We’ve written often here in the past about the splendid restoration work of Richard Moore on projects for vocalist Matt Monro and composer Roy Budd, among others. Now, we’re happy to spread the word that Moore has launched a new label. U.K.-based Mint Audio Records has kicked off with three releases (and counting!) from a trio of bona fide music legends: Rosemary Clooney, Jim Reeves, and Matt Monro. All three of these titles premiere never-before-released music, and we’ll be taking an in-depth look at each – including today’s spotlight on Monro’s Operation Santa Claus: Live in Hong Kong 1962.
When Craftsman Terry Parsons returned to Hong Kong in 1962, it had been roughly a decade since he had been stationed there with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. During his three years in Hong Kong, Parsons had blossomed as a vocalist and entertainer, gaining popularity for his performances in battalion and local talent shows. Upon Parsons’ return, his name was now Matt Monro, and it was a name known to a far greater audience. Thanks to hit singles like 1960’s “Portrait of My Love” and the following year’s “My Kind of Girl,” the nonpareil vocalist was able to return to his old military stomping ground as a headliner for Operation Santa Claus, a three-day charity concert to benefit underprivileged children. Mint Audio’s first of hopefully many collaborations with the Matt Monro Estate premieres his never-before-released Hong Kong concert of December 21, 1962, adding an interview taped three days earlier in Hong Kong as well as two ultra-rare bonus tracks recorded in 1960/1961 for the BBC’s Light Programme.
For his 10-song set at Hong Kong City Hall, the lean, jazz-flavored arrangements were provided by Giancarlo and His Band. Monro tackled both ballads and uptempo tunes, blending standards, his own hit records, a recent Broadway showstopper and a bringing-down-the-house Dixieland finale. If there was any doubt as to Monro’s affection and nostalgic fondness for the Hong Kong fans and friends, those doubts would be dispelled by the opening “All of You.” Mutual goodwill between performer and audience permeates this recording.
On the Vincent Youmans standard “Without a Song,” Monro brings both his expected crisp enunciation and crystalline tones as well as an effortless, perennially cool sense of swing also displayed on the loose, spirited “(Won’t You Come Home) Bill Bailey.” Simple joy radiates through his reading of Leslie Bricusse’s “My Kind of Girl.” Another Bricusse song is one of the highlights here. Monro had a hit in 1961 with “Gonna Build a Mountain” from the Bricusse/Anthony Newley score to the musical Stop the World – I Want to Get Off, but based on the evidence here, he would have fared just as well had he released the musical’s dramatic anthem, “What Kind of Fool Am I.” Equally beautiful is a tender, slow performance of “Portrait of My Love” on which he’s primarily accompanied by piano. It makes for a welcome alternative take to his familiar recording.
Monro draws the afternoon’s concert to a close with “What Now My Love” in its martial arrangement, before bringing on his old friend Pete O’Neal’s Dixieland Jazz Band and Miss Mona Fong to perform an encore. The rousing “When the Saints Go Marching In,” complete with O’Neal’s “hot” trumpet and Dixieland piano and drum solos, brings the curtain down on a vivid, high note.
Restoration/remastering engineer Moore has worked his usual sonic wizardry on this concert which was broadcast in Hong Kong but not archived. The liner notes helpfully let us know that it has been restored from a surviving cassette; it sounds altogether terrific. The bonus tracks add to the enjoyment of the program, as well. Monro is genial and candid in an interview with Ted Thomas, and it’s illuminating to hear him reflect on his art and his influences. He cites Perry Como as an early influence, and indeed, both gentlemen shared a gift for emotionally honest communication in song and a certain laid-back, or nonchalant, quality. The interview is interspersed with six of his then-recent recordings, as originally broadcast. These complete tracks include a pair by Irving Berlin (“Cheek to Cheek” and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”), the Doris Day-introduced “My Love and Devotion,” and a trio of songs from his wonderful Hoagy Carmichael LP (reissued in 2011 under Moore and Michele Monro’s aegis).
Two more bonuses complete the 24-track package. Tony Hatch (“Downtown,” “Call Me”) penned Britain’s 1964 Eurovision entry, “I Love the Little Things,” which Matt performed; here, Monro is heard tackling Hatch’s first hit, “Look for a Star” in a lush ballad rendition on a BBC Light Programme recording from 1960/61. The other bonus is a 1961 performance of Mark Lawrence’s “Christmas Magic,” a rare seasonal treat as Monro didn’t record nearly as many holiday-themed songs as many of his contemporaries. The sound quality of these two bonus tracks is much rougher than that of the main program, but still eminently listenable and wholly enjoyable. Operation Santa Claus includes a booklet with Michele Monro’s informative essay about her father’s military days as well as Moore’s technical notes. Rare photos are also featured.
Richard Moore and Michele Monro have given fans yet another wonderful addition to the Matt Monro discography with this release. Mint Audio Records promises a quick follow-up with a reissue of the album originally titled Matt Monro Live in Australia as released on EMI. The Mint Audio edition, Matt Monro Live in Australia: Twin Towns 1984, will add two exclusive bonus tracks recorded in Australia in 1981.
Operation Santa Claus: Live in Hong Kong 1962 is an absorbing tribute to an artist who left us far too soon with his passing in 1985 at just 54 years of age. It can be ordered directly from Mint Audio, and you can of course, find out all about the label at its website. The disc is also available from Amazon U.K., and you’ll find that link below, as well!
One more note for Monro fans: you might want to check out Around the World, a new DVD containing footage of Matt from television appearances made or originally broadcast in the U.K., U.S., Australia and Germany from 1968 to 1984! It’s available now at Amazon U.K.!
- All of You
- Without a Song
- Portrait of My Love
- My Kind of Girl
- What Kind of Fool Am I
- My Love and Devotion
- (Won’t You Come Home) Bill Bailey
- I Guess It Was You All the Time
- What Now My Love
- When the Saints Go Marching In
- Interview with Ted Thomas including Cheek to Cheek, Let’s Face the Music and Dance, My Love and Devotion, Georgia on My Mind, One Morning in May, The Nearness of You
- Look for a Star (BBC Light Programme)
- Christmas Magic (BBC Light Programme)