Al Bowlly

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Al Bowlly
Bowlly small.jpg
Background information
Birth nameAlbert Allick Bowlly
Born(1898-01-07)7 January 1898
Lourenço Marques, Portuguese Mozambique
Died17 April 1941(1941-04-17) (aged 43)
London, England
GenresJazz, vocal
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter, bandleader
Years active1927–41

Albert Allick Bowlly (7 January 1898[1] – 17 April 1941) was a Mozambican-born South African/British vocalist who was popular during the 1930s in England. He recorded more than 1,000 songs.

His most popular songs include "Midnight, the Stars and You", "Goodnight, Sweetheart", "Close Your Eyes (Bernice Petkere song)", "The Very Thought of You", "Guilty", "Love Is the Sweetest Thing" and the only English version of "Dark Eyes" by Adalgiso Ferraris as "Black Eyes" with words of Albert Mellor.[2]

Biography[edit]

Bowlly was born in Lourenço Marques in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique. His parents were Greek and Lebanese.[3][4] They met en route to Australia and moved to South Africa.

Bowlly was brought up in Johannesburg.[3] After a series of odd jobs across South Africa, including barber and jockey, he sang in a dance band led by Edgar Adeler on a tour of South Africa, Rhodesia, India, and Indonesia during the mid-1920s. He was fired from the band in Surabaya, Indonesia.

Jimmy Liquime hired him to sing with the band in India and Singapore.[3] In 1927 Bowlly made his first record, a cover version of "Blue Skies" by Irving Berlin that was recorded with Adeler in Berlin, Germany. During the next year, he worked in London, with the orchestra of Fred Elizalde.[3]

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 bandleader Ray Noble 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 British tour with Stone, Bowlly was inundated with demands for appearances and gigs—including undertaking a solo British tour—but continued to make most of his recordings with Noble. There was considerable competition between Noble and Stone for Bowlly's time. For much of the year, Bowlly spent all day in the recording studio with Noble's band, rehearsing and recording, then the evening with Stone's band at the Monseigneur. Many of these recordings with Noble were issued in the United States by Victor, which meant that by the time Noble and Bowlly came to America, their reputation had preceded them.

He performed in England with his band, the Radio City Rhythm Makers.[3] But by 1937 the band broke up when vocal problems were traced to a wart in his throat, briefly causing him to lose his voice. Separated from his wife, and with his band dissolved, he borrowed money from friends and travelled to New York City for surgery.

His absence from the UK in the early 1930s damaged his popularity with British audiences, despite his association with pianist Monia Liter as his accompanist. His career began to suffer as a result of problems with his voice, which affected the frequency of his recordings. He played a few small parts in films, but the parts were often cut and scenes that were shown were brief. Noble was offered a role in Hollywood, although the offer excluded Bowlly because a singer had already been hired. Bowlly moved back to London with his wife Marjie in January 1937.

With diminished success in Britain, he toured regional theatres and recorded as often as possible to make a living, moving from orchestra to orchestra, working with Sydney Lipton, Gerald Bright and Ken "Snakehips" Johnson. In 1940 there was a revival of interest in his career when he worked in a duo with Jimmy Messene in Radio Stars with Two Guitars on the London stage. It was his last venture before his death in April 1941. The partnership was uneasy. Messene was an alcoholic and he was occasionally unable to perform.

Bowlly recorded his last song two weeks before his death. It was a duet with Messene of Irving Berlin's satirical song about Hitler, "When That Man Is Dead and Gone".

Personal life and death[edit]

In December 1931, Bowlly married Constance Freda Roberts (d. 1934) in St Martin's Register Office, London; the couple separated after a fortnight and sought a divorce. He remarried in December 1934 to Marjie Fairless; this marriage lasted until his death.

On 16 April 1941, Bowlly and Messene had given a performance at the Rex Cinema in Oxford Street, High Wycombe. Both were offered an overnight stay in town, but Bowlly took the last train home to his flat at 32 Duke Street, Duke's Court, St James, London. He was killed by a Luftwaffe parachute mine that detonated outside his flat at ten past three in the morning.[5] His body appeared unmarked. Although the explosion had not disfigured him, it had blown his bedroom door off its hinges, and the impact against his head was fatal. He was buried with other bombing victims in a mass grave at Hanwell Cemetery, Uxbridge Road, Hanwell, where his name is given as Albert Alex Bowlly.

A blue plaque commemorating Bowlly was installed in November 2013 by English Heritage at Charing Cross Mansion, 26 Charing Cross Road, described as "his home at the pinnacle of his career".[6]

Partial discography[edit]

"If I Had You" 1928
"Time on My Hands" 19 February 1931
"Goodnight, Sweetheart" 19 February 1931
"Guilty" 2 December 1931
"Lullaby of the Leaves" 10 June 1932
"Looking on the Bright Side of Life" 1 September 1932
"Love Is The Sweetest Thing" 8 September 1932
"What More Can I Ask?" 23 December 1932
"Hustlin' and Bustlin' for Baby" 16 March 1933
"Isn't It Heavenly" 1 August 1933 and 25 October 1933
"Close Your Eyes" 7 December 1933
"True" 1934[7]
"Midnight, the Stars and You" 16 February 1934
"The Very Thought of You" 21 April 1934
"Isle of Capri" 30 August 1934
"Blue Moon" 12 January 1935
"Dinner for One Please, James" 14 November 1935
"It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow" 15 February 1940

References[edit]

  1. ^ Al Bowlly at the British Film Institute
  2. ^ Al Bowlly - Dark Eyes
  3. ^ a b c d e Bush, John. "Al Bowlly". AllMusic. Retrieved 23 September 2018.
  4. ^ "The Al Bowlly Story". Memorylane.org.uk. Archived from the original on 4 February 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  5. ^ "The Al Bowlly Story". Memorylane.org.uk. Archived from the original on 4 February 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  6. ^ "Blue Plaque For Singer Al Bowlly". English Heritage. 25 November 2013. Retrieved 19 September 2014.
  7. ^ "Al Bowlly – True (1934)". YouTube. 26 June 1931. Retrieved 1 January 2012.

Further reading[edit]

  • Sid Colin and Tony Staveacre, Al Bowlly (H. Hamilton, 1979)
  • Ray Pallett, Good-Night, Sweetheart: Life and Times of Al Bowlly (Spellmount, 1986)
  • Ray Pallett, They Called Him Al: The Musical Life of Al Bowlly (BearManor Media, 2010)