Monday, January 7, 2013


A lot of people in the United States do not know who Al Bowlly is. Most people born after the World War II generation do not even know who Al Bowlly is in general. He did not have the greatest voice, but his crooning style made him one of England's most popular singers of the 1930s. His recording output is huge and often compared to the output of Bing Crosby. You may find it strange but I compare Bowlly often to Billie Holiday, like Holiday he had a voice you either loved or hated. I am one of the people that absolutely love his voice. Hopefully this three part series on Al Bowlly will introduce more people to his music and talent.

Al Bowlly was born Albert Allick Bowlly on January 7th,1898 in Lourenço Marques in the then Portuguese colony of Mozambique, to Greek and Lebanese parents who met en route to Australia and moved to South Africa. He was brought up in Johannesburg, South Africa. After a series of odd jobs across South Africa in his youth, namely as a barber and jockey, he gained his musical experience singing for a dance band led by Edgar Adeler on a tour of South Africa, Rhodesia, India and Indonesia during the mid-1920s. However, he fell out with Adeler, throwing a cushion at his head as he played piano on stage and was fired whilst the band was in Surabaya, Indonesia.

After a spell with a Filipino band in Surabayo he was then employed by Jimmy Liquime in India (Calcutta) and Singapore (Raffles Hotel). Bowlly had to work his passage back home, through busking. Just one year after his 1927 debut recording date in Berlin, where he recorded Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" with Edgar Adeler, Bowlly arrived in London for the first time as part of Fred Elizalde's orchestra, though he nearly didn't make it after foolishly frittering away the fare which was sent to him by Elizalde. That year, "If I Had You" became one of the first popular songs by an English jazz band to become well known in America as well, and Bowlly had gone out on his own by the beginning of the 1930s. First, however, the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 resulted in Bowlly being made redundant and returning to several months of busking to survive.

In the 1930s, he signed two contracts—one in May 1931 with Roy Fox, singing in his live band for the Monseigneur Restaurant in London, the other a record contract with Ray Noble's orchestra in November 1930.

During the next four years, he recorded over 500 songs. By 1933 Lew Stone had ousted Fox as bandleader, and Bowlly was singing Stone's arrangements with Stone's band. After much radio exposure and a successful UK tour with Stone, Bowlly was inundated with demands for personal appearances and gigs—including undertaking a subsequent solo UK tour—but continued to make the bulk of his recordings with Noble. There was considerable competition between Noble and Stone for Bowlly's time as, for much of the year, Bowlly would spend all day in the recording studio with Noble's band, rehearsing and recording, only then to spend the evening playing live at the Monseigneur with Stone's band...


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this item , David. An interesting sidelight is that Ray Noble himself did not have an orchestra at all at this time, The orchestra used in the recordings was the "house band" of the record company HMV, who called it "The New Mayfair Dance Orchestra". Although many of it's members were regulars, they also had regular "night time" jobs with dance bands at various London venues. The band recorded with other leaders, (sometimes using Bowlly, eg "Venetian Nights" of 6 April 1933 with Clifford Greenwood as director) and Ray Noble himself was an employee of HMV. Of course he later struck out on his own, migrating (with Bowlly) to America.
    Initially HMV labelled the band as being "The New Mayfair Dance Orchestra directed by Ray Noble" later putting Noble in first position, but by 1932 calling it "Ray Noble and His Orchestra"