Roland Shaw (26 May 1920 – 11 May 2012) was an English composer, musical arranger, and orchestra leader.
He was born Roland Edgar Shaw-Tomkins in Leicester on May 26 1920. An early hankering to play the drums was thwarted by a lack of funds to purchase a full drum kit. Instead he bought a set of drumsticks, which, he recalled, “probably did great damage to the windowsills”. He eventually taught himself to play the piano.
After Kettering Grammar School and Wellingborough School, he studied at Trinity College of Music. His first job was with a band called The Royal Kiltie Juniors, where he met Reg Owen, later to be a fellow arranger for the Ted Heath Orchestra.
On the outbreak of the Second World War, Shaw volunteered for the RAF, although he was under age. He served for six and a half years with the RAF Central Band and as leader of the RAF No 1 Band of the MEF, seeing service in the Western Desert, Cyprus, and Palestine. In the RAF he was known as Sergeant Tomkins, but on his return to Civvy Street he changed his name to Roland Shaw.
On demob he played gigs as a pianist, working with the orchestras of Teddy Foster and Nat Temple, among others. His first commercial attempt at arranging was a score of I Got Rhythm, which he sent to Ted Heath and Geraldo. Although Heath never tried the arrangement, Geraldo not only bought it but also hired Shaw as one of his house arrangers, alongside Wally Stott and Robert Farnon.
Tutti Camerata asked Shaw to compose a suite of music for woodwinds, and the resultant royalty cheque, the largest Shaw had ever received, bought him a vintage Rolls-Royce. While parking the vehicle near his home in Barnes he was approached by a man who showed an interest in it. It transpired that he was Frank Lee, head of A&R at Decca Records. Through this chance meeting in 1952 Shaw became musical director of Decca Records. His first job was to record Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart with Vera Lynn, which became the first single by a British artist to top the US charts, where it remained for nine weeks.
Shaw went on to write and conduct scores for stars including Tommy Steele, Max Bygraves, the Beverley Sisters, Dickie Valentine, Gracie Fields, Roger Whittaker, the operatic bass Cesare Siepi and many more. He also wrote and conducted successful albums under his own name as The Roland Shaw Orchestra, occasionally with singers added. Time-Life and Readers Digest employed him to score big orchestral albums of popular music for them, with similar success.
In addition to his orchestral scores he was hailed as one of Britain’s finest big band arrangers, working closely with Ted Heath (whose orchestra he conducted for recordings when Heath became too ill), and also with Syd Lawrence, whom he had first met as a trumpeter in the RAF. Other band and orchestra leaders were keen to utilise Shaw’s talents, and he wrote numerous scores for Edmundo Ros, Frank Chacksfield, the BBC Radio Orchestra, and more than 150 for the Mantovani Orchestra, including arrangements of Three Coins in the Fountain and Quando, Quando, Quando.
Shaw worked on several films, including The Great Waltz, Summer Holiday, and Song of Norway, and his cover versions of James Bond tracks remained for 30 weeks in the top 100 albums on Billboard USA. He worked on advertising jingles for Rothmans and Fairy Liquid, and uncredited on many scores for television shows.
Away from music, his passion was motor cars, of which he owned several exotic examples over the years. These ranged from a Rolls-Royce to a Mini-Cooper, a Bentley and a beautiful classic red Ferrari. He competed in club meetings at Silverstone, Goodwood and Brands Hatch, where he often acted as a race marshal.(Mainly edited from The Telegraph)