He’s known as a “Singer’s Singer”, a man who influenced generations of performers, from Karen Carpenter and Cass Elliot to Michael Bublé. Even Frank Sinatra, to whom Matt Monro was frequently compared, acknowledged his gifts. Yet, his success in the United States was modest, never coming close to his popularity in his native England.
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. His father died when he was three and his mother became ill soon after. Monro’s daughter Michele, tells RadioFremantle.com’s Bob Edwards that her father was sent to an orphanage for awhile. The family was extremely poor and Terry left school at the age of 14, to go to work. He held a series of odd jobs, beginning with a position as an “offal boy” at the Imperial Tobacco Company. When he turned 17 and a half, he enlisted in the British Army. Terry became a tank driving instructor, and was sent to Hong Kong. And that’s where the roots of his music career took hold.
While in Hong Kong, he began entering local talent shows. The prize was a half-hour show on a Hong Kong commercial radio station. Terry won seven times, before he was officially “retired” from the competition and given his own show, “Terry Parsons Sings”.
“The Singing Bus Driver”
Back in London, in 1953, his army days behind him, Terry launched his career as a singer, picking up gigs where he could, including jobs with the Harry Leader Band. To support himself, he worked as a professional driver, piloting trucks and buses, most notably the Number 27 bus, from Highgate to Teddington, or Highgate to Twickenham, depending on which article you read.
It was on one of those long-distance truck driving jobs when Terry and some musician friends went into a small studio in Glasgow, Scotland and recorded his first tune, “Polka Dots and Moonbeams”. That tape would eventually find it’s way into the hands of Jazz pianist Winifred Atwell. Terry impressed Atwell so much, that she helped him win a record contract with Decca Records.
Enter Matt Monro…
It was at this point that Terry Parsons became Matt Monro. Terry had performed as Terry Fitzgerald and as Al Jordan, as well as Terry Parsons, but Decca wanted a new moniker. Atwell helped him choose Matt Monro-Matt for Matt White, the first Australian journalist to write about Terry, and Monro, which was Atwell’s father’s first name.
Matt recorded his first album Blue and Sentimental in 1956 and Decca put out a feeler with the tune “Everybody Falls in Love with Someone” backed with “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”. That recording brought Matt to the attention of BBC Show Band producer John Brownell, who quickly hired him. Newspaper clippings from late 1956 and 1957, found on his official website quote Brownell as saying that “here was a voice with a touch of Mel Tormé, a touch of Sinatra phrasing. And yet it is the voice of an individual.” By this time, Matt had a wife and young son, Mitchell, to support, and told reporters that he was keeping his day job, driving the bus.. at least for the time being.
That wouldn’t last long. Within days of signing with the BBC, Matt Monro was a former bus driver, tho he would never lose the nickname of “The Singing Bus Driver”. Nor would he escape the comparisons to Frank Sinatra.
Waiting for the Big Break
Monro still hadn’t quite broken thru to the big time. He performed on Radio Luxembourg and the Winifred Atwell Show on TV. And advertisers thought his voice could help them sell soap and other products. They hired him to record more than 40 commmercials over a period of a dozen years, from Pink Camay to Listerine. Michele Monro, telling RadioFremantle.com, that the royalties from those commercials were a great help to her father.
At some point around this time, it appears that Matt’s marriage to Mitchell’s mother broke up, tho there are few if any references to be found to his first wife. She is said to be an employee of a gown shop in the newspaper clippings from 1956 and 1957 and to be somewhat overwhelmed by her husband’s success. Michele Monro tells RadioFremantle.com that her mother, Mickie, was a song plugger for the record company and met Matt when she was assigned to plug his recordings. She and Matt would have two children together, Michele, born in 1959 and Matt, Jnr. born in 1964. Mitchell, a commercial pilot, died of a heart attack in 2004.
The Beatles Connection
The man behind Matt Monro’s biggest break, was Beatles producer, George Martin. Martin was working at EMI, on a Peter Sellers album spoofing Sinatra’s Songs for Swinging Lovers. Sellers wanted a singer who could copy Sinatra’s voice and style, so that Sellers could then copy that singer. Martin wanted Monro to make the demo tape, but told him that he could not use his real name. Michele Monro tells RadioFremantle.com that her mother accepted the job, saying that Matt would be delighted. Matt was anything but. However, Mickie Monro convinced him that this might be the start of something big. It was. Sellers realized that he couldn’t improve on Monro’s version and so they included that track on the album, Songs for Swinging Sellers, but billed Monro as Fred Flange.
The Mystery of Fred Flange
The buzz over the mysterious Fred Flange gave Monro the boost he needed. George Martin signed him to EMI’s Parlophone label and Monro started cranking out the hits. First “Love Walked In” and then “Portrait of My Love” which went to number three on the charts. Matt’s first transatlantic success came with “My Kind of Girl” in 1961. And altho he would never build as large a following in the U.S. as he had in Great Britain, Billboard magazine named him Top International Act and Most Promising Male Singer in 1961.
The next few years brought more hits including “Gonna Build a Mountain”, “Softly, As I Leave You” and the title song for the James Bond film, From Russia, With Love. In 1964, Monro was chosen to represent the U.K. at the eurovision Song Contest with the tune “I Love the Little Things”. He finished second, but so impressed by the Austrian entry, “Warum Nur Warum”, that he asked his friend an manager Don Black, to write an English lyric for it. The song, “Walk Away” became Black’s first hit.
In 1965, Monro’s connection to George Martin led to his being the first artist to cover the Beatles’ “Yesterday”.
The Capitol Years
The death of Nat King Cole in 1965, had an impact on Monro’s career. Capitol Records had a void to fill and thought Matt was the singer to fill it. The new recording contract brought him to the United States and produced one hit, the Oscar-winning title song for the movie Born Free. The song, the second collaboration between John Barry and Don Black, became something of a signature song for Monro.
Matt Monro’s years in the U.S. found him playing in cabarets, nightclubs, and casinos from New York to New Orleans to Las Vegas and Honolulu. He was a frequent guest on television, appearing on The Tonight Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, the Merv Griffin Show, and the Dick Cavett Show, among many others.
Monro also made a movie in 1970, with good friend George Montgomery. Michele Monro, telling RadioFremantle.com, that Montgomery persuaded her father to take a part in the film and Monro chose a part with just one line. However, Montgomery, then rewrote the script, so that by the time Monro got to the film location in South Africa, his part was much larger. The movie, Satan’s Harvest, also starred Tippi Hedren, and it was far from a hit.
Back to England
After recording his last U.S. album, Close to You, in 1970, Matt Monro returned to England. His last hit single was “And You Smiled” in 1973, but his “Heartbreakers” LP, released in 1980, quickly went gold. Monro continued touring the world, playing nightclubs and appearing on television.
A Case of Food Poisoning?
In late 1984, Matt was performing in Australia and thought he had contracted food poisoning. When he returned home, he went to a specialist who diagnosed cancer of the liver. Monro was put on a waiting list for a liver transplant. A donor was found and doctors began the operation, only to discover that the cancer had spread. Matt died not long after.. about twelve weeks after the diagnosis. He was 55 years old.
The Legend Lives On
Thanks to the efforts of Matt’s widow Mickie, daughter Michele and son Matt, Jnr., Monro’s finding new fans around the world. The family is releasing many of his recordings and came out last year with a DVD called An Evening with Matt Monro, marking the 20th anniversary of Monro’s death. The highlight of this recording is film footage of a Matt Monro performance at the New Twenties Club in Australia in 1967. Michele and Mickie found the film canister in a garage, covered in cobwebs. Michele says she had been on the verge of throwing it out a number of times, thinking that it was a home movie. The response to the DVD was so overwhelming that it led to the production of a full biography, A Portrait of Matt Monro, featuring home movies and interviews with family members. And the family has plans to release even more recordings later this year.