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Wednesday, 20 October 2010


: An Early picture of Norrie Paramor and Helen Shapiro

Part of the old Cosham bus shelter now in Gunwharf Quays.

Norrie Paramor

Norrie Paramor was one of EMI's top producers in pop music and rock & roll through to the end of the '60s. For a time in England, he was the only record producer whose name teenagers might recognize because of his work for more than a decade with Cliff Richard and the Shadows. He was almost single-handedly responsible for giving EMI's Columbia label the biggest stake in rock & roll of any record company in England where it had no previous presence in the field and he was the discoverer of Cliff Richard & the Shadows. Before that, he was responsible for recording such Top 50 English pop stars as Ruby Murray and Eddie Calvert and meantime he made best-selling records of instrumental pop and mood music that sold on both sides of the Atlantic.

Born in London and trained as a pianist, Norrie Paramor became a piano player and arranger for dance bands. He served in an RAF entertainment unit starting in 1941, providing music for performances in Blackpool. He began his career as a music director with the Ralph Reader Gang Show, and later in the war years became an arranger for Noël Coward, Jack Buchanan and Mantovani. He spent the period immediately after War playing piano with the Pieces of Eight band led by Harry Gold. Life as a performer didn't appeal to him and after five years he gave it up to concentrate on studio work, with an emphasis on arranging and conducting. His first work as a studio musician was playing accompaniment on various singles. He initially joined EMI Records as a conductor leading his own pop orchestra.

In 1952, he began producing records for EMI, as the head of A&R for its Columbia label. Late the following year, he chalked up his first major hit with Eddie Calvert's single "Oh Mein Papa." Another of his discoveries was Ruby Murray, who was important to the label, scoring a huge hit in 1955 with "Softly, Softly" and numerous other chart successes during the mid-'50s. For most of the '50s he was associated with pop music, including two good-selling studio orchestras that he created, the Big Ben Banjo Band and the Big Ben Hawaiian Band. He also scored well with the pop recordings of Michael Holliday and the Ken Jones Orchestra. He could not possibly have guessed, however, that his biggest discoveries were still ahead of him, and lay in a brand of music that was as new to him and to EMI as it was to most of England. By 1955, changes started overtaking popular music in England. A teenage audience emerged with its own tastes, it started with skiffle, initially the records of Lonnie Donegan on Decca and Pye but later including others. By 1957, skiffle gave way to rock & roll and the British recording industry looked for bands that sounded like Bill Haley but other influences like Buddy Holly were also felt. By 1958, British record labels were looking for homegrown talent.

Norrie Paramor won a recording competition for EMI, when in 1958 he signed Cliff Richard and the Drifters (the Shadows). It had been his original intent to sign Cliff Richard as a solo act, backed by the Ken Jones Orchestra, but the Shadows impressed him sufficiently with their clean, professional sound and their serious attitude toward music. Beginning with "Move It," Cliff Richard inaugurated a career of 40 years and decades of stardom for the Shadows.

The relationship between artist and producer was ideal. Paramor, a lanky, graying man with glasses, wore suits, was no rock & roller, but that wasn't what was needed. His judgment wasn't always perfect. On their debut single he was trying to push a romantic rocking number called "Schoolboy Crush," until music impresario Jack Good persuaded him that the other side "Move It," would be the hit. Once it was a hit, he lost no time in recording Cliff and the band doing lots of hard rock & roll. When it came time to record Cliff’s first album, Paramor did something unheard and made it a live album in front of several hundred screaming fans in February1959, albeit in the relatively controlled conditions of EMI Studio Number One. That album proved a landmark in the history rock & roll, it was the first major live album by a white rock & roll performer and was the blueprint for an idea that Parlophone Records' George Martin, had four years later, when it was time to record the Beatles' debut album -- just get them to play the set they did at their shows.

In the early '60s, as Cliff’s sound evolved, some tracks were cut with the Norrie Paramor Strings and other studio groups under the direction of the producer and Paramor also played piano on some Cliff Richard and Shadows recordings. EMI found that Cliff’s rock & roll sides didn't sell as reliably as they'd hoped and ultimately did their best to move the singer in the direction of a more romantic, pop-oriented sound ("Living Doll," etc.), similar to that of Ricky Nelson. The results didn't please the rock & roll fans, but yielded millions more sales. And when Cliff and the Shadows started recording separately, EMI-Columbia ended up with two top-selling artists.

Norrie Paramor continued to produce Cliff and the Shadows for more than a decade and at this time he discovered other performers including Helen Shapiro and Frank Ifield. He produced recordings by Judy Garland, Gene Vincent, and Al Martino and his work overlapped his success as a bandleader with his own recordings of mood music, some of which did extremely well, especially in America.

EMI in the '60s wasn't the same organization that it had been in the '50s, nor was the record business the same. Sales were soaring astronomically, especially in England, as the music business boomed thanks to the Beatles, James Bond, and the Avengers, among other cultural icons, it seemed to be at the centre of the world. The company was losing many of its best producers, including George Martin.

Paramor was considered one of the company's major assets, a successful recording artist as well as a producer who'd generated many millions of dollars. EMI treated him well, but even he left in early 1968, to become an independent producer with his own company. That same year, he scored a number one hit with the Scaffold's "Lily the Pink." He became the music director of the BBC Midland Radio Orchestra in 1972, and held the post through 1978. He died the following year -- he'd continued working with Cliff Richard as a producer, advisor, and publisher all along, and Cliff dedicated his next album to Norrie Paramor's memory.

Take care

Jonathan Writes:

Thanks for the great job you are doing I always enjoy reading the Manor Court Update.

Yes I have a very vivid memory of how I aquired my own Meccano Set. In the early 50's there used to be a low budget rather flimsy Woman's Magazine called Red Letter, published by Thompsons, I wonder if you remember it. My mum used to get it and in fact she wrote short stories that were sometimes published in it. There was a competition section in it and one week I entered a competition that comprised interpreting pictures and symbols and making well known phrases. I was only six and I strove to be as neat as possible as this was a criteria for the judges.

I won, and my prize was ....wait for it....a set 6 Meccano. It was delivered parcel post by the GPO to our house which at the time was in Warwick. I can remember to this day the excitement I felt at opening this enormous parcel. It was as big as me.

I was transported with delight at the things I could make with it and I am certain this was a directing force in my life and the reason I became a Mechanical Engineer.

Congratulations on both your retirement and your 43rd anniversary. Carol and I have had our 41st and have in fact been an item since we met at a Manor Court net ball match 45 years ago.

We went to the pub afterwards (under age as we were) Carol had a Babycham (do they still make them??) and I had a pint of bitter with a lemon top. We discovered that we were both Aquarians and of course I asked her what day she was was the exact same day as myself....18th February 1948. The rest as they say is history.

News and Views:

English Heritage put up a "blue plaque at the London flat John Lennon shared with Yoko Ono in 1968. Yoko will be on hand for the unveiling yesterday.

On this day 24th October 1960-1965

On 24/10/1960 the number one single was Only the Lonely - Roy Orbison and the number one album was South Pacific Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was Take Your Pick (AR) and the box office smash was Psycho. A pound of today's money was worth £13.68 and Tottenham Hotspur were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions

On 24/10/1961 the number one single was Walkin' Back to Happiness - Helen Shapiro and the number one album was Black & White Minstrel Show - George Mitchell Minstrels. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was One Hundred and One Dalmations. A pound of today's money was worth £13.25 and Ipswich Town were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was Britain grants Malta autonomy.

On 24/10/1962 the number one single was Telstar - The Tornadoes and the number one album was Best of Ball Barber & Bilk. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Lawrence of Arabia. A pound of today's money was worth £12.89 and Everton were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was Cuban Missile Crisis

On 24/10/1963 the number one single was Do You Love Me? - Brian Poole & the Tremoloes and the number one album was Please Please Me - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Great Escape. A pound of today's money was worth £12.64 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions

On 24/10/1964 the number one single was (There's) Always Something There to Remind Me - Sandy Shaw and the number one album was A Hard Day's Night - Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Dr Strangelove. A pound of today's money was worth £12.24 and Manchester United were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.

On 24/10/1965 the number one single was Tears - Ken Dodd and the number one album was The Sound of Music Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Sound of Music. A pound of today's money was worth £11.69 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions

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