Jimmy Mesene (Messini) 1908-69
– Guitarist, Singer and Composer
Nat Gonella and His Georgians with Jimmy Mesene – 1937 Film ‘Variety Parade’
Jimmy Mesene (Messini) was born in Cardiff on March 6th, 1908. His family were of Greek descent and his father John was running a business in Cardiff as a ship chandler. Jimmy was sent to Greece to learn the shipping business at the age of 15 but in the Great Depression his father’s business failed and Jimmy, already a superb guitarist became a professional musician. Jimmy attended University in the UK and Taunton University is the most frequently mentioned but sources seem split as to whether he studied Languages (he was rumoured to be able to speak 7 languages) or Engineering. Jimmy married his 1st wife, Emily Isobel Gilbert on March 29th, 1934. They already had a son, named James who had been born on March 13th, 1933. The marriage failed in the early 1940s and on July 20th, 1943 Jimmy married Hilda Martin. Jimmy’s condition is listed as ‘the divorced husband of Emily Mesene’ and his occupation as ‘band leader and composer’.
A talented guitarist, singer, composer and bon viveur Jimmy Mesene played most notably with Nat Gonella’s Georgians but also sang with other bands: Percy Chandler and his Band, Joe Loss and his Band, Teddy Joyce and his Orchestra, George Glover and his Orchestra, The Organ Dance Band. Jimmy’s song writing credits are difficult to trace due to the sheer number of pen names he used. It is suspected that this may have been a device to withhold royalties from his 1st wife although she herself denied this and reckoned the pen names were to avoid the tax man. Jimmy was with the band from January 1935 to July 1939.
Recording for Parlophone
Nat Gonella And His Georgians – Boo-Hoo
Clarinet, Alto Saxophone – Albert Torrance, Ernest Ritte Double Bass [String Bass] – Lombardo* Drums – Bob Dryden Guitar – Jimmy Mesene* Leader, Trumpet – Nat Gonella Piano – Harold Hood Tenor Saxophone – Don Barrigo, Pat Smuts Vocals – Nat Gonella, Stella Moya Written-By – Carmen Lombardo, Heyman*, Loeb*
The Radio Stars with Two Guitars
Jimmy and Al Bowlly c1940 with Gibson Archtop Acoustic – Al with Tenor Guitar
He formed a popular duo with Al Bowlly in the early 1940s billed as “The Radio Stars with Two Guitars” and recorded various solo tracks where, unfortunately, little documented information remains as to who was accompanying him. Nat Gonella in a later interview ventured the opinion: “1940 was not a good year to launch a new act, neither Al nor Jimmy
was a smart enough operator to get their act booked into the number one theatres. But they managed to put together a short provincial tour of lesser variety theatres, NAAFI Canteens and Palais”. The musical press thought this could be a top line act for vocally they were good, although they still needed improved stagecraft.
These pictures were taken during rehearsals at Al Bowlly’s last recording session. The Radio Stars with Two Guitars (Jimmy Mesene and Al) are pictured on the right and below with pianist and arranger Pat Dodd. The recording took place at HMV studios at St. Johns Wood on 2 April 1941. The titles recorded were, (at HMV’s request), Irving Berlin’s “When That Man is Dead and Gone” – referring to Hitler, and “Nicky the Greek (has Gone)”.
They were said to be too static and that on occasions Jimmy saved the act from becoming slightly boring. The duo made 4 records for HMV, probably on the back of Bowlly’s contract with EMI.
The recordings identify some of the problems. Jimmy’s style was rather florid compared with Al’s and they didn’t always blend well and although Al and Jimmy appeared to have a great time, their rather loose approach to harmony comes across as unrehearsed. The act finished when Al Bowlly was killed by a bomb blast on April 17th, 1941. Jimmy’s career was then in decline. The stories as to his excessive drinking are widely told, many suggesting that it reached a level where people no longer wanted to work with him as he was too unreliable.
in 1943 Jimmy Mesene and his Quintet were resident at The Bristol Grill in Cork Street, London W1.
Jimmy and his 2nd wife Hilda left the UK on September 27th, 1947 arriving in Port Arthur, Texas on October 19th. Jimmy’s son James remained in the UK and in 1949 migrated to Australia with his mother and new step father. James was now 16. There is evidence that Jimmy and Hilda initially stayed with Perry Como but because of work permit problems, they moved on to Canada where they settled in Quebec. What Jimmy did to earn a living in Canada is unknown.
Jimmy Mesene c1943 –Jimmy died in Montreal on the 28th August 1969. His wife Hilda died 3 years later. Hilda’s family have confirmed that Jimmy and Hilda did not have any children of their own. Therefore, James Messini is the sole direct descendant of Jimmy.
The Masked Tenor
This period Caricature of Jimmy was done in 1932 and has the signature D Roberts (32). At this time Jimmy was with Percival Mackey’s orchestra in Leicester Square, central London. He had already recorded with Percy Chandler and in 1933 joined Joe Loss.
The wording in the 2 scrolls in the picture sounds like song titles – “Must it end this way” and “That’s my way of loving you” – but Jimmy does not appear to have recorded them – perhaps he wrote them! Clearly he was known for whistling as well as his powerful tenor singing and playing the Guitar. Note the Cutaway Guitar which may have been a Selmer Maccaferri Modele Jazz subject to the artists licence with detail.
Jimmy Mesene Medley
Who is The Masked Tenor, you might ask? Well, it is British vocalist and guitarist Jimmy Mesene. Jimmy Mesene began life as the son of a wealthy British shipper, but when the Great Depression took away the family fortune he fell back on his skills as a singer and guitarist. During the 1930s he played with many big name bands, including Joe Loss, Nat Gonella and Teddy Joyce. He also made some solo vocal recordings under various pseudonyms, with The Masked Tenor being one of them. He also wrote songs under a number of false names. In the 1940‘s he performed with Al Bowlly as the “Radio Stars with Two Guitars”.