Matt Monro

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Matt Monro Pencil Portrait
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Singers use breath control practices in order to master intonation problems. Students are often reminded to think about the bellows and to let the abdominal muscles do the work while releasing tension in the jaw, neck, and upper body. Unfortunately, many vocalists still ‘overblow’ which make them sharp as they reach into their middle and head registers. By expelling most of the air in their lungs as they make the right adjustments, singers are able to correct their pitching and gain a fuller more balanced tone.

Matt Monro had intonation in spades. Frank Sinatra, the man with whom he was so often compared, said of the British born singer after his premature death in 1985 : “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.”

Monro loved the business and saw only the good side of everything and everyone yet it was the accolades from his contemporaries and especially a performer like Sinatra, which gave him the biggest thrill of all.

Terence Edward Parsons was born December 1st, 1930 in the Shoreditch section of north London. His family included three brothers and a sister, with Terry, the youngest. It was not an easy childhood, early problems compounded by the death of his father and his mother’s subsequent illness. Terry was sent to an orphanage for awhile and eventually left school at the age of 14, in order to find work. He held a series of odd jobs, beginning with a position as an “offal boy” at the Imperial Tobacco Company and then when he was seventeen, enlisted in the British Army. Terry became a tank driving instructor, and was sent to Hong Kong whereupon the the roots of his musical career would take hold.

He was signed to two record companies in turn during the 1950s for a handful of unsuccessful singles, before coming to the notice of producer George Martin (to whom The Beatles would later be similarly indebted) and being launched on a somewhat rocky path to stardom. In 1960 Martin was working with the actor peter Sellers, seeking a voice that the great impersonator could use as reference for a Frank Sinatra spoof on his comedy album cheekily titled ‘Songs for Swinging Sellers’. The producer hired Matt Monro, and billed him under the very Sellers-esque pseudonym of “Fred Flange.” But Sellers evidently knew that Monro was destined for greatness; the Fred Flange recording opened the record and Martin signed the man behind the curtain.

Monro’s vocals were romantic but assured, capable of sensitively caressing the ballads and raucously swinging through up-tempo songs. His style was a deceptively simple one: a dash of legit pipes, a touch of Bing Crosby-esque intimacy, a brash swinger’s confidence. It added up to a sound uniquely Monro. Simplicity was the order of the day; he saw no need to consistently inject vocal gymnastics into his storytelling, his basic delivery punctuated with high intensity only when the lyrical content demanded – an object lesson in economy for many of today’s vocalists seemingly intent on delivering high drama with every syllable.

His was not a life devoid of drama, being deeply affected by an unfortunate car accident in which he was involved which took the life of a pedestrian. Although the singer was cleared of all charges, the incident nonetheless had a profound impact on him, and may well have exacerbated his fondness for the bottle. Monro had a lifelong struggle with alcohol, not to mention attendant depression and exhaustion. Solace in alcohol invariably goes hand in hand with artists given to punishing tour schedules and Monro was unquestionably deeply committed to his art and his audience. It’s testimony to this vocation that he embarked on a gruelling tour of the Far East a mere two months after treatment at the Priory in 1976.

Surprisingly, despite a lengthy recording career which included the taping of one of the first Bond themes, ‘From Russia With Love’, the perennially popular film song ‘Born Free’, and a Eurovision Song Contest entry, he would only score three Top 10 singles in Britain, and would have to wait until the early 1980s with the advent of TV-advertised albums for his first hit LP.

Nevertheless, such a parochial view of an artist’s chart placings can provide a grossly distorted impression of their worldwide following. In Matt’s case, his modest chart statistics were barely reflective of his busy schedule of radio, TV and live work at home and abroad, which made him one of the most in-demand performers in his genre. During the course of his career, he sold over 100 million records.

In 1966 he signed with Capital Records, a company desperate to shore up its roster of artists after the premature death of Nat King Cole and Sinatra’s defection to his own record label, and came to the United States to live. After a few years he returned to England and EMI, signing with Columbia. His final album release was in 1970, although he continued to tour and release singles.

His American television appearances included Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Red Skelton, Ed Sullivan, Liberace and Dick Cavett. During his career he worked with Quincy Jones, Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Montovani, Michel Legrand and Henri Mancini. Monro, whilst singularly failing to reach the level of popularity in the US as his contemporaries, Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdinck, was enormously popular amongst the latin speaking continents.

Sadly, heavy smoking and liver cancer took its toll on his life and he died in 1985 at the comparatively early age of 54. Despite the social acceptability of smoking in the 50’s and 60’s, it is still difficult to comprehend, for a lifelong non-smoker like myself, Monro’s ongoing addiction to a habit so injurious to one’s vocal cords. Smoking may well assist with performance anxiety, but it damages vocal cords irrevocably, even if the individual stops at some point. When the vocal cords are damaged, voice quality and range, especially in the upper register, are affected. Singers are routinely required to hold long notes without taking a breath or to use their diaphragm to add power to a note. Putting strain on the lungs can decrease the ability to do either. It is inevitably one of life’s greater ironies, that the smoking, which contributed so heavily to Monro’s early demise, seemingly never affected his vocal performances; his peerless recorded legacy a fitting epitaph to a fiercely concentrated professional life.

Some of Michele Monro’s recollections of her father can be located at

Monro made just one film appearance in a long forgotten thriller called ‘Satan’s Harvest’ which was enough to convince us all that he had little acting talent. Matt, bless him, was an average looking guy of below average height, simply and memorably blessed with a wonderful vocal technique and that’s why I admire him greatly to this day. He didn’t have it all but he worked tremendously hard with what he did have.

In the film, tough guy Cutter Murdock (George Montgomery) inherits the family estate in South Africa, only to find it is being used to produce illegal drugs on an industrial scale. Thereafter he spends most of the film evading his would be assassins, ably assisted by one Tippi Hedren, whose career was clearly in terminal decline after her exile from mainstream Hollywood at the hands of Alfred Hitchcock. Monro is consistently wooden in his fleeting appearances as a baboon wrangler and in all honesty, I never finished watching the film. In any event, I purchased the DVD for the supplementary “Go Go with Matt Monro’ musical travalogue featuring Matt in all his classic mid-60’s period pomp.

Recommended listening

Matt Monro – The Singer’s singer [2011 Remaster]

38 tracks on four CDs, derived from the 2010 and 2011 remasters created for EMI’s acclaimed ‘‘The Complete Singles Collection’ and ‘Words and Music’ reissues, in addition to a further 65 tracks, 60 of which were transferred by engineer Richard Moore from the first generation mixdown tapes.

It’s a sonic delight, the new stereo remix of ‘From Russia, With Love’ utilizing the correct vocal, one of the many new alterations/improvements to ‘The Singer’s Singer’, all of which have been indicated in the track listing. The box set is a journey though Monro’s career and also a musical history of some of the greatest composers and lyricists of all time. The Beatles are represented with “Yesterday,” “Michelle” and “The Long and Winding Road,” Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer with “Days of Wine and Roses” and “Charade” and Jimmy Webb with “Didn’t We.” The Broadway songbook is deeply mined, and yields Charles Strouse and Lee Adams’ “You’ve Got Possibilities” from It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s Superman!, Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane’s “Come Back to Me” and “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” from the musical of the same name, and Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s Real Live Girl from Little Me. There are choice pop interpretations of “Strangers in the Night,” “You Make Me So Very Happy,” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” among many others. Standards don’t get the short shrift, either, thanks to renditions of “September Song” (from Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s Knickerbocker Holiday), “Spring is Here,” “Fools Rush In” and “The Second Time Around.”

This 2011 set includes brief remastering notes and full recording details for each of the included songs. Ordinarily, one would never recommend a box set as an entrée for the uninitiated but with an asking price of under ten pounds, this lavish set scores on all counts.

Some background information about restoration engineer Richard Moore’s work on the Monro catalogue can be located at

N.B. ‘The Singer’s Singer’ was originally released in 2001 and then again in 2011 in its remastered form.

The 2011 version catalogue number, remastered by Richard Moore, is 50999 084510 2 6, not to be confused with the inferior 2001 original issue which bears the number 7243 5 35814 2 8

Matt At The Movies [3 CD Box set]

Seventy four numbers indelibly associated with the movies, impeccably sung by the British maestro, from songs indelibly associated with Matt to other titles stamped with his own unique style. I was always rather partial to ‘Precious Moments’, the title song to the 1980 war movie ‘The Sea Wolves’ starring Gregory Peck and Roger Moore, one of several less widely known titles amongst this collection.

Whatever your taste in music, there’s sufficient material here to remind people of a certain age, of those halcyon days on the Moss Empire circuit – the Pathe Newsreels, support features, Rank screen advertising, icecream ladies and of course, the main feature. When I hear Matt crooning ‘On days like these’ I think of childhood summer holidays and afternoon visits to the cinema with family and friends. The song was written in 1969 by Quincy Jones and Don Black for the British caper film ‘The Italian Job’, where it is heard prominently throughout the opening credits. For me personally, it is the recording that defines the Monro sound.

Recommended viewing

Matt Monro: The Man with the Golden Voice (BBC Tv 2005)

Neil Pearson narrates a documentary telling the story of Matt Monro, the young Londoner born Terry Parsons who became one of the world’s most popular ballad singers. In addition to recalling Matt’s life and career, the programme also provides a fascinating insight into working class life and popular culture since the Second World War. Contributors include Paul Gambaccini, Don Black, George Martin, John Barry and Monro’s family.

Featuring rare home movies, early television performances and link material from John Barry’s “The Beyondness of things”, the programme was another much welcomed broadcast in the BBC4 ‘Legends series and unsurprisingly, is now in my archive collection.

An evening with Matt Monro

An important release albeit one tainted with some ill informed pre-release hyperbole. There remains a substantial amount of surviving footage of Monro in live television performance in addition to several interviews but until this find, nothing of him at the very peak of his 60’s worldwide popularity in a concert setting.

The DVD features a concert performance from 1967, the only full-length live footage of Monro known to exist. The re-released version of this show boasts much improved picture and sound as a result of Odeon’s use of the BBC’s post-production facilities to restore and remaster the original tapes.

Reportedly, the film reel of Matt Monro performing live lay unknown in the family garage for more than forty years; a near miracle therefore that the raw elements had not crumbled to pure oxide dust.

Matt Monro Australia 1967 Concert
1. As long as I’m singing
2. How do you do
3. What to do
4. My kind of girl
5. Yesterday
6. You’re nobody until somebody loves you
7. Portrait of my love
8. Walk away
9. In the arms of love
10. From Russia with love
11. Georgy girl
12. Born Free
13. Softly as I leave you

It’s a warmly engaging performance as Matt effortlessly wends his way through a collection of hits and stage favourites, the bravura ending to “From Russia with love” exceeding even the majestic vinyl recording. Unfortunately, the pick up orchestra is a distinct notch down from exacting Sinatraesque standards but this barely detracts from Monro’s delivery; an essential purchase.

Go Go with Monro (1966)

Shot in technicolour on location in London and Italy, this 1966 feature was originally made as a support feature for the cinemas. Unseen for forty years, the half hour music show was issued on DVD and features Matt at the pinnacle of his career performing his hits and rarities, along with support from Roy Castle and Marian Montgomery.

Recommended reading

Matt Monro: The Singer’s Singer: The Life and Music of Matt Monro (Michele Monro) 2010

The first full length biography of the singer and a volume I purchased immediately upon publication. Tracing Monro’s life from his poverty stricken upbringing in post-war Britain to his day job as a London bus driver, the narrative charts his steady rise to fame, a near tortuous road that saw the singer battling the highs and lows of the entertainment industry to become one of Britain’s best-loved entertainers.

Michele reveals the man behind the image, the man who rubbed shoulders with some of the most famous names in the business, who recorded the very first James Bond theme song (“From Russia with Love”), represented his country in the Eurovision Song Contest and Royal Command performance and recorded the international hits “Softly as I Leave You”, “Born Free”, “Walk Away” and “Portrait of My Love”. Drawing on more than two hundred interviews from the most important characters in Matt’s life, “The Singer’s Singer” exposes the man behind the voice, telling the story of how Terry Parson overcame poverty, prejudice and alcoholism to arrive at the very heart of the post-war British entertainment industry as the unforgettable Matt Monro. Including never-before-seen photography, exclusive correspondence between Matt and some of the biggest names in the music business and a rich array of personal anecdotes, this is an affectionate, and I suspect, wholly representative look at the life of the man his peers dubbed ‘the Singer’s Singer’.



Matt Monro’s daughter, Michele, is engaged in a labor of love at She has created a website full of Matt’s music, a lengthy biography, full discography and an active forum for fans. Michele has recently begun what she calls a “talking book”, writing:

“This will be Dad’s life story in words and will include lots of recollections from Mickie [Matt’s widow], Matt Jnr and of course yours truly. I will also include a very special CD of a secret live performance from Dad’s army days.”

Michele Monro has set up space in the fan forum for people to contribute memories of her father. She has also compiled a list of all of Matt’s known television appearances, as well as newspaper clippings dating back to 1956.\