Les Allen

Les or Leslie Allen. Singer, saxophonist, actor, b London 29 Aug 1902, d Toronto 25 Jun 1996. He was brought to Canada as an infant and played clarinet as a boy alongside his father in the Queen's Own Rifles Band.

Allen, Les

Les or Leslie Allen. Singer, saxophonist, actor, b London 29 Aug 1902, d Toronto 25 Jun 1996. He was brought to Canada as an infant and played clarinet as a boy alongside his father in the Queen's Own Rifles Band. One of the first musicians in Toronto to play saxophone, Allen performed with the dance bands of Burton Till and Luigi Romanelli and in 1922 worked briefly in New York before going in 1924 to England with a nine-piece co-operative band that also included Alfie Noakes, Frank Walsh (piano), and Randall Garrison (string bass and tuba).

While in England, Allen and the New Princes' Toronto Band (named for the London restaurant where it performed) recorded 16 78s for English Columbia Records (Sony Music Entertainment). As Dave Caplan's Toronto Band, and under the banjoist Caplan's direction, Allen and several other NPTB members performed 1926-7 in Germany. Though a vocalist only occasionally with NPTB, Allen sang on 16 of Caplan's 28 78s for Polydor  (PolyGram Group Canada). (See The Canadian Jazz Discography for both bands' discographies.)

Returning to England in 1927, Allen played and sang with such leading British dance orchestras as those of Carroll Gibbons, George Melachrino, and Geraldo before joining the BBC Dance Orchestra under Henry Hall in 1932. He began his solo career in 1934 with the hit record "Little Man You've Had a Busy Day" (English Columbia), then starred in the musical film Heat Wave. In 1937 he formed a vocal group, the Canadian Bachelors, with fellow countrymen Jack Curtis (lead), Herbie King (tenor), and Cy Mack (baritone and arranger).

As one of the most popular singers in Britain during the 1930s, Allen made several hundred recordings and in 1938 gave a royal command performance at the London Coliseum. He was later described by Chris Lane as "suave, immaculate and cultured, with a smooth melodic voice." In 1945 Allen toured Britain in the musical Miss Hook of Holland, and in 1948 he retired to private business in Toronto. The singer Eddie Allen of The Happy Gang was a nephew.


Further Reading

  • Lane, Chris. "Memories of Les Allen," Memory Lane (1975)

    Litchfield, Jack. "New Princes Toronto Band," in Canadian Jazz Discography (Toronto 1982)