I hate to start off with sad news but while I was away I found out that dad’s brilliant former musical director Kenny Clayton has left us. Gifted musician Kenny took his first piano lesson at the age of seven and within four years had passed all eight piano grades, later studying at Trinity Music College, and becoming a professional at only twenty-one accompanying artists such as Alma Cogan and Terry Dene.
Dad met Kenny while he was working with Shirley Bassey and they teamed up throughout the sixties and seventies. He scored some great arrangements for dad including the ever-popular ‘We’re Gonna Change the World’ which Kenny Everett made into a turntable hit. It wasn’t just a professional pairing as the twosome became firm friends sharing the same sense of dry humour which kept their spirits high when travelling away from home for long periods.
He released an album called ‘Kenny Clayton Plays Tribute to Petula Clark & Matt Monro in 2005 which included an eight-page booklet featuring rare pictures of Kenny with both artists.
Not only was Kenny dad’s mate, arranger and musical director but he was a great friend of the whole Monro family and I shall miss him very much and my thoughts, love and prayers go out to his family.
I already shared with you several months ago that Richard and I finally had clearance from Warners regarding our collaboration with Cherry Red but now there are further legal delays. It is utterly depressing.
As you know Richard and I are continually chasing every lead in our quest to track any of dad’s material, whether photo, music or film. We had been given a heads-up that former BBC producer Yvonne Littlewood kept an extensive scrapbook of her time in the television industry including Song for Europe and Eurovision from the year that dad took part. It took quite a while to track her down but just before going away I wrote to her about some particular telesnaps by John Cura regarding Light Entertainment programmes Yvonne had worked on. Having just returned I found a message from her telling me she had nothing on dad so that was a bitter blow, especially as the original source was sure she did have some rare photographic material.
Having had a wonderful cruising season on Celebrity this year, I’d only been home a few days when I got an offer to join Ambassador’s new Ambience on 23 October. Built in 1991, she was formerly Regal Princess and then Pacific Dawn before making her debut on the Thames on 14 April this year under her new ownership.
I drove to her home port of Tilbury to join the 1400-passenger vessel and from the outside, she was very impressive. On boarding, I have to say her 11 decks do not disappoint. She was everything I wanted in a sea home without the stuffiness. Originally set to be launched by Cruise & Maritime before they succumbed to the ‘covid curse’ and went out of business, it was great to see a lot of familiar ex-crew from the former cruise line on Ambience and they certainly made everyone feel welcome. It wasn’t just the crew that were familiar faces but there was a whole of host of passengers that I had originally enjoyed time with on Marco Polo and Magellan.
I spent a lot of my time on deck 12 and although the pool deck, I didn’t dip my toes into the water, much preferring to view the antics of those brave enough to take the plunge. Fabulously appointed with a great coffee shop next to the comfortable settees framing the deck, I happily took in the ambience (forgive the pun) and chatted with old and new friends alike.
As you know I don’t usually go into the dining room on any ship but the buffet’s food was amazing. With a huge choice that would satisfy the pickiest of eaters, there wasn’t a day when the food was anything less than wonderful and I loved the burger bar.
Captain Egil was a delight and was always a visible presence on deck, sadly something missing on other notable cruise lines. He happily chatted to guests and posed for the obligatory photographs. Cruise Director Johnny Ryley and his team were wonderful and we met at the Palladium Theatre on embarkation day to discuss the dates we were appointed. All speakers and crafters were there which was a great way to touch base with fellow workers and we each gave an introduction to what we would be doing onboard. I was delighted to see my old friends Andy & Krystyna Lamb. They have an amazing craft class where you can make handbags out of ring pulls or chocolate wrappers among other things and on certain days their numbers topped eighty and deservedly so. I have to say the speaker and crafting programmes put Ambassador far ahead of its rivals, many of whom have dispensed with these opportunities and I find that a huge loss to the cruising industry.
I could rave and rave about the offerings onboard from the lounges with talented musicians to entertain you to the theatre with brilliant cast shows and featured guest artists but suffice to say I loved the ship. An absolute bonus was the unexpected appearance of my old mate Louis Hoover, Grammy & Olivier Award nominee and the original star of the West End and USA smash hit show ‘The Rat Pack. I had just come off stage and he came bounding up to give me a huge hug. Neither of us knew the other was going to be on board and we spent a wonderful six days playing catch up and talking shop. Both of shish sows were fantastic but I preferred the first purely because he does a tribute to dad in it (nothing to do with me being on the ship). His backdrop poster for his new show ‘My Way’ has an array of iconic artists but who do you think is at the top???
I am not one for short cruises so I was really lucky to have been picked for this 32-night Mediterranean Odyssey which took in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Cyprus, Egypt and Gibraltar, always a firm favourite for duty-free lovers. As lovely as some of these ports were, I was most excited about revisiting Kusadasi and it didn’t disappoint. I haven’t been there for eight years as very few cruises take in this sort of in-depth itinerary. The weather was glorious and we berthed right in the marina, making everything within walking distance. This is a shopping mecca and to say I went berserk would be an understatement. I went on the ship with 7 pieces of luggage and came off with eleven, although in my defence, I did buy all my Christmas presents. There are two similar itineraries next year, one in April and another in October and I am hoping to join one of them, especially as the one in October includes Valetta in Malta and the sublime Santorini in Greece. It is one of the few places in the world where I don’t mind tendering as the end game is worth the effort.
Unfortunately, my publisher couldn’t supply any stock of my new book in the short turnaround time but I still had the opportunity of plugging “The Autonomous Cruiser: The Complete Guide to Cruising For and with Disabled Travellers”.
With Christmas nearly upon us don’t forget dad’s newest album Stranger in Paradise: The Lost New York Sessions if you need a stocking filler for your family or friends. It went straight to the No8 spot in the official album charts and stayed in the charts for six months. The first CD is brand new material recorded with just a five-piece band, which I have to say is now among my favourite albums. There is also a second disc with all of dad’s more familiar titles remastered of course by the fabulous Richard Moore, for any new fans of dad’s music.
Mentioning the yuletide season, I have always made sure my Christmas lights are up and lit for 1st December, dad’s birthday. He loved the holidays and always made sure the family were together for Christmas Day and so for the past 37 years my lights have dazzled out of Harrow and Telford to celebrate my dad’s special day.
Nearly two years ago I found out that a few albums available to upload were inferior in quality compared to what is available in sound today so after airing my complaints Universal gave the go-ahead. Richard mastered them within weeks, and now at last someone has finally pushed a button which has made them live.
The remastered downloads of 8 of his 9 original Capitol albums now appear on all good download and streaming sites. The last album “We’re Gonna Change The World” and three brand-new compilations together with the rest of dad’s Capitol catalogue will be made available at a later date.
Can I take this opportunity of wishing you and your loved ones and friends a fabulous holiday season and a very happy and healthy 2023 and I look forward to touching base with you all in February. In the meantime, stay safe and keep spreading the MM legacy.