Les Allen

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English vocalist and saxophonist remembered as Britain's favorite crooner of the late '20s.
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b. 29 August 1902, London, England, d. 25 June 1996, Toronto, Canada. Singer Les Allen was born in London but immigrated to Canada at the age of three with his family. There he received musical instruction in both the saxophone and clarinet, and displayed enough talent to win silver medals at gatherings of the Young Men’s Christian Association. Eventually he returned to England in his teens in the company of Hal Swain, who was to become a close confidante and companion. Allen subsequently rose to prominence as one of the featured vocalists on Henry Hall’s New BBC Dance Orchestra in the 30s. He had replaced the original male vocalist, Val Rosing, in October 1932, following Hall’s appointment. Although this opportunity gave him immeasurable popularity, Allen was already an established figure on the UK dance band scene. He had first recorded in 1924 with the New Princes Toronto Band, with whom he issued a series of 78s for Columbia Records. These included ‘Paddlin’ Madelin’ Home’, a duet with the orchestra’s conductor, old friend Hal Swain.

By 1926 Allen was playing saxophone at the Park Lane Hotel with a conductor, Alf Gill, who worked professionally under the name Alfredo and had his own budget record label, Edison Bell Winner. With Gill, Allen made his vocal debut in 1927, singing ‘Happy’. Soon he was immersed in the label’s monthly release schedule, offering versions of classics such as ‘My Blue Heaven’ and ‘When Day Is Done’. Later he also recorded with Harry Bidgood And His Broadcasters and Sid Bright. He also worked with Tommy Kinsman And His Ciros’ Club Band, singing ‘Got A Date With An Angel’, and it was this performance that brought him to the attention of Henry Hall. With Hall he became Britain’s favourite ‘crooner’, enjoying national hits with ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On’ (with Sydney Lipton And His Grosvenor House Band) and ‘Auf Wiedersehen My Dear’ (with Jack Payne, the first BBC Dance Orchestra leader). A major recording contract with Columbia Records followed. Hits including ‘Tell Me Tonight’ and ‘Love Is The Sweetest Thing’ ensued, but his biggest breakthrough came with the children’s ballad, ‘Little Man You’ve Had A Busy Day’. This sentimental recording also featured his wife and their son, Norman. Subsequently, Allen formed his own bands, the Les Allen Melody Four and the male voice singing group, Les Allen And His Canadian Bachelors. His film work includes songs for The Rosary (1931) and Heat Wave (1934). During World War II he entertained Canadian troops, before settling in his adopted home country in 1947. He reunited with Henry Hall once more in 1954, but later entered semi-retirement in Toronto.