Latest Posts



In the States, Al had reached a new high spot in his career. However, realising that the sophisticated New York life was not for him, and feeling overall that he could do even better in England, he decided to return home to London. So at the end of 1936, Al quit the Ray Noble Orchestra,and with Al’s departure the band lost much of its identity and shortly broke up. Ray Noble recognised Al’s vocal talent back in 1930 before he had his big break and it was through Ray that Al made so many excellent records and was invited to America. With Al and Ray breaking up, what was surely one of the greatest dance music partnerships, ended. Their last record together was made in October 1936 and entitled “Where the lazy river goes by”, and “There’s something in the air”.

It was not until he announced his departure from New York that he realised how many friends he had made in the New York music world. Some of them got together and presented Al with a parting gift — a large leather suitcase with a silver plaque inscribed :— “To Al Bowlly from Ave Lyman and all the music men of New York City.” This indeed was a very appropriate tribute and gesture for Britain’s favourite popular singer who had also won the hearts of the American public and music world.

However, Al’s visit to America was a chapter in his life he did not speak very much of because from a domestic angle America had unhappy memories. For his second marriage to the beautiful Marjorie broke up. It was not long after they were married when they separated. Although America was not the happiest time for Al personally, professionally it was the high spot of his career. Ray Noble later recalled that when Al was on tour through the States he left a trail of broken female hearts behind him and he was meeting Crosby and the rest of them on their home ground and beating them at their own game.

Back in Britain, Al was home in time for the 1936-37 New Year’s celebrations in London in which he took part. The news soon got around that he was back and he resumed his variety work and guested with one or two dance bands. But this was not a happy time for Al for he was often confronted by an air of hostility among some of his “friends” who may have been envious of his success in America. As well as these problems, his throat started troubling him slightly, but he still pressed on with his work. During his stay in America, Al went out of the public eye somewhat in this country as his voice was seldom heard on the radio. Sam Browne had become Britain’s favourite singer. Later in 1937, in the Melody Maker poll, Sam was still top vocalist with Al Bowlly No. 2.
Al Bowlly’s ambition at the beginning of 1937 was to get his own show on the road, and so with his younger brother, Mish, who came over from South Africa, Al formed his own band called “Al Bowlly’s Radio City Rhythm Makers”. The band made its debut on March 1st 1937 at the Birmingham Empire, where they scored a resounding success. They toured for several weeks, playing in such well known places as the Hammersmith Palais de Danse.

They crossed the Irish sea to play in Dublin , but on the very first night there his throat started troubling him and on the next day he actually lost his voice. So for the rest of the week he had to apologise on the stage for being unable to do anything other than conduct the band. The following week showed a gap in the engagement diary and the weeks ahead showed better prospects of any work. So the inevitable happened and the band broke up. Dissatisfaction had been felt among the musicians who were generally relegated to fairly minor parts in the act. To quote the “Melody Maker”, the moral was that even such a popular artiste as Al Bowlly could not run a stage band as a mere accompaniment unit in those days when jazz bands were expected to be a complete variety show in themselves. The sad story of Al Bowlly’s Radio City Rhythm Makers is unfortunately summed up as seven weeks rehearsal for four weeks work. Moreover, the venture resulted in a heavy financial loss for Al.

The Rhythm Makers never recorded and since his return from America Al did not make records until June 1937, by which time his voice had returned to him. This was the longest in his recording career since his arrival in England in 1928. In July 1937, shortly after a session with Ronnie Munro and his Orchestra, Al lost his voice once again. On the Munro disc sounds as if he had a cold — but it was much more serious than this. His surgeon diagnosed a wart on his vocal chords and there was no surgeon in England capable of performing the operation was necessary. The only surgeon that could perform this delicate operation was in America, and he could only offer a 50 – 50 chance of success. Notwithstanding this, Al decided to have the operation,and the trip to America, together with the medical fees meant that he had to find a large sum of money. This was not easy so soon after his heavy deficit over the Rhythm Makers Band and subsequently being made redundant due to loss of voice.
Al had now reached what was probably the lowest ebb in his life. Al was the sort of person who could be elated one day and in the depths of depression the next. He was now the most depressed that he had ever been, and absolutely frantic with worry over the diagnosis, for his voice meant everything, to him. This had a very bad effect on his health and he lost over thirty pounds in weight. He later stated in an interview:— “The day came when I woke up and found my voice had gone. I stayed in bed. I cried and went on crying. I tried to force my voice — tried to force out some sound, to swear at myself, to give vent somehow. I reckon I knew how a women would feel when she sees her child dying away. The voice was gone — oh, but / can’t begin to tell you how I felt There aren’t enough words.”

Al now had to find the money for the trip back to America and for the operation. There was some money owing to him from some “devoted friends” but when he went round to see them they just said ‘tomorrow’ or ‘the next day’. He could not raise a penny. These “friends” started rumours that his voice was failing through drink. Just one friend and his brother Mish came to the rescue, and kept his spirits up, and together raised the money that was so desperately needed. In the autumn of 1937 Al returned to the U.S.A. for the operation. Since his voice had gone, Al had to turn down some very good offers that he received for engagements. Just before he was to have his operation he was offered a very lucrative job to star in a stage show in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Al could have brought with him any acts he liked to fill half of the show. Nevertheless, with his voice in jeopardy, he had to turn down the job.



This was to be the high spot in Al’s career where he later claimed to be earning over £150 a week. Arrangements made, Ray Noble, Al Bowlly, plus drummer Bill Harty, set sail for New York in 1934. Al took with him his girl friend, the lovely Marjorie, and after they reached the States, they married in New Jersey. However, the first thing they did on arrival in New York was to meet officials of the Music Corporation of America who had arranged for them to stay at a classy hotel. Arrangements were already in hand for forming the band which was to contain such American stars as Glenn Miller, Charlie Spivak, Bud Freeman and Claud Thornhill. Unfortunately Ray Noble ran into problems with the American Musicians’ Union which delayed the final formation of the new band.

Such was not the case with Al Bowlly who, whilst awaiting formation of the Noble Band, commenced recording with Victor Young and his Orchestra. Four tracks were recorded, two with Al as the principal artiste and two featuring Al as vocalist with the orchestra. These recordings were indeed a fine start to his career in America where he went as a band vocalist and became a star. Indeed it was in January 1935 that Al went over to the top-flight HMV company for his solo recordings and this was the highest compliment that could be paid to a popular recording artiste in those days.

His first “HMV” solo (recorded by the associate company, Victor) was “Blue Moon” — a record considered by many to be Al’s all time finest, One of the first things that made an impact on Al when he arrived in America was the high cost of living. He later wrote :— “Within ten days of our arrival I realised I was actually spending sixty dollars a week more than I was earning. Naturally I learnt to be more careful with my expenses !”. Early in 1935 the Ray Noble Orchestra opened at the Rainbow Room where they were an instant success, appearing nightly and broadcasting from there. Al was now employed solely as star vocalist not now as guitarist also. The large American radio audiences responded overwhelmingly towards Al and he later recalled :— “The first thing that amazed me was the terrific pull of radio in America. Rudy Vallee showed me the letters he received after one broadcast.

It was not uncommon for him to receive as many as seventy-five thousand pieces of fan mail following each broadcast. And in addition, a barrage of telephone calls from his admirers immediately following each programme. I was filled with envy when Rudy showed me his well organised office that he maintained just to deal with his radio fans. But within ten days of opening at the Rainbow Room and broadcasting on network radio, I had the happy experience of seeing the same type of fan mail staff and phone operators frenziedly busy handling the incoming enquiries about the “new British singer”.

One of Al’s favourite fan letters came from a girl who wrote : “When your voice comes on the air, it’s just like fizzy lemonade being poured down my spine !”. On February 9th 1935 the Ray Noble Orchestra started its recording career in America, during which time Al cut thirty-eight sides with the band in addition to those he made as a soloist and with Victor Young. The band also did many sponsored radio programmes, the most well known being presented by Coty Cosmetics.

Al also signed personally with NBC for thirty-six half-hour programmes with the Al Goodman Orchestra.A short time after their appearance at the Rainbow Room, Ray Noble arranged with the Music Corporation of America for the orchestra to appear at other prominent night spots, including the elite Astor and New Yorker, plus also the concert halls. In 1935 the Orchestra appeared in the film “Big Broadcast of 1936”. Being on the set enabled Al to meet his one and only singing idol, Bing Crosby, with whom Al broadcast whilst in the States. In the 1936 unity poll in America, Al’s popularity was such that he came second in the poll to Kenny Sargent knocking Bing into third place.

Al later recalled an amusing anecdote from his New York days. On the occasion in question Al was in a desperate hurry getting changed at his hotel as he was already late, and he broke his braces. He telephoned to the hotel office asking for a new pair to be sent up urgently. Presently there was a knock at the door and upon opening it, Al found a carpenter holding a brace and bit. The carpenter said “Look here Mister, if you want anything done to the furniture, you had better let me do it.” Al frantically explained that he wanted a pair of braces to hold his trousers up, only to be told that in America these are known as suspenders !

Al’s popularity in the States was such that he was often mobbed as he arrived and left the Rainbow Room. One particular night Al arrived only a few minutes before he was due to go on, and not wanting to disappoint the army of autograph hunters he hurriedly signed a few books. as he was about to sign one of them he noticed that the page was folded over at the top. He signed the page to see typed above the space where he would have signed, the words “Please pay the bearer on demand the sum of eight thousand dollars”. It was addressed to Al’s bank realising that he had been discovered, the crook who had tried on Al one of the oldest con-tricks tried on the famous, hurried off and lost himself in the crowd.

I mentioned at the beginning of the story that Al was a very patriotic Britisher. One of my favourite stories about Al happened one night in the States when he was in a theatre and the British National Anthem was played. Al stood to attention, but while the Anthem was being payed, an American in the seat behind him tugged at Al’s shoulder and told him to sit down as he couldn’t see the stage. As soon as the Anthem had been played, Al turned round and after one blow from Al the man who couldn’t see the stage had to be carried out of the theatre.

Whilst in America, Al retained his interest in sports, and in his few spare moments Al, with of the other members of the Ray Noble Orchestra, would go along to watch the ice hockey at the Madison Square Gardens. When watching any sports contest, Al could get very excited if he disagreed with a referee’s decision, or something of the like. It was easy to tell if Al was getting excited as the veins on his face would become enlarged and very noticeable. When Al went to the Madison Square Gardens, he used to sit between two members of the band so they could restrain him should he get excited. Otherwise he could get carried away and get involved in arguments with one of the players or the referee.

In 1936 Al and Ray Noble returned to London for both a summer holiday and to fulfil some commitments. During this spell in England they made what turned out to be the last Noble/Bowlly record in England. It was the now sought-after 12″ 78 entitled “The Ray Noble Medley” on which Al sang “The Touch of your lips” and “Goodnight Sweetheart”. It was also at this time that Al appeared in another Pathe’ short film in which he sang “My Melancholy Baby”, teaming up with Monia Liter once again for this. After the short holiday and back in America, Ray Noble decided to tour with the band from the Canadian border to the deep south.

There was now absolutely no doubt that Al had “arrived” and the fans of those days could be quite hysterical and violent as this incident that happened in Boston demonstrates. Al happened to leave the rehearsal one day just as nearby factory workers were coming out for their lunch break. Several factory girls recognised him and he was s surrounded by shrieking females, kissing him and tearing at his collar, tie and shirt to get And some of the girls were trying to cut off locks of his hair with scissors. Poor old Al was desperately trying to hold his trousers up with one hand and protecting his eyes with the other .Luckily the police arrived on the scene and rescued him, his clothes in shreds and his face coverall with every shade of lipstick.



All but one member of the band stayed on to work with Lew Stone. The music of the Lew Stone band became more sophisticated and the band became even more popular than its predecessors. Lew took a very special interest in Al, giving him the direction and encouragement he needed. His arrangements took into consideration Al’s vocal range, etc., perhaps more so than any other leader with whom he worked. The Lew Stone band was a compact and friendly unit; Lew Stone was Jewish and the musicians enjoyed playing in his band. Each member of the band was given a nick-name beginning with the name “Joe” — Al became known as “Joe Sex”.

The first record made by the Lew Stone Band with Al Bowlly was “Nightfall” and “Rain, rain go away” recorded in October 1932. This was the first in a long line of well over one hundred titles recorded from 1932 to 1938 by Lew with Al Bowlly, many of these considered to be among Al’s finest. In order to give Al the opportunity to concentrate on his vocal work, especially on records, Jimmy Messene sat in on many sessions playing the guitar, just as Bill Herbert had done earlier when Al was with Roy Fox. Al Bowlly travelled the country with Lew Stone and his Band, their first provincial appearance being in Yorkshire on February 13th 1933. The Lew Stone band continued the Tuesday night broadcasts from the Monseigneur Restaurant. And whilst with Lew Stone, Al had the honour of appearing before Royalty at the London Palladium in a Royal Command Performance.

Also, more films followed. In 1933 the band appeared in “The Mayor’s Nest” in which Al not only sang but had an acting part in playing a Cockney character — George, the tramp. His “big” number in the film was “The Wedding of the Slum town Babes” which he sang sitting on a doorstep while some children enacted a mock wedding. Another film featuring the band was “Up for the Derby” and whilst Al was heard singing he was not seen. In the films “Just my Luck”, “The Love Contract” and “Bitter Sweet” Al was seen in the band but not heard. In February 1933, the News Chronicle ran an unusual dance band competition featuring one English and one American record. On the English record was featured Jack Hylton on one side and Lew Stone with Al Bowlly on the other, both singer and band having equal billing. The American record featured Wayne King on one side and Guy Lombardo with Bing Crosby on the other side, again singer and band having equal billing. The competition was for members of the public to guess the sales of each record. The sales in 1933 were certified by a firm of chartered accountants as being nearly 28,000 for the English record and nearly 20,000 for the American one.

In 1933 Monia Liter arrived in England. As mentioned earlier, he was to become Al’s personal accompanist for his solo recordings and variety appearances. Whilst appearing on the stage with Lew Stone, Al had been spotted by impresario Val Parnell of Moss Empires, who believed in Al so much that he decided to give Al the chance of appearing on the “Halls” in his own right as a solo variety artiste, This he did and Al made his debut on September 11th 1933 at the Holborn Empire where he shared top billing with Louis Armstrong — that an honour in itself. But it was Al Bowlly that was besieged after the show in Holborn by a mob of female autograph hunters. Al’s signature tune throughout his solo appearances was “Some of these day’ . Al also featured “Brother can you spare a dime ?” as a speciality number which went down so well since it had the name “Al” in it. This was the same year that Al won the distinction of being the first crooner to be given a solo spot on the BBC. It was a very proud moment when he stepped sang two hits of the day that he later recorded, “The very thought of you” and “True”.

This then, was the start of Al Bowlly’s career as a solo variety artiste. Pathe made a short film of variety act, in which he also sang “The very thought of you”, which was shown in between its at the cinema. In November 1933, the Lew Stone band, of which Al was still a member, changed its evening engagement from the Monseigneur Restaurant to the Café Anglais, and the success of the band and its vocalist continued to rise. Appearing on radio, record, stage and even the screen as well as with the Lew Stone Band, then reckoned by many to be Britain’s best, it was to say that Al had reached the top of his profession. Once again he moved into better class accommodation at No. 17 Orange Street, Piccadilly. It was reckoned by many that by this period, 1933, Al had perfected his vocal style; this indeed, is born out by the many wonderful records that Al was now making. However, he didnt neglect his other great passion, physical culture. So keen on this was he that he now started boxing lessons from the ex-featherweight champion of Great Britain, Johnny Brown.

In 1934 Henry Selmer and Co., published a series of would be teach-yourself music books each bearing the name of a member of the Lew Stone Band. For example, Nat Gonella on playing and Lew Stone on orchestrating. One of these was entitled “Modern Style Singing Crooning” by Al Bowlly, but some people believe that some or maybe all of this book was “ghosted” for him. Nevertheless the book is interesting and in it is discussed various aspects of singing ranging from general aspects to breathing, tone production, vibrato, etc. The book also explains, albeit briefly, how to read music and contains plenty of voice exercises that the budding crooner is strongly advised to practice . During this period when Al was appearing and recording both with Lew Stone and as a soloist. he continued to make scores of excellent records with the Ray Noble Orchestra, which was the house band at HMV.

Only on one occasion did this house band, which consisted mainly of musicians from Ambrose’s and Lew Stone’s band, ever appear in public outside the recording studs. This was in the summer of 1933 when the band (including Al Bowlly) went over to Holland for a short summer season. The Noble band with Al also appeared in a short film in which they performed the tune of the day “Sailing on the Robert E. Lee”. Ray Noble had the pick of any musicians in London and it was indeed a privilege for Al to have been the regular vocalist with the orchestra. Ray Noble’s arrangements were considered brilliant and way ahead of their time, and nowadays their many records are considered to be the best and most imaginative dance records made in Britain during the period 1930-1934.

During this period these records were also issued in Europe, India, Australia and America and they proved to be very popular in these countries, especially the U.S.A. This popularity led up to Ray Noble being asked to form a band to play at the Rainbow Room, New York’s top night spot on the 65th floor of the RCA building in the Rockefeller Centre. Al later recalled how he learnt of this engagement. “A phone call came through to me early one morning while I was still in the bath. ‘It’s Mr Noble’ called the maid from the hall, ‘he wants to know if you’ll go to New York with him’. Would I ! It was the big break that I had been looking for, a chance to do something new, see fresh faces and make new friends.” So Al handed his notice in to Lew Stone and the arrangements for the trip to New York were made.



He had been without regular work for nearly eighteen months since he left Fred Elizalde at the Savoy Hotel. Al returned home to his landlady with his good news but realised that having entertained Mr and Mrs Fox, he was now broke once again and he didn’t then know when the Fox band was to start work recording at Decca. His landlady had never heard of Roy Fox and was, of course, displeased at Al’s inability to pay the rent. However, Al could turn on the charm when he wanted to and managed to persuade his landlady to let him stay on. The Roy Fox Band commenced recording in January 1931 but since it was still only a recording band, Al still had no regular daily engagement. However, he was becoming quite well known in the recording studios where he was spending time hoping to find free lance work with any band that happened to need a vocalist for a recording, and in this way he made dozens of records with all manner of bands and groups.

Al’s first record with Roy Fox was made on January 5th 1931, the titles being “You’re lucky to me” and “Thank your father”, the “vocalist” on the label being mistakenly credited to Kenneth Allen, Fox’s ex-vocalist from the Café de Paris. During Al’s time with Roy Fox, which lasted over the next twenty months, over 150 titles were recorded and all but a handful featured the voice of Al Bowlly. Roy Fox and his Band continued to record but its big break did not come until the Spring of 1931 when Roy arranged for the band to be auditioned for the new luxurious Monseigneur restaurant which was to soon open in Piccadilly. The audition at which Al sang Ray Noble’s recent composition “Goodnight Sweetheart”, was a success. Roy won the contract and the band opened there on 27th May, 1931. Al Bowlly was so grateful for his pay after his first week at the Monseigneur that he took Roy Fox for lunch at an Italian Restaurant in Soho !

Up to May 1931, Al had no regular work, only recording work with Ray Noble and Roy Fox, plus free lance work with other lesser known bands; this recording work was Al’s main sauce of income at the time. Once settled at the Monseigneur Restaurant, the Roy Fox Band became one of the high-lights of London’s night life. Playing in the band were several musicians that were later to achieve success in their own right, in particular Lew Stone, Spike Hughes and Nat Gonella. The quality of the music and especially the presence of Al Bowlly, attracted many of the West End “Society” people to come to listen and dance to the Roy Fox Band. In fact, among the Restaurant’s socialite clientele, Al became as well known and well liked as. Fox himself. Roy soon arranged to broadcast weekly from 10.30 p.m. to midnight every Tuesday on the late night dance music programmes put out by the BBC.

Thus the fame of both the Band and Bowlly spread. “Al Bowlly” soon became a well known name among those in the entertainment world and members of the public who took an interest in popular music. To give Al a chance to concentrate on his vocal work, he was frequently relieved of his guitar playing duties by Bill Herbert, who later appeared regularly with Billy Cotton and his Band. Life was now sweet for Al; he had a regular job and had money in his pocket once again. He moved into better class accommodation, taking a flat in Charing Cross Mansions in the West End. Life was now one big round of hard work, with rehearsals and recording during the day, plus also a night’s work at the Monseigneur. But Al was strong — he could take it, and because he never tired of singing he loved his work. His voice was his main interest in life, and with physical culture, his second passion, he was well placed for the hectic life he was now living.

In 1923 after he joined Edgar Adeler, Al’s singing, then ahead of its time, was sometimes considered effeminate. Even in 1931 some people held this view and reckoned that popular singers, or crooners as they were then known, like Al Bowlly, were representative of the “soft and decadent youth”. One anecdote that Al later recalled was that he once heard a customer at the Monseigneur making offensive remarks about crooning while Al was singing. At the end of his vocal he went over to this person and knocked him down with one blow. Obviously this particular individual realised to his cost that Al Bowlly was not a representative of the “soft and decadent youth” ! As mentioned, during his employment with the Roy Fox Band, Al achieved a measure of fame in his own right, and he was now asked by Decca to make records as a soloist.

Apart from the Afrikaans recordings already mentioned, and three titles recorded for Decca in November 1930 and issued sometime later, Al’s first regular solo recording work began in September 1931 when he recorded “Were you sincere” and “I’d rather be a beggar with you”. Al went on to make many solo records during his career, firstly on Decca and later on HMV. It was in December 1931 in the nearby Lyons Corner House that trumpeter Nat Gonella introduced Al to a well known local girl, Freda Roberts, a daughter of a merchant seaman. Al, not knowing her and having very little guile, fell for her and on 18th December 1931 married her in the St Martin Register Office, London. None of the boys in the band expected him to be serious about her, let alone marry her, for he was so popular in the West End that he could have virtually had the pick of any woman from the cream of West End society. But he calmly announced to the band, shortly after the event, “I got married today” — and the bandsmen were stunned. The members of the band were not really surprised when they learned a few weeks later than the marriage had broken up. Al returned to his flat after work one evening to discover his pretty young wife with another. This was a terrible blow for poor old Al and the whole band felt bad about it, for although professional musicians were often noted for their “earthy” way of living, Al was really the exception. Although the marriage broke up in January 1932, it was not until January 1934 that his divorce was finalised, after Freda had sued Al for adultery.

In 1931, Lew Stone, the pianist and arranger with Roy Fox and his Band, became musical director for the British and Dominion picture company. One of the earliest films for which Lew did the music arranging was “A night like this” released in 1932. In this film Lew Stone can be seen in several sequences conducting a band consisting of Roy Fox’s men in which Al sang one or two numbers. Thus Al could now be seen on the cinema screen. Two of the songs from this film were “If anything happened to you” and “In London on a night like this”. Both songs were recorded at the time by Al with Fox’s men under the pseudonym of “The Rhythm Maniacs”.

During 1932, the Monseigneur management sought to control the activities of Roy Fox too tightly and in September of that year he announced his intention of leaving the restaurant. Since the majority of the band, including Al Bowlly, were under contract to him, he could have insisted that they all leave the Monseigneur with him. But instead he released them to work for the “new” band at the Monseigneur, which was to be led by Lew Stone under the billing of “Lew Stone and the Monseigneur Dance Orchestra”. Inevitably there was some bad feeling, and even thirty years later Lew Stone was not keen on commenting on the switch. Things were said on both sides and at one stage Roy Fox was going to sue Al for breach of contract, thus bearing out what an import-ant member of the band Al was. However, the case was dropped and Al went on to work with Stone. Lew had claimed that he was going to form a completely new band when asked to do after Fox had decided to leave, and later he said “I did not take over the band — the band took over me.”



At the end of July 1928 Al Bowlly went back to the continent again when the Elizalde band went over there for three months .They first went to Paris to play at a restaurant along the famous Champs Elysees. The other band playing was the Noble Sissle Orchestra. Al got on famously with the coloured French musicians and even sung a few numbers with Noble Sissle who liked his style. Then the Elizalde Band moved on to the Casino , Ostend in Belgium, but the band were not allowed to gamble there – much to Al’s dismay . However he soon found his way to the sea front each day where he passed the the time away with the Belgian and French girls on the beach. Incidentally the band did find somewhere to gamble . The stay in Ostend lasted six weeks and in October 1928 the Fred Elizalde Band crossed the channel and returned to the Savoy Hotel where they stayed for a further eight months.

During their stay at the Savoy, the band made frequent broadcasts over the BBC, but the sound quality of these were very poor and it was not until January 1929 that, after many complaints, a second microphone was installed to improve the sound balance. Unfortunately Al Bowlly came over very badly in the broadcasts; his high notes appeared to waver and he could do himself no justice at all. Late in April 1929, the band had a three week engagement at the London Palladium in which Al was the featured vocalist. But once again, he could do himself no justice with this orchestra. Apart from the record already mentioned, Al made a further five titles with the Elizalde hand. In the main these records did little justice to Al either — particularly as the company for which most of them were made, Brunswick, did not have its own, or indeed any permanent recording studio at that time.

Fred Elizalde was a hot tempered person and he had recurring rows with the management of the Savoy Hotel over the style of music that should be played, and this led up to the band leaving the Hotel during the Summer of 1929. This initially put Al out of work. During his spell at the Savoy he only managed to save £17. However, he managed to team up once again with Edgar Adeler who had now come to England, and together with Len Fillis and Al Starita, formed a quartet called the Blue Boys. With this group Al made appearances in England and Ireland; but the two Al’s in the quartet seemed always to be at loggerheads which, on more than one occasion, nearly ended in a fight. This resulted in the band breaking up after only a very short lifetime.

Although he had achieved a degree of success with Elizalde, and to a much lesser extent with the Blue Boys, who incidentally did not record, Al had still not established himself in England. Len Fillis had coached Al further in playing guitar and by the time he was with Elizalde and the Blue Boys, he had become a competent rhythm guitarist. During the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, Len Fillis made numerous records on various labels under his own name and names such as “Honolulu Serenaders”, “Brooklyn Broadcasters” “Linn Milford and his Hawaiians”, “Al Vocale”, “Ferrachini” and several others. On many of these Fillis used a vocal duet and often this was between Les Allen and Al Bowlly, occasionally both were allowed a solo spot. The first of these records with Al Bowlly was made in May 1929, the next in November and throughout 1930. Although Al appeared on these records he didn’t earn very much money as many of these were made for small and insignificant labels.

The Summer of 1929 was indeed a lean time for Al; he had no recording work — not even with Len Fillis ! Poor old Al Bowlly could not even afford to pay his rent and his landlady explained that in these difficult times, if he couldn’t pay the rent he would have to leave. The only thing for Al to do was to swallow his pride and sing in the street. So with his guitar in his hand he went out and found a busy street corner in Piccadilly and sang to the passing crowd near a busy underground station. He pulled his collar well up in an attempt not to be recognised in this undignified pursuit. Al just managed to pay his rent out of the £2.17.0d which was his week’s takings as a busker.

It was during 1930 that Bill Harty, a drummer who had made Al’s acquaintance, introduced him to Ray Noble, a talented young pianist who led the house band at the HMV recording studios from 1929 to 1934. Ray Noble was to play a very important part in the musical life of Al Bowlly from 1930 onwards. In June of 1930 Al had made a couple of solo tracks on HMV in Afrikaans for the South African market. HMV wanted a few more titles in this language and these were made with an accompanying orchestra led by Ray Noble. On being introduced to Al, Ray Noble asked him if he sang in “printed key”. Being anxious to record with Noble, Al said “yes” immediately and it was not until some months later that Noble realised Al’s true range was about one third lower. This story, which was related by Ray Noble himself, shows how wide Al’s vocal range was.

In November of 1930, Ray Noble invited Al to sing with his HMV house band, the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra. The titles recorded were “I’m telling the world she’s mine” and “How could I be lonely ?”. These were excellent samples of Al’s singing and both Ray Noble and HMV were sufficiently impressed that Al became Noble’s regular vocalist at HMV. This was then the start of what was probably the greatest combination in British dance music history, and Noble and Bowlly went on to make well over 200 recordings for HMV. The Ray Noble orchestra was, except for one occasion, purely a recording band and never existed outside the HMV studios.

Although in 1930 Al appeared in the recording studios with Ray Noble, Len Fillis, Harry Hudson and a few other bandleaders, these were only free-lance jobs and he still hadn’t had any regular work since leaving the Fred Elizalde band at the Savoy Hotel. However, towards the end of 1930, Bill Harty, the drummer, had some news that raised Al’s hopes of getting a regular job. Harty was then working with American bandleader Roy Fox who had been invited from the U.S.A. to play at the Café de Paris. Although Roy’s engagement there had ended, he had been awarded the contract to lead a recording band for Decca and was looking for a “new” vocalist. But unlike Noble, Fox had plans for his band to work regularly both in and out of the recording studio. Bill Harty arranged for Al to meet Roy Fox at the Coventry Street offices of Ralph Dean. Al was introduced to the immaculate Roy Fox and Mrs Fox, and he asked Roy to listen to the record he had previously made with Ray Noble, which he had brought with him.

After hearing both sides of the record, Ray told Al that he would be hearing from him. Al was still desperately trying to impress the American bandleader, and with less than £3 in his pocket he invited Mr and Mrs Fox for lunch at a nearby restaurant. At the restaurant, lunch ever, Al went over to the bandleader playing to the patrons and after a hurried conversation got up with the band and sang “I love the moon” plus a couple of hot (IA ferry) numbers. When Al returned to his table Roy Fox said simply “O.K. you get the job.” Al pressed Roy into giving him written confirmation of the engagement, which he did, and to Al’s delight the salary placed him among London’s highest paid dance band vocalists. Al Bowlly left the restaurant feeling on top of the world because he knew his first big break had come now that he was vocalist and guitarist with Roy Fox and his Band.



Al Bowlly was an inveterate gambler and could never resist trying to make money in this way . In fact, on more than one occasion gambling lost Al his money just when he needed it the most .This is what happened at the Grand Hotel, Calcutta, when he lost all his money in a wild bid to break the bank. Not only this, but he lost the job at the Hotel by accidentally getting involved in a fight. Al Bowlly was emotional, could get quickly excited and easily got involved in fights. Now he was without money and without work. But being good at sports, Al was able to get a job as a jockey – and actually rode in the Calcutta races of 1925.

Not very much time had passed when a large jazz orchestra, led by Jimmy Liquime, arrived at the Grand Hotel in Calcutta. Al Bowlly walked in and offered his services as a vocalist and banjoist . He got a job as banjoist because his vocal style, which caused some amusement in the band, was considered effeminate in certain quarters, The type of singing that was in vogue then was the Jolsonish “shouting” style, and the band already had a singer providing this type of singing . Playing piano in this band was a man who was to play an important part in Al’s musical life later on, becoming his personal accompanist. It was Monia Liter.

The Jimmy Liquime orchestra was a sensation and trumpeter Jimmy became a star. The band did record at the HMV Dum Dum studios in Calcutta, but as yet no recording containing an Al Bowlly vocal has been traced, although experts again believe that he did record vocally at this time.

Meanwhile, the Raffles Hotel in Singapore had been without a regular band since Edgar Adeler had left, and hearing of Liquime’s success in Calcutta, the Raffles-management wrote offering the band a permanent engagement, At the end of 1926 Jimmy Liquime accepted the offer and the band set sail for Singapore. However, they had not been playing at Raffles very long when the band began to break up. Al consequently left the band fairly early in 1927 in an endeavour to renew his friendship with Edgar Adeler . This he did; they went on to make a few records together in Berlin and London.

ln the early spring of 1927 Al made his way to Germany where his first known vocal records were made .His first engagement in that country was as vocalist with a newly-formed band at the Regina Palace Hotel in Munich, under the leadership of violinist Robert Gaden. Al’s singing impressed the clientele of this plush hotel and his guitar playing similarly impressed the members of the eight-strong Gaden band. Al Bowlly stayed in Germany one year; he did not record there with Robert Gaden, but left this band to go to Berlin to sing with jazz band-readers Arthur Briggs, Fred Bird, George Carhart and John Abriani, all of whom recognised Al’s vocal talent.

In May 1927 the first known record on which Al was featured was made in Berlin. This record was entitled “Song of the Wanderer” and “Hallelujah , made with Negro trumpeter Arthur Briggs, Savoy Syncopaters’ orchestra.

During his stay in Germany it seems that Al became something of a jazz celebrity .This is born out by the fact that his name as vocalist appeared on many records he made in Germany with dance bands, including his very first, and that he made several records as a vocal soloist .Al’s first ever solo record was a very excellent version of the old favourite “Blue Skies”‘ His solo records were issued on the Homochord label, and publicity leaflets were produced for these which included a very young photo of the singer. on these records Al was accompanied on piano by Edgar Adeler and Heinz Lewy.

From Germany Al Bowlly went to Paris for an engagement, and while there received an invitation to re-join Edgar Adeler and his orchestra back in Berlin. A last minute change of plans resulted in this engagement moving from Berlin to Munich to where Al was also invited. But a telegram that Adeler sent to Al was misfiled at Thomas Cook’s Paris office, which cause a delay and when he finally reached Munich Al found that the band had moved on once again without him

Al had worked his way up to being a recognised band vocalist on the continent. However , now had only enough money to last him two weeks and there seemed no prospect of him getting a job in Munich. Al’s ambition at the time was to come to England and make a name for himself as a singer, but as yet his name was quite unknown in this country. ln Munich Al met a man who knew Fred Elizalde, a band-leader of Spanish descent, who had a band at the Savoy hotel, London, and who needed a vocalist. He promptly sent Elizalde Al’s solo record of Muddy Waters” and Elizalde was suitably impressed. So much so that he offered Al a job with the band, but at a salary of only £14 a week – considerably less than he had been earning on the continent. Although he was virtually broke, he didn’t jump at the offer but wrote back to Elizalde demanding more money .This gamble paid off, for Fred Elizalde agreed to meet Al’s demand and even sent him an advance of £20 on his salary to pay for his fare from Germany to England.

We have already seen that Al was a sportsman and liked to gamble, Money did not mean very much to him; he was not a business man and all through his career he never had a really good manager. So long as he had enough to eat and a place to sleep, Al Bowlly was happy. This all meant that money slipped through his hands like water, He would spend it on cigarettes ( at some stages he smoked very heavily), gifts and loans to “friends” which were often not paid back. Al rarely saved any money, his philosophy being to live for today . The only form of investment that Al embarked upon was gambling. Very often he would gamble away his last few shillings in a hope to make some money. This is what he did, in effect, when Fred Elizalde offered him a job and Al wrote back asking for more money. For not being known in England, this could have lost him the job .This time, however, the gamble paid off. But when Elizalde sent him the £20 advance of salary, he spent £5 of this on entertaining friends and put the rest on a horse – and lost
his money . Having thought how nice it would be to arrive in London with some money in his pocket, he now was in the predicament of having a good job waiting for him at the Savoy Hotel and no money for the fare.

Al Bowlly was generous to a fault; he would give someone the shirt off his back if he thought it was a deserving case. But frequently his generosity was not returned to him. Having mentioned how generous he was, it ought to be emphasised that Al was a man of extremes . If you crossed him he would not hesitate to strike you and he was a good fighter. However, Al was not one to hold a grudge, Fortunately, just when he needed it the most, his generosity was returned, for on this occasion a friend offered to lend Al the money for first class travel from Germany to London and enough to pay his hotel bills at either end of the journey. This offer saved the day as far as Al was concerned and after arriving in London he scrimped and saved, living in inferior accommodation in Soho’s Gower street, in order to pay track the money that was lent to him.

After his arrival in London in June 1929, Fred Elizalde became the first band leader in England to employ Al Bowlly and he did so as both a vocalist and guitarist. Al’s first record in England was “Just imagine” and “Wherever You Are” billed on the label as Fred Elizalde and his Music with vocal refrain.

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 .

With All My Heart – Al Bowlly with Ray Noble And His Orchestra (LSA 3067 – 1972 )

LSA 3067 FrontRay Noble, an Englishman with exquisite musical taste, led one of the greatest bands of all time before he came to America. The only trouble was the band wasn’t his. Instead, it was composed of leading musicians who played regularly with numerous other bands in England but also assembled for Noble’s recording dates.

So good and so successful Were they, that Noble decided to come to America. This time, though, he didn’t organize another all star band. He let Glenn Miller do that for him.

Glenn knew his way around musicians. He’d already organized a band for Smith Ballew, and had helped the Dorsey Brothers start theirs. And, of course, he was a top arranger. Besides, Noble was having problems of a different sort when he arrived in the States. It seems the musicians’ union wasn’t ready to give him his card.

But Ray was able to find other employment, for he had already established himself as an outstanding composer via such hits as Goodnight Sweetheart, By the Fireside, Love is the Sweetest Thing and The Very Thought of You. So, while Noble went to Hollywood to write songs for the movies, Glenn began whipping his band into shape. It was quite an impressive crew, too. Just take a gander at the brass section. Charlie Spivak and Pee Wee Erwin played trumpets; Glenn, of course, and Wilbur Schwichtenberg were the trombones, Wilbur Schwichtenberg?! That is Will Bradley’s original name. The reeds featured Bud Freeman on tenor and Johnny Mince on clarinet, and the rhythm section had Claude Thornhill on piano, George Van Epps, about the best guitarist in the business at that time, and a magnificent bassist named Delmar Kaplan. Bill Harty, the manager whom Noble had brought over from England with him, was the drummer. More about him later. And Al Bowlly, who’d also come across with Ray, was the vocalist. More about him later, too-much more.

When Ray returned to New York, a union member in good standing. the band was well set. Some of the men looked as much to Miller for direction as they did to Noble. This, of course, led to friction. From many reports, even though its music may have sounded wonderfully relaxed, this was never the most carefree band in the world, It sported such an all-star line up that Noble was bound to be somewhat in awe of the musicians. Will Bradley talked about this recently. “I remember one night I wasn’t feeling too well and during a radio broadcast I went for a high last note on an arrangement ,I think it was a top D flat. I missed it. Only air came out I tried again. Again only air.” Did Noble lace into Bradley? Hardly. “I say, old boy,” he remarked almost apologetically, “did you lose one of your relatives?”

Mistakes were few and far between in the Noble band. Even though it was filled with top-notch musicians, it rehearsed often and well. Both Noble and Miller knew how to get the best out of their men, and it showed. Both tended to be perfectionists, as evidenced by the time they spent working for just the right sound and effects in a recording studio. On one date, in fact, they were so completely dissatisfied with what they’d done that they scrapped all the sides. But the time they spent in the recording studios was nothing com-pared with the time they spent on top of Radio City in the swank Rainbow Room, the band’s first and most important engagement. This turned out to be a seven-days-a-week affair with hours from nine p.m. until three a.m. Obviously, the band members got to know one another pretty well. Obviously, too, the grind began getting them down after a while. Sometimes, if there were no dancers in the room, the band might be dismissed early. This happened one Monday night. the men were down-stairs on the sixty-fourth floor-one floor below the Rainbow Room,. changing their clothes-when manager Harty rushed in and said, “Sorry, but an important customer just came in and he wants some music. So we’ve got to go back” And back the band went-all except Claude Thornhill. Noble waited a few minutes for him, but still no Claude. So the band began playing. And then in the middle of the first tune in walked Thornhill, immaculately dressed in his tuxedo jacket, shirt and tie. Only one thing was missing-his trousers! Yes, obviously the grind was beginning to wear down some of the men.

The “important customer” who caught Thornhill sans trousers later became the Governor of New York. His name: Nelson Rockefeller, It’s interesting to note that the Rockefeller family continued for twenty years thereafter to be good friends and admirers of Claude Thornhill. There must be a moral here somewhere!

Being tardy, according to Bradley, was part of the regular routine of the Noble band. ‘Ray and Harty,” he recalls, “had a habit of coming in at least forty five minutes late for rehearsals. After a while we all caught on and everybody came in fifteen or twenty minutes late.” Noble, the composer and creator, was inclined to be a dreamer. He was a man of tremendous personal charm ,tall, lanky, and rather like the guy in a British movie who didn’t get the girl because he kept falling into the swimming pool. Harty, as might be expected, was more of a business-man-shrewd, caustic, very perceptive-who took on the node of Noble’s hatchet man.

Both Noble and Harty were sharp enough to bring with them the man whose voice highlighted so many of their English recordings. This was Al Bowlly, an intense, warm, lovable, sentimental, bushy-browed chap. Bowlly had a unique way of phrasing and enunciating, as you can hear on these recordings. One night backstage he crooned a new song for me. one which, he told me, Glenn Miller had just written and which brought tears to AI’s eyes as he sang it. It was called Now I lay Me Down to sleep, but it was never recorded with its original lyrics. Several years later, however, Glenn did record it with its revised title, Moonlight Serenade.

Glenn’s musical presence was very much in evidence in the band, just as it is on many of the sides on this record. The four instrumentals, ‘Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, Dinah, Bugle Call Rag and Chinatown, My Chinatown, are strictly the Miller of that period ,sort of an expanded Dixieland approach with numerous catchy, novel effects, plus plenty of blowing room for such soloists as Freeman, Mince, Erwin, George Van Eps and Thornhill.

Freeman’s work is brilliant on these sides. His solo On ‘Way Down Yonder in New Orleans is most fascinating: his passage on Dinah is especially poignant and swinging. Bud’s wild harmonic and rhythmic excursions fascinated the guys in the band, according to Bradley, who reports that, “Glenn used to tum to me and say, ‘betcha a couple of drinks he doesn’t come out of this one,’ and I’d say, ‘Iwo drinks he does.’ 1 almost always won, too”

There are several other sides which sound quite Miller-ish, such as Slumming on Park Avenue, Big Chief De Sola, Double Trouble and Why Dream?, which uses some ooh wah brass effects, reminiscent of Glenn’s own band. Of course, Millers scores, great as they were, were not indicative of the typical Noble sound. This is much more in evidence on the smoothly phrased ballad sides, with light piano fill-ins, and especially so on “Down by the River”, played with the half-time rhythmic concept that permeated so many of Ray’s earlier recordings.

In many ways the most typical Noble sound of all, however, was that of Al Bowlly’s voice, which is so pervasive and so persuasive on many of the slower numbers. He succeeded in projecting a wonderfully warm and intimate mood, reflected especially here in Yours Truly Is Truly Yours, Where Am I?, The Touch of your lips (Noble’s own song), Why Dream? and With All My Heart And, of course, there is also the Noble personality, the light-hearted joker who’s really not quite the buffoon he pretends to be, on two Irving Berlin songs ,Slumming on Park Avenue and Top Hat.

So much a part of the entire Ray Noble musical picture was Al Bowlly, that when he left the band late in 1936 it lost much of its identity. Five of the star musicians had departed before Al , Thornhill, Freeman and Bradley firth, then Miller and Spivak but, as good as they all were and as much as the band’s high musical level was lowered when they left, losing them was not as critical as losing Bowlly. Bowlly returned to England, re-established himself there, and then, sadly, was killed in a nightclub that was bombed during an air raid in April 1941.

Though Noble remained in America for many years, he was never again to lead a band as musically satisfying as the one which made these recordings. In February 1937, shortly after the latest side contained herein Slumming on Park Avenue was made, the band broke up under rather unpleasant circumstances, with charged and counter-charges being hurled between the musicians on one side and Noble and Harty on the other. The two Englishmen went to Hollywood to perform on a radio series which they claimed had been promised to them. Out there, Ray, apparently more interested in a career as a comedian, organized a new band, one which possessed neither the charm, the excitement nor the musical finesse of his former orchestra. It is this former ensemble that must go down in dance band annals as one of the most tasteful, versatile and musicianly outfits of all time.

George T Simon

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

Al Bowlly Souvenir Album (DFE 6245 – 1955)

DFE 6245Few popular singers have won the admiration and affection of the public to the extent that Al Bowlly did . It was a tribute not only to the uniqueness of his voice and style but also his personality – gay spontaneous ,sincere – that shone through his singing .

A South African of Greek descent Al Bowlly joined Fred Elizalde’s band at the Savoy hotel in 1928 . His companion on the trip to Britain was Monia Liter , with whose band he had been singing at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.

From 1929 Al Bowlly worked with Roy Fox’s orchestra until Lew Stone took the band over in 1933. It was while he was with Lew Stone that the titles on this record were made . Monia Liter , who had joined the Lew Stone band plays the piano accompaniment.

In 1935 Ray Noble and Al Bowlly visited the United States , where their tour with a band of American Musicians was a great success. When Al returned to England he started on his own as a singer , later teaming up with Jimmy Mesene in a double act . But the war came , and during an air raid on London in April 1941, al Bowlly was killed.



Blog at

Up ↑