Al Bowlly

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Al Bowlly
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, bandleader
Years active1927–1941

Albert Allick Bowlly (7 January 1898[1] – 17 April 1941) was a South African-British vocalist and dance band guitarist who was popular during the 1930s in Britain.[2][3] He recorded upwards of 1,000 songs that were listened to by millions.

His most popular songs include "Midnight, the Stars and You", "Goodnight, Sweetheart", "Close Your Eyes", "The Very Thought of You", "Guilty", "Heartaches" and "Love Is the Sweetest Thing". He also recorded the only English version of "Dark Eyes" by Adalgiso Ferraris, as "Black Eyes", with the words of Albert Mellor.[4]

Early life[edit]

He was born in 1898 in Lourenço Marques (today Maputo) in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique.[3] Al's father, Alick Pauli, was an Orthodox Christian who was Greek by nationality. His mother, born Miriam Ayoub-NeeJame, was a Lebanese Catholic, though Al himself was raised Greek Orthodox. They met en route to Australia and moved to British South Africa. Bowlly was brought up in Johannesburg.[5]


After a series of odd jobs in Colesburg 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 the Dutch East Indies during the mid-1920s.[6] His main role was as guitarist. He was fired from the band in Soerabaja, Dutch East Indies.[7]

Jimmy Lequime hired Bowlly to sing with his band in India and Singapore at Raffles Hotel.[5] When he left Lequime, it was with the pianist Monia Liter,[7] the two of them travelling to Germany, where they played with Arthur Briggs and his Savoy Syncopators, Fred Bird's Salon Symphonic Jazz Band, and George Carhart's New Yorkers Jazz Orchestra.[6] 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.[5]

He moved to Britain, where in July 1928 he joined Fred Elizalde's band that played at the Savoy Hotel, London until 1930.[6] He went on to play with various bands on a temporary basis, before gaining more regular employment in May 1931 with Roy Fox, singing in his live band for the Monseigneur Restaurant, a stylish restaurant on Piccadilly in London, and later with bandleader Ray Noble in November 1930.[3][6]

During the next four years, he recorded over 500 songs. By 1933, Lew Stone had ousted Fox as the Monseigneur's bandleader and Bowlly was singing Stone's arrangements with Stone's band.[3] 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 the 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.

Bowlly performed in England with his band, the Radio City Rhythm Makers.[5] By 1937, the band had broken 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.[3]

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.[citation needed] 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, Geraldo and Ken "Snakehips" Johnson.[3] 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.[3] 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".

An English Heritage plaque stating "Al Bowlly lived here", located at 26 Charing Cross Road in London, England

Personal life and death[edit]

In December 1931, Bowlly married Constance Freda Roberts (died 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.[8] 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".[9]


Al Bowlly's cover songs have been widely included in other forms of media.[10][11][12] The Caretaker, who sampled Bowlly's music for his Everywhere at the End of Time series of albums from 2016 to 2019, has said the public believed that if Bowlly had not died during the war, he would have been "bigger than Bing Crosby," and that "he had a better voice."[13]

Dennis Potter's television play Moonlight on the Highway, first broadcast in the UK on 12 April 1969, focused on a young Al Bowlly's obsessive attempting to blot out memories of sexual abuse via his fixation with the singer. Potter later featured Bowlly's music in Pennies from Heaven (1978).

Bowlly was mentioned, and his songs were used, throughout the first few series of the British TV comedy Goodnight Sweetheart.

Bowlly's rendition of "Midnight, the Stars and You" has been particularly used and referenced throughout varied films, appearing in The Shining, Toy Story 4, and Ready Player One.[14][15][16] Some commentators specifically highlight its use in The Shining's ending scene, with HeadStuff's Luka Vukos calling it "haunting" and Screen Rant praising it as "one of the most unforgettable final shots in film history."[11][12] The song has also been used in the 2013 video game BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea and sampled by musician Leyland Kirby on the Caretaker's Shining-inspired album Selected Memories from the Haunted Ballroom.[17]

Richard Thompson wrote a song called "Al Bowlly's In Heaven" included on his album Daring Adventures.

A sample of My Woman, recorded by Bowlly with Lew Stone in November 1932, appears on White Town's UK chart topper Your Woman (1997).

Al Bowlly’s rendition of the song “Guilty” was used in the Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s film Amélie (2001).

Partial discography[edit]

Song Year
"If I Had You" 1928
"Time on My Hands" 1931
"Heartaches" 1931
"Goodnight, Sweetheart" 1931
"Guilty" 1931
"Lullaby of the Leaves" 1932
"Looking on the Bright Side of Life" 1932
"Love Is The Sweetest Thing" 1932
"My Woman" 1932[18]
"What More Can I Ask?" 1932
"Hustlin' and Bustlin' for Baby" 1933
"Isn't It Heavenly" 1933
"Close Your Eyes" 1933
"True" 1934[19]
"Midnight, the Stars and You" 1934
"The Very Thought of You" 1934
"Isle of Capri" 1934
"Blue Moon" 1935
"Dinner for One Please, James" 1935
"It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow" 1940


  1. ^ Al Bowlly at the British Film Institute[better source needed]
  2. ^ Baker, Rob (16 April 2019). "'The Wednesday' – and the Death of the Crooner Al Bowlly".
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 170. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  4. ^ "Al Bowlly – Dark Eyes". Archived from the original on 12 December 2021 – via YouTube.
  5. ^ a b c d Bush, John. "Al Bowlly". AllMusic. Retrieved 23 September 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d Wadley, Pauline (1981). Al Bowlly - The London Sessions (1928-1930) (Sleeve notes). Saville Records. SVL 148.
  7. ^ a b Gammond, Peter (1991). The Oxford Companion to Popular Music. Oxford University Press. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-19-311323-7.
  8. ^ "The Al Bowlly Story". Archived from the original on 4 February 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  9. ^ "Blue Plaque For Singer Al Bowlly". English Heritage. 25 November 2013. Retrieved 19 September 2014.
  10. ^ "Dua Lipa – Love Again". Song Exploder. Season 2. Episode 1. 15 December 2020. Netflix.
  11. ^ a b Vukos, Luka (22 June 2021). "Remembering | The Caretaker & Everywhere at the End of Time". HeadStuff. Archived from the original on 23 June 2021. Retrieved 24 June 2021.
  12. ^ a b Sherlock, Ben (23 July 2021). "The Shining: 10 Things That Still Hold Up Today". Screen Rant. sec. 1. The Ambiguous Final Shot. Archived from the original on 25 July 2021. Retrieved 10 March 2022.
  13. ^ Parks, Andrew (17 October 2016). "Leyland Kirby on The Caretaker's New Project: Six Albums Exploring Dementia". Bandcamp Daily. Archived from the original on 19 April 2021. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  14. ^ Orlando, Anthony (22 February 2022). "17 Popular Songs Made Terrifying in Horror Movies". BuzzFeed. sec. 1. "Midnight, the Stars and You" – The Shining. Retrieved 10 March 2022.
  15. ^ Perry, Spencer (17 June 2019). "How Toy Story 4 Continues the Series' Tradition of Referencing The Shining". Retrieved 10 March 2022.
  16. ^ Jérôme, Nicod (9 April 2018). "Musique / Ready Player One par Alan Silvestri : critique". Ciné Chronicle (in French). Retrieved 10 March 2022.
  17. ^ Irrational Games (12 November 2013). BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea (Microsoft Windows, OS X, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Linux). 2K Games.
  18. ^ "Al Bowlly Lew Stone Monseigneur Band – My Woman 1932". Archived from the original on 12 December 2021. Retrieved 9 June 2021 – via YouTube.
  19. ^ "Al Bowlly – True (1934)". 26 June 1931. Archived from the original on 12 December 2021. Retrieved 1 January 2012 – via YouTube.

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)

External links[edit]