18 February 1961
According to Matt Monro, his career began when, as a 15-year-old answering to the name Terry Parsons, he went to a dance hall near his home in Tufnell Park, north London. “I was dancing with this girl,” he recalled, “and singing in her ear, which I thought would do the trick, when suddenly she stopped dancing and said, ‘If you’ve got to sing, get up there and sing with the band.’ So I did and everybody seemed to enjoy it. So that was it, I made up my mind to be a singer.”
By the time February 1961 breezed in, Monro was feeling that he’d made it at last. His Parlophone recording of Portrait Of My Love, which entered the UK Top 30 late in 1960, had found its way into the Top 10, where it would stay all month. The song stemmed from an Abbey Road session masterminded by George Martin, who was convinced it would give Monro his first-ever hit. Martin had been impressed by Matt’s Sinatra-styled vocal, under the name Fred Flange, on Peter Sellers’ Songs For Swingin’ Sellers album.
On February 18, Monro, Martin and musical director Johnnie Spence assembled at Abbey Road to try to create a follow-up hit with the Leslie Bricusse-penned My Kind Of Girl. Like something plucked from a superior Sinatra-Nelson Riddle session, Monro had sung the song in Associated Rediffusion’s British Song Contest earlier that month, but in the final at the Royal Festival Hall on February 17 lost to Mike Preston’s more pop oriented Marry Me.
“Jingles are a great experience. Don’t laugh.”
Meanwhile, the media was homing in on Matt’s background. A one-time London bus driver, his previous main source of income had stemmed from jingles for Camay Soap and other unlikely commodities. Monro made no attempt to hide his less-than-glamorous past. “Jingles are a great experience,” he insisted. “Don’t laugh. You’ve really got to believe in what you’re trying to sell.” Though the exposure afforded Portrait Of My Love and his song contest appearance had at last brought him stardom, he remained true to his roots, visiting his old mates at Hornsey Bus Depot whenever he felt a bit down. “They take the mickey out of me a bit,” Matt admitted, “but they’re a grand lot.”
However, the hits brought Monro new workmates. A package tour starting at Lowestoft on February 22 found him starring alongside Bert Weedon, Ricky Valance, Dickie Pride and others, after which he was signed for future package dates and a summer season at Blackpool. Appearances in New York and Las Vegas were also pencilled in. But sometimes his past came back to haunt him.
Along the way Matt had worked for labels like Top Pop Club International, Embassy, Decca and Fontana, some- times under pseudonyms. He’d also recorded half-a-dozen demos for the BBC. The latter, deemed substandard by Matt, had been acquired by Flamingo Jazz Club owner Jeff Kruger for release on his Ember label. A legal battle followed which culminated on February 15 when Mr Justice Lawton ordered that four of the songs, two had already appeared on Ember, were not to be published.
As February drew to a close and Portrait Of My Love eventually bowed out of the charts, My Kind Of Girl moved in to replace it and, for the first time since signing with a major label in 1956, earned Monro his breakthrough in America, where the single reached the Top 20.
Michele Monro, Matt’s daughter, who spent three years documenting her father’s career for the definitive biography, The Singer’s Singer, says, “My father’s recording gave him the honour of being the first British singer to reach the American Top 20 in over three years (the last being Laurie London with He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands in April 1958). But for all its success, Dad never did receive a cent in royalties from America. However, it was testament to the song’s popularity and Matt’s performance that both Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr later recorded the track.”
Sinatra would remain a Monro fan until the very end. Shortly before Matt’s death from cancer in 1985, Frank sent him a telegram that read: “Dear Matt, sorry that you’ve been taken ill and hope you’ll soon be on the mend and up and about. I send you love and prayers, Your fellow boy singer, Frank Sinatra.”