Saturday, December 1, 2018

Matt Monro (1930 – 1985)

Matt Monro was born Terry Edward Parsons, in the early 30s and within the sound of Bow Bells so he was a true Cockney. His father died when he was three and after his mother became ill he was fostered for two years. Terry left school at 14, and tried a succession of jobs before being called up for National Service at 17. Terry was a natural show off and loved to sing. When he posted to Hong Kong he entered and won a series of popular talent shows and won a half-hour programme on Rediffusion, Hong Kong's local commercial radio station. He was considered good enough to be booked as a resident guest on the radio station and eventually Rediffusion gave him his own programme, "Terry Parson's Sings". After being demobbed he sang under the names of Terry Fitzgerald and Al Jordan but during the day he drove lorries and London buses to keep afloat. Winifred Atwell heard his smooth baritone voice on a demo disc and was suitably impressed to recommend him to Decca Records. She even helped him choose a stage name, Matt Monro. The recording session went well and the Blue and Sentimental, album was a collection of standards. Despite the album's critical acclaim, sales were only moderate.

In 1959 Matt recorded a country pastiche song, " I'm Bound For Texas for The Chaplin Revue, a feature-length compilation of Charlie Chaplin shorts. Despite appreciation for his vocal ability Matt continued in a part time mode.

His next break came in 1959 when George Martin (Beatle fame), EMI producer asked Matt to make a demo disc for Peter Sellers. Sellers was hoping to satirise the voice and of Frank Sinatra for a forthcoming album, "Songs for Swinging Sellers". When Peter Sellers heard Matt sing he knew he could not improve on it and the recording was included on the LP under the name of Fred Flange. When the album was released everyone wanted to know who the real Fred Flange was and George Martin recognised Matt had a future and quickly signed the Cockney Sinatra for the Parlophone label. When Old Blue Eyes heard Matt record he described him as “the only limey who can sing”.

Almost immediately the combination of Matt Monro, George Martin and Arranger/conductor Johnnie Spence proved a success. Matt was entered into a popular ITV Talent Song Contest and although he came second, his song struck accord with the public and when it was released the single shot straight up the hit parade. Portrait of my love, gave Matt his first taste of chart success.

Mike Preston won the contest with “Mary me” but Matt’s song went on to outsell his rival.

In 1962 Matt followed up with “My Kind Of Girl” climbed the charts and established Matt Monro as a boni fidi recording artist. Parlophone went onto issue nineteen singles, eight EPs and four LPs in four years. Prior to the introduction of Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdink, Matt was considered "Britain's No 1 male singer". The hits kept coming with Gonna Build a Mountain, Softly As I Leave You (1962) and the classy theme tune from the James Bond movie From Russia with Love (1963).

In 1964, Matt represented the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest and sang "I Love the Little Things." He finished second but there was no mistake with his next single, "Walk Away" (1965) which scored well in the UK and US.

Matt became the first artist to cover The Beatles’, Yesterday in 1965.

In 1966 he left EMI, lured to Capital Records following the death of Nat King Cole. This meant he had to relocate to North America and he became popular on US TV and cabaret circuit. Matt was the perfect choice and particularly chuffed because Capital Records was Old Blue Eyes’s label. He became an album artist as was the policy of the company but not before making a very successful single with music by John Barry and lyrics by Don Black. The song was the signature tune from a film of the same name, Born Free.

Matt return to England when he was out of contract and signed for EMI. George Martin remained his manager and they continued to make records together as Matt worked the top night clubs. More and more his voice was in demand for commercials and the singer recorded over 40 commercials for notable companies, including Kellogg’s Cornflakes. Mind you he was in good company and shared the jingle honour with the Rolling Stones. Throughout his thirty year career he became "the Singer's singer" and was chosen by his own to be there favourite artist. He sold more than 25 million records.

Sadly Matt had been a heavy drinker and smoker for most of his career and whilst this rarely interfered with his performances it did take a toll on his health. After he was diagnosed with liver cancer and the specialists discovered it was terminal, Matt defied medical advice and carried on singing. His last performance was in 1985 at London's Barbican Centre, a sellout night and one that was highly praised by critics and public alike. With a standing ovation of over seven minutes, Matt was overcome with emotion. The singer died shortly afterwards aged 54. Frank Sinatra said of Monro after his death: “If I had to choose three of the finest male vocalists in the singing business, Matt would be one of them. His pitch was right on the nose; his word enunciations letter perfect; his understanding of a song thorough.”

Worth a listen:
The Garden Of Eden (1957)
Portrait of my love (1960)
My Kind Of Girl (1961)
From Russia with Love (1963)
Born Free (1966)

Fred Flange
You Keep Me Swingin' (1959)

Compare him to Old Blue Eyes
September Song by Frank Sinatra and
September Song by Matt Monro

1 comment:

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