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

Melody Maker – February 1933

Home Notes  by Miles Henslow

No.2.    Al Bowlly , of Lew Stone’s Monseigneur Band

SEVENTEEN, Orange Street, at two-thirty. The two-thirty part was easy. It happened while I was still in the ‘bus. But Orange Street, no. At three o’clock I decided that I did not know my London.

First Policeman : ” Third to the right, second to the left.” Taxis applied their brakes as I followed instructions.

Second Policeman : “Round to the right, round to the left, third right.” As I got back to where I started the friendly clock said “Three-fifteen.”

     The first match-seller said the same as the first Policeman. Fortunately, there was another match-seller stationed by Policeman No. 2, so I was able to get back again by three-forty-five, plus two boxes of matches. I stood for a while to cool off. It was most trying. Somewhere, also cooling his heels in the friendly Bowlly doorway, was THE MELODY MAKER’S tame photographer. He always accompanies me on these missions of mystery. His job is to take pictures and other things that I miss. We share out afterwards

 “Love is the sweetest thing ——–” I turned my head the better to hear. I knew that voice !

” Twang — twang — twang — twangka – twang.” Likewise did I know that guitar ! Then, as the rich baritone voice echoed down the street, I realised the terrible truth. I looked up.

” Orange Street,” said the neat, enamel plate on the wall. At three-forty-eight and a half the voice ceased and Al Bowlly poked his head out of the window. “Can’t you two fight somewhere else ?” he pleaded. Then, as he noticed our gentlemanly attire, ” Oh, are you looking for me ? Come right up.” We floated in to the strains of “Mother Machree.” ” Take off your hat, Jack,” I whispered, ” and don’t stand on those records.”

” Are you Mr. Bowlly ? I’m so ——————

“Well, there’s the decanter,” said our host. I was going to have said “Sorry,’ but I was thirsty, so it didn’t matter.

“Have a cigar ? Sit down. My name’s Al.”

I helped myself to the largest cigar in the chest, and put Jack Marshall’s in my pocket. He doesn’t smoke. Al introduced us to a friend, “Young Johnny Brown.” ” Ex-featherweight champion of Great Britain,” he said. ” He is teaching me to box and giving me a course of massage.”

I saw Jack Marshall replace a silver spoon. Jack is very discreet. ” Well, Mr. Bowlly— er, Al,” I began, ” what is your favourite occupation

“Singing.”

I mean when you are at home ?

“Singing.”

Haven’t you a hobby ?

“Singing.”

We were progressing rapidly.

“Do you drink ?

“Never. But there is always plenty for my friends. Have another ? “

Al is human.

” Do you smoke ?”

“Like a chimney.”

Al is very human. Soon he will be super-human. When he is not wrapped up with his singing he is wrapped up with towels and having his ribs bruised by “Young Johnny Brown.”

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“You were singing ‘Mother Machree’ when I came in, Al ; but wasn’t it a new tune ? ”

Al smiled. “Yes,” he said, it was my own arrangement. Don’t you think it a great improvement ? ”

I did, and I said so. Whereupon he sang it again. It was Al Bowlly in a new vein. I understood why he sang at home. As he explained, it is one thing to be able to sing what you like how you like, and another having to sing what other people like how they like.

“But you’ve always sung modern stuff, haven’t you ? ” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

He got up and opened a long forgotten cupboard. From a stack of records some six feet high he levered out a disc that was scratched and gnarled with age. The label had come off and there were sundry pot-holes and dents on its surface, but it played. As the sound-box rose and fell over its contours, we marvelled. “Muddy Water” was the title. I seemed to recall having heard it before. Was it ’26 or ’24 ? No matter it was good.

” If,” I said, ” you were to do that number  to-morrow, exactly as you did it then, it would go down as well as the best.” And it would.

Another cupboard yielded yet more records. Once Al got started nothing could stop him. Down on the floor, with guitar and gramophone, he entertained us. In the depths of the chair, with glass and cigar, I listened.

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” Do you sing ? ” he asked.

” Well,” I said, modestly, ” I used to be quite outstanding in the choir at school.”

” Let’s hear ! ” Good King Wen–“

“Have another drink,” said Al. ” must be moving. I have still got to have my massage, a bath, a meal, a rehearsal, and then I’m on the air.” He rushed from the room. A few seconds later a deafening report and the rushing of water intimated that he had lighted the geyser.

” Love is — splash — the sweetest — splash. — The — splash — splash — and the latest splash.” Seizing camera and rate-book we crept to the bathroom. ” I only hope that fate will bring– splash — splash — splash.” Outside the door the photographic virtuoso stealth-rutty erected his tripod.

” Love’s old, sweet story to — splash you “

” When I say Go ‘,” whispered the picture merchant, “push the door.”

” Land of hope and—splash, splash .”

” Go ”

There was a blinding flash as I kicked at the door. We caught Al on bottom ” G.” It was rather like abusing hospitality, but the chance was too good to miss. The result which we print here is, I am sure, the only authentic evidence supporting the well-worn phrase, “He sang in his bath.”

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After that episode Al became quite cheerful. It was obvious that he realised the futility of resistance. Amidst splashing, soap bubbles and snatches of song, we got his story. Born in South Africa, he made his debut in a concert party. He had always wanted to sing. He, too, was in the choir. In those days ten bob for an evening was a fortune. He continued to sing. Now, as I have said before—” rich baritone.”

He has no quaint hobbies. He does not make fiddles out of biscuit tins, neither does he breed guinea-pigs. His two objects in life are a perfect voice, and perfect health.

For the first he has made Bing Crosby his model ; for the second, Young Johnny Brown is his tormentor.

At that moment the latter entered, hauled Al out of the bath, threw him full length upon the table and commenced to lam into him. Al seemed to enjoy it. Here again I suppose he realises the futility of resistance.

” Thank you, Al,” I said.

” Not at all,” he replied.

“Come again.”

Al is essentially hospitable. He makes you feel at home. His heart is as big as his voice. We turned the corner of Orange Street. ” Love is the sweetest thing. The ——– ”

Al Bowlly is essentially a singer.

 

Addendum

Al Bowlly featured on two recordings of  Muddy Water  in 1927, firstly with Arthur Briggs Savoy Syncopators Orchestra ( only guitar accompaniment) and then with Edgar Adeler .

Muddy Water ( A Mississippi Moan)