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Matt Monro: Once Upon A Singing Bus Driver

Matt Monro: Once upon a singing bus driver

If one has to collect Matt Monro, Engelbert Humperdinck and Tom Jones' songs like the way record labels released them in cassette tapes with the cover “The Best Ballads” back in the early 80's it would easily pass out that those songs were delivered by the same singer (if you should disagree then you just have to pretend that you came from a country where English isn't the spoken language). Playing the songs simultaneously before an unsuspecting audience who gives little consideration to the artists singing them does make negligible difference except for the fans who could pick up each song by its singers meticulously. Indeed those three singers may have nearly similar voice but each have their own distinctive style of delivery and their very own music to be proud of.

Born Terry Parsons 1st of December 1930 in Shoreditch, London the man who would later own up to the voice that would be popularly known as Matt Monro was 6 years older than Arnold George Dorsey (Humperdinck) and a decade ahead of Thomas Jones Woodward (Tom Jones) before this world. His exposure to the musical scene in the late 50's also came ahead of the two followed by Tom Jones who gained popularity a few years ahead of Engelbert Humperdinck. The start of his singing exposure was thought to be influenced by frequent friend's requests for him to sing songs in pubs which later earned popularity but didn't gained further than that. Entering the British Army assigned with the Royal Engineers led him on posts abroad and it was in Hongkong where he found extra source of income singing at local talent shows which he mostly won and later earning him his very own radio show.

Returning to UK after being discharged from the army proved to be a tough time for Terry added by his marriage with a child to support. His one time specialty with the army driving tanks however made a difference giving him the option to drive lorries at day and back to singing by performing for an orchestra by night. The long hours driving on the road and part time job at night wasn't entirely helpful that ended Terry's first marriage. The move to transfer to a slightly different line of driving brought Terry driving buses for London Transport which had such a big impact to his singing career later earning him the title “The Singing Bus Driver”. It was with the bus driving where he give a few music samples to friends to listen to which somehow found its way to pianist Winifred Atwell's hands. Atwell was so impressed by his music that she recommended him for audition at her recording label which earned a contract signing with Decca Records. Atwell also figured out his screen name “Matt Monro” partly from Australian journalist Matt White who was the first to feature him on his column and Monro Atwell, after Winifred Atwell's father. The new stage name proved a perfect fit for Terry's new music career (aside from the fact the he used two stage names as Terry Fitzgerald and Al Jordan previously) paving way to his first album with Decca but sales didn't proved much thus he moved to singing jingles for TV commercials then found a way teaming up with the George Martin.

His music finally caught up to make it through the charts in the UK and the US in the early 60's (My Kind of Girl, Softly As I Leave You, Why Not Now) and of course brought by his delivery of James Bond film's first movie theme “From Russia With Love” added to his popularity. Moving to the US in 1965 must be a factor that contributed much to the health and career of Matt Monro since being an in demand nightclub performer, there must be much pressure in his lifestyle as it would later show (being a chain smoker and heavy drinker) as demanded by after stage engagements mingling with fans. He was later diagnosed with cancer of the liver, the disease had progressed to the extent that an organ transplant would be useless. Despite that his singing seemed unaffected during his final days when he returned to the UK, Matt continued performing but in terrible pain. It was in a newly inaugurated Barbican Centre in London that Matt Monro made his last performance. He passed away on 7th February 1985 at Cromwell Hospital in London at the age of 54.

A Few Famous Matt Monro Songs:

From Russia With Love (1964) – became the first singer to deliver the theme song for a James Bond film

Softly as I Leave You (1963) – made it to the no. 10 on UK charts.

Walk Away (1964) – took no. 4 at UK charts and no. 23 in the US was actually inspired by an Austrian song Matt heard while he joined 1964's Eurovision Song Contest where he finished second.

Yesterday (1965) – he was the first to cover The Beatles song which also earned a hit for himself getting at no. 8 at UK charts.

Born Free (1966) – became the Oscar winning song for the film of the same title

On Days Like These (1969) – theme from the 1969 film “The Italian Job”.


Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, pp 873

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Comments (13)

This just shows that to be known in your line of endeavor, you must show it off and do it with passion.

Ranked #2 in Celebrities

Thanks for the reaction, Patrick. It was only with Matt where success came a bit too hard since it took him awhile singing before finally getting noticed. Sometimes talent may run out of luck and I agree with your opinion that it is where one's passion to the craft does make a difference in the end.

You have made this such an interesting article.

Beautiful write-up Will.

Well, you found one I know almost nothing about! Engelbert and Tom Jones were enormous pop-stars here, but not him . . .

hmm, familiar with the music, but not the name.

Ranked #2 in Celebrities

Thanks for the reactions Rob, Ron,James and Brenda. I understand print and broadcast media are nothing compared to the internet during those days so Matt Monro's popularity didn't stayed long enough. However so his achievement as a singer is still worth some consideration.

This shows your patience of writing. Keep balls rolling in!

My father and I love this guy and his music..

I remember Matt Monro well -- first on the Ed Sullivan Show and then on Hollywood Palace...I think it was on Hollywood Palace.

Thanks for sharing.

Great title and interesting discussion.

Great information about legendary crooner Matt Monro.