SMART SOUNDS by Colin Bell reviewing Matt Monro: The Complete EMI Recordings 1971-1984, 4CD

MATT MONRO   The Complete EMI Recordings 1971-1984  (4CD SET)
It’s going to be impossible for me to get through this review without experiencing a great deal of remembered early emotions. I could have sung ‘Portrait of My Love’ or ‘Softly As I Leave You’ to you when i was aged 8 or 9. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you who recorded the songs. They came to me through my Dad an inveterate whistler & singer at work and around the house, i would listen to him and sing along, he loved Matt and all these years later so do I. This new 4 CD set from Strawberry Records is several hours of blissful recordings from what could be said to be the ‘second coming’ of Matt. As the title says this is his complete output for EMI spanning 1971-1984, which takes the listener up to shortly before Matt’s untimely death in February 1985 aged just 54. There are 4 separate albums, 15 singles, out-takes, rarities, previously unreleased live recordings and alternate mixes. Whenever i see the words ‘new mix’ attached to songs i know from any artist, it often fills me with dread as to what some engineer has done. Here however there is not cause for alarm but indeed for rejoicing as what we have are the finished mixes taken from the original masters as opposed to the ‘rough’ mixes that have been previously issued. Such as with Matt’s second album released on EMI’s Columbia imprint ‘The Other Side of the Stars’ which had sat on a shelf for 2 years before given an inferior release. On that release and other albums like ‘For the Present’ even vinyl dubs had been used previously. Now with this exhaustive new issue the full extent and power of the recordings can be heard as they should be. Matt had originally started his recording career at Decca & Fontana in the mid to late 50’s with little success. It really started for him when he was paired with the great Sir George Martin at EMI in 1959 and they would go on together to produce Matt’s biggest hits like the ones i referred to above. After a highly successful period of record success, international tours and worldwide acclaim, collecting accolades from the likes of Frank Sinatra who described him as ‘the best singer in the world’ in 1966 EMI transferred Matt from their Parlophone label to Capitol Records which necessitated a move to the USA, given that he was by then an international star it would seem a logical move. However the next 4 years up until 1970 were largely filled with frustration for Matt who became increasingly disenchanted, if not angry at his treatment by Capitol, who it has to be said were more concerned with the bottom line rather than allowing him the time he had previously enjoyed to make quality recordings as he had done back in the UK with Sir George. I was astonished to read in the accompanying booklet to this set, how Capitol would send Matt across town to record at another studio whilst they ‘re-mixed’ or ‘overdubbed’ recordings he had made without any regard for how Matt felt. It seemed like a deliberate act to keep him out of the way.. The situation couldn’t go on and by June 1970 Matt had had enough, recorded his last work for Capitol and returned to the UK and back into the arms of EMI & Sir George where he remained for the rest of his career. In 1971 he returned to the studio with Sir George at the helm, however by then Martin was increasingly busier with the independent and highly successful Air Studio’s he had created in Oxford Street & ultimately producing duties would pass to Martin’s close friend and partner in Air Studio’s, John Burgess, a guy i had the pleasure of meeting around 1973 who showed me around the studios. It was at Air in 1972 that a charming occasion took place whilst Matt was recording a cover of The Beatles ‘Michelle’. Normally whilst at work Matt did not encourage family to be in the studio. However, on this occasion his daughter Michele was invited to her puzzlement to be in the control room. Matt was finishing up recording his take on The Bee Gee’s ‘First of May’ (see YT clip at the end of review). With Sir George conducting the orchestra Matt beckoned Michele into the studio and with Sir George counting in the orchestra sang his version of ‘Michelle’ to her live whilst holding her hand. That must have been a wonderful moment. Like many artists songs Matt covered, he could take them and with that unique way of phrasing he had make them his own, as he did with ‘Michelle’ & the aforementioned ‘First of May’ which i actually prefer to the original. Throughout the 90 + tracks spread across the 4 CD’s there are some other cracking covers such as ‘What A Wonderful World’ ‘Over The Rainbow’ ‘I Can’t Stop Lovin You’ to name but 3, sitting amongst a wealth of original songs, and how nostalgic to hear Matt singing ‘let the train take the strain’ reminding you of much loved commercials from years past. For those seeking a full tracklist go over to Strawberry Records page on Cherry Red Records website. I simply don’t have the space to list them all here. But i can say without hesitation there is not a duff track in sight. I admit i could live without the inclusion of foreign language versions of a few songs, but that applies to any artist I’m listening to, it’s not just confined to Matt. When it comes right down to it, every superlative adjective in the dictionary has been used when discussing his wonderful voice over the years. I have no new ones to add. Was he the best ‘crooner’ this country ever produced? As far as this writer is concerned the answer is a resounding yes. One listen to this handsome new compilation will I’ve no doubt convince you of the same. The compilation itself, is beautifully presented as a fold out 5 piece, complete with some excellent colour photos and a very interesting booklet featuring reproductions of album sleeves along with a full account of the period covered. Congratulations Strawberry Records on a truly splendid release. Enjoy.
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Til next time…..stay safe…..Colin


Alan Esdaile… What a Voice! Wonderful.

Pete Prescott… One of the very best for me. After Beatles Day I would spend time listening to Matt Monro albums. Wonderful singer. His pronouncement of the name “Michelle” was the only thing he ever did that annoyed me. That’s just me. A “singers singer!”

Sue Skilling… He had a wonderful voice

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