If Matt Monro were starting out today he would probably come second on The X Factor.
Second? Well, the runner-up generally comes out of the recording studios quicker – whilst viewers of the “ever popular” talent contest can still remember their name (if not their face, or vice versa, but rarely both at the same time).
He ticked all the boxes with a back story way ahead of its time – he’d had a rough childhood, he looked like the bloke next door, he was headlined as “the singing bus driver” for a stint behind the wheel earning a much needed crust before he became famous (he’d also been a tank driver instructor whilst doing his National Service but somehow that wasn’t quite as eye catching.) and, more importantly had a voice as distinctive as Frank Sinatra’s.
Singing Bus Driver
Fame certainly wasn’t instant. Born in Shoreditch as Terence Edward Parsons on December 1, 1930, after more downs than ups it wasn’t until two weeks after his 30th birthday that he scored his first hit (and peaking at number three, his highest chart entry) with the still radio playable Portrait of My Love.
It set the stall for him being dubbed “The Man with the Golden Voice,” which was better than his earlier nicknames “The Cockney Sinatra” and the hard to shake off “Singing Bus Driver” (a problem shared with the not quite as talented “Singing Postman”).
Written by UK pop, stage musical and big band stalwarts Norman Newell (on this occasion for some reason going under the occasional pen name of David West) and Cyril Ornadel, Portrait of My Love was a gift wrapped song for any crooner worth his salt even if it does bends the rules of rhyme with couplings such as “anyone who sees her, soon forgets the Mona Lisa” and “it would take I know, a Michaelangelo” before launching into the pure pop poetry of “and he would need the glow of dawn that paints the sky above to try and paint a portrait of my love.”
Ivor Novello Award
No wonder that a year after Monro’s hit version, American singer Steve Lawrence dusted it down into an international hit and spent 16 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at number nine while reaching the top in the Philippines, number seven in Australia and number nine in Canada. In 1962, Lawrence was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for his rendition of the song but by then Newell (under his real name!) and Ornadel, had won the British Songwriters Guild’s Ivor Novello Award for “Outstanding Song of 1960.” In 1999, the song was honoured at the BMI Awards in London for having achieved two million radio plays.
Monro managed some sort of American revenge achieving fame there with My Kind of Girl (1961) and Walk Away (1964) hitting the Top 40.
Yet still he ended up being described by AllMusic as “one of the most underrated pop vocalists of the ’60s” who “possessed the easiest, most perfect baritone in the business.” It was never better served than when vocally painting a portrait of his love.
|Norman Newall & Cyril Ornadel