Spotlight on ……
Love, Geoffrey [Geoff] (1917-1991), popular composer, bandleader, and trombonist, was born on 4 September 1917 in Todmorden, Yorkshire, the only son and younger of the two surviving children of Thomas Edward (Kidd) Love (c.1886-1923/4), a dancer and guitarist, and his wife, Frances Helen Maycock (1892-1975), an actress and singer from a touring theatrical family. His father was African American, his mother was English.
Love travelled on the road with his family until the age of six, when his father died and the family returned to their grandmother's house. In Todmorden, where Frances Love worked winding cotton in a factory, Love's elder sister Cornelia played violin in the junior section of the amateur symphony orchestra. He also attempted to learn the instrument but abandoned it shortly in favour of the trombone. He took lessons from his doctor who was a music student, and from the local brass band, but found their music too loud. He left school to work in a garage, and at the age of fifteen began to play trombone for local dances. He abandoned manual labour at seventeen in favour of a professional career in music and joined the band of Freddie Platt.
In 1936 Love joined Jan Ralfini's band and travelled to London with them to work in cine-variety, singing and tap-dancing as part of his act. He learned to play jazz at after-hours West End 'bottle-parties' such as the Bag O'Nails and the Nest, where he got to know and was influenced by trombonists George Chisholm and Ellis Jackson. He worked with Alan Green on Hastings pier, then with Syd Millward's Nitwits until his wartime call-up in February 1940. He joined the King's Royal Rifle Corps and, after initial training, helped re-form the Green Jackets' regimental dance band. During six years' military service he taught himself orchestration through the expedient of asking individual musicians the best way to write for their instrument.
On demob Love worked as a freelance trombonist and arranger, and, while with Stanley Black's BBC orchestra, he absorbed further ideas about orchestration from the harpist Marie Goossens. He played film music sessions, then joined saxophonist Harry Gold in whose Pieces of Eight he played Dixieland jazz for the first time, eventually becoming a business partner in the band with Gold, his brother Laurie Gold, and pianist Norrie Paramor. He worked as an arranger for the Paramor/Gold Orchestral Service, then as a staff writer at Kassner's music publishers (1950-55).
As a trombonist Love worked with the bandleader Lew Stone and continued to do session work, but increasingly he was in demand for his arrangements. He wrote for the Ambrose and Ken Mackintosh dance bands, for television and radio orchestras and the Cliff Adams Singers, then formed an eight- piece band to play dances and concerts for American servicemen. He broadcast with his own group and as guest soloist on BBC Jazz Club with trumpeter Kenny Baker and other important jazz musicians. He continued to do cabaret and make guest appearances, then, with the launch of commercial television, wrote the music and organized a new band for the fifty-week series On the Town.
In the mid-1950s Love was contracted by several record labels to write for their artists. From Philips he moved to Polydor and Polygram before settling with EMI, where he arranged for Alma Cogan, Frankie Vaughan, Anne Shelton, and others on the HMV label and also recorded orchestral singles under his own name, notably a 1958 'cover version' of Perez Prado's 'Patricia'. As staff arranger-conductor at Columbia, he was responsible for the huge success of Laurie London's gospel song 'He's Got the Whole World in His Hands', which topped the American music charts in 1957. The same year he wrote the score for 6.5 Special, the film version of television's hit rock and roll show, but this type of music was not really his metier.
Love was an unashamed populist who enjoyed creating melodic and uncontroversial arrangements of tunes that would sell. For forty years he had a working relationship with recording manager Norman Newell, whom he described as the man who 'hears what Mrs Smith in Wigan will hear', and who would bring him suitable material (interview with Val Wilmer, BL NSA). Wally Stott's arrangement of Mikis Theodorakis's 'The Honeymoon Song' was such a tune and, to Love, 'it suggested harps, guitars and voices' (ibid.). He combined these elements for what he called 'Theme from Honeymoon' (1959), and created the ethereal, guitar-heavy sound that became known internationally as Manuel and his Music of the Mountains. His intention was to keep Manuel's identity secret but an American album success in 1959 and that of 'Never on Sunday' (1960) made this impossible.
In a spectacular career that garnered one platinum, fifteen gold, and thirteen silver discs, and a special trophy for the sale of 2.5 million records, Love (as Manuel) spent several weeks in the British popular music charts. 'Somewhere my Love' (1966) was another major success although the number one position eluded him (his recording of the theme from the second movement of Rodrigo's guitar concerto 'De Aranjuez' (1976) was acknowledged to have reached that position but is omitted from the Guinness Book of Hit Singles, exact computation being impossible during the week in question).
As musical director and arranger, Love's list of recording credits encompassed Judy Garland, Paul Robeson, Mel Torme, Marlene Dietrich, Gracie Fields, Randy Crawford, Hinge and Bracket, and Danny La Rue, but he first became known to the public in this role through television appearances with the pianist Russ Conway and the comedian-singer Max Bygraves. His comedy speaking parts in the latter's live shows and spectaculars made his friendly, open face and Todmorden accent familiar in every British home.
Love was a popular figure with other show business professionals. He was kind, generous, and witty, but he was also a stickler for discipline, professionalism, and timing, attributes that ensured he remained at the top of his profession. On 4 April 1942 he married Cicely Joyce (Joy) Peters (1923/4-1993). She played a notable part in his success, relieving the pressures of an extraordinarily hectic life by organizing his business, booking his session musicians, and doing accounts. They had two sons, Adrian (1944-1999), who became a well-known radio presenter, and Nigel (b. 1947).
In 1981 Love co-founded (with Bill Starling) the Young Person's Concert Foundation. A charitable body aimed at introducing orchestral music to youngsters, its patrons and benefactors came from the world of commerce-Sir Charles Forte and Ford's-and music-Ron Goodwin, Vera Lynn, Harry Secombe, and Sir Georg Solti. Love travelled the country with an orchestra of student musicians, giving schools a concert of accessible musical pieces with linking commentary on the various instruments provided by his son Adrian or by the entertainer Rolf Harris.
Despite his early antipathy towards brass bands, Love returned to his Yorkshire roots in the late 1980s. He became involved with various brass band traditions, participated in the Saddleworth Whit Friday contest and played with the local band in annual concerts at Todmorden town hall. While he kept a house in Bush Hill Park, Enfield, he did most of his writing in Spain. His successes continued. As he explained: 'I'm not playing for musicians or people who listen to jazz, I'm just playing for Joe Public' (interview with Val Wilmer, BL NSA). He died at University College Hospital, Camden, London, on 8 July 1991.
Sources C. Ellis, The Independent (10 July 1991) + V. Wilmer, The Independent (17 July 1991) + M. Martingale, 'Love story in black and white', News of the World (17 June 1990) + D. Wicks, The ballad years: from the bombs to the Beatles (1997) + private information (2004) + personal knowledge (2004) + The Times (12 July 1991) + The Guardian (10 July 1991) + Daily Telegraph (9 July 1991) + d. cert.
Archives SOUND BL NSA, oral history interview
Likenesses D. Allen, photograph, 1955, NPG - photographs, priv. coll.
Wealth at death 222,906: probate, 16 Oct 1991, CGPLA Eng. & Wales