Al Bowlly and Ray Noble (OEX 9710 – 1972 )

OEX 9710 Front
RAY NOBLE and AL BOWLLY, two men whose careers span one of the greatest eras of change the world has ever known, are heard again in this nostalgic, unashamedly romantic album of the music of their time.

To people accustomed to accepting discordancy as the norm and cacophonous screeching as good music, this album may come as something of a shock: but it will provide many happy hours for lovers of soft, sweet music, whose ear-drums crave for a revival of the clean, rich sound of a good band and the vocalising of a honey-tongued singer with a leaning towards a love-torn lyric.

Such a singer was Al Bowlly who , a generation ago in a world of jazzy parties, cats whiskers, crystal sets and flickering early movies was rivalling  that old maestro Bing Crosby in popularity .

We Danced All Night (CDN 5131 – 1958 )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Rust

By The Fireside (Brian Rust – 1968)

cache_17351273        The year 1932 was one of deep economic depression all over the civilized world. Towards its close, Americans were pleading “Buddy, can you spare a dime?” while the growing army of unemployed sold apples, five for a nickel, on street-corners, queued for bread or in desperation, marched to Washington to lay their claims for relief at the door of President Herbert Hoover. In England, much the same thing happened; the hunger – marchers footed it from Jarrow to Whitehall, we were advised to “Buy British, ” and in Germany, a little man with staring eyes and a Charlie Chaplin moustache led his National Socialist party to election triumphs, seizing power early in 1933.

Generally speaking, it wasn’t a very happy year.

      It was a glorious hot summer, though.  It was a good year for songs, too. The fashion in these had turned from the rather hard-boiled style of the mid-twenties to tuneful, if sometimes rather too sentimental, love-ballads that would have beaten most other kinds of song to the top of the charts if such things had existed then. (There were exceptions, of course; two of the best-sellers of 1932 were the American ELEVEN MORE MONTHS AND TEN MORE DAYS and the British marching-song, AIN’T IT GRAND TO BE BLOOMING WELL DEAD? which grimly summarized a number of people’s feelings just then). To sing these sentimental numbers, America offered Will Osborne, Russ Columbo, Rudy Vallee and above all, Bing Crosby; while here in Britain we didn’t glamourize our top pop stars as we do now, nor had we so many to offer. In fact, far and away our most popular “ambassador of song” as he was later billed was the guitarist of Roy Fox’s fine dance band that broadcast weekly late at night from its place of work, the Monseigeur Restaurant, Piccadilly, London, W.1.
Al Bowlly was the name.
       He had come from Lourenco Marques in Portuguese East Africa via Johannesburg,
where he had worked as a barber, also via Calcutta, Singapore, and Germany in the days of the democratic Weimar Republic. He arrived in London in the summer of 1928, at the invitation of the Spanish-American pianist and bandleader, Fred Elizalde, whose forward-looking band, crammed with top American jazz talent, played for dancers in the ballroom of the Savoy Hotel. Bowlly was then thirty years old; an age nowadays considered in the pop world to be bordering on dotage, but he had a charm both in his singing and his personality that conquered female hearts wherever he went (the famous British composer and bandleader Ray Noble, on whose records Bowlly sang from 1931 to 1936, both here and in the U.S.A., recalls that when Al Bowlly was on tour through the States, with the Noble band, he left a trail of broken hearts behind him; he was meeting Crosby and the rest on their home ground and beating them at their own game).
        By 1932, he had established himself as Number One dance-band vocalist, and there
were few leaders with whom he did not appear at some time. Among those who claimed his services were, apart from Roy Fox, and later at the Monseigneur, Lew Stone, such leaders as Sid Phillips, Geraldo, Mantovani, Billy Cotton, Carroll Gibbons, Sidney Lipton, Oscar Rabin, Van Phillips, Bram Martin and Jay Wilbur. His ,silky voice, easy delivery and sincerity (“he really believed what he sang, ” Ray Noble ‘tells us, “and I have seen him turn away from the microphone with tears in his eyes after` singing a song such as THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU, which has a lyric as sincere as I could make it”)  were just what the public of 1932 wanted. In the hardbitten days of 1968, it is easy for some of our flint-hearted “realists’ ‘ to deride the “escapist” appeal of the singer and his songs; but the fact remains that by no means all the many who collect his records – and pay big money for originals that have not been transferred to LP – are middle-aged nostalgiacs, wiping tears from their eyes as they listen; a good many of his 1968 fans were not even born when the Nazi land-mine fell near Al Bowlly’s flat in Jermyn Street, London, in the dawn of April 17, 1941, killing him outright without wounding.
           Lew Stone arranged the twelve songs of 1932 presented on this record. For the sessions – there were three in all, that took place on March 15, April 1 and April 20 – he used the finest talent in London’s dance music. Nat Gonella, Paul Fenoulhet, Harry Hines, Bill Harty and Dick Ball are among the better-known personalities taking part; the scoring ranges with typical Lew Stone brilliance from the richly sentimental (ALL OF ME, or BY THE FIRESIDE, or the appropriate closing number, AUF WIEDERSEHEN MY  DEAR) to the blazing heat of MY SWEET VIRGINIA, via the cheerful jauntiness of JUST HUMMING ALONG or RAIN ON THE ROOF, the latter a little-known song by that comparative rarity, girl-composer Ann Ronell, better remembered as the writer of WILLOW WEEP FOR ME and WHO’S AFRAID OF THE BIG BAD WOLF?
          The late Sigmund Spaeth, in his excellent book POPULAR MUSIC IN AMERICA,  deplores the arrival in 1932 of WAS THAT THE HUMAN THING TO DO? as a reaction to the tear-jerker ballads of the nineties. It is difficult to understand why this number should have been singled out, as it is no worse than many others of the day, and a good deal better than some, for it has a singable tune matched by a singable lyric that, if it is not great poetry, at least it bears comparison with many others of its time, and for this writer’s money, it is far and above the average popular song of the sixties. Al Bowlly, in delivering this gently reproachful song of a jilted lover, might well have turned away from the microphone with tears in his eyes.
        These twelve tracks are also remarkable for other reasons. They are extremely well-recorded; compared with certain other discs of the same date, they sound remarkably clear, well-balanced and crisp, with Al Bowlly very much on form. Also, half of them were never recorded by Al for other labels.
       “After all these dangerous years, ” says Ray Noble, “I still get many enquiries about Al Bowlly, and sometimes, when a middle-aged father says to me, ‘You know, I first met my wife the night we danced to your band and heard Al Bowlly singing  GOODNIGHT , SWEETHEART, and we’ve never forgotten it, ‘ well  then I feel that Al and I have contributed in a small way to other people’s happiness; and I wish he were here now to share that feeling.”
Don’t we all?
Brian Rust