Ray 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.