jabw_vintage report No. 5

Let me tell you about......

Al Bowlly, dance band singer and solo vocalist, 1899-1941


this page first published by John Wright, 8 Jan 1998
last update 7 November 2010vintage@jabw.demon.co.uk
Recent Updates:
appearances with Ray Noble's Orchestra in 1936 confirmed
- performance at Galveston, Texas (confirmed by Terry Brown, Memory lane magazine, issue 153)
- performance at Steel Pier, Atlantic City
- performance at Waltham, Massachusetts
- a link to the Al Bowlly Guitar Discography page
- a link to the Len Fillis Guitar Discography page
- report on an important home movie discovery featuring Lew Davis and Al Bowlly

In the last 30 years more words have been written about Al Bowlly than any other singer from the British dance band era of the 1930's. It's also true that more words are written about Al now than when he was at the height of his career, for during his life Al Bowlly did not receive the fame that he deserved.
Why should Al Bowlly be of such interest to the music listeners of the 21st century? That voice, his natural style of singing, appeal to the modern ear which recognises Al had a superb range, a fine sense of rhythm, good intonation and vibrato, and best of all Al expressed real emotion in any song he sang, be the lyric sad, tragic or happy. These were qualities which were appreciated back in the 1930's dance era and Al Bowlly's voice can be heard on more than 1000 78rpm recordings, but on most of the record labels he is an anonymous 'vocal refrain' with a popular dance band.
Bing Crosby, who arguably set the standard for the 1930's singer, benefited from the huge American music business machine and the emergence of the musical film. His singing style influenced many singers but most Al Bowlly fans argue that Al didn't copy Bing. Al had his own style, a unique voice, and we are grateful to be left with a great number of recordings that are relatively easy to find on 78rpm but also now available on CD at all good record shops.
Al Bowlly made more than 1000 recordings during 1927-1941. Some of the 78 rpm records can still be found at record fairs, shops, and in boxes of records offered for sale. Al's name is often not on the record label so if you are searching for his recordings you need to know something about them.
The earliest recordings by Al were made in Germany and not issued in UK or USA at that time. They are all very rare so consult Ray Pallett's biography or check out Ian Roger's site for more details. Collectors Mike Hart and Stephan Wuthe have kindly contributed label scans and sound clips of some of Al's earliest records. Listen to al singing Muddy Water.
Al Bowlly
Al sings on this record with Len Fillis's Band When Al first came to England he made records with Fred Elizalde and with many different studio bands. Up to the end of 1930 these included Van Phillips, Percival Mackey, Len Fillis, Edgar Adeler, Jay Wilbur, Harry Hudson, Alfredo, Marius B. Winter. One of the fascinating aspects of Bowlly collecting is that for some of these bands pseudonyms were used on the record labels. So for example Harry Hudson was sometimes the Blue Jays or Paramount Rhythm Boys, sometimes Len Fillis was Linn Milford and his Hawaiian Players or Earl Melville or Ferrachini and many others. I have made a start on a Len Fillis Discography which already exceeds 600 recordings. The bands that Al Bowlly recorded with appeared on various record labels including Brunswick, Columbia, Piccadilly, Regal, Dominion, Sterno, Broadcast, Edison Bell Radio (8") and Winner. A full listing of all Al's vocal recordings can be found at Ian Roger's site. There are always questions to ask and collectors can contact me for advice and further information on record numbers and song titles. (I have Ray Pallett's and Brian Rust's reference books).
More scans of Al Bowlly records can be found on the Various Labels page.
Al was also making solo recordings during this early period many of them in Afrikaans language.
Then in November 1930 Al Bowlly became a singer with Ray Noble's HMV studio band the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra and so began a successful and popular association which produced over 200 recordings. Many of these recordings are considered among the best music recorded by any British band at the time, benefitting from Al's vocals and also from the presence of some of the greatest jazz players in Britain at the time. These records appeared on the famous His Master's Voice label and many were issued on the Victor label in USA. Two examples of Al's work with Ray Noble, in 1932 Living In Clover, and in 1933 Trouble In Paradise.
Back in 1930 Al was also very fortunate to be offered the job as vocalist with Roy Fox's band at the Monseigneur Restaurant and was soon making records on the Decca label, making over 150 in all with Roy. Again the Roy Fox records with Al are very good but unfortunately the quality of the Decca pressings was inferior to HMV and many records suffer from excessive surface noise and the vocals are sometimes not clearly heard. A few Roy Fox/Al Bowlly titles were issued in USA on Brunswick.
Al sings on this record with Ray Noble's NMDO
Al in 1933, photo supplied by Mike Hart While holding the jobs with Roy Fox and Ray Noble, Al continued his freelancing making many more records with Harry Hudson, Marius B. Winter, Len Fillis as well as other bandleaders like Carroll Gibbons (Savoy Hotel Orpheans and Masqueraders) Arthur Lally, Jack Leon, Howard Godfrey, Maurice Winnick, Jock McDermott. Several recordings were made for the flexible Durium label, Lew Stone directing the Durium Dance band. Around this time Al Bowlly was found in the pages of melody Maker, promoting the 'Al Bowlly Megaphone' for singers.
Al Bowlly's name began to appear with Roy Fox on some of the band's Decca labels and Al made solo records for Decca under his own name, for example Love Locked Out and later he appeared prominently in the Decca catalogue supplements. In 1931 Roy's pianist, Lew Stone, became MD for British and Dominions Films, and several opportunities were found to feature the Roy Fox Band and Al Bowlly. Two films worth seeing are 'Chance Of A Night-Time' and 'On A Night Like This', details of which can be found at Al Bowlly films 1931-32.
In October 1932 Lew Stone took over as bandleader at the Monseigneur and Al continued as the main vocalist. Listen to Al in Lew's recording of My Woman from 1932. Al made over 100 Decca records with Lew Stone up to 1938 and went on tour with the band which became very popular particularly through their regular late night radio broadcasts. Other work led to recordings with bands led by Jack Jackson and George Scott-Wood.
There is a large advertisement in Melody Maker, February 1933, in which Al is promoting the 'Al Bowlly megaphone'. There is a very good
Cartoon of Lew Stone's Band where Al is at the microphone and Lew Davis is seated behind him. Listen to Al singing As Long As I Live in 1934.
In 1934 Ray Noble took members of his studio band to Holland. A recently discovered home movie shows the boys and families relaxing and fooling around.
By Autumn 1934 Al Bowlly was regarded as a major artiste by the Decca record label. Several fine solo recordings had been made in July and August, and with Lew Stone. His status with Decca is illustrated by his featuring prominently in a Decca catalogue supplement.

You can hear several Al Bowlly recordings from this period on my podcasts, check the playlists at http://www.r2ok.co.uk/playlists.htm

cartoon by Ouirk, appeared in Gramophone March 1934, scan supplied by Mike Hart
Al, performing in USA In 1934 Ray Noble accepted a job as an orchestra leader in USA, and in October Al Bowlly and drummer Bill Harty joined him. Al first made some records with Victor Young then in January 1935 began the series of Victor recordings billed as Ray Noble and his Dance Orchestra. The band appeared at and broadcast from the Rainbow Room in the Rockefeller Centre. Collector Mike Hart has kindly contributed a scan of one of the record labels from a radio transcription. In 1936 the Noble band also entertained at college balls, a visit to Nuttings On The Charles, in Waltham, Massachusetts, occurred in May. Also in May, Al was with Ray Noble when the band visited the Steel Pier, Atlantic City. Also a 2 month stay at the Hollywood Dinner Club in Galveston, Texas, has been confirmed from newspaper reviews found by Terry Brown. Al and Ray returned to England for a holiday in August 1936, making some records and a short film, before returning to the USA. Al recorded over 40 titles with Noble's American band up to October 1936, and many of these were issued on HMV in Britain. See a very good photo of Al which he sent to his fans in USA and Britain.
Al returned to England in January 1937 and formed his own small band with his brother Mish. Their debut in Birmingham is well documented. The 'Radio City Rhythm Makers' toured for four months before breaking up. Al made some recordings with Ronnie Munro but was having problems with his throat requiring an operation which could only be performed in USA. The operation was a success and Al made several recordings on the Bluebird label before finally returning to England in December. You can learn more about Al's last Bluebird session.
Back in England Al was soon in the recording studios with bands including Maurice Winnick, Sidney Lipton, Ronnie Munro, Lew Stone, Felix Mendelssohn. The recent home movie discovery shows scenes thought to have been shot in 1937 from a golf outing involving members of the Ambrose and Lew Stone bands, and there is a scene where Al Bowlly meets Sam Browne.
Listen to Al with Lew Stone singing Any Broken Hearts To Mend? in 1938.
In September 1938 Geraldo asked Al to record with his Gaucho Tango Orchestra with whom he recorded 29 titles. Al toured with Lew Stone and made many radio appearances from 1938 to 1940, and recordings were made with other bands including Mantovani, George Scott-Wood, Oscar Rabin, Reginald Williams, Bram Martin and Ken "Snakehips" Johnson.

You can hear several Al Bowlly recordings from this late period on my podcasts, check the playlists at http://www.r2ok.co.uk/playlists.htm

Al with Lew Stone's Band in 1938
In 1940 Al and his friend Jimmy Mesene formed the touring act Radio Stars With Two Guitars. It was never a top-billed act and they made only eight recordings.
After a performance at the Rex Theatre, High Wycombe, Al Bowlly died in London in the early hours of April 17, 1941, during an enemy bombing raid. He is buried in a communal grave at the Westminster City Council Cemetery, Uxbridge Road, Hanwell, London.
Many of Al Bowlly's recordings have been issued on LP and CD including all of those with Ray Noble, most of the Decca records and many of the rarer items with studio bands. One of the most often re-issued is Ray Noble's The Very Thought Of You perfectly sung by Al Bowlly.
A few EP's were issued in Britain during the 1950's and 1960's.
The most recent Al Bowlly page on this website is a working research document, the Al Bowlly Guitar Discography which lists more recordings by Al and includes music excerpts featuring Al's guitar playing.
In his time not much was known about Al and his background, many stories grew up around Al, about his lovelife, his generosity, he was a real society favourite, and this has contributed to the interest in Al today. It is also true that today millions of people around the world have heard the voice of Al Bowlly - some of his recordings were featured in two popular TV series by Dennis Potter, Pennies From Heaven and The Singing Detective, and there were two of Al's Ray Noble recordings featured in Stanley Kubrick's film The Shining. As a result I've had more enquiries on this site about the song Midnight, The Stars And You than any other song.

You can read more aboit Al Bowlly at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al_Bowlly    
The full story of Al Bowlly's life and career, and a full list of his recordings, can be read in Ray Pallett's book 'Goodnight Sweetheart' written in 1986 and currently out of print, but can be bought from Abebooks. Ray is also editor of Memory Lane which incorporates the Al Bowlly Circle. Check my '78rpm Books' and '78rpm Magazines' pages for details.
I have recently added a page, the Al Bowlly Timeline, which lists chronologically events and appearances by Al Bowlly outside the recording studio. Most of the information was supplied by Ray Pallett and his book Goodnight Sweetheart. The intention is to collect any additional information and build up a full timeline of Al's tours and show appearances.
Collector Mike Hart has kindly contributed scans of Pictures of Al Bowlly.
Melody Maker cartoon of Al, Sept 1935, from Mike Hart
I have made scans of several labels from Al Bowlly 78rpm records which illustrate the variety of bands/pseudonyms to look out for.

Bowlly labelsmore Bowlly labels
Films featuring Al Bowlly are listed in the Music in Films pages of this website, but separately here is the current known list of Al's films and some films that may feature Al.
Updates from James Taylor and Terry Brown, July 1999. These two films were seen by John Wright and Ray Pallett
Update from Ray Pallett, Oct 2000. Ray Pallett has seen this film at the NFT.

Al Bowlly - filmography
A Night Like This 1932 Roy Fox and his Band appear with Al Bowlly
Ralph Lynn
Winifred Shotter
Lew Stone, MD, makes a brief appearance at the piano
'In London On A Night Like This' is heard, Al and a trio singing.
'Considering' is seen performed on stage, Al singing and holding guitar.
'If Anything Happened To You' is heard (with just a glimpse of Al singing through a megaphone).
'Hello Mike' is heard, no vocal.
For more details see Al Bowlly films 1931-32

This film can be viewed at BFI, London
The Chance Of A Night-Time 1931 Al Bowlly sings and has small acting part
Ralph Lynn
Winifred Shotter

Lew Stone was MD, a band is heard but not seen
'Leave The Rest To Nature'
'I'm So Used To You Now'.
For more details see Al Bowlly films 1931-32

This film can be viewed at BFI, London
The Mayor's Nest 1933 Lew Stone and his Band,
with Al Bowlly
Wedding Of The Slumtown Babies,
Say To Yourself I Will Be Happy
Ray Noble and his Orchestra, with Al Bowlly, visiting Holland 1933 Polygon Special the film features excerpts of 'The Very Thought Of You', 'What A Perfect Combination' and 'Goodnight Sweetheart', Al Bowlly singing the latter
Lew Davis with Ray Noble and his Orchestra visiting Holland 1933 Home Movie the film features Lew Davis and family members and musicians from the Ray Noble band. Silent. Clips of Al & Marje Bowlly, Nat Gonella, Tiny Winters etc
Lew Davis with family and friends 1937 Home Movie the film features Lew Davis and family members and musicians from the both the Bert Ambrose and Lew Stone bands. Silent. Clips of Al Bowlly with Sam Browne, Max Bacon, Ted Heath etc
Lew Stone and his Band, with Al Bowlly ~1933 . Little Nell (no sound)
Up For The Derby 1933 Lew Stone and his Band Al Bowlly is seen playing guitar in Lew Stone's Band in a night club scene. He is not heard vocally during the film itself, but is heard singing over the credits a song possibly called I Gotta Horse
Al Bowlly accompanied by Monia Liter 1934 Pathetone short 227 The Very Thought Of You
Al Bowlly accompanied by Monia Liter 1936 Pathe Pictorial No 25 My Melancholy Baby
The Blue Boys (Al Bowlly was a member of the Blue Boys) 1930 there may be two shorts .
Roy Fox and his Band1932Pathe shortNat Gonella sings 'It Ain't No Fault Of Mine', Al Bowlly is seen playing guitar
Douglas Byng1932Roy Fox Band is featuredAl Bowlly is seen playing guitar but not heard vocally
Bitter Sweet1933Lew Stone Band is featuredAl Bowlly is seen playing guitar
Just My Luck1933Lew Stone Band might be featuredAl Bowlly's appearance is not confirmed
Little Damozel1933Ray Noble OrchAl Bowlly's appearance is not confirmed, he may sing over the credits
Love Contract1932Lew Stone band is featuredAl Bowlly's appearance is not confirmed
Antoinette1932.Al may not be seen, but might sing the title song
Note: this may be same movie as 'The Love Contract'
Big Broadcast of 19361936Ray Noble and his American BandAl Bowlly was probably filmed but did not appear in the released film

E-mail me if you want to know more about Al Bowlly or another artiste from the dance band era

There are two very active discussion groups where you can talk about Al Bowlly:

Subscribe to The BOWLLY discussion group

or check out the group site first at http://www.yahoogroups.com/group/bowlly/

Subscribe to The Al Bowlly discussion group

or check out the group site first at http://www.yahoogroups.com/group/albowlly/

In Association with Amazon.comMany CD's have now been issued featuring Al Bowlly recordings. Some of them can be easily ordered from Amazon.com, click the logo:

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