Al Bowlly · Blog posts · My Fiction · Songs

Vignette: “In A Blue And Pensive Mood.”

January, 1935.

He doesn’t know how long he has been wandering the streets; it might be two hours or it might be four. He stops and pulls out his packet of cigarettes from his jacket pocket and lights one. As he exhales the smoke curls round him, then vanishes into the cold night air. Shivering, he wishes he’d put on his overcoat.

The streets are silent; nobody is around but himself. A darkened window from the building opposite casts a solemn eye in the dim gaslight.

He crosses the street and finds himself turning a corner aimlessly. His shoes echo on the pavements as he walks; each step falling into the rhythm of his heartbeat, intensifying the aching loss settled there.

Before him the park where it all began looms into his sight

A lovely blonde is weeping looking down at the ground. “Oh where is it? Where is it?” She moves around frantically. His heart goes out to her.

He wipes away her tears gently with his handkerchief as she tells him she’s lost her grandmother’s cameo brooch.

“I know it won’t replace what you’ve lost but I’d like you to have this.” He places a small box on the table in the tea rooms and pushes it towards her.

“You are the kindest sweetest man I’ve ever known,” she tells him, her voice trembling, and her blue eyes filling with tears.

His heart leaps as she takes his hand.

“I just want to make you happy,” he says.

Warm sunlight, the scent of summer flowers in the air, and her arm linked with his as they walk along the river. She fingers the brooch on her jacket and smiles.

Wrapped in each other’s arms, her blonde hair soft against his cheek. He murmurs words of love in her ear.

Waiting for her at the restaurant, checking his watch, waiting...

“Dinner for one sir?” asks James the waiter.

“No thank you. I’ve lost my appetite.”

“Of course, sir.”

A tear rolls down his cheek as his memories haunt him and bare limbed trees sway over the bench where he had found her that summer’s day. As he turns to walk away something rolls under his shoe. Bending down he picks it up. He holds it under a street lamp and sees that it is an oval brooch; he runs his fingers over the silhouette in the middle, then closes it tight into his palm.


Upon listening to In A Blue And Pensive Mood I had a daydream of the “character” in the song, sung by Al Bowlly.

As a “song stylist” (as he described himself) Al lived each song he sang, putting “his whole being” into his song (as Joyce Stone* put it). He has such an affecting way of drawing you into his songs.

The above vignette is what I saw in my reverie. I like the ambiguity in the lyrics: we don’t know anything about the woman he has lost, how it happened or why. My reverie adds a little more detail to the lyrics but leaves it open to interpretation, and I hope, evokes a poignant feeling.

Unlike novels, vignettes (short stories) capture a scene or scenes instead of having a beginning and an end, with a conclusion. Vignettes to me are rather like looking at an old photograph: a moment in time which when you observe it, it’s in the present, but yet it is in the past.

I used the present tense for the viewpoint of the song’s narrator (sung by Al) to create this effect. We the listener (or reader) can be more involved in his story this way.

*Joyce Stone was the wife of the band leader Lew Stone; one of the bands Al sang with.

Below is a video I made which creates a visual vignette of In A Blue And Pensive Mood:

Video created by Wishful Nostalgic

1930s Magazines · Blog posts · Music sheets · Songs

The 1930s Hit Song: Those Little Things.

Popular Music And Dancing Weekly, December 15th, 1934.

An era of classy love songs, lush orchestral arrangements, swinging saxophones, stride piano, syncopated beats, foxtrots, waltzes—

How were some of these song hits written?

Does a song-writer write words to fit music, or music to fit words? First, the answer to the words-or-music-first question is—both. Sometimes a composer is visited by a haunting melody and gets his lyricist to set suitable words to it. Often a lyric writer is smitten with a good idea for words, and inspires a composer to think up a tune. More frequently both lyric writer and musician work an idea out together.

Visited by a haunting melody. How poetical!

In a previous blog post we found out how Tolchard Evans came to write Lady of Madrid. We’ll find out more about Tolchard Evans in a few moments, but first, let’s go to The Isle of Capri:

Story Behind “Capri.”

“The Isle of Capri,” for instance, arose like this: the composer played over the rough outline of a melody, and Jimmy Kennedy, lyric expert. said: “Hold that tune. There’s something in it for a number.” It happened that Jimmy had running through his mind the name of the summer retreat of Gracie Fields—the Isle of Capri. Somehow the name of the place had lodged in his memory. Then the “tango-ish,” sunny nature of the melody seemed to fit in with his thoughts. The two things fused together, and, after some hours of work, one of the greatest song-hits ever produced was finished.

Capri and Madrid are good places to inspire a number, but what about those ordinary days, such as a bus journey home?

Ray Noble got the idea of his great success, “Good-night, Sweetheart,” from hearing a girl say those words to a young man on a ‘bus.

Those little, ordinary things—

Mack Gordon and Harry Revel wrote their newest number, which will ap-pear in a forthcoming film called “College Rhythm,” because Gordon signed a small girl’s autograph album with the phrase “Stay as Sweet as You Are.” Revel at once said: “What a swell song-title.” And it was!

Every day life could offer up a song title. And The Great Depression found it’s way into a song too:

It was an unemployed man begging in an American street one night who inspired a wonderful piece of song- writing. “Buddy, can you spare a dime?” he pleaded in the phrase of that time. The two men he spoke to suddenly leaped for joy and poured all their loose cash on him. “Got it!'” they yelled, rather mysteriously. They were Jay Gorney and E. Y. Harburg, two Broadway songsters working on a new revue. That pleading phrase was just the title. or theme, for a song they had been wrestling with for days. You know the sequel.

So, for a great 1930s hit song, you need a title, a good story, a haunting melody and, if you are very fortunate, a golden voice to sing that story. The magazine was often looking for a new “melody maker” :

The whole article on song writing can be downloaded here as a pdf file:

There’s a nice set of musical ads in this edition too!

I’m rather amused at some of the non musical ads interspersed amongst all those instruments though. I bet you all know which ones! I do like the wave setter cap though. I even looked on Google in the hope one might show up on Etsy or Ebay, or possible some modern equivalent, but no luck there.

But now it’s time to pay Tolchard Evans a visit—

Popular Music And Dancing Weekly, January 26th, 1935.

The lovely lady in the photograph is his wife Phyllis, who was rather the muse to him. I love the description of his room, which sounds very neat and orderly! After a stint as a clerk in a stationer’s office Tolchard got the break he was longing for and deserved: he met Reginald Tabbush, and joined his song writing firm. The hits started coming: Dreamy Devon, One More Step Towards Kilarney, Barcelona, If, Homeward, Unless, Life’s Desire, Lady of Madrid and Lady Of Spain, “a haunting melody.”

You can download the article here as a pdf:

From another edition of Popular Music And Dancing Weekly is the sheet music from Geraldo’s version:

This was just the sort of genre of dance band music that Geraldo liked!

It’s a good arrangement, but I think Ray Noble’s is the better of the two. The slower tempo and instrumentation just sounds perfect for the slightly melancholy mood of the song, which of course Al Bowlly’s voice evokes perfectly.

Blog posts · My Fiction · Songs

Flash Fiction: The Legend of The Old Man Who Lives In The Mountain.

The Daily Chronicle, September 22nd, 1932.

Mysterious Old Man Scares Two Lady Hikers.

Two female hikers, Bessie Halton and her friend Gertie Williams, having got lost from their group yesterday afternoon were found some hours later by their friend Thomas Smith, in quite a state.

They claimed that they had encountered a very strange old man of a very dishevelled appearance. His white hair and beard were very long, and he wore no shoes. He appeared to be quite mad as a crow was perched on his shoulder, of whom he would mumble endearments to. The girls thought he might be lame as he had a very peculiar way of walking.

Being lost they had no other choice but to ask him the way back to the hiking path, even though they were afraid of him. They claim that when they nervously approached him his crow began to fly around their heads and make “horrid screeching sounds.” This was enough to make them run off as fast as they could, whilst the frightful old man chuckled to himself. It is supposed he was some harmless old tramp, but the local police advise any other hikers who might encounter this old man not to approach him.

“What a strange story in the newspaper this morning, have you seen it dear?” The pretty brunette asked her husband.

“No, not yet,” he replied dipping his toasted soldiers into his boiled egg.

“Here, it’s all rather odd!” She handed him the newspaper. As he ate he scanned the article.

“Good gracious!” His eyes widened behind his round spectacles, giving him an owlish look.

He got up from his chair. “It can’t be-“

“What can’t be? Whatever do you mean?”

“I won’t be a moment dear, just need to get something from the library.”

He returned ten minutes later with a book in his hand.

“Oh come on Roger, finish your breakfast, your kippers are getting cold.”

“Never mind the kippers Beryl! Just look at this!” Roger exclaimed excitedly. He placed the book on the table.

“So?” Beryl arched her eyebrow.

“Don’t you see Beryl? It’s him. The Old Man who lives in the mountain!”

Beryl began to laugh. “That book looks about 100 years old, how can it be about that old tramp?”

“That’s just it Beryl! It was published in 1856 and-” he leafed through the pages excitedly -“it’s about the legend of an old man with a crow who has been seen living in the mountains since the 17th century. Look what it says here-“

“Roger don’t talk rubbish! You know I don’t believe in ghosts!” Beryl pushed his plate of kippers towards him. “Eat your kippers.”

“No, Beryl it doesn’t actually say that he’s a ghost, but that he appears every few years, and he’s always as solid as the next man. Ghosts are not solid.” He leafed through more pages.

“I’m sure one old tramp with a white beard looks much like the next one dear. Now stop this nonsense and finish your breakfast. Millie will be here soon.”

“Well how do you explain the crow, and look- his picture is the same as the one in the newspaper!” He showed her a picture in the book. “It says this was a drawing of the Old Man done in 1767 by a local man who saw him when he was going for a walk.”

“Well the paper obviously used the one in the book,” Beryl pointed out.

“They cannot have done. This book is very rare. There were few copies made and as far as I know, I’m the only one around here who owns a copy. It was given to me at the antiquarian book club five years ago,” Roger replied.

Pushing the plate of cold kippers away he got up from the table.

“Now where are you going?” Beryl asked.

“I must telephone the newspaper, they might be interested in this story,” Roger said.

Beryl put her head in her hand and sighed. “You’ll have half the village laughing at you!”

“I won’t be long dear.”

I say Gertie, look at this! Bessie pointed at the newspaper article.

“It’s him, that funny old man!”

“And look what it says! That he’s two hundred years old at least!” Bessie shuddered. “Do you think we saw a ghost?”

“I don’t know,” Gertie said, “but I’m not going back there again.”

The Old Man In The Mountain, Roy Fox and his Band, recorded, September 23, 1932. A strange story sung by Al Bowlly. I kept seeing the Old Man, and this the above is his story as it came to me.

1930s Magazines · Blog posts · Dance Bands

Lew Stone: Architect Of Dance Music.

Original 1930s photograph of Lew Stone in my collection.

I’ve been wanting to write about Lew Stone for awhile on my blog now. He’s been mentioned in some of my other blog posts, but I wanted to write a whole blog post featuring him. When I acquired another Popular Music and Dancing Weekly magazine that had a whole article on Lew I was excited! (I have in fact received another issue through the post this afternoon that has another whole page article on Lew, so I will be writing another blog post about him this summer in celebration of his birthday).

He is one of my favourite British dance band leaders. The article dates from January 12th, 1935 and it is an interesting window into Lew’s life at that point. The article also gives the reader insight into his personality and his work ethic.

But before we get to go back and meet Lew in 1935, I’d like to share one of my favourite recordings of his: I Can’t Write The Words.

The song exudes joy with it’s upbeat melody! The excellent vocals are provided by Al Bowlly and backing harmonies by the boys in the band. The sound is unmistakably Lew Stone. The video is of an actual 78 played on a gramophone of the era. (I have a copy of this 78 also, but it is quite worn and doesn’t sound as clear as this one. I expect its original owner loved the song as much as I do and played it many many times!)

You may download this great number here:

I have no idea who the writer of the article was, but Recording Needle is a great moniker!

Perhaps you’ve caught a glimpse of him amongst the crowds hurrying in and out of the B.B.C., or walking with his quick, decisive stride along Charing Cross Road—a short. shy, preoccupied man, hatless. You might notice his large head and fresh complexion giving the false impression that he spends a good deal of his time out of doors.

As he breezes along, business case in hand, you would take him for a doctor or lawyer.

Never for one moment would the stranger imagine that the stocky, erect young man with the retiring manner was the leader of one of Europe’s most modern dance orchestras. There nothing about Lew Stone to suggest fame, unless you happen to strike him on one of the rare occasions when he travels around the West End in his lovely Alfa-Romeo. Mostly you will find him walking, for he dislikes more luxurious modes of travel, being a man whose every movement speaks of modesty.

He dresses in the quietest way, invariably wearing a sober grey suit, and he never by any chance affects the camel-hair overcoats, black hats, and other over-distinctive favoured by so many of the musical fraternity.

This modesty he carries even to eating, for if you happened to enter a restaurant and sat next to Lew Stone—and he doesn’t mind patronising quite humble ones on occasion- you would find him passing over the more pretentious things on the menu and hurrying through poached eggs on toast or Welsh rarebit with the inevitable cup of weak tea. He rushes his meals like he does everything else.

A stupendous worker, he believes in occupying single moment in a useful manner, and he is known as the man who never wastes a word. To him superficial conversation are an utter waste of time. Go and discuss a business matter with him and he is all attention; digress to talk of general topics, and you’ll find him fidgeting, shuffling his feet uneasily, and at last backing away and saying vaguely : “Ah yes well, there it is. I must get back to my work.

What a vivid picture this paints of Lew; so personal and real. I find the combination of an outwardly ordinary, unassuming man with his brilliance as a bandleader, arranger and musician interesting. No airs and graces, just honest authentic musicianship. I admire that.

His brilliant arranging is beyond all else the thing that has brought Lew to the fore. About 1925 he began to revolutionise the industry by his remarkable scoring of dance music. He started his career as a pianist in a night-club, earning five shillings for his first engagement, but although he has until the past two years always played the piano, he holds a compara-tively low opinion of himself as a pianist.

His arrangement of “Body and Soul ” for Ambrose made jazz history, and since then he has utilised this remarkable gift in every way. And it is a gift—a divine flair for sensing exactly how certain effects and tone colours will sound. No power can keep Lew from his arranging, and he worked on one of his notable efforts—”Free and Easy “—when confined to bed in great pain.

I have no idea what illness had kept Lew confined to his bed, but what dedication to his work! I haven’t been able to find Free and Easy, but here is Body and Soul:

This house of Lew’s is one of the most remarkable establishments in London. It is part of a converted stables, but it is so beautifully appointed that to enter the small door is almost like going into a different world. And the silence, so near the West End, is positively uncanny. The place is away from the main traffic arteries, and its peace is so profound that jocular visitors have even been known to ask when the bell was going to ring for prayers !

I wonder if this house is still standing and if so, what it looks like now. Perhaps the current inhabitants have no idea of who once lived there and what magic he created within its walls.

And there are few visitors to disturb the silence, for much as he likes congenial company, Lew simply cannot spare the time. There is no Mrs. Stone, and Lew’s more intimate friends say there never will be, for he is wedded to his work. His daily wants are ministered to by a small well-trained staff.

Lew’s “intimate friends” couldn’t be more wrong in their belief that Lew would remain a bachelor, for he met a beautiful classical piano student named Joyce Newman, who came to the Monseigneur Restaurant, and she later became his devoted wife.

Here is an article about Joyce from The Jewish Chronicle:

A night out at the Monseigneur seeing Lew’s band play live is the first stop I’d make in a Time Machine! It must’ve been absolutely magical. How I long to When that came to an end I bet many people really missed the experience.

In much the same way Lew has always had tussles with things outside his control—the sudden switch-over of the Monseigneur from a high-class restaurant to a news cinema, and the important loss of Al Bowlly, his “big-draw crooner, for instance he is always one move ahead of that train of circumstance.

Here is a wonderful radio programme Dance Band Days, broadcast on 25th January 1993, presented by Alan Dell, where he chats with Joyce Stone about the Monseigneur days, and plays some of the numbers from that special time. Oh to have been there!

The article about Lew in pdf format can be downloaded here:

1930s Magazines · Blog posts · Dance Bands

Teddy Joyce: A Canadian Band Leader in London.

Teddy Joyce was a Canadian musician, dancer, singer, actor and bandleader of Scottish ancestry, who became part of Britain’s dance band era.

Teddy had a great fondness for Britain and described it as “the swellest place on earth.” I have noticed that quite a few band leaders and musicians who came from other countries over to work in London in the 1930s really seemed to love it.

Born as Edmund John Cuthbertson, in 1904 in Ontario, his love for music began as a small boy. Below is an article Teddy wrote for Jack Payne’s Popular Music and Dancing Weekly which was published in the October 13th, 1934 edition.

Here’s an excerpt from the article in Teddy’s own words, of his early years and how he began his career in music and entertainment:

Almost the first question most people ask me is how I began. I tell them that I expect I began like every other musician—by having as a boy a great love for music. I started to play the fiddle while still little more than a nipper. At the Toronto conservatoire, and later at Detroit I had the benefit of the best tuition, and I really think for a boy I played rather a few years’ hard work.

The first real job I collared for myself was in Frank Silver’s band as a violinist and cello- player. Frank was the man who achieved fame by writing “Yes, We Have No Bananas!” All other chaps in the band were jealous of me because. I was supposed to be getting ninety dollars a week while they were only drawing seventy five. But they got paid ! I didn’t ! Frank was so fond of me that at the week-ends he always forgot to give me any money ; he said he was saving it up for me because I was too young to be trusted with so much money. Perhaps he was right. Anyway, I don’t seem to be able even to-day to glue on to money. I’ve earned at least half-a-million dollars, and I’d hate to tell you how much of that I have kept!

My career as a fiddler appeared to have been brought to an early close when several chaps and I turned over a car. So I became a dancer. What a funny dancer I was, too ! The Charleston was all the rage then. I picked it up quickly. There must have been something grotesque about my skinny legs, because the people laughed at me every time I did my stuff. So by-and-by I became a full-fledged hooter. I scored several successes, particularly at the Capitol in New York.

As Teddy mentioned above, the accident left him unable to play the violin (his hand was injured). However Teddy was a versatile man with many talents, and confident in himself, so he moved into film acting next. You can see his filmography listed on imdb:

But music was his biggest love:

Never being exactly of a shy and retiring disposition, I picked up a line of talk and a few more tricks and got a job as master of ceremonies at St. Louis. After that I went to other places and landed at Pittsburg, where I must have been fairly popular because I stayed there two years—a record for an M.C.

I must explain that in America a master of ceremonies squares with what you call a compere over here. He has full charge of the show. If he can sing a bit, play a bit, dance a few steps, tell some stories, be topical and bright in his chat, and, above all, keep the people interested and amused he is the blue-eyed boy—until they get tired of him !

Having a fool idea that I could make a success as a movie star, I gravitated to Los Angeles and actually did make several pictures which the public liked. But somehow I couldn’t stay away from the stage, and when the Warner Brothers asked me to take over the band job at their popular theatre I said “Oke!:” and went back to my real love. I staved at the W.B. Theatre for six months. The longest run of any of my predecessors was five weeks. So you see how good I must have been !

“Why don’t you come over to England with me?” asked Kathlyn Hayden one day, just before setting out home from one of her frequent trips to Hollywood on behalf of the leading British picture-papers. Kathlyn is a great scout and as clever as they make them. She thought I could get a break in London. So I packed up on the spot. And here I am. And here I want to stay. I’ve got a great crowd of chaps in my band now. We are a team of brothers, all working together and as happy a combination as you’ll find anywhere.

Here is the full article in pdf format to download:

Teddy did get his wish to stay in London, working in the Kit Kat club until 1940. He fell in love with the beautiful British actress Chili Bouchier, whom he met in 1935. They got engaged and set up home together in 1937. Tragically Teddy fell ill with cerebro-spinal fever which ended his life in February 1941. He was only 34 years old. I felt quite sad when I read that whilst reading about Teddy in the following short biography of him:

Teddy had a short life, but he left us a wonderful musical legacy. This recording from August 1934 has such a smooth, light sounding arrangement. It’s so cheerful! Teddy is the vocalist on it too; he had a good voice. What I find interesting about his voice is that his vocal style has a very English sounding inflection; he has virtually no American style to it, which I had expected him to have since he had worked in America before he moved to London.

This is another recording, dating from 1935, which is very apt for early Spring! Any Brit will know what I mean here. We are happy Spring is here but are looking forward to May and June when we can finally put away those winter woolies!

Another Spring themed song with the lovely Eve Becke as the featured vocalist. She was one of the most popular of the female dance band singers in 1930s Britain. The arrangement has moments that sound rather haunting, in a special sort of way that is unique to the 1930s, and it suits Eve’s voice very well.

An interesting aspect of Teddy’s career is that he was interested in female bands and started one called The Girl Friends, which you can read about on this great blog Ladies Of The Band focusing on the career of Mabel Willis-Browne:

6th June, 1904 – 10th February, 1941

Al Bowlly · Blog posts · Singers

Al Bowlly: A Celebration of a Life In Song.

17th April 1941, Jermyn Street, London, The Blitz, around 3.10 am. Al Bowlly was in bed. A parachute bomb fell down in the street outside or opposite the building where his second floor flat was. It was reported that the force of the explosion blasted Al’s bedroom door off its hinges, hitting his head and his life on this earth instantly.

However this is very unlikely to have been the case, because a door hitting anyone’s head with that kind of force would leave extensive injuries and, when Al was found by the caretaker of Jermyn street, he looked as though he was sleeping with no mark on his handsome face. What ended his life was almost certainly what is known in warfare as “blast lung.”

I find it hard to think about, let alone write about this dreadful night; so this blog post is going to be a celebration of his life and beautiful voice, and not focus on that. This poem by Robin Richardson is a beautiful, moving and poignant tribute to Al:

Say, Don’t You Remember…?

You Sang; I had no share in all your years,

Your years were spent and gone before mine came,

You rolled along the prairie moon and stars,

Made moments sparkle like glass chandeliers,

When wireless sets broadcast your crackling fame

Amid romance, gardenias and guitars.

Then, from West End hotels, on radio,

Those bands played through the palms and polished plants,

Starched Maestros cued you to the microphone,

And Marcel-waves would waft by Art Deco,

When shining pairs slid smoothly to the dance,

As you embellished Noble, Fox and Stone.

And hardship looked for something in the air,

From warmed-up valves and sun-rayed Bakelite.

They sailed Hawaii’s Blue to Capri’s Isle,

Drab drudges dancing tangos from despair,

Transported on the music of the night,

Your Valentino charm and Latin smile.

Paris perhaps, for some, by ‘Handley- Page’,

Or first class north, aboard ‘The Flying Scot’

On a steamer, underneath an ocean moon,

All evidence of ordered, golden age.

For most the grindstone ground each meagre lot

Between, an hour of dreams; – a time to croon.

All through that dark and disparate decade

You conjured Moon- love from a grey world’s gloom;

A dinner date, A midnight rendezvous,

‘Goodnight Sweetheart’,- ‘A Penny Serenade.’

When glitter-balls rushed rainbows round the room;

Those dancing days…The very thought of you.

Ephemeral, you stood at the abyss,

(Though life and love and melodies were sweet),

As callous fate blew cruel winds along

To you, in London on a night like this;

Springtime, Wartime …. Landmine – Jermyn Street

Reverberates, the echo of a song.

And so, I’ll stroll once more down Memory Lane,

And moonlight on the highway I shall find:

Be still my heart, I hear faint harmony…

It’s you, you sing again, “Auf Wiedersehen,”

Both night and day, around and through my mind.

Old phantom Philomel…You’re haunting me.

The imagery this poem evokes is very atmospheric and poignant. I can imagine people who remembered seeing Al sing walking around the streets of London and looking wistfully at the places he used to perform in such as The Monseigneur Restaurant. Once the rock n roll era started in the late 1950s, the magical era of dance band music that Al was such an important part of already evoked nostalgic feelings. But he hadn’t been forgotten as this lovely radio tribute to him dating from 1955 shows:

For my own tribute to Al, I created the below video:

If any of you readers and visitors would like to read about that fateful night here is a link:

This documentary about The Blitz is very informative, and pulls no punches on how traumatic and terrifying it was. There is real footage to be seen, and also recreations of what severe damage the bombs did to buildings and houses.

This BBC documentary about Al includes people who knew him and worked with him. I found the last few minutes of this to be very touching.

Impressions of Al Bowlly is a collection of remembrances by Al’s band mates and other people who knew him, such as Joyce Stone, the wife of band leader Lew Stone.

They Called Me Al is a series of radio programmes presented by the late Roy Hudd who was a big admirer of Al’s voice. I found Roy’s description of a “crusty” colonel complaining about “too many crooners” amusing in a strange sort of way. How could anyone complain about Al’s wonderful voice? Here is the first programme:

Al, your voice is capturing the attention of a whole new generation. Most of your radio broadcasts are sadly lost to us for the BBC never thought to save them. However the radio waves have travelled into space, and I wonder– if on some far away world cross the Galaxy, some alien people have heard your voice, and enchanted by what they hear, they gaze into the night sky and wonder who you are. They probably won’t understand the words you sing, but they will feel what you felt as you sang. They will in some way, feel some connection to you. You won’t be alien to them. Your emotive singing will move them as much as you move us. A voice such as yours is eternal, and universal.

1930s Magazines · Blog posts · Radio

“Secrets Of The Mike”: A New Development In 1930s Radio Broadcasting.

For us today the use of a microphone in radio, recording music, in live events and television is so usual, so we perhaps can’t imagine just how new and marvellous it was for people in music and entertainment in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Previous to this people had to project their voices and use megaphones (which unfortunately tended to distort the voice). I won’t linger on the history of early recording techniques, but for anyone who’d like to read about that there is an overview on Wikipedia:

The invention of the microphone opened up many new possibilities and was an exciting development for radio broadcasting and amplifying the human voice. For the first time a singer could sing softly in a theatre and be heard at the back! It’s not surprising then that the style of singing named “crooning” became popular. The microphone was a gift to a crooner (more on that later). The invention of the microphone has an interesting history, going back to the megaphones of fifth century BC Greece. The carbon microphone was actually invented in the 19th century, by David Edward Hughes.

From the January 12th, 1935 edition of Popular Music And Dancing Weekly magazine here is an article by Bertram Fryer who was a BBC radio producer.

Here are some of the things Bertram Fryer had to say about the microphone:

Radio broadcasting does, I suppose, look easy—at first glance. You just stand up and say things to a small box arrangement ! Well, at first sight, so do stage and screen acting look simple, but we know that talent and training go to make up the actor.

And, though few people realise it, there is a very great deal more in radio broadcasting than saying a few words to a microphone. There is a definite technique of broadcasting, different from stage work, or screen acting—a new “third dimension” of entertainment art.

The all-conquering microphone is the cause of it. The mike is a queer affair. It does the most peculiar things to the human voice. Scarcely anybody who has heard their own voice coming from a loudspeaker (which can be done by means of the “speak back ” recording system) has recognised it.

The last paragraph I find especially interesting because he states that people were unable to recognise their own voice when hearing it on a microphone for the first time. I suspect that has more to do with the the human ear hears its own voice, rather than any deficits in the microphone technology of the 1930s. People were simply not used to hearing their voices amplified, so it was a “startling” experience, as he says in the next paragraph. Even today it can be so. It can make one feel self conscious.

So, the mike demands a brand-new technique from all performers. It also creates a new typo of audience reaction, and therefore demands new style material. It was because I realised what a startling new art broadcasting had become that I am to-day working hard teaching people the tricks of the mike in my own studios.

Your favourite radio star does not, of course, just stand up in front of the B.B.C. microphones and say his or her piece. The real radio artiste plays to the mike. The good broadcaster knows where to stand, how to pitch the voice, how to achieve the right touch. He knows what words or sounds will jar your ears ; he knows how long his material should run.

The unfortunate inexperienced broadcaster, however, confronts the microphone, probably for the first time, at his long-awaited B.B.C. audition, and fails hopelessly, either through ignorance of the “mike ” or through nerves.

This is something that hasn’t changed! Despite the microphone no longer being a new technology; people new to entertainment, just starting out in their career, can be nervous stood in front of the microphone, or, more usual today, holding it in their hand.

The most experienced orator, artiste or instrumentalist dreads his introduction to the microphone. Unfortunately, the actual meeting proves to be worse than he had anticipated. Gone are his familiar stage, his audience, his limelight; he is alone – or practically—in a futuristically decorated studio, with a glistening microphone waiting with a relentless grin (or so it seems to the unhappy broadcaster) and a strange, overpowering “deadness.”

Reading the above all these years later after it was published, the type of studio they had in the 1930s would look quaint to 21st century eyes, not at all “futuristic”. Imagine what Mr. Fryer would think if he could see all the computers they use these days! You can see an idea of what he had to work with in his photograph:

Since I’m not in the least bit technical (although I’m fairly good at using my Chromebook and Linux netbook), I can’t properly judge how much the difference between levels of technical skills would be required in a 1930s radio studio and a 21st century one. I suspect though, that the level of expertise in the 1930s studio might be higher; in that a modern day computer might have a lot of the settings and controls pre set so that the broadcaster doesn’t have to set them manually as they would have had to have done back then.

I would love to visit a museum that has a 1930s radio broadcasting room, so I could see how it worked. There used to be one near Chester which unfortunately closed in 2000. I wish I’d known about that as it wasn’t that far for me to go on the train to visit it. Oh well; at least they have a website with some great photographs of what used to be there.

The science of sound means nothing to him, and “acoustics” is something which he probably associates with unfortunate lack of hearing. He is very, very ill at ease. A white light flashes at him; his heart commences to sink—the red light is before him; he must begin . . . and he is paralysed!

The safest policy the inexperienced broadcast artiste can adopt is to forget that the microphone is a medium through which he is reaching millions and to regard it as one intimate friend to whom he is speaking or performing. Personality, in an artiste, is, more often than not, the intimate touch. Take for example, Mr. Christopher Stone. The listener adores him because he feels that each little remark is sent personally to him. This “intimate touch ” is not an art—and can be acquired.

Christopher Stone was Britain’s first D.J, with an informal style of presenting that was unusual for the time, but the norm now.

Here is a clip of one of his broadcasts:

He has the typical “Received Pronunciation” of those days, which is rarely heard today, but his style is conversational and warm. I can see what Mr. Fryer meant: Christopher Stone does sound like he’s having a chat with his audience. I can imagine someone at home alone would have felt like they had some company when he was on the wireless.

And now onto the use of the mike in singing, especially the crooning style:

The vocalist must not linger through verse and chorus ; the listener is impatient, and variety is the spice of his programme. The “straight ” singer, likewise, must avoid numbers of undue length.

And now a special word to the would-be crooner : Do not attempt to copy any well-known , crooner, no matter how popular. Study your own style, develop your own personality—and take your job seriously.

“I do,” protests the potential crooner indignantly. Perhaps. On the other hand, the crooner forgets that he needs a basic knowledge of singing, that his diction must be perfect. and his breath control above reproach. Crooning, like all radio work, is a real art.

Crooning, like all radio work is a real art. I’m pleased to see that statement, because Al Bowlly in his book Modern Style Singing (Crooning), published in 1934, wrote about how some people were rather derisive of the crooning style and the use of the microphone. You can read what he had to say about that, and his knowledge of the use of the microphone in these links:

After reading his book I think you’ll see that there is real artistry in how he used the microphone. We can see that in his performance of My Melancholy Baby. Here he is in colour!

Secrets Of The Mike can be downloaded here as a pdf file:

1930s Magazines · Blog posts · Dance Bands

British Band Leader Harry Roy: A Fun Life!

Harry Roy was a fun loving band leader who I think was rather a character. He was from a Jewish family in the Stamford Hill area of London. Harry started learning to play the clarinet and alto saxophone when he was 16. With his brother Sidney, who played piano, he formed a band called The Darnswells. They must’ve been great because in the 1920s they played in prestigious venues such as the Café de Paris. He made some recordings with cheeky and risque lyrics too!

I have found two interesting articles about him in two editions of my Jack Payne’s Popular Music And Dancing Weekly magazines in my collection. The below article, from October 13th 1934 relates a little about Harry’s background and his interest in motorcycles.

A pdf file of the article can be downloaded here:

Here are the two numbers mentioned in the article: Tiger Rag and Sarawaki Blues:

In the next article, dating from May 18th, 1935, Harry relates some amusing anecdotes of his encounters with some of his very enthusiastic fans. Fans sneaking into his dressing room, cutting off locks of his hair and shouting into his microphone; it all happened before the pop music era!

The article can be downloaded here as a pdf:

Here are some excerpts from his article:

For instance, take when we played at the Palace Theatre in Manchester last August. The crowd outside the Midland Hotel was so great that they had to draft policemen to the spot to marshal it. The Midland is only a matter of two hundred yards from the theatre, but it once took me an hour and a half to make the journey by car, “fans”‘ clambering on the running boards of my Sunbeam to speak to me and to ask for my autograph. I’m not stressing this in any boastful spirit, but simply to prove that it’s not all honey being what is called a star ! Surely it also shows what an important thing radio has become to the people?

As a matter of fact, not every fan was content-to shake hands with me or get my autograph. One persistent young lady managed to clip a lock of hair from my head, and I was a powerless to prevent it. Frankly; I’ve got no patience with that sort of thing … I merely mention it as one of the most remarkable of all my strange experiences.

Another evening when I came out of the stage door the crowd waiting was so dense that my coat was torn to ribbons as I pushed towards my car. Another girl, beautifully dressed, managed to get into my dressing-room despite my strict “No Visitors” rule. She posed as an intimate friend of mine, and completely deceived my press agent. Yet all she wanted was a personal guarantee that I’d play “Bugle Call Rag'” !

After the hectic days of the tour it seemed comparatively peaceful to get back to the Mayfair. Not that that’s ever entirely uneventful. We have our minor excitements. For instance, we have to look out for those people who, on broadcast nights, try to make a short cut to a radio appearance. Some of them use all sorts of guile to get near enough to the mike to shout down it. One fellow made three separate attempts to shout a tender greeting to his girlfriend down the mike.

Another man offered me ten pounds to let him sing a chorus of “Three Little Fat Girls”‘ one Friday. I found out later that he was an aspiring crooner who wanted to impress agents by telling them that he had “broadcast from the Mayfair Hotel with Harry Roy’s Band.” Needless to say, his little ruse was unsuccessful. “Yes, we get all sorts trying to “gate-crash”‘ the mike. Some who do it solely for a rag, others for wagers, and some, like the man I’ve just mentioned, with more definite though no less impudent reasons ! Perhaps it’s the gay, free-and-easy atmosphere at the Mayfair that encourages them.

What a lively lot these fans were! I wish I could go back in time to have a night at the Mayfair when Harry’s band would be playing. It sounds like it was a riot!

When reading the next excerpt one needs to consider that this was a different era, so the following may not appeal to some people’s sense of humour today, but I find it amusing because the woman Harry mentions found it funny and knew that he didn’t mean any offence.

What is lucky is that the Mayfair patrons seem to appreciate the same sort of stuff as do my listeners all over the country. “Nobody’s Sweetheart,”‘ “Somebody Stole My Gal”‘ “Tiger Rag,” “Bugle Call Rag,” and “Three Little Fat Girls,” are my biggest request numbers. I bless the day that we thought to write the Song of the Fat Girls.

Like most big song successes it just happened. Ivor, Bill and I were casting round for an idea that might give us a really funny trio. We saw a newspaper cutting to the effect that curves were coming back to replace the recent streamline style in the fair sex . . and almost in an instant Annie, Fanny and Beulah were born. We wrote it in just over an hour, and when we first tried it out, with some trepidation, it was a riot. We didn’t have to alter a single note or word from our first draft.

I remember the first time we featured it. There was a woman at a nearby table who must have weighed nearly twenty stone. Half-way through I noticed her, and nearly collapsed with sudden embarrassment. But she was laughing heartily, and that proved to me that the song had clicked.

I don’t think he’d have been as successful with such a song today! Below is one of the songs he mentioned that was in his list of most requested numbers:

Out of all the the British dance bands I’m familiar with Harry Roy’s band seems to me to have been the one that drew most upon the bawdy and cheeky music hall tradition of the early 1900s. It seems that Harry was a bit of a scallywag!

Here is the second page of his article which can be downloaded as a pdf:

This is my favourite of Harry’s numbers, Okay Toots:

Al Bowlly · Blog posts · My Fiction · Songs

“Fancy Our Meeting” : Vignette.

“Sorry I’m late, I got caught up at work and missed my train.”

“Not to worry old chap,” the slight older man said. He spied the parcel under his friend’s arm. “Is that for me? “

“Oh, yes- here.” He handed the parcel over. “Hope you like it!” He peered across the room. “Who’s the girl talking to Joe?”

“A friend of Susan’s. A model I think she said. Would you like to meet her?”

After introductions were made he tried to make small talk finding himself uncharacteristically a little shy. She was very sophisticated and, like himself had travelled a lot.

“I’ve just got back from Rome,” she told him brightly. “I had such a marvellous time. The cuisine is simply wonderful. Have you ever been there?”

“No. I’d like to though, since you recommend it so highly,” he smiled. He noticed she had finished her drink. “Can I get you another?”

She handed him her empty glass. “You may. Another white wine, thank you.”

“How are you two getting on?” Susan asked him as he took another white wine off the tray and a tomato juice for himself. She leant in closer to him. “She’s really quite lovely isn’t she?”

“I think she’s beautiful! In fact I’m thinking of asking her to dinner,” he replied.

“You’d better hurry up then,” Susan laughed, “I see Laurence is about to make his move on her.”

He almost spilled the drinks in his hurry to get back to the elegant model.

“Laurence! Fancy seeing you here! When did you get back?” The dark haired beauty threw her arms around the lanky blond haired man.

“Last week. I’ve been in hiding, My old man is trying to get me back to the office.” He handed her a glass of white wine. “Here, I got you another drink.”

“Oh poor dear! I couldn’t be stuck in a stuffy office all day.”

Her laughter was like bittersweet music to his ears. He stood watching them for a few moments then turned away.

He passes Lyons and goes into the tobacco shop and buys a packet of cigarettes. After taking one out of the packet he is about to light it when he sees her. His heart gives a leap.

“It is you! I thought so. Fancy us meeting after all this time.”

“Hello Violet. How are you?” His throat feels dry. She is dressed in a smart light wool dress in a soft pink colour, and even more beautiful than he remembered.

“Very well thank you. How are things with you?

I haven’t stopped thinking about you he wants to say, but the words won’t come out.

“Oh fine,” he manages to say nonchalantly. “I might be working in the south east this summer.”

“I’m glad. You’re looking well,” she gives him a small polite smile. “Well I’ve taken up too much of your time already. “

Would you like to have a cup of coffee with me in Lyons? He longs to say.

“Time seems to go by so quickly these days,” he says instead.

She gives a slight nod in agreement and then offers him her gloved hand to shake.

“Well goodbye. Nice to have you seen you again.”

“Goodbye,” he says softly, then watches her walk down the street and out of his life.

She picks up the receiver and asks the operator to put her through to a number in Rome. Whilst she waits to be connected she sighs. I wish he’d asked me to have lunch in Lyons.

Later on as she packs her suitcase she tells herself to forget him and his dark magnetic eyes. Just one meeting. There will be others.


Fancy Our Meeting: Al Bowlly accompanied by “an unknown orchestra”, which sounds like Ray Noble to me, recorded November 13, 1933. A song of unrequited love, or as my reveries listening to the song led to, this vignette of perceived unrequited love. How many times have chance meetings between two people made a big impression on one of them or both, yet been so fleeting? As time passes do the memories fade or take on the feeling of a dream?

Blog posts · Dance Bands

A Tribute: Harry Berly, classical and dance band musician.

When I started listening to the British dance bands of the 1930s last Spring I was impressed by a number of the boys in these bands, but didn’t know their names at first. Thanks to YouTube I could see photographs and clips of them playing. There were a few of these talented men who stood out to me; one of them was a man with dark hair, a moustache and wearing round spectacles. I noticed that he played a few instruments and his viola playing was especially good. His name was Harry Berly.

For some reason this young man interested me, and I knew nothing nothing about him. There is little to be found on the internet about him; his talent largely forgotten except to those of us who listen to the dance bands he recorded with. I really admire his viola, clarinet and saxophone playing in the bands. (He also played the ocarina and penny whistle).

This afternoon, I’ve been in a sentimental mood and my thoughts are with Harry, because this is the anniversary of his passing in 1937, aged just 31. I don’t wish to linger too long on his passing as I want this post to celebrate his talent and contribution to British Dance Band music (and also the classical ensembles he played with).

But the fact his name is not very well known has a certain poignancy because Harry didn’t fully realise just how excellent a musician he was, and so he stepped off the platform of Oval train station. Harry’s first love was classical music and whilst he had played with classical ensembles, he didn’t feel that he would achieve his ambitions. My heart went out to Harry when I found this out. I had been inexplicably touched by Harry before I even found out what had happened : there was something that drew me me to him.

Below is a wonderful example of Harry’s beautiful viola playing on I’m Getting Sentimental Over You with Al Bowlly and the pianist Monia Liter. This was recorded on July 26th, 1933.

Below you can see Harry playing with Ray Noble’s orchestra on a trip to Holland in 1933. He is sitting next to Al Bowlly, who is playing his guitar. Notice that Harry first plays the saxophone, puts that down and picks up his clarinet and plays that. When Al stands up to sing he picks up his viola and plays that. Then he puts it down and plays saxophone again! To play three instruments like that and get the timing right is not easy.

A graduate of the London Academy of Music, Harry won a prize for his talents in 1920 and by 1930 he had played with numerous orchestras and bands such as Geoffrey Goodheart, Jack Hylton and Jean Pougnet in the top hotels. He also played at the Proms in the 1920s, played on radio broadcasts of solo piano and viola recitals and recorded chamber music for the National Gramophone Society.

In 1931 he joined Roy Fox’s dance band at the Monseigneur Restaurant. These recordings and those of Lew Stone and Ray Noble are what introduced me to Harry. To me, the dance bands are every bit as good as classical ensembles. If only Harry could have known that all these years later people would still be listening to the recordings he was part of with the great British dance bands of the 1930s and enjoying his contributions to these records. They are now classics in their own right.

Here is another recording where Harry’s viola playing really adds a wonderful sound to Ray Noble’s orchestra. You can hear him playing under and around Al Bowlly’s vocals and then lead the band with a lovely viola solo to the conclusion of the song. It’s a real stand out on this recording! Driftin’ Tide just wouldn’t be the same without Harry’s viola. This was recorded on July 18th, 1934.

Harry’s skills as a tenor saxophonist can be heard on this brilliant recording of White Jazz in Lew Stone’s band:

Here we can hear Harry’s sense of fun on his spoken narration on the Lew Stone recording Faster Faster:

One of the last recordings Harry played viola on in Lew Stone’s band: Solitude by the great Duke Ellington. Isn’t this such a gorgeous arrangement!

Harry Berly, 1905 – March 30th, 1937.


1930s Magazines · Blog posts · Music sheets · Songs

When A Day Dream Becomes A Song: “Lady of Madrid.”

When I read the song writer Tolchard Evans’ enchanting article about how he came to write his lovely song Lady Of Madrid I was mesmerised! The article dates from October 13th, 1934 in Jack Payne’s Popular Music And Dancing Weekly magazine. As a writer of fiction I am fascinated by experiences such as his. I can relate to what he experienced as similar happens to me when I start getting ideas for a new piece of fiction. It’s often that a song will be the inspiration for one of my stories. I wonder if song writers and fiction writers have more in common regarding the creative process than I previously imagined.

Here is the beautiful article as it appears in the magazine. I love the design with the sheet music placed at the top of the page with Tolchard’s photograph. I have added a border around the scanned image as it makes it look neater on my blog page.

And now with no further ado I hand you over to Tolchard Evans, who will tell you about how he saw The Lady Of Madrid…

Romance in Old Madrid.

I had come to Madrid as a pilgrim anxious to revive the memories of Spain’s great past, and amid the narrow streets of the old city the frontiers of the years slipped away and steeped me in dreams.

In the peaceful shadows of an old fountain I gazed at the ancient houses and saw the moonlight reflecting upon their lozenged windows.

Here was a world of romance, but the last thought in my mind was that a song was to be born from these moments.

Seated there, alone and seemingly in a deserted street, suddenly to my ears there came a sound of a guitar. ‘Whoever played it had the touch of the expert, but not alone the guitar that held me fascinated.

A song had sighed out upon the soft, warm sir, and the singer was a man. A deep baritone voice was singing in a fashion that told me how the melody was coming from his heart.

Instinctively I rose to my feet and, a shadow among shadows, I came to a point where I could see the musician. He was standing below a balcony, and, as I watched, curtains were parted, and, revealed by the moonlight, I saw dark eyes and the vivacious smile of a Spanish beauty. She had stepped out on to the balcony and was gazing down enraptured.

Her dark mantilla lay upon the white stones of the balcony, and between her lips was a rose.

There was the burning enthusiasm of real love in that serenade, nor was its- appeal to be denied, for, as the song died away in the distance, the rose was cast into an eager hand, and a few moments later he had mounted to where she waited for him, and was in his arms.

That moment was not mine, so I turned back towards the fountain and, as I came there, surging into my mind rose a melody that held and compelled, me. Forgotten the recent scene. I was on fire with an inspiration such as I had seldom known, and I could not hesitate for a second.

Through those old streets I hurried, and, coming to the more prosaic hotel, I found some manuscript paper, and there and then wrote “Lady of Madrid.” The melody flowed without any interruption, and it was not necessary to alter one note of that original work.

Often I ask myself if the very spirit that lay united in the hearts of those two lovers had also linked me with them and had given me a song of which I can justly be proud. It is here between these pages for you to play and sing, and for the first time I have revealed the secret of its creating.

“Lady of Madrid ” was accepted instantly, and rushed out to be the success that all of you know.

How utterly enchanting and magical! What a beautiful experience Trenchard Evans had. He heard the guitar… he saw the two lovers, then as he turned away to give them their private moment (which I find so charming) he heard the melody of the song.

Who can say what this experience actually was; a day dream? A window into the past? It was a very multi sensory experience. He was “on fire with an inspiration such as I had seldom known”; so much so that he hurried back to his hotel and the song was written at once with no need for any alterations. It seems it was fully formed and almost given to him.

I know I am sounding rather fanciful here, but I find the whole story intriguing. His experience is not unknown to novelists and fiction writers: seeing characters, scenes and their story unfolding in your inner eye. The way Trenchard wrote about his experience is expressed in a very eloquent literary style.

Here is the song performed by Ray Noble’s orchestra with the lyrics sung by Al Bowlly, recorded on July 18th, 1934.

I wonder if Ray Noble and Al knew about the story behind how Lady Of Madrid came to be written… Al certainly would’ve found the romantic story appealing I think.

The magazine also includes the sheet music for Lady of Madrid:

To find out more about Tolchard Evans here is his biography:

Below is a pdf upload of the whole article from the magazine which you may download to read. Tolchard also recounts the story of how he proposed to his wife Phyllis Mayhead and talks about other songs he wrote. I really loved his description of how he felt after Phyllis accepted his marriage proposal:

You can imagine the glory of that moment. When that night I left her I was walking on air, the world was a place of wonder and enchantment.

Is it any surprise that such a romantic fellow dreamed The Lady Of Madrid with such sentiments?