On The Sentimental Side: Al Bowlly And His Crooners Choir

Albert Allick ‘Al’ Bowlly was born in Lourenço Marques, Mozambique on 7th January 1898 (some sources claim 1899 and others 1890), to a Greek father and Lebanese mother who met on a ship sailing to Australia, married in Perth, and then emigrated to Johannesburg where their son spent his formative years. After leaving school to become a barber, in his spare time Bowlly developed an interest in singing and playing the ukulele, banjo and guitar, and began performing in nightclubs across the South African capital. It was in one of these nightclubs that the bandleader Edgar Adeler, who was on a nationwide tour of the country, first met the budding young musician and invited him on tour as his ukulele player. Adeler would soon discover that Bowlly’s magnificent voice surpassed his ukulele playing abilities, describing it as ‘out of this world.’

A disagreement with Adeler saw Bowlly quit the tour, before travelling to Indonesia. Funding his journey to Europe by busking, in 1927 Bowlly arrived in Berlin where he was re-united with Adeler, and provided the vocals for his recording of Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies. The following year, Bowlly joined the Filipino bandleader Fred Elizalde as his singer, during Elizalde’s stint at the Savoy Hotel. Bowlly’s big break arrived in 1930, when he became the vocalist for Ray Noble’s New Mayfair Dance Orchestra. Pouring his heart into every lyric, Noble observed how Bowlly allowed himself to wallow in the emotion of every song, his eyes brimming with tears when he sung the more sentimental ballads so powerfully that, ‘never mind him making you cry, he could make himself cry!’

Collaborating with Noble, as well as other popular bandleaders, like Roy Fox and Lew Stone, Bowlly churned out hit after hit, such as Goodnight Sweetheart (1931) Love Is The Sweetest Thing (1932) and Midnight, The Stars and You (1934). His smooth style of singing, known as crooning, later adopted by countless male singers from Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole to Mel Tormé and Andy Williams, coupled with his leading man looks, earned him the nickname ‘The Big Swoon’ from his army of admirers.

Above: Ray Noble’s New Mayfair Dance Orchestra and Al Bowlly – Midnight, The Stars and You (1934)

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Le Grand Jeu: René Daumal’s Peradams

Like his literary hero the poet Arthur Rimbaud, René Daumal was a native of the Champagne-Ardenne region of north-eastern France. His brilliance and tragically early demise, were also shared by his predecessor. In the seventy years since his death, Daumal has become a cult figure, with his influence evident in the works of other ideologists and truth seekers, notably the legendary Chilean film maker and guru, Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Hailed as ‘a hallucinogenic daydream’ by The New York Times, the underlying cinematic inference of Jodorowsky’s psychotropic creation, The Holy Mountain (1973), is in fact far more numinous and esoteric than such a description implies. The film can be viewed as an extension of Daumal’s remarkable vision, for as the French writer and poet believed, and Jodorowsky himself has suggested, the irrefutable reality of human existence is that, ‘Every one of us lives in a different world, with different space and different time.’

Above: Trailer for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain (1973)

Born on 16th March 1908, in the village of Boulzicourt, Daumal’s childhood was an unsettled one, given his parents’ propensity to routinely uproot the family. The most stable figure for the young boy was his paternal grandfather Antoine, a bee keeper whose interests included freemasonry and spirituality.

Moving to Reims in 1921, Daumal befriended a group of fellow students, and their shared bond would provide each of them with an enduring source of personal and professional inspiration. Originally known as the Phrères Simplistes, Daumal along with Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, Roger Vailland and Robert Meyrat would go on to form the collective, Le Grand Jeu. Continue reading

Ace Of Clubs: The Matchless Pamela Barton

Born in Barnes on 4th March 1917, Pamela Barton, Pam for short, showed an astonishing golfing prowess from early childhood. At the age of 17, Barton won the French International Ladies Golf Championship and two years later, was awarded the British Ladies Amateur, which was swiftly followed by her winning the American Ladies Amateur at the Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, New Jersey where she defeated the American champion Maureen Orcutt in a record-breaking victory,  becoming the first player to hold both titles at once for almost  thirty years.

By the mid-1930s, Barton’s sporting career was going from strength to strength; she was on the British Curtis Cup team from 1934 to 1935 and in semi-finals of the 1935 British Ladies Amateur, she beat her younger sister, Mervyn Barton. Their mother Ethel, also a keen golfer, won the 1935 Mothers and Daughters Foursomes Tournament with her eldest daughter.

Barton was again selected as a member of the 1936 Curtis Cup team, and then travelled to New Jersey to compete in the American Ladies Amateur for the second time; she left victorious, and Mervyn, who had gone to support her sister, recalled that ‘Pam was thrilled, she was over the moon.’ A book authored by Barton and entitled, A Stroke a Hole, was published in 1937.

Above: Pam Barton wins the American Ladies Amateur Golf Championship (1936)

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Never Clothed: The Windmill Girls

Famous for its proud boast that, out of the forty-two London theatres open during the Second World War, it alone ‘Never Closed,’ even as bombs rained down on the city during the Blitz, the Windmill Theatre is one of the most renowned landmarks in Soho and has hosted performances by some of Britain’s best-loved entertainers. It began as the Palais de Luxe cinema in 1909, but as grander picture houses cropped up across London, it struggled to attract sufficient audiences and eventually shut its doors.

Nevertheless, the building caught the eye of Laura Henderson, an affluent and well-connected widow who saw its potential and purchased it in 1930. Following extensive renovations, the Windmill reopened in 1931. Yet like its predecessor, it failed to achieve notable success as a cinema. After employing Vivian Van Damm, a shrewd and experienced theatre manager, he decided that instead, the Windmill should show live acts, which he called ‘Revudeville.’

Inspired by the likes of the Moulin Rouge and the Ziegfeld Follies, and including female nudity as a part of the acts; Van Damm managed to attract unprecedented numbers of spectators. At that time, the Lord Chamberlain had the authority to decide what could be shown in theatres, thus, with the generally accepted understanding that ‘if it moves, it’s rude,’ but knowing that nude statues were permitted, Van Damm ensured that the girls on stage, who were commonly referred to as ‘Windmill girls,’ and with an average age of 19, remained absolutely motionless, and could not even smile, posing as tableaux vivants based upon various exotic and fantastical themes. Continue reading