From Record Collector
Matt Monro was one of a select number of popular
vocalists who was admired equally by the public and by his fellow
performers. The balladeer was at his most successful in the early
Sixties: between 1960 and 1965 he scored twelve Top 50 hits. In
1980 the "Heartbreakers" collection made No. 5 - a testament to
his enduring appeal.
Bing Crosby cited Matt as one of his favourite
singers and a recent posthumous compilation, "By Request", featured
sleeve-note tributes from Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney,
John Barry and Matt's producer, George Martin.
Matt was born in north London in 1932 and one of
his earliest singing experiences was at the local Hornsey Town Hall,
imitating his idol Perry Como. For his national service, he became
a tank driving instructor and was posted to Hong Kong. Here he was
so successful in talent contests that he was eventually barred from
competing and given his own forces radio show. On demob, he returned
to London, hoping for overnight success as a singer. However, after
several jobs he wound up in the Harry Leader Band under the name
of Al Jordan. This involved travelling the country for little reward,
but Matt later recalled this time as valuable experience.
Whilst on tour, Matt cut a private disc with the
band's rhythm section. He completely forgot about it, until a call
came from popular pianist Winifred Atwell to meet her at the London
Palladium. Somehow the demo disc had come to her attention and she
was very impressed. After this meeting, things began to happen for
the young singer, who adopted the name Matt Monro: the 'Matt' taken
from Matt White, the first journalist to write about him, the 'Monro'
from the first name of Winifred Atwell's father.
A Decca recording contract, a Radio Luxembourg
series and a singing spot with the Cyril Stapleton Band all followed.
Between November 1956 and April of the following year, Decca issued
three singles on 78 and 45, and a 10" LP, "Blue And
Sentimental", which has since become one of Matt's most collectable
The Decca recordings were repackaged on an Ace
of Clubs LP in 1961 and again in Decca's 'World Of series ten years
later. Currently there are mid-price selections available on Decca
(14 tracks) and Unforgettable (16 tracks).
In 1958 three Matt Monro singles appeared on Fontana:
the first on 78 only, the later two on 78 and 45. These sides were
reactivated in 1969 for the awesomely titled "Tony Blackburn Meets
Matt Monro" LP, which also drew on the mid-Sixties recordings of
that budding DJ. Changes in popular music trends and two unsuccessful
recording contracts saw Matt's career at a low ebb. Only the payments
from his famous Camay soap TV advert and the encouragement of his
second wife, Mickie, kept Matt from discontinuing his singing ambitions.
During the Fifties, Matt also recorded for some
budget labels. He may have featured on some under his real name
of Tony Parsons; he certainly appeared under his Al Jordan pseudonym
for a series of 10" LPs on the Top Pop Club International label,
and some 78s may have been issued as well. In 1959 there came an
out-of-the-blue call from George Martin, then a comedy record producer
with Parlophone, to cut a demo disc for Peter Sellers to copy as
a Frank and insisted that it was used on his LP, "Songs For Swinging
Sellers", under the name of Fred Flange. This caused quite a stir
and led to George Martin asking Matt to do a Nat King Cole-style
treatment on a song that he had been offered - no, not another impersonation,
but a full Matt Monro recording of "Portrait Of My Love". At first
Matt did not think that the song was commercial, but even the greatest
of singers have been wrong: Frank Sinatra turned down "Mona Lisa"
and Nat King Cole "Love Is A Many Splendoured Thing" when first
asked. "Portrait Of My Love" became Matt's second Parlophone single.
It was released in November 1960 and charted within a fortnight.
It peaked at No. 3 and enjoyed a long run in the chart.
In August of that year, Matt had been involved
in a more obscure venture, contributing the only vocal track to
an LP of modern musical accompaniment to three of Charlie Chaplin's
movies. Matt's song, "Bound For Texas", was intended for Chaplin's
"The Pilgrim". The album, "The Chaplin Revue", currently changes
hands among film soundtrack collectors for between £15 and £20.
Matt had teamed up with Johnnie Spence for "Portrait
Of My Love" and hit after hit followed for them. The next six singles
all made the Top 50, with "My Kind Of Girl" and "Softly As I Leave
You" reaching No. 5 and 10 respectively. In 1963 Matt recorded the
theme for the James Bond film "From Russia With Love". The following
year he was selected by the BBC for the Eurovision Song Contest,
coming second with "I Love The Little Things". 1964 also saw him
achieving a No. 4 hit with "Walk Away". This charted in the United
States as well, reaching No. 23 (Liberty 55745), five places lower
than his previous U.S. hit, "My Kind Of Girl" (1961, Warwick 636).
The success story continued into 1965, when Matt became the first
artist to cover "Yesterday", which the Beatles had neglected to
put out as a single. Matt took the song to No. 8.
Between March 1960 and January 1966, Parlophone
issued nineteen Matt Monro singles, as well as eight EPs and four
LPs. Two otherwise unobtainable BBC recordings appeared on a various
artists compilation, "Parade Of The Pops", in March 1961. Following
the death of their hugely successful recording artist, Nat King
Cole, in February 1965, Capitol Records signed up Matt Monro. The
contract was said to be worth a million dollars over three years.
Matt moved to the States and was backed by the lush strings of Sid
Feller and the bouncing brass of Billy May on a series of LPs, including
"This Is The Life" and "Invitation To The Movies". TV and night
club appearances in all the top spots helped establish him in the
States, but homesickness eventually prompted his return to England.
By the mid-Sixties, the old-style popular vocalists
had been eclipsed in terms of chart performance by the new beat
and pop groups. None of Matt's Capitol singles released in the U.K.
between 1966 and 1970 made the charts, but he continued to record
for Columbia and EMI, under the guidance of George Martin. He spent
most of each year touring abroad, squeezing in several sold-out
seasons at the Talk Of The Town and occasional U.K. tours, the highlight
being one with the Syd Lawrence Orchestra. Matt's last hit single
came in 1973, when "And You Smiled" made the Top 30.
Matt never acquired the 'superstar' tag, but quality
was his code and he earned the reputation of being a singers' singer.
The 'greats' admired his voice: Bing Crosby commented that Matt
was Britain's best vocalist, and Matt's own idol, Frank Sinatra,
stated that Monro "sounds like me on a good day - or after an early
night". Although Matt was a stranger to the charts in later years,
the "Heartbreakers" compilation in 1980 proved that the Monro magic
could still woo the public.
In January 1985, doctors at Addenbrookes Hospital
attempted a liver transplant on Matt, but had to stop when a cancerous
growth was discovered. Matt was discharged but was back in hospital
after two days and was lost to popular music on 7th February 1985.
Collectors of Matt's original releases have a formidable
task, with over forty singles issued on the Parlophone, Capitol
and Columbia labels, not to mention EPs, LPs, and those more obscure
early sides for Decca and Fontana. Fortunately, there have been
a number of recent compilations. In addition to "Heartbreakers"
and its sequel, "More Heart-breakers", and the aforementioned Decca
selections, MFP issued the double "Matt Monro Sings" in 1985, with
the twenty-track "By Request" appearing on EMI last year. So whether
you hunt out the originals or settle for collections, there's plenty
of fine singing to look forward to.