Memories of a famous father
Some of my happiest memories of my father are seeing him perform. Day time he was just a regular dad, feet up on the settee watching television, telling me off for wearing too much make-up, telling me to be back by 10.00pm on school disco nights, helping me with my homework and raising eye brows when I brought boys home.
But on workdays he came alive, a different persona took over and he took on the role of an idolised pop star. It is interesting to note that he was more revered in all other countries except his birth place and spending up to nine months of every year away was sometimes tough on all of us. But he was in constant demand and in an ever-changing business you went where the work took you.
Donning his trademark dress suit, dapper and suave he took to a stage like a duck to water, he came alive singing the songs that he loved and that had made him popular. Applause is a natural drug and any artist is able to attain a performance high from a grateful adoring audience. It was strange at first being pushed out of the way in favour of excitable woman who stampeded a path to get close enough to him for that sought after autograph or photograph and a kiss on the cheek, some became quite rude in their quest, pushing and shoving others to gain entry to the inner sanctuary of a dressing room but it came with the territory. He attained the name of the Singer’s Singer and it wasn’t unusual to find Sammy Davis, Satchmo or Como also trying to gain that same right of entry just to pay their respects from one artist to another.
There wasn’t one performance he didn’t glow in the aftermath but then analyzing how it could be improved or bettered. He was a perfectionist in his art and he never rested on his laurels, he felt every audience deserved his best performance.
My father grew in an industry, which was riddled with rock and roll and electric amplification, flower power and longhaired youths gesticulating across a stage with a guitar in tow. He survived many fads of the age but survived their impact because good music won through. Ballads although out of fashion with certain critics were not out of flavour with his public. His achievements ensured he stayed in style while most of his peers fell by the wayside, long forgotten and decades on his name is still remembered with great fondness and his music still sells even against the hip hop and rap market. In an age where you could understand the words and sang the lyric as the writer intended, I think to still be earning gold records is a wonderful accolade to his talent and will ensure his legacy of music carries on for many more years to come.
The pride one feels when any family member does good makes your heart swell and his fans have been so loyal over the years I wanted to be able to speak to them and learn what the music meant to their lives. I went to EMI and put forward the idea of launching my own website, something that would allow everyone access to his achievements and would be a vehicle of letting them know what new products were available. England is one of the only countries where an artist’s success is measured by where one appears in the charts and if you are not in the charts the record shop is loathe to stock the product. Just because an artist is not visible on the racks it doesn’t mean that there isn’t any product and through the website I can let a far-reaching fan base know what is new.
The extraordinary thing to come out of this was the fact that my father seems to have attracted a whole new younger group and of course I can talk as easily to someone in Bristol as Melbourne or Montreal. The site gains about 6000 hits a month from a wealth of people from different backgrounds. I feel humbled to read their e-mails telling me how Matt Monro’s music has affected their lives. To know it meant so much to so many people for different reasons makes me enormously proud.
It astonishes me that my father had this beautiful voice with exquisite phrasing and precise breath control and the only thing I seem to have inherited is a good taste in music. I cannot sing a note and don’t try which I am sure a lot of people are very grateful for. The male side of the family is a different story; both my brothers grew up with a love for singing and Mitchell the eldest had a lovely voice. Sadly he is no longer with us but my other sibling goes on the road under his birth name of Matt Monro Jnr. He has a good voice, not great but is a great performer and loves what he does. He doesn’t profess to have his father’s voice and quite frankly I feel very few could measure up to that. My son is of the age where everything out of his mouth is rap so it is difficult to ascertain whether there is any real talent there, time will tell.
I don’t in fact know where my father got his gift from, his family were certainly not musical and his voice was a natural one and not crafted from singing teachers or music academy's. He once approached a famous music coach to ask for guidance and was told in no uncertain terms that his gift was from God and any interference from vocal training professionals would only hinder his natural vocal patterns. As he grew in stature and carved a name for himself he gained the confidence to experiment with his timing and phrasing and would always stretch his reach for the sake of perfection. Even in his later years he never altered how he sung, he could still comfortably sing in the same key as when he first started.
I think that was one of the reasons he didn’t attain superstar status, because he didn’t change, whether his style of singing or his personality. He never forgot his roots, in fact was very proud of his British heritage and whether on stage, in a sound studio or at home with friends, never put on airs or graces. There was no mystique about him; he was how he came across, a very nice person, a down to earth Cockney guy who had a great voice. Had he been born in America he would have been surrounded by agents, managers and an entourage and been styled to be a huge personality. They tend to create personas; they are in the art or changing the artist so the public perception is different. The artist on the stage is unattainable, you can’t get near them, they create and believe in their own hype. That was one of the reasons my father came back to England, he felt their society was too different and he was surrounded by an industry that promoted falseness. He didn’t wish to be groomed that way, he liked to come off stage and chat to his audience, to shake hands and swap stories, he was basically the boy next door that made good. He would happily pose for photographs washing up, riding a donkey for a charity event, swinging a golf club or rubbing shoulders with his fans. You didn’t see that with his American counterparts, they would have their photographs taken shaking hands with Royalty, attending a red carpet event or getting in a limousine. It is all a perception of image and the bottom line is my father wanted to be himself and entertain those that wished to see him. They may have changed his name but they couldn’t change him.
People’s reaction to my father’s work is hugely diverse. I am in the middle of researching for a book on his life and music and I have been in contact with his friends from the army days, big band musicians, producers and fellow artists and the feedback has been amazing. My father’s work meant so many things to so many different people. You cannot just measure a person’s success by the gold records on the wall or the accolades he has gained along the way. His music has touched millions of people from different races, cultures, religions, countries, it didn’t matter if their native tongue wasn’t English – music is able to transcend everything, even time and to be able to bring joy to someone doing what you love is enormously satisfying.
I receive hundreds of letters every week, people opening their heart and souls to me, telling me how they played “Softly as I Leave You” at their mothers’ funeral or how “Born Free” became their freedom song in a time when politics governed their county or that when a loved one lay in a coma, they played “Walk Away” every day because they felt it would make a difference – it is extremely powerful and moving to share in these stranger’s stories, to know that to them my father’s music meant everything.
I started working with EMI on projects years ago and became more passionate as to what went on the market as time went by. It took me 18 years to persuade them to promote a new album with television advertising. “The Ultimate Matt Monro” went gold in 10 days, reached the No7 spot and has sold over 200,000 copies. The “Rare Monro” took me three years to complete, an album of 50 unreleased tracks, which was released in September 2006. In-Tune Magazine rated it as “one of the most important releases of the year”, Record Collector showcased it and HMV wrote a whole page in their music periodical.
For his 20th anniversary we released the first DVD of his work, an unedited live concert in Australia shot in black and white. “An Evening with Matt Monro” went straight to the No1 position of the DVD Music charts. This was in fact my father’s first number one in this country. Since 2005 I have ensured the release of two further DVDs and worked with the BBC on an hour’s programme on his life, “The Man with the Golden Voice” sat in the BBC’s Top 20 most viewed programmes all week and this was when it was shown in contrast to the World Cup on another channel, I think it came in with a 1.8 million viewing figure. But this success doesn’t come about by luck; it is a combination of good teamwork and a lot of hours of work. I go into my office at 7.00am and am invariably in there until midnight. “From Matt with Love”, released on 6th February again made the music charts with a new television campaign aimed at Mother’s Day, we had a double Spanish CD out in April, this is the first time his Spanish music has been available in England and “Matt at the Movies” is scheduled for release on 8th October.
EMI and I have mapped out our releases through 2009 and this requires a lot of work and promotion. In February alone I did 18 radio interviews, I am totally passionate about ensuring the legacy my father left behind continues to burn brightly. I run the website by myself and update it on the first of each month, with guest artists and new articles, so it stays fresh. The Forum is very popular and needs overseeing on a daily basis and I answer all the mail personally. I think it makes a big difference to people. www.mattmonro.com is a labour of love, which has become a part of my life and is very rewarding. As well as writing the book there are many projects that I want to do, I have recently bought the rights to a Nelson Riddle concert my father did in the 60’s and this has now been remastered. I would like to bring out a ‘live’ album and a talking book. I produce exclusive merchandise for the website and create all my brother’s concert brochures and tour material. I also write a blog for EMI and am totally dedicated to bringing my father’s work to the masses and not just in this county. My brother recently came back from a very successful tour of the Philippines, a country where my father was revered and before coming home Dyna Records, a subsidiary of EMI presented us with a “Plaque of Distinction” presented to Matt Monro “in recognition of being the biggest selling foreign male solo artist in our company and for giving us a legacy of timeless songs which have touched the hearts of millions of Filipinos”. How cool is that after all these years. Former First Lady Imelda Marcos who attended all my father’s concerts also went to see my brother’s concert and went up on the stage to tell the audience what the music meant to her. It is a great compliment from a country that was not his own.
What makes Matt Monro special is that he sang a song how it was written, he made people feel special and sang with true feeling. He made people feel good about themselves. He chose good lyrics, great musicians and the best producers in order to give the song the best possible treatment. He didn’t try and fool an audience with a lack lustre performance, when he went on that stage he meant it and it came across.
I’m often asked what my favourite song is, and this is not actually an easy question for me as my response changes all the time depending on my mood. To me my father’s songs are like close intimate friends, something I grew up with. Some I fell in love with instantly and some I learnt to love over time, some are passionate, some sad and some are breezy, bright and uplifting. I know them really well; they have seen me through my private nightmares, my highs and lows, my reveries and my demons. They are always there for me whether I want them or not but invariably they will elevate me to a better place. They take me to a wonderland of imagination and sometimes I can quite easily live there for a while and when reality hits, I’m better for the song I’ve heard. A song is as changeable as my disposition and that is why my answer varies from day to day.
If you have never heard of Matt Monro then you are in for a treat, there is a wealth of material to chose from but if you only want one product then I would probably choose “The Singer’s Singer which is a collection of 4 disc, all of his well know hits are included as well as some of the lesser known rarities. The fourth disc is of very rare material including a selection of jingles from various TV and radio promotions. It also includes an 86-page book that I wrote with a synopsis on his life and a collection of unreleased photographs. If one didn’t want to have that much of a choice than I would opt for “The Ultimate Matt Monro” which has a cross section of his hits. My favourite DVD has to be the live Australian concert. The diction and phrasing is letter perfect and his wonderfully controlled breath control is what made him unique. A fantastic performance for a wonderful entertainer, artist, father and friend – I miss him.
Interview first given to David Barne’s website