Al Bowlly and the Radio City Rhythm Makers

this page first published by John Wright, 4 Jan 2001
last update 4 Jan

Al Bowlly's career as 'band leader' in Britain started with an appearance on stage at the Birmingham Empire Theatre, 1st March 1937. 'Band leader' was how some of the local press reported, but I wonder if Al really saw himself as essentially an up-front singer, which is how some other press saw him, and who were more critical of the act for that very reason. Maybe they weren't ready for a big personality singer with a band as support.

how the act was billed in the Birmingham theatre advertisement:

Empire TheatreHurst St.
6:40pm, 8:50pmMIDland 3171-2
AL BOWLLY and the
Radio City Rhythm Makers

Direct from Radio City, New York

also appearing Jose Moreno, Tessie O'Shea, Sandy Rowan
Cornalta and Eddie, Five Lyntons, Four Rich Sisters, Berel & Ostran
report in the Birmingham Gazette, 2 March 1937
"There are old friends and there are new ones in the variety bill here. And a sort of mixture of both is Al Bowlly. This popular singer is no stranger to Birmingham music-hall goers and certainly no stranger to listeners. But Empire patrons saw him in a new role this week. Fresh from his sojurn in America he impresses both as vocalist and for the first time in this country as band leader with a clever combination billed as Radio City Rhythm Makers. Last night saw their debut and a very successful debut it was".
report in the Birmingham Mail, 2 March 1937:
"Mr Bowlly, one felt, somewhat overstressed his confident personality. After all an audience likes to judge for itself whether a thing is good or not. Actually he has gathered together a company of first-rate instrumentalists who can 'swing it' with the best in the land, and he himself is a crooner of indisputable ability."
report in the Birmingham Post, 2 March 1937
"Nothing in the variety world differs more than what might be described as the technique of dance band conductors who now form such an important section of it.
Al Bowlly has spent some time in America. Whatever he took when he went, he has returned with an assured manner, a perpetual smile, and a way of suggesting that if the appreciation of the audience is not what it might be - well that is not the fault of Al Bowlly.
He does not so much conduct in the ordinary sense of the term as act as a liasion officer between the band and the audience so as to ensure the latter is fully alive to the merits of the former - and of Al Bowlly. It is not a bad mode of procedure, providing it is not over-stressed.
Al Bowlly is described as 'England's Individual Singer' whatever that may mean. In fact he is a crooner who needs very little learning about his craft. His band is called the Radio City Rhythm Makers. It's members are eight capable musicians who can play, capably enough, the kind of music that may be heard over the air any day during permitted hours. Probably their efforts would be even better appreciated if their leader could cultivate a rather more restful manner".
extract from report in Melody Maker, 2 March 1937: (1)
"There is not a dull moment in the whole show, it goes with that easy swing which is the hallmark of a star, from the time that Al from behind the dropped curtains sings his signature tune Buddy Can You Spare A Dime? to his finishing number the inevitable Tiger.
Al could not have made a better choice, for there is enough talent there to make for the essential variety in such a presentation. Probably his best number is Organ Grinders Swing with some grand jamming by the boys, but the opening number Everybody Jam introducing each member of the band is excellent and novel. Al's medley including Marta, The Very Thought Of You and Spare A Dime is his best solo effort. His show is himself in all his moods."
the Radio City Rhythm Makers was comprised of: (2)

Al Bowlly (vocals); Mish Bowlly (piano); Percy Hampton (drums); Frank Baily (bass); Archie Slavin (guitar); Miff Ferrie (trombone); Teddy White (clarinet and baritone sax), Don Barrigo (tenor sax) and Bert Green (trumpet).

(1) (2) this information from Ray Pallett's autobiography of Al Bowlly, Goodnight Sweetheart

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