A remarkable treasure trove of Matt Monro rarities has just been released by EMI Gold, a timely reminder of the artist’s life and career. He was sometimes known as the “Cockney Como” or the “English Sinatra,” but both descriptions fail to adequately capture the essence of the beloved singer’s unique and enduring style. Fortunately, Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro offers that singular sound in abundance as it traces the arc of his entire career, via almost entirely unheard material. We welcomed MICHELE MONRO to The Second Disc yesterday for this interview, and today we're happy to speak to Michele's collaborator, sound engineer RICHARD MOORE! Richard is co-compiler of the new compilation, and the man responsible for restoring, remixing and remastering its tracks. Click here if you missed our introduction to The Rarer Monro, or read on, to join our conversation with Richard!
Thanks for talking with us, Richard. How did your association with Michele Monro and EMI begin?
I initially offered my help to the Monro estate in about 2005. At this point Michele didn’t know much about what I could do, but in early 2006 I contacted her again - and as fate would have it, just as a cassette containing the only copy of a rare interview broke in her cassette machine. [See yesterday’s interview for the full story!] She asked if I could repair it and transfer it to CD for her. Evidently she was happy with what I did, as I have worked on every official Monro CD release since. It was Michele who brought me in contact with EMI.
I’d like to pose one question to you that I also asked Michele: what was the biggest challenge in assembling The Rarer Monro?
The biggest challenge is finding the material in the first place. I’ve lost count of the TV and radio stations and archives we’ve contacted around the globe, the hundreds of home recordings we’ve ploughed through to find one gem. It can be very frustrating too; some people are unwilling even to answer a simple enquiry, but persistence is the key!
Another big challenge is pulling all of the different sources together and making the sound fairly consistent. This album has material from 78 rpm shellac disc, vinyl disc, acetates, cassettes, ¼-inch home-recorded tapes and even an 8-track cartridge! On top of this there was material from the BBC - some of which was dubbed by them. In other cases I was sent the tapes; recordings from Mood Media [took] almost a year to be found and dubbed, as well as material from the EMI archives in every conceivable track format.
And what was the most satisfying aspect of assembling this new set?
The most satisfying aspect is being able to bring so many lost gems to the public after so long. Finding a lost tape, or a previously undocumented session is a great feeling. Being the first person to hear recordings that haven’t been heard in years is a great honour. For instance, some early stereo tapes were found hidden in a cupboard in the BBC Research and Development Department and probably hadn’t been played since the day they were recorded in 1958. In cases like this you’ve no idea what you’re going to get. Does the tape actually contain what’s written on the box? Has the tape been wiped, demagnetised or recorded over? When you finally play the tapes and what you hear is good, it’s beyond satisfying! Michele is always jealous as I always get to hear things before she does!
Thankfully, very few of the tracks required major restoration. “I Suddenly” came from a publishers’ demo on an acetate disc. In fact I had two copies; one was 78rpm, the other 45rpm. I had to restore both versions in order to find out which would be the best. The 78 was in best condition, but the frequency response was better on the 45. It became a bit of a trade off; eventually the 45 rpm disc won, but the amount of restoration required was more extensive. I pride myself on not being too heavy handed with restoration, but there are occasions where you have to scrub that little bit harder, which is what I had to do with this recording. The very last chord of this song as heard on the CD actually comes from the 78 as there was irreparable damage to the end of the song on the 45.
Another track in that required a lot of help was a recording taken from a promotional 8-track cartridge, the jingle for “Newport Cigarettes.” 8-tracks were never the greatest sounding format invented and this one that was nearly 45 years old, so [that] didn’t make matters any easier. The sound was lifeless and covered in major amounts of tape hiss. It’s still probably the worst-sounding of all the tracks, but Michele really wanted to include it.
The tracks from Matt’s Kind of Music, a long-lost radio series, also required some careful handling. I am not a great fan of digital noise reduction where tape hiss is concerned. It’s overused and unnecessary most of the time. However there are times when used carefully, it is a godsend. The tapes of this series were wiped many years ago, Thankfully Matt kept a few incomplete shows himself taped off air on to 3¾ ips half track Mono ¼ inch tape. These tapes were transferred to cassette by EMI in the mid-1980s, but for reasons unknown, the original reels were not returned and have since been lost. The amount of hiss from the FM radio interference, low speed reel tape and now cassette was excessive, so I had no choice but to use it. I find that more damage can be caused if you try and remove the hiss in one go, so I removed it using four or five gentle passes. I didn’t try to remove it completely, just [to] take it down to an acceptable level. I originally restored the recordings back in 2006, but technology has moved on so for this issue I went back to the original cassettes and retransferred them in 96k 24bit.
After the jump: Richard talks mastering, reflects on Matt's collaborators, and reveals what's next for him!
I have to say, you’ve worked wonders. Of which tracks are you most proud of your work, or of Matt's performance?
I’m my own worst critic, so it takes a while for me to appreciate some of the things I’ve worked on. But on the whole I’m very pleased with the completed set; I think it fits together very well. It was certainly fun to work on. It’s hard to pick out tracks, although I am very fond of some of the tracks I mixed for the first time. As far as Matt’s performances are concerned, it is a testament to how good he was that some of these tracks have lain unused and unloved in the archives for so long. “A Few Tender Words” is a great recording recorded in just one take and then forgotten about. I also like the early take of “Once in Every Long and Lonely While” we’ve included, which starts with Matt completely unaccompanied.
I know that your feelings about restoration and digital noise reduction will be greeted warmly by many of our readers. Another “hot topic” today is definitely mastering. How do you feel the digital/iTunes era has changed the art of mastering? Has it changed your personal style?
I don’t think the digital era has changed the art of mastering as such; after all, early CD masterings often have much more dynamic range than modern pressings, and in theory the CD should have allowed more headroom than vinyl due to the increased signal to noise ratio. In my opinion, it’s recent trends in music that have made the difference in mastering styles. A lot of chart music is heavily compressed and I think this has affected back catalogue releases although I can’t see why they need to compete. As for ‘Mastered for iTunes’ if something is mastered well, it will work well as compressed or uncompressed audio; there is no need to master it again! No, it hasn’t changed my personal style at all. I still go for a clean and clear sound with room for the music to breathe. I am not a fan of “brick wall” mastering and from the feedback I’ve had about previous releases, neither are the majority of listeners.
Again, I know a great many readers here certainly agree with you, and the quality of your work truly speaks for itself. It must also help when songs are recorded so well, to begin with! Can you describe what made the sound of the George Martin-produced, Abbey Road-recorded tracks so unique?
It’s a combination of things. It’s not just a great-sounding studio, but who George chose to work with. Stuart Eltham was one of his favourite engineers for recording orchestras - most of the time, they recorded direct to stereo and the mixes were always perfect - and Johnnie Spence was one of the best arrangers the UK ever produced, so the three of them were a dream team.
Johnnie’s work is so often underrated! His arrangements were just masterful, whether for Matt, Tom Jones, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Shirley Bassey, or any of the other artists with whom he worked. I’m thrilled to see him getting his due from both you and Michele.
Lastly, Richard: Down the road, what projects might we expect from you?
Late last year, I worked on a set by Shirley Bassey for EMI which has been caught up in all sorts of legal delays, so I’m hoping that will be coming out soon.
My fingers are certainly crossed!
I’ve also been working with Buddy Greco on an album with the prospect of some more in the future, and a few other projects I can’t currently talk about! I also author DVDs and a series of eight CD/DVD sets I worked on called Sight and Sound are being issued by EMI Gold at the end of this month. [Artists in the series include Duran Duran, Culture Club, Marillion, Thunder, UB40, The Human League, The Stranglers and Hot Chocolate.]
Thanks again, Richard. Best of luck with Buddy as well as everything else the future will bring. This has been a tremendous pleasure and we hope to speak with you again soon!