He made it happen
Who was Bob Anthony – the man who loved the Island so much he wrote an album about it? Richard Heath discovers that he was a determined musician – and a world-record holder.
WITH a little bit of planning and a shuffle of the track list, it is possible to jump in the car and do a sing-along Bob Anthony tour of Jersey.
Start at Rozel (we always go back to Rozel), head south to the Castle at Gorey (in its glory), then down down down to St Helier, head inland to the Valley of St Peter (the most beautiful place in the world), south-west to St Brelade (where your lips were begging for more) before finally arriving in St Ouen, where ‘it’ happens.
But what? What happens? Don’t ask. No one knows.
And for many people, the preceding few sentences make little sense either.
But to a small group of fans, Bob Anthony is a song-writing hero and his 1975 album Jersey Ile d’Amour is an undiscovered masterpiece.
The 12-track record was Bob’s tribute to an Island where he was a much-loved cabaret star, back in the tourism heyday of heaving hotel function rooms and cheap and smoky bars and clubs.
And next week local writers’ collective Plays Rough will present a series of sketches inspired by the album during the launch night of the Jersey Festival of Words at the Maritime Museum.
But who was Bob Anthony? And why did he pen an album about Jersey?
Born in South Africa as Thomas Coleman-Gloss, he was a regular in the Johannesburg club scene and was a member of the army’s Entertainment Corps, under the stewardship of legendary actor and comedian Sid James.
In the early 1960s he moved to London to find fame and fortune. He changed his name by deed poll to Robert Anthony, and met his second wife, Marie, who was working in a club.
‘We aren’t 100 per cent sure why he changed his name,’ says his daughter Angela, who lives in the south of England.
‘But he probably thought Tommy Gloss was a bit cheesy. Robert Anthony had much more class about it, although he did become known as Bob.’
In the following years he became a regular in the capital’s club circuit and began to show the first signs of an attitude that would define his life – if you want something, do it. And do it your way.
Perhaps sensing an opportunity to develop his career – and ingratiate himself with the natives – he wrote an album entitled The Magic of London. Half of the tracks were Bob’s own songs, and the other half were traditional cockney tunes.
He later became a favourite at Butlins in Bognor Regis, before picking up a summer contract to perform in Jersey. It changed his life.
Performing with Mary the Magic Organ (an ingenious set-up where an organ with a prescribed list of songs was placed on stage while Bob would be in the audience with a home-made device switching the tape-deck on and off to make it seem as though the organ was communicating with him), he soon became a firm favourite.
‘I remember when I was six or seven we went to Jersey on holiday as dad was playing there. He was playing at a hotel called the Woodlands.
‘He loved the Island so much and spent a few summer seasons performing there,’ says Angela.
‘It was long enough for him to fall in love with the Island and write an album about it. He was very enthusiastic about it and put his heart and soul into it.
‘He always spoke very fondly of Jersey and you only have to listen to the lyrics to see how much research he did about the Island,’ she adds.
And so Jersey Ile d’Amour was born. The self-produced album – created at some cost with an orchestra and backing singers – has since gained a cult following.
It can very accurately be described as ‘of its time’. But with songs like The Jersey Polka, The Night At St Brelade and Down to St Helier, it perfectly distils the fun-time atmosphere of a popular holiday island into forty-something minutes of music.
‘It was a huge part of my childhood. I remember dad putting all the songs together and creating the hard copy graphics for the album a long, long time before computers were available,’ says Angela.
‘The Jersey Polka was used weekly in my ballet lessons and I always remember the pride at polka-ing around the hall aged seven or eight to my dad’s song.’
But what about the song which many consider the stand-out track: It Happens at St Ouen.
What exactly happened at St Ouen?
‘I don’t think anyone knows what happened at St Ouen,’ says Angela. ‘I think it may have been a bone of contention with my mum. Perhaps it was best not to know... I think it’s great that it keeps people guessing.’
Spending so much time on the cabaret circuit, Bob was absent for much of Angela’s, and her sister Marina’s, childhood.
They were mainly raised by their mother, as Bob flitted between London, Jersey, South Africa and the Canary Islands, where he was a time-share salesman by day and crooner by night, and where he wrote another album, entitled The Magic of Tenerife and Gomera.
Although some have suggested the records were merely holiday resort promotional tools created in conjunction with savvy tourist boards, they were, in fact, simply the products of a very determined musician.
‘He was very inventive and very driven. If he had a dream or goal he would find a way to achieve it. He would do it his way. Take Mary the Magic Organ – he stripped that down and built it himself because he had the idea to do it.
‘It was the same with his music. He wasn’t a businessman. If he was, he would have made a very nice living indeed,’ says Angela.
‘For dad, it was all about finding a way to achieve your ambition. He passed that on to me and I have passed that on to my children.’
Bob was never internationally famous and didn’t enjoy the wealth and stardom that some club singers enjoy in the modern era of TV talent shows. He sold his albums at merchandise stalls at his gigs and relatively few still exist today.
But his name is recorded in history – not just as a writer of a cult-favourite album – but as a Guinness World Record holder.
On 8 September 1979, in yet another example of his self-determination, he finished an epic 153-hour continuous solo singing marathon – beating a world record he had set twice previously.
The feat made the newspapers, with one journalist writing that Bob ‘must have a larynx made of leather’. He also wrote a Teach Yourself to Sing book and video, and set up a singing school.
And as the years went on, Bob, who lived in the south of England, started to spend much more time with his family and found happiness in being a loving husband and father.
‘Dad was a hopeless romantic and soppy ballads were his favourite. He and my mum were meant to be together and dad even wrote a song for her called Twin Souls,’ says Angela.
Bob died in 2008, aged 87. For years he had suffered from the degenerative brain disorder frontotemporal degeneration.
The disease left him with progressively less movement and speech, and during the final year of his life he hardly moved or said a word.
And then one day, a nurse at his care home put on Frank Sinatra’s My Way.
‘Dad suddenly stood up and sang along and then just sat back down again,’ says Angela.
Singer, song-writer, teacher and world-record holder Bob Anthony – the man who had done it his way – had remembered every word.
nPlays Rough present Crapaud to Joy on Wednesday at 7.30 pm at the Maritime Museum. For tickets visit jerseyfestivalofwords.org.
You can listen to Jersey...Ile d’Amour on YouTube at youtube.com/embed/hevK4-e3F3Q