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

 

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.

IMG_1938

 

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

 

The Nat Gonella Story – 1985

Things were swinging along nicely for the Fox band, then fate took a hand yet again,IMG_1890
when Roy was taken ill with pleurisy in November 1931. He tried to struggle on but he was forced to take his doctor’s advice to go to Switzerland in order to recuperate, living in a small village high in the mountains. With the Billy Cotton affair no doubt still fresh in his mind, Roy was well aware of what could happen when the leader of a band went absent so he kept the band running at the Monseigneur by handing the baton over to Lew Stone as a temporary measure. This was fine with the rest of the band , for as well as being a most proficient musician, Lew was a very popular chap on and off the bandstand. Although Roy Fox took all the limelight through fronting the band, it is generally acknowledged that Lew Stone was really the musical brains behind the success of the outfit with his arranging skills.

       It would seem that apart from musical prowess, to possess a strong constitution could be a good asset to a dance band musician in the 1930s. Akin to many of his colleagues, when the band at the Monseigneur had played the last waltz, usually around 2A.M , Nat would pop into a late club and sit in on an impromptu jazz session, all for free.

     The Bag O’Nails Club off Regent Street was one of his favourite haunts and on occasion the sessions could go on until five in the morning. When he had blown all the jazz out of his system Nat would stagger bleary-eyed out of the club just in time to see another day dawning. He would then nip into one of  Joe Lyons’ establishments for a breakfast of bacon, eggs and a cup of tea.

    Rather similar to the coffee stall in Brighton, Lyons also served as a meeting place for the “night people”, that is folk such as nightclub staff and entertainers, musicians, and ladies of doubtful virtue.

      IMG_1891 It was during one of his early morning breakfasts that Nat dropped his knife and fork for a few moments to take on the role of Cupid. Unfortunately, the arrow in this particular case went way off target. It happened when one of Nat’s great pals in the band, Al Bowlly, joined him for a cup of coffee. As they were sipping and chatting, a good looking girl in the shape of Freda Roberts came into the restaurant, and just one look at her immediately bowled Al over, he could not take his eyes off of her.

      As it happened, Nat knew Freda from the Bag O’Nails where she worked as a hostess. After prompting from Al, he introduced him to Freda, whereupon the sexual chemistry began flowing like water from a tap. At that time, Al Bowlly had the world at his feet and could have had his pick from any member of the opposite sex that he so desired. Knowing Al’s reputation with the ladies, Nat put it down as just another of the handsome singer’s casual affairs. To his amazement, and horror, the couple were married within a week. “Oh my gawd!” thought Nat. “What have I done?” His worst fears were realized, the marriage lasted only a few weeks. It appeared that as far as Freda was concerned, old habits were hard to break, and when she said that she would like to keep her friends after she was married, she meant men friends.

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