Matt Monro is Britain's biggest selling solo male performer of all time and shares this honour with our biggest solo female performer Petula Clark. Both singers have huge international reputations and fan bases. Matt's daughter, Michele, has just published her biography on her dad's life and career and here Digger reviews this new book.
A lot of people, me included, have been looking forward to this book for a long time. Matt's daughter Michele and his family and friends (and he has many) have, over the years, been resolute and highly active in their determination to keep reminding us of what a huge talent Matt Monro was and what a great musical legacy he left us. Nobody is better qualified, or more strongly driven, to write a book about Matt's life and career than his devoted daughter Michele.
The life story of Matt Monro covers a spectrum of fashions, fads, major cultural changes and musical developments. When he started his singing career, solo balladeers such as Matt wore a sharp suit and tie and Brylcreemed their hair. Britain was emerging from a devastating war and was desperate for some light relief. The British music business was dominated by stuffy old men in suits and British music predominantly imitated the American scene or relied on American imports. When Matt came along he proved that a British singer could sing as well as the major Americans - don't take my word for it - `rivals' such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis and Tony Bennett gave him the thumbs up. What's more, Matt was singing songs, many written by British songwriters, in a very British way. Matt interpreted these songs, the melody and the lyrics, with a timing, diction and phrasing and with an ability to hit and hold any note that made this diminutive man stand head and shoulders above others. He seemed to do this effortlessly and in relaxed fashion. Here also was a true entertainer in that audiences loved him and he loved to share a joke and banter with them.
Matt had to cope with some bad luck along the way. An inauspicious start in London's poor East End. Having to compete head-on with the birth of Rock 'n Roll to establish himself and then with Beatlemania when he had achieved stardom. His career had its share of ups and downs due to changes in musical tastes. Like many others in showbusiness, Matt had to sometimes negotiate a safe path through the shady manouverings of greedy managers, promoters and agents. If homesickness is an illness then Matt had an acute form which seriously marred his career's progress in America. And ultimately Matt was to face cancer and a premature death.
But in his life and career Matt also had a lot of good luck to go with this raw talent and cheerful temperament. To be partnered with EMI's Parlophone label and genius producer/arranger/A&R man George Martin and Johnnie Spence his musical director. To have the support of people like manager and songwriter Don Black. To be blessed with a loving family and his lifelong love Mickie - the wife who knew the music business and was able to manage his business affairs. And, because Matt's personality warmed him to his contemporaries in the business as much as to admiring fans around the world, he had a lot of friends. I have yet to hear a bad word about him. Matt knew everybody there is in showbusiness and they all loved him.
To reinforce this, there is an impressive section in the book with comments from his peers. The big names and their comments bear proof to his legacy and popularity. This is not an over-sentimental book but it is emotional because it is written by Matt's daughter with contributions from many of his friends. This book is not written from Michele's perspective as such but is clearly based on an impressive amount of detailed research, fact-finding and interviewing of his contemporaries. It is rich in information, quotes, anecdotes and events and gets to the heart of the man so that you feel as if you know him - surely a good result if not the main purpose of a biography? The care and attention which has gone into this project is clear.
This book contains more than the norm of photos and these are liberally sprinkled throughout the book rather than in a block of photo pages which, although this may sound trivial, is a good format because it helps the reader to digest the information and to 'contextualise' with reference to relevant images. There are also a number of hilarious and endearing quotes from Matt himself which show just how grounded and self-effacing he was. In my experience the biggest stars are always the nicest people.
When Matt's career ended in the mid-80s, it had spanned post-war austerity, Teddy boys, Rock 'n Roll, Merseybeat, Mod, Flower Power and Psychedelia, Progressive Rock, Punk, New Wave and Electropop, not to mention a huge cultural and social revolution. Matt had prevailed. Matt had convinced us, by virtue of his unique talent, personality and his output, that he was special. It's true that we in Britain tend to undervalue, or at least take for granted, our stars and this was certainly true with Matt as much as anyone else. But at the time of his death, both with the public and with his contemporaries in the business on both sides of the Atlantic and indeed around the world, he was recognised as a truly great international star.
This book lets Matt's accomplishments and music and the comments of others speak for him. Michele has every reason to be proud of her dad and of this definitive, enjoyable, informative and reliable testament to his talent, fame, legacy and continued popularity and esteem.