Spotlight on ……
Sue Parker Interview
I first became a fan of Matt when he appeared on Lunch Box on ATV from Birmingham. It was a live show televised every weekday at lunchtime. When Matt was on I would rush home from school to watch him and record him singing on my tape-to-tape recorder, or if I had to rush back to school I’d leave my Mom with the task. There was one bus conductor on our route who was Matt’s double, and my friend who I traveled with, used to love to wind us both up … it did have its advantages as when Matt was on Lunch Box he would ask the driver to stop and wait for me, which meant I could stay until the end of the programme.
I have no idea how many times I saw Matt live but at a very quick calculation it was in the hundreds. The first time I saw him was at the television studios Birmingham when he was on Lunch Box; on Fridays they had an audience and during the school holidays my mom and I managed to get tickets. I was too shy to ask for his autograph but thrilled to seen him live. I saw him again at the studios but this time asked for his autograph and ran. I will never forget the first time my dad met Matt. It was in 1963 on the North Pier in Blackpool. Matt was there for the summer season with Morecambe and Wise. We didn’t have a car then but a local coach firm ran day trips to the illuminations, which returned at midnight - this meant we could see the show and catch the coach home. We were waiting outside the theatre at the end of the pier as Matt came along, he saw me and came over to say hello. I introduced my dad and as they shook hands my dad said, “She’s dragged me over 108 bloody miles to see you, you’d better be good” WAS I EMBARASSED!!! Glad to say my dad did think he was BLOODY GREAT and he and my mom often came with me to see him after that. At the end of 1964 we got a second hand A40 car and needless to say this made traveling around the country to see Matt a lot easier. I’d seen Matt previously in 1962 at Birmingham Town Hall with the Four Freshmen and a year later he was there again but this time with Shirley Bassey.
North Pier Blackpool 1963
This time I was forced into speaking to him. My Mom had just come out of hospital where she had been in with a lady whose husband worked for Birmingham City Council. He knew I had tickets to see Matt and rang to say he had arranged for me to go backstage at the interval to meet the singer, I was terrified but he was just super - making me feel at ease straight away. I told him about the other times I’d met him but been too shy to talk to him and he made me promise never to leave a show without saying hello … he just might have regretted that as subsequently I was always turning up when and where he least expected it - but I always received the same wonderful smile and welcome. If he was in Birmingham for a week I would try and go every night, we had some super night clubs then, The Castaways, La Dolce Vita, The Cavendish among others but the most special was seeing Matt at London’s Talk of the Town.
Talk Of The Town
In October 1984, months before he died, Mike and I saw Matt at the Barbican and the following month we caught his appearance at the Pebble Mill Studios in Birmingham. The last time was at the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton on 15th December - a time and date I will never forget. He was singing better than ever but I could see he wasn’t well and when we saw him after the show he said “don’t hug me it hurts” I can still see him waving as he drove away with Mitchell and shouting “Have a great Christmas, see you in the New Year”. I still get upset when I think back to that evening - I couldn’t believe that was the last time I would see him.
From the very first time that I saw him right through to the last, I never tired of the experience, I always got very excited and suffered from butterflies, it was fabulous. Speaking to other fans when we attended the fan club event Fans Reunited, I really felt for them as they have no idea what they missed - a lovely, kind man who just happened to have a great voice. The events are marvelous; I wouldn’t miss one for the world. Meeting other fans and talking about Matt, and I can talk about him until the cows come home, is wonderful. Michele works so hard to produce this get together and they are super. She is very passionate about her dad and his music and I am sure we will all see this when her book comes out. She also set up Friends of Matt Monro, which is the official Fan Club for the fans run by Geraldine Vine. Anyone can join and it is particularly great for anyone who doesn’t have a computer as you receive four newsletters each year giving details of all the news and what is in the pipeline. It also spotlights Matt Jnr. and talks about what he is doing and where he is appearing.
I love all the different aspects, the website is somewhere I can visit whenever I feel like it and I love Michele’s newsletter each month. I can’t think of any other site that updates everything on a monthly basis. Although I do not use the Forum as much as others I was upset when it was taken away for a few days. I strongly believe it is worth fighting for.
I can’t find words to describe Matt’s music. To me he was and will always be THE VERY BEST. People have always compared him to Frank Sinatra - which is great but Matt had a much smoother, velvet like voice. (Frank’s was harsh by comparison) He also had the most unbelievable breath control - what you heard on disc you heard live on stage.
It is impossible to pick favourite tracks - there are so many. Some were Matts own, sung only as he could while others, many of them already standards, he interpreted and made his own. It is even more difficult for me to choose just one song as so many have a special meaning or evoke such warm memories. With My Kind of Girl, Matt called me onto the stage and sang it to me at the Castaways. If I was to write a song down as my favourite within seconds I would change my mind as I would recall another time or place which would bring back memories of a different song.
I love all the albums and can’t think of anything I would have done differently – as soon as I have bought the newest release I can’t wait for the next one. The Rare Monro was amazing, I know it took five years to bring to fruition but would most definitely love a follow up. It seems that there are still some recordings that we have never heard on vinyl or CD – they could be songs Matt sang on the radio or television but never actually recorded, or what about the other songs he sang on A Song For Europe? It’s a great shame that Matt didn’t bring out a festive album as his voice was just right for most Christmas songs and he could even have included some carols - imagine him singing White Christmas, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Silent Night - Fabulous.
I love most of the movie soundtracks Matt did and some of the songs certainly added to the movies … I love On Days Like These, Wednesdays Child and From Russia with Love. In fact with the Bond movie an usherette tried to make me leave the cinema before Matt had finished singing the title song at the end of the film. She failed. Let’s face it, I probably wouldn’t even have gone to see the film if Matt hadn’t sung the theme song. And of course there is Born Free. Matt should definitely have been entitled to win the Oscar as much as Don Black and John Barry did. Without a good singer to sing the song, and Matt was that singer, the film and the song might not have been such a worldwide success.
If I had a free reign and money was no object I would definitely organize more TV advertising for Matt’s new DVDs and albums as I am sure there are many people (not necessarily fans in the way we are) who don’t realise that new releases are still being issued. It would be great for Michele to know that more people are appreciating all her hard work. I would also love more of the television programmes Matt did to be on DVD - the two I would give anything for is Matt at the Talk of the Town and This Is Your Life. I used to watch it every week in the hope that one day it would be Matt, and of course the one night I missed it, it was his. I only saw the last thirty seconds.
Considering a few years ago there was thought to be no existing material on Matt, it’s absolutely wonderful about the new release of DVDs to the catalogue. I can’t get enough of them; they bring back so many memories. I love the newest Odeon release The Ultimate Matt Monro - It has been beautifully re-mastered and enhanced - what more can you ask for? I love to hear Matt talk and laugh but that wasn’t always the case especially after he died. It took about eighteen months before I could listen to his albums without crying and when the first DVD came out I couldn’t watch it. I got so upset because I’d been there and seen his show so many times, it felt as if I was in the audience again - but I wasn’t and never would be.
I was really looking forward to the new EMI release last April, especially as one of the discs in the two-disc set was another great DVD. I especially enjoyed the interview on Saturday Night At The Mill and Matt telling the story about the week he appeared at Greasbrough Social Club in December 1967. (It was 7/6p to get in from Sunday to Friday and 8/6p on Saturday) It’s a lovely story but it has to be said this was not one of the best venues Matt appeared at and I sometimes wonder what on earth was he doing there. When I think about it now I can’t help but smile, however I was certainly not smiling on the Saturday night I went to see him because quite a few members of the audience carried on talking and laughing while Matt was singing and that really annoyed me, I just wanted to stand up and shout “shut up and listen to Matt” I think most of them just came for their Pies, Peas and Beer, they couldn’t have cared less who was singing. Having said that they clapped, cheered and whistled when he’d finished - I like to think that they’d listened to some of the performance and were not all a little carried away by the drink!
You might know that Richard Moore has contributed to all of the releases over the past few years and I speak from personal experience when I say that he has been invaluable to the treatment and is extremely clever and skilful, apart from that he is a very nice man. Those of you who were at the last Fans Reunited heard what a super job he’d done of Matt singing A Matter of Association, which he’d taken from one of my old tape recordings of Matt at Talk of The Town. Although I was at the Talk of the Town for the live performance, I taped the show when it was shown on BBC television a few weeks later.
Of all my wonderful memories over the years, the most exciting experience I had was when Matt was appearing at the Wellington Pier for the Summer in 1965 and he invited me and another fan, Christine Hampshire, to go to the house the family had rented for the season to meet Michele and Matthew. Of course there have been so many other moments but meeting the children for the first time was exceptionally special. I’ve watched them grow up over the past 40 years, which is something quite unique under the circumstances.
Watching Matthew follow his dad’s footsteps in the business has been most enjoyable. I’ve been to several of his shows and he gets better every time. His solo album If He Could See Me Now has a good choice of songs and he sings them really well. He didn’t have an easy time of it at the beginning especially as people were always expecting him to come out and sing his dad’s big hits and ballads and then compared him to his father. It was mostly the people who’d never seen Matt Monro live rather than those of us that did. I would be happy if Matthew was to do more of his own thing but still include some of his dad’s songs as a Tribute. Although he is very much his own artist, if you’ve seen him perform on stage you will know that his mannerisms are so like those of his father…and I have to smile. I love him to bits…but he will never be able to replace his dad in my eyes…sorry Matthew but you know me - and you know what I mean.
As a long-standing fan, I can’t really say what prompted this love affair. I was about 13 years old when I first saw Matt on Lunch Box but as I grew older we became “a package” as Mike, my husband, will say. We hadn’t been dating for very long when Matt came to Birmingham to appear at the Cresta Night Club for the week. Mike had no idea and while he was trying to arrange our next date I informed him I couldn’t make any night of the week as I was going to see Matt every night… The only possible exception was the Friday and I later gave in to Mike and agreed to the date. Friday came and Mike picked me up and we drove across town ending up in the Cresta car park, I couldn’t believe it…Mike said “Well I thought I had better see for myself what this bus driver has that I haven’t as you preferred to see him all this week instead of me”.
It was a great night and we not only continued dating but we were married soon after. Mike also became an admirer but not to the same extent as me but he was very good in taking me all over the country to see Matt. Although he knows I will never forgive him for not taking me to Spain in 1982 to see Matt at Tony Dali’s Night Club in Marbella especially as another fan I knew, Joan Jowett was going. I even said I would treat him as it was on the 22nd. September, the same day as Mike’s birthday. I know we couldn’t afford to go, but that’s beside the point, I wanted to go. In the November before Matt died I went to Pebble Mill to see him. I had taken the afternoon off work – no I didn’t pull a sicky, it was flexi time. Mickie was also there and after the show we sat chatting. She asked me “What does Mike think about the other man in your life?” I replied that “Mike is the other man in my life, Matt has been there a lot longer”. Matt smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
To order to see Matt perform, I have stayed in some of the most awful B&B’s in the country, even getting locked out because I’d returned too late, stayed in rooms over pubs - anywhere that had a cheap bed for the night. I’ve traveled in the pouring rain in evening dress in a motorbike sidecar and raced across London to catch the Milk/Mail train back to Birmingham. My memorabilia collection consists of all Matt’s records released in the UK and a few Spanish discs. My scrapbooks are filled with every newspaper/magazine cutting I could lay my hands on, tickets from the shows, all the programmes, the photographs I took of Matt and the family at Great Yarmouth and even the photograph that Matt signed and sent to me of him being presented to the Queen Mother at The Royal Variety Show. In those last few years he said I surely didn’t need anymore, as I must have enough to paper a wall. There are a couple of very very special things that I have…a gold bracelet Matt and Mickie sent me for my 21st birthday and a set of cut glass tumblers that they sent us as a wedding present. The tapes I recorded on my old tape recorder, which Richard has most kindly put onto compact disc for me and of course I am lucky enough to have thousands of wonderful memories of seeing and being with Matt, which I can relive at anytime and will always cherish.
Royal Variety Performance
Matt was the best ballad singer to come out of the UK - he is a legend, even Frank Sinatra said so. The fact that Capitol Records asked Matt to go to America after the death of Nat King Cole to fill the gap they’d lost in the market, said it all in my eyes…that is how highly they thought of him. The British public never appreciated Matt in the same way as they did with Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra and Andy Williams. He was so underrated here especially if you compare it to his trips to the Philippines, where he was treated almost like a god.
Michele has devoted the past few years to writing The Singer’s Singer, the book about her dad. I know she’s had to take out quite a lot of stories and information she wanted to include because of the problems and expense of publishing but I am positive it will be a great story. This is the story about her beloved dad, Matt the man, the singer and the legacy he left behind. I only hope it is advertised everywhere and we don’t have the same problem as with the albums in not finding it. I know Matt would be so proud of what both Michele and Matthew are doing - not forgetting Mickie keeping a watchful eye on everything.
In closing I have to say I have enjoyed every moment I have shared with Matt over the years, every record I have played and every memory I hold in my heart. If I had to describe Matt Monro in three words I would have to say - An Incomparable Talent.