Artist Name
Johnnie Spence

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1936

Active
1960 to 1977

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Johnnie Spence, born John Spence Abrahams (4 February 1936 – 15 August 1977), sometimes spelt Johnny Spence, was a British musical arranger, director, and orchestra leader. He is credited with the arrangements and musical direction of numerous records and television light entertainment works throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction of a Variety, Musical or Dramatic Program for his work on the 1969 television series This Is Tom Jones.
Spence built a reputation as a pianist and arranger in the second part of the 1950s under the wings of Jack Parnell at ATV. (Bandleader and Musician Jack Parnell was appointed musical director for ATV in 1956). At ATV much music was prepared for so many shows. The orchestrations department at Elstree was large and famous, boasting such arrangers and orchestrators on its books as Eric Rogers, David Lindup, Arthur Greenslade, Max Harris, Kenny Powell, Derek Scott and Johnnie Spence. Jack held the post until 1982. He also composed The Muppet Show Theme for ITC Entertainment and served as conductor for the entire series.
In the late 50's Spence became piano accompanist to the singer Anne Shelton, a popular English vocalist. Spence's early work was predominantly in comedy records for Parlophone Records, occasionally working alongside Sir George Martin, who would later find fame as producer of The Beatles. Spence's credits at this time included such work as the Bernard Cribbins single Right Said Fred. In 1960 George Martin decided to use Johnnie Spence, who had just been signed to Parlophone as a musical director, for the upcoming session with his new recording-act Terry Parsons, aka Matt Monro. George Martin threw everything at this session, including a 23-piece orchestra for a big sound. Two tape machines were running at the same time: one in stereo and one in mono, doubling the cost of tape. From 2 November recording session emerged a song that reached no.3 in the charts: Portrait Of My Love, the song that won Monro the Ivor Novello Award for "The Most Outstanding Song Of 1960" from the Songwriter's Guild of Great Britain.
Johnnie Spence went on to become one of the most respected arrangers, conductors and composers in the business. With the success of Parlophone as a pop label, he became orchestral arranger for recordings and television shows for such acts as Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck and Cilla Black, Petula Clark and — during the 1970s — Gilbert O'Sullivan.
Since his early twenties, Johnnie was rapidly building a reputation as one of the country's most brilliant and imaginative musical directors and was very much in demand by now on both sides of the Atlantic. Spence ultimately chose to become musical director for Tom Jones in 1969, working for the MAM organization (Management Agency and Music Ltd.), one of the most successful show business agencies, founded by Gordon Mills. In his new capacity, Johnnie Spence became responsible for creating the sound on all the major hit recordings. Through producer Gordon Mills he became arranger/conductor for Gilbert O'Sullivan (1970/72) and musical director for a BBC-TV show: Gilbert O'Sullivan In Concert (1971) and 'The Music Of Gilbert O'Sullivan' (1972).
While becoming a frequent visitor to America, he had also plenty of work in the UK as a music arranger/musical director for television and radio shows as well as live-performances, such as: John Barry's Elizabeth Taylor in London (1963), The Tommy Steele Show (1964/65), Matt Monro at The Talk Of The Town (1965), BBC Show of the Week: Ella Fitzgerald Sings (1965), several TV Shows with: Cilla Black, Cilla At The Savoy (1966), The Shirley Bassey Show (1968/69), The Royal Variety Performance (1969), a Tom Jones UK-Tour, with a 35-piece orchestra led by Johnnie Spence (1970) and various TV specials with Tom Jones (1970-1972) This Is Tom Jones, and Petula Clark: The Sound Of Petula (1974), featuring Gilbert O'Sullivan and the Peter Knight Orchestra & Chorus, with arrangements from Peter Knight, Steve Gray and Johnnie Spence.
Johnnie Spence and his Orchestra released several of their own records, predominantly of television and film themes; Wheels and First Romance, a Jerry Lordan composition from his album: All My Own Work (1961). The Dr. Kildare Theme became a number 15 hit for Parlophone in 1962, his own composition Sugar Beat, B-side of the single Baby Elephant Walk by Henry Mancini (1962) and Step Inside Love (1967), a Paul McCartney composition for Cilla Black. (1967). Spence also arranged Bob Hope singing Monty Norman's Call Me Bwana from the 1963 film of the same name.
He recorded as The Johnnie Spence Big Band, Why Not (1968), on the Verve Records label, a swinging jazz album featuring Don Lusher, Johnny Scott, Eddie Blair and Kenny Clare on drums. During 1963 Spence recorded an album with jazz singer Annie Ross: Sings A Handful Of Songs.
In April 1964 Ella Fitzgerald recorded three songs, to which Johnnie Spence wrote the arrangements, at EMI Recording Studios, Abbey Road, London, for her new album: 'Hello Dolly'. The single 'Can't Buy Me Love' was a minor hit at #34.
On 2 July 1964 Cilla Black recorded the Lennon/McCartney song It's For You, with a sort of jazzy waltz arrangement by Spence. "It displayed a degree of sophistication" according to producer George Martin, who also directed.
Spence also recorded in his final years with a smaller group as Johnnie Spence and The Family Tree a disco single The Caves (1976), as well as composing the music for the CBS TV-series: The Amazing Spiderman (1977).
Among his other compositions are: This Time (1961), (using the pseudonym 'Jack Abrahams', co-written with 'Graham Fisher' aka George Martin) and Going Places, together with Don Black (1964), both recorded by Matt Monro.
For the soundtrack of the film The Limbo Line Spence wrote the music to: "Here I Go Again", again with a Don Black lyric.


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Last Edit by leepenny
21st Mar 2019

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