VINCE HILL has donated his life’s work to a new pop music archive.
The veteran singer, who lives in Lower Shiplake, has bequeathed 30 albums and thousands of pages of sheet music to the project.
Click here to view video of Vince Hill explaining his bequest.
Since recording his debut at Abbey Road studios in 1961, Hill has kept copies of all his LPs and CDs.
He also owns the handwritten scores, most of which are for a full orchestra and are several inches thick.
After retiring last year, the 79-year-old decided that he wanted his collection to benefit future generations.
He contacted the University of Coventry, in the city where he grew up, and offered everything to its performing arts department. The university is building a £15million music centre, which will include a pop memorabilia archive.
It accepted his donation and will soon begin scanning the scores and album covers. When Hill dies, the centre will inherit the physical copies.
The singer said: “When I made up my mind to retire I thought, ‘what’s going to happen to my archive when I’m gone?’ It’s not worth much but it contains hundreds of songs by some of the finest arrangers in Britain, if not in Europe.
“I was worried that someone might not recognise their value and throw them in a skip and I couldn’t bear the thought of that happening.
“I couldn’t tell you how many pages there are but it’s a lot — there could be 400 or 500 per album.
“If you think about the size of an orchestra, that’s about 25 instruments and each one needs a complete score. I should think it would be very useful to anyone studying harmony and composition.”
Last week, the university’s head of performing arts Dr Geoff Willcocks visited Hill to inspect the collection, which contains every song he has recorded, including his rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Edelweiss, which made No 2 in the charts in 1967. As well as owning the album, the singer still has the original score by the late John Arthur.
Another of his favourites is Look Around (And You’ll Find Me There), which was released when his wife Annie gave birth to their son Athol in 1971.
At the time, he had a month-long residency at Peter Stringfellow’s London nightclub Talk of the Town.
His archive contains CDs from more recent years but Hill prefers his vinyl.
He said: “There’s nothing like a 12-inch album — you get all the artwork, the liner notes and the musicians’ biographies. It’s just not the same with CDs and it’s getting even worse now that people are downloading most of their music.
“My record covers show a whole series of different fashions and haircuts across the decades — I had such long hair back then.
“There were times when people would look at me and ask Annie, ‘Is he wearing a wig or what?’.”
Hill, who left Coventry at 19 to sing for the Royal Signals Band, also has a collection of old photographs, tickets and concert posters.He is considering giving them to the university along with his guitar and electric piano.
Dr Willcocks said: “What impressed and really stunned me is the great condition Vince has kept all the material in.
“The scores do need some work on them but they’ve been looked after well enough that we can preserve them indefinitely.
“Vince has been an absolute joy to work with — a very warm and open man whose passion and enthusiasm still shines through after all these years.
“He really wants to talk to young people and not just ensure his own songs live on but to communicate the power and importance of music in general.”
After finishing National Service in 1957, Hill moved to London and got his break singing for band leader Teddy Foster.
He went on to have 11 UK chart singles between 1961 and 1971, including Take Me To Your Heart Again, Roses Of Picardy and Love Letters In The Sand.
He also had a residency at the London Palladium, where he shared billing with American comedian Jack Benny and actress Shirley MacLaine.
Hill married Annie in 1959 and the couple moved to Lower Shiplake in 1979.
He has fond memories of his career but does not miss the limelight.
Hill said: “It’s a very different business from what it was when I started. People are watching reality TV shows like Britain’s Got Talent or X Factor and I can’t compete with that. I was turning 78 and had been thinking about slowing down for some time. The work was slowing down as well and I didn’t like what was on offer.
“I was asked to do a big band night at Ronnie Scott’s in April last year, which I had always dreamed of doing.
“It was an absolute success — we sold out and I got a standing ovation. At that point, I just thought, ‘I’ve finished, that’ll do for me’.
“The one thing I’d have loved to have done is a West End musical. I’ve got the voice for it but once the hits start coming in you can’t just change direction to become a stage star.”
Hill has agreed to be one of the Coventry centre’s founding trustees and will advise the university on researching music history.
He will visit the centre when it opens and talk to young people about building a showbusiness career.
He said: “If you want to make it as a performer, you have to take on as much work as you can get — it’s always nice to be able to turn work down.
“You shouldn’t reject an offer because you think you’re too good for it, or even that it’s too good for you. You just have to have a go and do your best — there’s no harm in it.”