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