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

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

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

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

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

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

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Daily Herald – February 8th 1933

Who is our Best Crooner ?

One of the most amusing novelties ever turned out by a dance band is the ” Little Nell ” of Lew Stone and the Monseigneur Band, now issued on Decca F 3394. It is. of course, just the same ” production ” as the band has broadcast many times already, so you probably know all about it: how, for instance it tells in burlesque form and strictly in fox-trot rhythm, of the villainy per-formed against Little Nell and how that villainy is brought to book by the aged father and the village “constabule.” Neither on the air nor on the record do you enjoy the supreme good fun of hearing this number as worked by the band in person. for then the boys use props on the job and it not only sounds funny but looks funny as well
However, the record is such a quaint one as to be well worth having, especially by the collectors who make a hobby of knowing all about the principal rank and file performers in the star dance bands as well as the leaders themselves.

What’s in a Voice?

Such as these will be intrigued in recognising the quavery voice of Little Nell’s father as belonging to Jim Easton, the sax player and in tracing the piping treble of Little Nell herself to Tiny Winters, the diminutive bassist of the band.
Nor will they have any difficulty in identifying the bucolic diction of the ” constabule ” Only two musicians have a frog in the voice like that: one is Louis Armstrong. in America, and the other is his faithful disciple in England ,namely Nat Gonnella, the trumpet player of Lew Stone’s Band.
There remains only one other character to be solved—the villain with the dirty voice and the dirtier curse. Yes. it is Al Bowlly—Al Bowlly. the crooner.

The Barber’s Bias

It seems all wrong somehow to cast a crooner as the villain of the piece – yet I don’t know.
A certain tonsorial artist who plies an artistic scissor In the saloon which I favour for my hair cuts has constituted himself my guide and mentor.
Only a few days ago. when I went in for a trim, he came over to my chair and said gravely. ” I was sorry to see you make such a bloomer In one of your recent articles as to refer to Al Bowlly as the senior crooner. He’ll never be that Sir , What about Sam Browne? There’s a real singer.”
We debated the point and then he finished off the discussion by saying ” After all, when it comes to singing dance songs, there’s only one artist worth talking about – Bing Crosby. And If you want to do your readers a real service. you’ll tell them to get his “Brother ,Can You Spare a Dime?'”

In Defence of Bowlly

Well as far as Bing Crosby is concerned I am quite in agreement with all that, and the record in question is Brunswick 1434 , so hear the record and find out from it not only what good popular song singing is like, but also what America has come to with its unemployed millions, bread queues and the like.
But I am still unrepentant about Al Bowlly. To my mind he is the supreme British crooner, although, to tell the truth. there is Latin blood in his veins as you would suspect from his swarthy complexion ,large dark brown eyes, sideboard whiskers, and the extra ‘”l” in his surname.

Bowlly sings like a musician. He is not just content slavishly to sing a song exactly as the composer wrote it and precisely as it is phrased on the in song copy.
No ,Al sings it his own way and when he has worked it up on his own lines it usually is a long way better than the composer ever made it .
This style of singing is a secret shared by most of the leading American vocalists: the Al Jolson’s, Harry Reichmann’s , Bing Crosby’s , Sophie Tuckers, Ethel Waters and the rest .
Not only that, but Al is the real artist always practicing, living only for his work ,dreaming about it night and day and as the photograph shows ,literally singing in his bath in by way of a busman’s rehearsal.
And now. hear one of the best of his solo records, namely “Rosa Mia.” Decca F3275

Mathison Brooks

 

DailyHerald