Notoriety, Popularity & the Hard Taskmaster
By Tony D'Amato
In the studio, surroundings were not so quiet, and neither was the maestro. He was a tireless worker and hard taskmaster. The concentration during a "take"- not only Mantovani's, but that of the players' as well - was incredible to observe. He would tolerate no lack of concentration. A mistake by a musician caused by a lapse in attentiveness brought out a temper most severe in Mantovani, the artist, which was otherwise unavailable in Mantovani, the man. But when he was pleased with the results, as he undoubtedly was with Kenneth McKellar's rendition of "Stranger in Paradise" (Kismet LP), then...ah. (Looking on is Frank Lee, Artist's Manager, Decca Records).
The recordings. In September 1955, at a formal gathering in London, Mantovani received a golden disc for having achieved one million sales of his "Charmaine" recording. Other hits that followed included: "Greensleeves", "Diane", "Moulin Rouge", "Swedish Rhapsody", "Moon River", "Exodus", and his own composition, "Cara Mia". He was the first artist to sell one million stereophonic LPs and, during his lifetime, he sold a staggering total of thirty-five million recordings. As incredible as this figure was, even more phenomenal was the extent of his popularity. Mantovani saw his name displayed on banners almost everywhere; offers to appear on radio and television never stopped coming in; displays in record shop windows greeted him everywhere his recordings were sold; his concerts played to standing-room-only audiences; offers ran from the ridiculous (he received over one hundred offers of marriage in one year!) to the sort that would not tax quite so dramatically the shyness in his personality: he said "yes" to the BBC when it offered him a television series of his own. If he had ever wished to remind the mighty corporation that it had ignored his early recordings, it remained a silent wish. He accepted the commission graciously, and he enjoyed few things more in these years than his video transmissions.
When, on the occasion of his twenty-fifth anniversary as a Decca/London recording artist, Mantovani appeared with his orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in London, he was presented with a silver baton during the intermission . The award was made by the chairman of a grateful company. In his remarks, Decca president, Sir Edward Lewis, cited Mantovani's extraordinary achievements and noted that the Queen's Award for Industry, recently presented to the company, should have been given, instead, to Mantovani for the colossal figures of export sales of recordings he had achieved during his career with British Decca. It was an appropriate remark, if somewhat self-serving. For the Mantovani/Record Company story was bigger still.
Mantovani's ability in the Fifties to produce for the company hard, ready, cash from the extraordinary large instant sales of his recordings helped finance a major part of the expansion program the company had set for itself. With the advent of stereophonic sound, the company embarked upon ambitious and expensive schedules of recordings, utilizing the new binaural techniques. Spearheading the company's drive in stereo - and paid for largely by the revenues he created through sales of monaural recordings - Mantovani's popularity peaked again. Having earned the name of "Mr. Stereo" in America, Monty gathered even more awards. During this time he toured, in addition to the U.S.A., Canada, Germany, breaking attendance records in Japan. In 1966, the company presented him with a baton made of silver. For partially on Mantovani's coat tails, the company had also peaked.
When the rock'n roll craze claimed its corner of the marketplace, however, the company shifted its priorities, and concentrated on pop groups, turning away from its traditional artists and its standard repertoire. It was at this time that the company began putting pressure on Mantovani to introduce the sound of a modern rhythm section in his orchestra. What he did about this is covered earlier in the text. Mantovani's opinion of pop groups was not, of itself, negative. He deplored bad manners, bad taste and seven-bar phrases when he found them, but he applauded good work when he heard it. Easily, his favorite group was the Beatles, whom he called "the lads". He enjoyed their work and waited for them to write a melody his orchestra could do a good job with. He found it in the song, "Yesterday", which he orchestrated hauntingly, as a Nocturne for Violin and Orchestra.
It almost began to appear that, if Mantovani did nothing more than remain true to the standards of excellence he had set for himself, eventually the company would stumble and, again, call for the magic of Mantovani to bail it out. Between 1968 and 1973, British Decca managed to obtain an impressive roster of hot-selling acts; however, as the company courted these groups, conceding more terms and paying ruinous royalties, it was also mismanaging them until, in the end, the company lost virtually all of its groups. Decca looked to its pre-recorded catalogue for help and, again, called upon the product of Mantovani. Through the Readers' Digest Club in England a multi-volume set (seven LPs) was negotiated and released. Not even the optimistic Club executives anticipated such a response; the sale broke all records - 450,000 volumes (or over three million LPs if one counts the units separately).
It is, perhaps, an irony that this new peak was the company's final significant one before it ceased operations, and that the artist responsible for its last hurrah was also the one who created its first.