and on which he was destined to sing his way around the world, but often for little reward. His ambition was especially to sing in Europe and eventually in Britain. He little realised that one day he was to land a top job in America, the traditional home of popular music.

After playing in Johannesburg, the Edgar Adeler Band moved on for a short season in Mombasa, a tour of lndia and then on to Singapore where they played at the famous Raffles Hotel in’1924. ln 1925 the band sailed to Sourabaya, Java, and gave concerts on the boat going over. But the romance soon faded; in the heat and tropical conditions, tempers were frayed. Al lost his temper with two of the boys in the band who tried to pull a fast one on him and in a rash moment of anger he quit the band. During his almost two year stay with Edgar Adeler he had played guitar and banjo in the band and later sung although material evidence has yet to be traced, some Bowlly experts believe Al recorded vocally with Edgar Adeler.

Despite the row, Adeler bore no grudge against Al and within a few years they were to be working together again’ Al was to profit by this parting with Adeler for in Sourabaya he got a job with a local swing band where he found himself in the limelight as singer and banjoist, earning good money. ln fact Al became the leader of this band and soon found his name plastered all over the town. Al Bowlly and his Band became so well known that Al received an offer from a man called Schwartz, a business man in the entertainment industry. He asked Al to leave this outfit and come with him to the Grand Hotel, Calcutta, where he offered Al a top line job. So Al broke it to the boys in the band that he would be leaving them; they bore him no grudge and wished him good luck. Although he was sorry to go, he felt the Calcutta job was too good to refuse. Al set sail for Calcutta where he signed for one year with the Grand Hotel at an extremely good salary. But within a short space of time, Al was to lose this security …….