Abbey Road 90: The Story of Geoff Love at Abbey Road Studios

6th October 2021

Geoff Love was a musician, band leader, composer, conductor who spent a long career within the walls of Abbey Road, working with artists from Shirley Bassey to Mrs Mills.


His contribution to British music, especially the music made at Abbey Road, can’t be underplayed, but still to this day his name isn’t widely known.

 
Geoff Love was born to entertainer parents in the small town of Todmorden in 1917. His father, an African American stage performer from Chicago, came over to England at the turn of the century and settled here working as an entertainer after meeting his English wife Frances Helen. Geoff took up the trombone as a child and spent his younger years performing and studying music, determined to become a professional musician.

After the war he established himself as a jobbing musician and band leader, and by 1947 he’d joined Harry Gold’s band, playing trombone with bandmate Norrie Paramor on piano. Norrie would become a familiar person in Geoff’s life as he’d go on to become a producer at EMI, leading the Columbia label. By 1954 Geoff had been signed to EMI as musical director to Norman Newell, the Columbia producer he’d go on to work with for the rest of his career. He formed his own studio orchestra using the best jazz and concert musicians in London, and soon began recording hit singles such as Frankie Vaughan’s Happy Days and Lonely Nights, and My Son, My Son.

One of the earliest papers documenting Geoff Love’s work at Abbey Road is a recording of Postman’s Knock and Beer Garden, recorded by Geoff Love and his orchestra on 11 August 1954 at 11am. A 28-piece orchestra was assembled in Studio One for the recording, which was produced by Norrie Paramour. It even included a door knocker.
 
 
Session sheets in the archive show Geoff Love recorded consistently at Abbey Road for decades since he first stepped through the doors in 1954. His projects took different forms, some listed with the Geoff Love orchestra, others through his easy listening moniker Manuel and the Music of the Mountains.

He led orchestras that reinterpreted classic popular repertoires but also directed the most prominent artists of the time, including ((Shirley Bassey, Russ Conway** and Judy Garland. Throughout his time at Abbey Road he worked with Marlene Dietrich, Connie Francis, Joni James, Vera Lynn, Eartha Kitt, Gracie Fields, Paul Robeson, Johnny Mathis, Alma Cogan, Tommy Steele, Danny Williams and Norman Wisdom.

Geoff Love directed Shirley Bassey’s first three records at Abbey Road, the first when she was just on the brink of stardom. Sensing her talent straight away, Geoff apparently said as soon as the recording was complete, “When do we begin another?”

Russ Conway, the British pianist who frequently played Abbey Road’s upright Steinway piano, now known as the Mrs Mills or Russ Conway piano) recalled in Geoff Love’s 2017 biography by Bill Birch: “It was as rehearsal pianist for recording manager Norman Newell that I eventually came to work regularly with Geoff Love. By this time I had already discovered his lovely sense of humour and friendly helpful attitude to everyone he worked with. It was Geoff I relied on totally to help me through my first recording (as Russ Conway). I was nervous and almost frightened, but he was able to put me so much at ease that I got through that session without a nervous breakdown.

“He was a brilliant musician and arranger and became so much in demand as the years passed with stars like Judy Garland, Mel Torme, Shirley Bassey, Vera Lynn and many more. But he was always available for me when I needed him.”
 
Geoff Love with Norman Newell and Paul Robeson
 
For a time, Geoff was the most recorded artist in the country, and his reputation enabled him to call on the best session musicians around.
His talent and creativity reached a peak in the ‘70s when he started a new experimental project, Mandingo.

Working again with Norman Newell in Abbey Road, he recorded four albums from 1974 using the same title as a novel he had read about the exploits of a southern black slave called Mandingo on a plantation in Alabama during the 1830s. The records, done mostly in Studio Two, bring an eclectic mix of instruments and sounds drawing on African influences, experimental drums, layers of brass and electronic devices. The result is an explosive sound that’s completely unique, although at the time, sales of the records came nowhere near expectations.

Geoff Love spent the better part of three decades at Abbey Road, making hundreds of recordings with some of the biggest artists of all time. He died in 1991 at the age of 73
 
 

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