Interview with ……
What is your official job title and what does it entail?
Well I suppose it depends what hat I happen to have on at the time. I have three main titles, Sound Engineer, Audio Restoration Engineer and Mastering Engineer. My main role for the Monro estate is that of Audio Restoration Engineer, cleaning as much hiss crackle and pop from rare recordings as possible without harming the original sound and make them fit for public consumption. Some of my other skills have been called upon at times too. For instance I mastered Matt Jnr’s recent album along with several Matt Snr releases in the last 12 months and as a sound engineer I recently mixed a number of recordings by Matt Snr’s that had lain undisturbed in multitrack form only in the EMI and Capitol vaults for 40 years.
Saying that I get called upon to do all sorts by Michele, I’ve edited and authored DVD’s, researched recording sessions, tracked down lost recordings, TV & radio shows, written articles for the website and reviewed albums to name just a few things.
When did you first become a fan of the late Matt Monro?
It was in the early 1980’s, my mother had a copy of ‘Heartbreakers’ given to her for a birthday present (I may have even bought it for her myself – I can’t remember). I had never heard of this Matt Monro bloke before, but spotting the name George Martin on
the sleeve, as a Beatle maniac, I thought it must be worth a listen. I wasn’t disappointed and finding out the Peter Sellers connection too (another one of my addictions of the time) I was hooked.
How did you originally connect with Michele?
I sent her an e-mail actually.
I’ve been a sound engineer for quite a number of years and worked both in the studio and ‘live’ with all sorts of different people, including a five year stint at Blackpool Winter Gardens where I even worked on Party Conferences! However for quite a long time my obsession within my chosen profession has been Audio Restoration. So how do you get work in that particular field? Quite simple, keep annoying people until someone finally gives you a try! Through this technique I worked with Leon Berger and the Estates of Michael Flanders and Donald Swann for a while working on cleaning up rare recordings for private use and I then fell across Michele’s website whilst browsing the net. She had just issued the “Christmas Magic” CD single and I thought, ‘I wonder if she had any other recordings she wants cleaning up?’
I understand that you offered your services – why and what was your first project with the Monro Estate?
Yes, why not! It was the old foot in the door technique.
Having sent the e-mail Michele was very polite and thanked me and said she did have some more things and would keep me in mind. Now I’ve never been a pushy person (which may or not be a bad thing) but a month or so later I wrote again, just on the off chance. My e-mail arrived just at the right time. Michele had been getting some cassettes transferred to CD by a friend when two of them snapped. Horrified she asked if I could repair them, transfer them and clean them up. This was exactly what I did. This led to transferring and restoring eleven tracks for the Rare Monro.
How would you describe the music of Matt Monro?
Other than perfection? I don’t know. That’s a tough one. People compare him with Sinatra, although this isn’t something I agree with at all. They don’t sound much alike to me, and their styles are wildly different. Matt had the greatest voice of any of his contemporaries; he had a wonderful natural talent and made even the most complicated song sound easy. It’s been said that some singers could sing the telephone directory and it would sound good. With Matt he could have sung it backwards in Chinese and it would still have been glorious.
What is your favourite song?
‘If I Never Sing Another Song’ is probably my favourite. That striking Colin Keys arrangement that harks back to the Johnnie Spence days and a vocal that is so heartfelt. I remember David Jacobs playing it on the radio just after Matt died; it had quite an effect on me.
And your least favourite?
There are a few in the later years that don’t thrill me very much. Some of the Don Black songs from this era are not exactly enthralling. But top (or should it be bottom) of the list is ‘Why Can’t I Touch You’, which perhaps should have been titled ‘Why Did I Record You.’
Looking at some of the past albums – is there something you would have done differently?
I have a particular fondness for all the Parlophone and Capitol albums, but after Matt stopped working with George Martin in 1972 the quality of the releases dropped. ‘The Other Side Of The Stars’ suffers from some bad production and the CD issue is transferred from really ropey vinyl, which is unforgivable considering that the master tapes are sitting in the EMI vaults. ‘The Long and Winding Road’ has some appalling songs on it and the ‘If I Never Sing Another Song’ album has some of the worst arrangements of Matt’s entire career.
I understand you didn’t meet with Michele for at least the first year – was she how you had imagined her?
Michele is demanding, awkward, shouts at me constantly and takes all the credit for everything I do for herself! (I know she’s reading this so I thought I’d wind her up a bit)
To be honest I didn’t know what to expect. I find it very hard to make decisions about people over the phone. (On the other hand I do know Michele had very definite ideas about what I would look like – I can still see the look of disappointment on her face when this fat balding bloke wandered down her driveway!) We had spoken an awful lot on the phone and I only met her in the flesh at the first Fans Reunited just after ‘The Rare Monro’ was issued. She’s quite a powerhouse and doesn’t suffer fools gladly but is kind and generous and I am honoured to call her my friend.
You attended the first ‘Fans Reunited’, a gathering for fans of the late singer, how did that go?
Once again I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d been to a couple of other fan club things in the past and a lot of the people I’d met were anoraks and fairly dull, so I did wonder what Monro fans were going to be like! I was quite relieved to find that the opposite was the case. Perhaps this is because the Monro family as a whole are such down to earth, kind and generous people – I think it brings out the best in others. On the whole I think it was enjoyed by all. Little did I know that I would be so heavily involved in its follow up a year later.
www.mattmonro.com has won several awards since it was launched and recently the Forum was taken off air – do you think it is an important aspect of the site and worth fighting for?
Not half! The Forum is extremely important not only to keep fans together, but keep them informed at short notice about things. The fans that come to the site are like a big family, and it’s great to get feedback from them too about projects you’ve worked on, or even ask their opinions about projects you are currently working on.
Since working with Michele, what project has given you the most satisfaction?
Now that is a hard one. There are so many things I’ve done, many of which are yet to see the light of day as we have to work quite a way in advance. The recent ‘Live In Australia’ was a labour of love. A fantastic performance but a real nightmare technically, it took hundreds of hours to perfect. Perhaps I should explain. The original tape for this concert was a cassette recorded directly from the mixing desk. The problem with this was that whilst the balance of the musicians would be fine in a live venue, it doesn’t always transfer itself to tape very well and of course there were no direct microphones on the audience so Matt would tell a joke and you’d hear the laugh very faintly in the background. So I had to use a lot of technical jigerypokery to correct as much of the musical balance as possible and pull the audience noise forward. Whilst perhaps not quite as good as a professional recording I have been delighted by the response from fans.
Outside the recent releases, I restored some acetates for Michele earlier this year including the earliest recording by Matt to survive. These acetates had previously been transferred by a supposedly top quality London studio recommended to her by EMI. Some of their transfers were unlistenable – including this early disc. So, on my last visit to Michele in May I re-transferred a large number of these acetates. It gave me an enormous amount of satisfaction to actually make the recording listenable. I plan to transfer everything else the next time we meet.
Of the still to be released material, the most fun I had was mixing unreleased 4, 8 and 24 track tapes to Stereo. It may sound dull to most people, but taking a recording in all its component parts and creating a finished master from a tape that hasn’t been played in 40 years is quite a thrill. To be able to hear Matt’s voice on its own, removed from the backing is a privilege.
The ‘Rare Monro’ was five years in the making – do you think it was a valuable addition to the catalogue?
Valuable, no! Priceless yes! Back in halcyon days of recording they often recorded much more than they intended to release and would cherry pick the best material. Saying that the material they rejected was often just as good as that which they released. The ‘Rare Monro’ was an opportunity to bring the best of these recordings out for the first time along with rarities, B sides, acetates and Live recordings. Recent research has uncovered even more material perhaps for a second volume at some point.
Michele has spent the years since her father’s death trying to unearth hidden treasures - what have you been responsible for?
Oh boy where do I start, Michele has done a brilliant job over the years but I suppose I brought a fresh pair of eyes to the problem. Some of the finds have been down to me, but mostly it’s through getting our heads together and bouncing ideas off each other
Let’s see. Off the top of my head:
A Camay Advert – none were previously known to exist. The copy I have found is low quality from a VHS tape, but at least it means there is a decent print out there somewhere and I haven’t stopped looking yet!
Newport Cigarettes Jingles. I came across this purely by luck on an old 4 track cartridge tape full of 40 minutes of light orchestral music and a few Newport jingles. I really held no hope that Matt would be on it. I nearly fell off my chair when I heard it and not just one jingle but two!
Steve Race/BBC Broadcast “Music About Town”. This was collaboration between Michele and me in deerstalker and magnifying glass mode. We knew that one song from this series existed. “In Time” was rebroadcast in the early 90’s and had been circulating fans. I was sent a copy to see if I could improve the quality. It was back announced on the tape and I immediately recognised the voice of Steve Race. Phone calls were made to the BBC who said they didn’t have it; perhaps it belonged to Steve Race himself? But the BBC also said he had died. I looked around for an obituary somewhere but found nothing. Every reference I could find sounded like he was very much alive. After some detective work I was able to find his address and telephone number. Michele called and was delighted to find that one edition of the programme (the last) was recorded especially for Mr Race and apart from a few drop outs survived in pristine quality.
Various TV programmes. When I start researching something I’m like a dog with a bone, I have to keep going. I have now been able to find out EVERY TV programme featuring Matt that survives in official UK archives (and many overseas as well) including many programmes thought long gone – just a matter of knowing where to look. For instance, I’ve pointed Michele in the direction of The Ed Sullivan Shows owners, and found that ‘This Is Tom Jones’ wasn’t missing after all, but owned by Tom himself. After annoying the hell out of Granada International I finally got an answer about many of the shows Matt made for ATV do in fact survive including a show with Liberace and a Dave King show with Matt as a guest from 1961.
I recently found a Concert by Billy May featuring Matt from the early 80’s sitting in the National Sound Archive. The BBC no longer had a copy but thanks to the estate of Alan Dell a ¼ inch tape copy of the master was kept by the great broadcaster himself. I found the second half a year or so ago, but was only able to twist the NSA’s arm to look for the first half a few months ago.
The BBC Transcription Library. It’s taken a while but thanks to EMI’s new deal with the BBC I’ve finally been able to ascertain that all of Matt’s recordings issued by the BBC transcription service survive.
More unreleased EMI material. Whilst researching Matt’s recording sessions I came across a number of previously unknown recordings by Matt as well as finding Master tapes long thought lost. There is too much here to go into in detail, but the sort of research I carried out EMI seem reluctant to do themselves (I did the same for the Flanders and Swann estates a few years back). This is a shame as I’m sure there are lots of hidden treasures by other artists sitting in their vaults.
Matt Jnr recently brought out a new solo album – If you had worked on it how would you have handled the project and what differences would we have seen?
I have to be careful here. I don’t want any of my comments to come over as sour grapes as that could not be further from the truth. As a whole I quite like the album, although there are a couple of tracks I wouldn’t have included. I’ve gone on record before on saying that I prefer Matt Jnr singing songs not associated with his father, particularly on record. Matt Snr’s versions are so strong I think it’s hard for Matt Jnr to follow in his footsteps. However I think the vast majority of the songs are good choices. What else would I have changed? The Brass Mix, it cut through too much in places – I tried to temper this a little at the mastering stage but it really needs a new mix. I would also have given Matt a little more time on the vocals. His producer seems to have rushed him through the vocals in a couple of takes rather than spending time getting the best performance on some songs.
Have you had a chance to watch one of Matt Jnr’s shows and what did you think?
I always enjoy Matt Jnr’s shows, He’s not his father and it would be unfair to compare them. He doesn’t sound an enormous amount like his dad, which he freely admits, but then who does? Nobody I know in the business today! But he is very hard working on stage and quite a showman and with Colin Keyes at his side how can he go wrong. One thing I have noticed over the past couple of years is how his voice is improving. I think if you go to the show wanting to be entertained you’re in for a treat!
I understand you have helped enormously in the forthcoming book on the life of Matt Monro, is this something you particularly wanted to do?
No! Michele forced me into it at gun point!
Actually, yes it was something I wanted to do, but my role in the book is not all that large. My main input is a complete annotated session listing of all known Matt Monro recordings, as well as some unbiased reviews of all of his albums. It’s hardly 10% of Michele’s efforts. I suppose you could also say I’ve acted as a bit of a technical consultant and research assistant from time to time.
Message from Michele – I will interject at this point and say that Richard Moore is far too unassuming. He says his main input is the annotated session listings and shrugs it off as a ten-minute project – this probably took Richard nearly two years of intense research and incredibly hard work. It was a labour of love and being a perfectionist he is dogged in his determination to see every lead followed through to the nth degree. I am very proud of the finished book but it would not be nearly as polished and precise without Richard’s help not just in the session listings but as technical consultant, research assistant, confidante, and friend. He is my rock.
Why the Session listing in particular?
A couple of years ago I spoke to Michele about putting together a complete session listing which she thought was a great idea – but she had no idea if it was possible. It’s taken two years to piece it all together and I’m still occasionally getting information though. I’ve searched through all of EMI’s paperwork, annoyed the archivist at Universal until they found all the existing paperwork from Matt’s Fontana sessions (if only to get rid of me), plundered both EMI & Capitol’s tape archives, sent Michele diving (literally) into cupboards to find diaries and acetates (I think she’s just about forgiven me), plagued musicians unions, sound archives, the BBC, Old uncle Tom Cobley and all! I have left no stone unturned. It’s never been done before for Matt, and I’m darn sure it will never get done again!
Matt Monro never brought out a Christmas album although he did record ‘Mary’s Boy Child’, ‘When a Child is Born’ and the recently discovered ‘Christmas Magic’, do you think Matt lends himself well to this sort of music and are you surprised he never brought out a seasonal album?
As I’ve said before, Matt could sing the telephone directory and it would sound good (he may have even been able to sing the instructions for a piece of MFI flat pack furniture and make it sound like they made sense!) I think Christmas songs were a perfect thing for Matt to sing and considering the number of themed albums he recorded, it’s really is surprising that a Christmas one was never made. I’d have loved one from the Parlophone or Capitol eras. Imagine Matt singing Christmas songs arranged by Johnnie Spence, Sid Feller or Billy May!
It’s a pity the arrangements for ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ and ‘When a Child is Born’ are so bad, a sort of hybrid disco reggae! I’m sure they sounded fine in 1978 but they haven’t aged very well.
What are your hopes and ambitions for the future?
Other than winning the lottery you mean? What I’d like to get is some decent recognition from people within the record companies – and therefore a bit more work!
I have had some very good responses to my restoration work from the public, but never hear anything from those in the business, which is quite frustrating. I’m quite a self effacing guy, I don’t push myself on people (which perhaps is part of my problem) but you’d have thought that the restoration work (particularly that on ‘Matt Sings Nelson Swings’ ‘Yesterday – The Legendary Manila Concert’ and ‘Live In Australia’) might have been noticed!
Perhaps the other thing I’d like to do is put together some more interesting releases. I’ve found from looking into Matt’s recording history that there is some interesting stuff to be found hidden away in archives that is never even noticed because nobody is interested in digging deep enough!
Without going in to a diatribe, I often feel that certain record companies don’t give the general public enough credit. After all there are only so many times you can buy the hits. Just look at the sales of Rare Monro, I’m sure similar sets could be put together for other artists too.
But besides being happy and healthy, I’d like to keep working with Michele and her family to bring you some more fabulous recordings by Matt Monro
Dame Shirley Bassey
Missing Matt 2
Sammy Davis Jr.