Matt Monro

Matt MonroBritain’s answer to Frank Sinatra.  Okay, Matt was no Ol’ Blue Eyes but he carved out a successful career as a romantic ballad singer both in Britain and America in an age dominated by raucous pop singers.  His rise to fame against the Elvis Presley tide was a singular achievement for a small man with no stage background.  He represented Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest, coming second in Copenhagen in 1964 with I Love The Little Things.  He had 15 hits in the UK though he never topped the charts.  His songs included Portrait of My Love, Born Free and From Russia With Love. His career was as romantic as his songs.  He was born in Shoreditch, London as Terry Parsons and brought up in a council flat.  His father wore cor’ blimey trousers but died when Matt was three and his mother, left with four sons and a daughter became a Mrs Mopp to keep the family together.  For a while Matt, the youngest son, was in an orphanage and began work in a tobacco factory later working as a plaster’s labourer and a plumber’s mate before becoming a London bus driver, working the No.27 route from Highgate to Teddington via Kentish Town.  On leaving the Army he found the competition of show businesss tough but he gained his first break in 1956 when he became the resident singer with the BBC Show Band.  The pianist, Winifred Attwell, had helped him make a record and the rest was almost history.  Matt Monro died from cancer in February 1985 aged 54.

Ronnie Laine

Ronnie LaineRonnie Laine, bassist and founder member of The Small Faces, was born in Plaistow, East London, on April 1, 1946, son of a lorry driver.  At 16 he left school and began working as a plumber’s mate then, aged 17, he bought his first guitar and began playing in a band called The Outcasts with drummer Kenney Jones.  Laine invited Steve Marriott, the shop assistant who sold him his guitar, to an early Outcasts gig.  Marriott turned up at the pub, promptly wrecked the piano and got the band barred.  He joined as singer and guitarist soon after.  Rechristened The Small Faces by Marriott”s girlfriend – all four members struggled to hit 5ft 5ins – they had a series of Top Ten singles including their only Number One single, All Or Nothing in 1966. Following Marriott’s departure in 1969 the others welcomed singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood to their fold and struck out as The Faces, the purveyors of rhythm ‘n’ booze who became revered for their shambolic concerts and geezer-down the local pub image.  In fact, so raucous were the band that they were banned from the entire Holiday Inn hotel chain.  The Faces called it a day in 1975 due to Stewart’s burgeoning solo career and Wood’s absorption into The Rolling Stones; Laine went solo and charted with a couple of singles and the LP Anymore for Anymore.  Ronnie died at the age of 51 of multiple sclerosis at his home in Trinidad, Colorado.  He had been debilitated by the nerve destroying disease since the late-1970s.

Russ Conway

Russ ConwayHe was the pianist who brought joy with his tinkling fingers and his twinkling smile.  This attractive combination brought Russ Conway huge success in live concert and on record, and made him one of Britain’s biggest-selling artists of the 1950s and 1960s.  From his first chart success in 1957 with a medley of other artists’ Party Pops through to his 1962 hit Always You and Me, Conway spent 168 weeks in the music charts.  After leaving school at 14, his father found the young Russ a job in a solicitors’ office, but this ended when he was sent to borstal for three years after stealing some money he found in a packet.  He had always wanted to go to sea and, following his release from borstal, his father agreed to send him to a Merchant Navy Training School.  He served in the Royal Navy during the war, taking part in minesweeping operations in the Aegean, before returning to the Merchant Navy. He was discharged in 1948 with a stomach complaint and worked as a salesman, machinist, plumber’s mate and barman before another spell back at sea.  He became one of Britain’s biggest-selling music artists before The Beatles, chalking up sales of 30 million records, but his career came to a premature halt when he suffered a stroke in 1965. He died in November 2000.

Allan Williams

Allan WilliamsThe first manager of a Liverpool combo known as The Beatles.  This plumber and owner of the Jacaranda club was the man who took them to Hamburg in 1960 and set them on the road to a relatively successful career.  He first met the Fab Four when they came into the Jacaranda and was the man who fixed him up with their first, and best, drummer, Pete Best.  However after one packed gig in the German city, the Beatles didn’t bother to give Williams his £14 cut.  He immediately sacked them, vowing that they would never work again.  Williams’ parting shot was to tell anyone interested in taking over The Beatles that he "wouldn’t touch them with a f*****g bargepole.  Brian Epstein didn’t take Williams’ advice.  Nor did he take him up on his offer to have his piping reworked and a new-fangled shower fitted.  In hindsight, possibly the correct decision.

Joe Cocker

Joe CockerOne of rock and roll’s enduring performers, Cocker has survived the sixties, a low period in the seventies, made a comeback in the eighties, and continues to be a solid and consistent performer in the nineties and on into the 21st century.  Known for his gutsy, gravelly, vocal style, Joe started out in Sheffield in the mid sixties, working as a gas plumber by day and performing in the clubs of the area by night.  The perfect life.  Cocker writes very little of his own material, plays no instruments, and finds himself completely at the mercy of whatever producer and backing musicians he lands with.  The lot of plumbers everywhere.  His major hits were With a Little Help From My Friends, Up Where We Belong and Unchain My Heart.  Joe’s mum Marjorie, God bless her, once said, "When Joe left school at 16, I thought he was going to take up plumbing as a career.  I even got him a lot of books on the subject, and he was interested in plumbing for a time, but there was always the music.  That was what he wanted to do."

Ozzie Osbourne

Ozzie OsbourneBorn in 1948 in Aston, Birmingham as John Michael Osbourne, the fourth of six children.  The Osbourne family lived in poverty and a crowded house. Ozzy was beaten regularly by his father, mainly for behavior such as trying to kill his siblings.  Constant fighting and arguing between Ozzy’s parents about their financial situation finally prompted him to try and do something about it.  At the age of fifteen, Ozzy took his first job as a plumber’s assistant. Ozzy also tried some jobs in crime; this later landed him in Birmingham’s Winson Green prison for a short time for burglary.  Once he was released, he never wanted to go back, so he decided to try and make a career in music.  Ozzy joined and left many bands which never went anywhere before forming Rare Breed which became Earth which became Black Sabbath, named after a Boris Karloff movie.  After a successful solo career he only became really famous when he let a documentary crew film his dysfunctional family and he became an MTV superstar.

Michael Flatley

Michael FlatleyThe Lord of the Dance was born in Chicago, the son of a plumber, and he followed his old man into the business.   He went from Roto-Rooter to multi-millionaire in just seven years, simply by flinging his freaky little feet at five thousand miles an hour.  Michael, whose parents emigrated from Ireland a decade earlier, began dance lessons at the age of four, taught by his grandmother.  He went on to become the first American to win the World Irish Dance Championships.  He tried to start a dance studio after graduating from high school, but the opportunities for a working wage through traditional Irish dancing were not exactly bountiful.  Flatley made his living with a variety of manual labour jobs, ultimately starting his own business, Dynasty Plumbing.  "I’m no stranger to hard work," he said.  "I think any man who works for a living should be proud."  Well said Michael.  Flatley was 36 before he left the problems of intractable garbage disposal to become the star of Riverdance, taking traditional Irish steps across the world.  One year later he went in the huff over the choreography and was fired so he set up his own version, Lord of the Dance.  It was a bit similar to Riverdance but he got more money out of it.  Much more.