It was in March 1941 that Al received the letter asking him, and his partner of the day, Jimmy Mesene, to make another record at the St John’s Wood Studios of “His Master’s Voice”, the Company for which they were now recording exclusively, as the “Radio Stars with 2 Guitars”. I for one will never know why Al wasted his talents, yoked together, to the intemperate Jimmy Mesene, who, on more than one occasion ruined shows with his drunken and offensive behaviour in Newcastle. However, HMV wanted a recording made of Irving Berlin’s latest hit “When that man is dead and gone” — “that man” being of course Adolf Hitler — A stupid song — childish, and in very bad taste, and it was going to be sadly prophetical for poor Al.

No one will ever know now, what Al thought of this trashy song. It was not the sort of lyric that one could ever imagine Al choosing but H.M.V. were calling the tune, and paying the pipers. For the “B” side, Al and Jimmy both fancied and chose “Nicky the Greek” — an obvious choice too, for both of them had Greek blood in them. Here in contrast was a nice little song with a lovely melody, and a lyric which was dated to the war years of 1941/42.

Two weeks later, on Wednesday, 2nd April 1941, Al and Mesene turned up at the HMV Studios, where the M.D. for the session was Pat Dodd. Pat went over the 2 numbers on the piano of the smaller studio where the recordings were scheduled. I have read that the music for the Berlin song was late in turning up, and consequently was recorded last. This is not true, as both numbers were worked out, and gone over at the same rehearsal, and photographic evidence proves this, for during the rehearsal the official HMV Supplement photographer popped in to take a picture of the two of them at work, (Certainly not during the actual recording as has also been stated elsewhere).

Al, tired and needing a shave, was by now clad only in shirt and trousers. His top shirt button was undone, and his tie slackened — he went on singing as the cameraman fiddled around. Mesene, larking about as usual, was wearing a hand-knitted pullover, and trousers. In both of the Al Bowlly discographies by Harvey and Rust, among omissions, is the fact that Pat Dodd accompanies on these two recordings at the piano. This is a very serious omission for the very last recording, for Pat also worked out the arrangements with the boys. Pat, in the R.A.F. at the time, did the session in R.A.F. uniform complete with “Bandsman’s Badge”.

Four photographs (not one as stated elsewhere) were taken at the session during rehearsals. Only 3 made it — (1) Al and Jimmy larking with a not amused Pat Dodd between them ! (2) Al singing, and (4) both Al and Jimmy singing the lively bit of “When that Man”. Picture No. 2 appeared on an HMV E.P. printed in reverse, then the right way on “Ray Noble Story” Vol. 1 (Encore).

Picture 4 minus Mesene who had been cut off on “Ray Noble Story” Vol. 11 (Encore). No. 3 does not exist, and No. 1, though never published to my knowledge, I have on the wall of my studio. H.M.V. were reluctant to issue the record after Al’s death but finally did, on B.D. 922 in June 1941.

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Interwar London

Popular Culture in 1920s and 1930s Britain


Information and Resources for Historic-Sound Enthusiasts

Wistful Nostalgia.

Vintage blogger. Al Bowlly admirer. 1930s enthusiast. Fiction writer and artist.

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