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AL BOWLLY

SAY, DONíT YOU REMEMBER?

His 50 finest original mono recordings 1931-1941 with Ray Noble, Lew Stone, Roy Fox, Geraldo, Carroll Gibbons and Ronnie Munro with their bands.

Compiled by Ray Crick. Restored by Martin Haskell and Doug Shearer

ASV LIVING ERA CD AJS 265 2 CDs [2hrs 33mins]

Crotchet Midprice


DISC ONE:

  1. BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? (1933)
  2. LOVE IS THE SWEETEST THING (1932)
  3. TIME ON MY HANDS (1931)
  4. LADY OF SPAIN (1931)
  5. LAZY DAY (1931)
  6. OUT OF NOWHERE (1931)
  7. HANG OUT THE STARS IN INDIANA (1931)
  8. SWEET AND LOVELY (1931)
  9. GOT A DATE WITH AN ANGEL (1931)
  10. GUILTY (1931)
  11. HOLD MY HAND (1931)
  12. I WAS TRUE (1931)
  13. BY THE FIRESIDE (1932)
  14. WEíVE GOT THE MOON AND SIXPENCE (1932)
  15. SAILING ON THE ROBERT E LEE (1932)
  16. LYING IN THE HAY (1932)
  17. MAYBE I LOVE YOU TOO MUCH (1933)
  18. THE OLD SPINNING WHEEL (1933)
  19. ROLL UP THE CARPET (1933)
  20. LOVE LOCKED OUT (1933)
  21. NIGHT AND DAY (1933)
  22. MY HATíS ON THE SIDE OF MY HEAD (1933)
  23. CLOSE YOUR EYES (1933)
  24. YOU OUGHT TO SEE SALLY ON SUNDAY (1933)
  25. IíLL STRING ALONG WITH YOU (1934)
  26. OVER MY SHOULDER (1934)

DISC TWO:

  1. THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU (1934)
  2. WHEN YOUíVE GOT A LITTLE SPRINGTIME IN YOUR HEART (1934)
  3. I NEVER HAD A CHANCE (1934)
  4. ISLE OF CAPRI (1934)
  5. BLUE MOON (1935)
  6. MY MELANCHOLY BABY (1935)
  7. PARIS IN THE SPRING (1935)
  8. TOP HAT, WHITE TIE AND TAILS (1935)
  9. DINNER FOR ONE, PLEASE, JAMES (1935)
  10. THE TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS (1936)
  11. IíVE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN (1936)
  12. WHERE THE LAZY RIVER GOES BY (1936)
  13. BEI MIR BIST DU SCHON (1938)
  14. MARIE (1938)
  15. SWEET AS A SONG (1938)
  16. MAMA, I WANT TO MAKE RHYTHM (1938)
  17. MUSIC, MAESTRO PLEASE (1938)
  18. PENNY SERENADE (1938)
  19. TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE (1938)
  20. WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT LOVE? (1940)
  21. DREAMING (1940)
  22. IT WAS A LOVER AND HIS LASS (1940)
  23. WHEN THAT MAN IS DEAD AND GONE (1941)
  24. GOODNIGHT, SWEETHEART (1931)

In the last twenty years much has been written about Al Bowlly and yet little is known of his life before he arrived in England in the 1920s. He was born to a Greek Father and a Lebanese Mother in Mozambique. He later moved to Johannesburg where he worked as apprentice in a barberís. He couldnít have been happy as the story tells of him learning to play the ukulele, banjo and guitar to entertain customers. Soon he was playing at local gigs and in 1922 he joined Edgar Adelerís ĎHawaiianí band at the Corner Lounge Tea Rooms in Johannesburg and toured with them too. He joined other bands on tour as a vocalist ending up in Singapore.

He was 28 when he arrived in England and got a job with Fred Elizalde at Londonís Savoy Hotel where the Filipino bandleader needed a good vocalist and Al fitted the bill. During the Summer and Autumn of 1928 he toured the continent with Elizalde before returning to the Savoy but, according to what is known, made little impact and after his contract expired was unemployed, reduced to busking and recording with some obscure bands. Then, at last, in 1930 he became singer with Ray Nobleís HMV studio band the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra and so began a successful association that produced many great records. In the same year he was also offered the job as vocalist with Roy Foxís band at the Monseigneur Restaurant and was making records with him on the Decca label too. Some thought he was Englandís Bing Crosby but of course he wasnít. Al has a very different type of voice with a unique style that immediately appealed when he began to be heard on his recordings. He expresses real emotion in any song he sings, whether the lyric is sad, tragic or happy. Iím sure the tracks on this double CD set will stir up many memories of that era for many.

He recorded "Time On My Hands" in London in 1931 with Ray Noble. I was about 14 when I first heard this and I remember hearing that smooth voice saying that time on his hands and someone in his arms was all he needed. The following month he recorded "Lady of Spain" again with Noble and here I like how the band first plays the melody through before Al comes in at which point the orchestra slightly changes the tempo for that first entrance. In June he recorded "Lazy Day", less well known today but a quiet easy song to listen to at anytime. The following month came "Out Of Nowhere" with Roy Fox and his band. A simple song sung in Alís own individual way, but not a song I have heard before so maybe it was on the B-side of the original record. He followed this with "Hang out the stars in Indiana" with Ray Noble. This is yet another number that hasnít survived well, although itís one that is pleasant to listen to and Al continues to persuade you to relax and listen and he does so in such a way you have to succumb.

The slumberous tone of Alís voice is even more noticeable in his next recording "Sweet and Lovely", this time with Carrol Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans. Slowly the lazy sounds of the orchestra plays the introduction with Howard Jacobs on alto saxophone doing a superb job and then Al follows in quite a provocative way telling you of the girl he has met who is sweeter than the flowers in May. A lovely song this and so well accompanied. Al himself sings it in such a way it proves how he can use his voice in any type of song. The fact that he can do so is also proved when in November 1931 he and Ray Noble recorded the great "Got A Date With An Angel". A lively version with the Orchestra springing into life as does Al himself. At the start of the song you hear the soft quiet voice of a girl for a few minutes too. Al sings in a breezy happy way and youíll love this version as I did. "Hold My Hand" came in the December and is a real gem. Iíve always liked the melody of this. It makes me feel like standing up and dancing even today. Ray Noble and his orchestra are brilliant in all their recordings with Al but in this one are especially fine with the orchestra playing with enthusiasm.

Imagine sitting in front of a glowing fire, in the twilight, in a comfortable armchair for two, with someone you love and seeing pictures in the fire of the future you both will share. That is exactly what Alís next recording is all about "By The Fireside" recorded in January 1932. A simple song, easy to listen to, which Al sings perhaps a trifle too wistfully but does it so eloquently you can forgive him. We have a change of tempo next with "Weíve Got The Moon And Sixpence" recorded in April of that year. A lively number where you can also hear more of the orchestra who are superb and I felt that, fine though Al sings, this one belongs to Ray Nobleís band.

In October of 1932 Lew Stone took over as bandleader at the Monseigneur and Al continued as main Vocalist and in December recorded "Lying in the Hay" with them. This is a good number but predominately played by the orchestra containing Nat Gonella on the trumpet. When Al comes in his voice sounds slightly higher than usual, but he tells us very clearly that he has nothing to do but lie in the hay all day dreaming of the one he loves and you do believe him. The orchestra at that point and without Al, play the introduction again then gradually slowing down the pace you hear Al half sing and half speak in a deeper voice of why he is lying in the Hay all day. Al made many records with Stone and went on tour with his band which became very popular, particularly through their regular late night radio broadcasts.

Perhaps Ray Nobleís greatest composition as a writer was "The Very Thought of You" which he wrote for Al Bowlly and they recorded it in April 1933. What a great version it is. Al is accompanied predominantly by Monia Liter at the piano, but in the background you can hear Ray and his orchestra playing softly. This is a great song, a true standard and for many this will be one of the highlights of this set as it was for me. The following month Al and Ray recorded "Maybe I Love You Too Much". Thereís a pleasingly plaintive air in the way the orchestra plays here and Al takes up the mood when he sings. This is a pleasant, quiet number. One you can relax to, but like a lot on this set not one that has survived very well. That same month came "The Spinning Wheel" and I love this old number. With the very distinctive sounds of the spinning wheel in the background together and that particular mood the orchestra produced, it makes this a real delight and Al is also in complete rapport with the band. In July of that same year we have "Roll Up The Carpet". Ray Nobleís Orchestra plays more of the melody before we hear from Al who in a suitably abandoned mood reminding us again just how versatile he was. The message is to have a wonderful time since the neighbours are out, and why not? Perhaps itís fitting that Al follows on with "Love Locked Out" which is a total change of mood being a quiet simple song. Al was clearly busy that month as he also recorded the great Cole Porter classic "Night and Day" with Carroll Gibbons. I could say so much about this particular song as it is one of my own many favourites. Suffice to say that Al sings it clearly and with great feeling and the orchestra accompanies him perfectly, never at any time swamping him, always keeping in perfect accord

In June 1934 Al recorded "Iíll String Along With You" and as always retains perfect clarity making this well remembered number sound its best. The next month brought "Over my shoulder" a song that has been sung by many people, notably Jessie Matthews, but at this time Al might well have been the first to record it. Although I have heard this many times since I have never heard an arrangement of it, by Ray Noble quite like this before and have enjoyed it enormously. That same month he made "I Never Have A Chance" which Al sings briskly, but here I have to admit I enjoyed more Ray Nobleís orchestra whose individual instrumentalists play with such exuberance. Next we come to one song Iím sure everyone will know, "The Isle of Capri" by Jemmy Kennedy. Ray Nobleís orchestra plays a long introduction at just the right tempo before Al enters. This number is generally associated with Gracie Fields but I think Al sings it as it should be sung with real romance in his voice.

In late1934 Ray Noble accepted a job in the USA and in October Al joined him. In January 1935 they began a series of Victor recordings in New York. First in January is "Blue Moon" by Rogers and Hart. How beautifully Al sings this in such a way that every word is not only melodious but also sweet sounding. The same applies to "My Melancholy Baby" made in the March. This too is a lovely song sung by Al from the heart and you can sense this in the way he changes his voice when itís appropriate to the words of the song. In May came "Paris In The Spring". I have heard this one many times but I have never heard this particular arrangement. When Ray Noble played the Introduction, which is long, I even thought I was listening to the wrong song although I liked what I was hearing. As soon as Al starts to sing there is no mistaking it. You will like it this way, Iím sure.

From June 1935 we have Irving Berlin "Top Hat, White Tie And Tails", a song made famous by Fred Astaire around the same time. Here Al and Noble are joined by The Freshmen. It wasnít until November 1935 that we have the next recording from Alís American period, "Dinner For One Please, James." I know this number very well and have always liked it but to hear Al sing with Ray Noble is a real treat. I love the arrangement and you can hear the sad note clearly in Alís voice as he orders dinner for one and you know he normally has dinner with another. Itís in March 1936 when we hear Cole Porterís "Iíve Got you under my skin", another great recording from Alís American period. The orchestra delivers that slow, lazy languid way of Ray Nobleís that is so relaxing and evocative of the period and Al matches the arrangement perfectly. As always, he means every word.

Feeling ill at ease with the pace of America and by mutual agreement with Ray Noble, Al and his wife returned to England in January 1937. He no longer had an agent and so formed his own band with his brother. He made a few recordings but in the event found he needed to return to the USA as he needed an operation on his throat that could only be performed in the States. The operation was a success and Al made several more recordings in New York before finally returning to England where some people said that he was a forgotten man. As it turned out bandleaders came forward and opportunities for work soon presented, or could be created, and Al was in demand again. However it wasnít until January 1938 that he recorded in London "Bei mir bist du Schon" with Ronnie Munro and his orchestra who play the introduction in just the slow tempo needed for this. Al sings with his usual feeling as he attempts to explain all about himself to someone he has just met. That same month he recorded "Marie" with Ronnie Munro too. Al sings this in that delightfully smooth and velvety voice and with the orchestra softly playing in the background it sounds delightful. The next recording Al did was in April. Itís "Sweet As A Song" made with "The Five Herons" and Violet Carson at the piano. British readers over a certain age will recognise the name of the lady who a quarter of a century later would find TV fame as Ena Sharples in the soap "Coronation Street." Not a number Iíve heard before but Al and his choir provide an extra touch of style.

At this time Al toured with Lew Stone and his band and made many radio appearances from 1938 to 1940 while also making records with other bands. In April 1938 he recorded "Mama, I Want To Make Rhythm" with Lew Stone. I knew this was going to be a cheerful, jolly song and I wasnít disappointed. In August of that year he recorded "Music, Maestro, Please" with Stone too. I thought the band should have played a little softer, though I could hear every word of the song. Then with Geraldo and his Orchestra Al made "Penny Serenade". I have heard this song sang by different people over the years, but never this particular arrangement and I liked it. Al with the girl who accompanies him, sing it slowly and softly and you soon become aware that he is singing to a beautiful Senorita who answers him. The band plays softly too in the background, so in no way does it deter you from hearing every intonation in either of the singers voices. From the December we have "Two Sleepy People" which is, of course, a lovely song that has survived well down the years. I love that special way that Geraldo and his orchestra play, slow but with a certain something hard to define. Al sings this with a definite caress in his voice too. I do notice that since Al had had his throat operation in 1937 you hear more of the orchestra playing and wonder if his operation had been the reason, although it made no difference to the quality of his voice.

In May 1939 Al recorded "What Do You Know About Love" with Reginald Williams and his Futurists. A very ordinary love song this, as too is "Dreaming" which he recorded in March with Ronnie Munro. There is little to say about these two songs. Al sings them well but they are among the few real disappointments. In April 1940 he recorded with the Café de Paris band of Ken "Snakehips" Johnston "It Was A Lover And His Lass" which is an Arthur Young setting from Shakespeare. I can remember singing these words when I was at school but what a difference between how I was taught to sing it to what I have just heard. The next recording was Alís very last. Itís Irving Berlinís "When That Man Is Dead And Gone". This is a really amusing recording improved by sound effects produced by Al and his own group with the band. Itís a double irony that it was Alís last recording. Also that by a sad coincidence "Snakehips" Johnson was killed in the London Blitz when the Café de Paris took a direct hit.

I have left "Goodnight Sweetheart"which Al recorded in London in April 1931 with Ray Noble until the last, as does CD compiler Ray Crick. I too thought it appropriate after listening to all these delightful recordings and enjoying each one so skilfully transferred from old 78 records by Martin Haskell and Doug Shearer that this could be a final tribute to this great singer. Exactly ten years after he made it he was killed by a land mine in the London Blitz. He sings it beautifully and like many others in 1941 this particular song will bring back so many memories to so many people of that time. A song that is still played that can mean so much to so many even now when they say with the song "Goodnight sweetheart, see you in the morning."

There are fifty songs on this two-disc set. I have not dealt with all of them individually but can honestly say I enjoyed every one. Taken together they are a wonderful tribute to a master of song who was a great star of his era.

Joan Duggan