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Ross MacManus | Music | The Guardian


Ross MacManus

Joe Loss vocalist and creator of the secret lemonade drinker

MacManus urged his son, Elvis Costello, not to disclose the Joe Loss connection. Photograph: Rex

The jazz and pop musician Ross MacManus, who has died aged 84, was a featured singer in the 1960s with Britain's leading dance band, the Joe Loss orchestra, and in the 1970s the creator of the music for a well-known TV commercial for lemonade.
MacManus joined Loss in 1955 and stayed for 14 years, sharing the vocal work with Rose Brennan and Larry Gretton. In the 1960s, the band had a regular weekday slot on the BBC Light Programme and later Radio 2, where each singer would perform current hit songs. Loss also had a residency at the Hammersmith Palais, where MacManus's young son, Declan � the future singer and songwriter Elvis Costello � would sometimes watch his father in rehearsals. In 1963 the orchestra performed at the Royal Variety Show, where Ross sang If I Had a Hammer.
Most Joe Loss recordings were instrumental versions of hits but one exception was Patsy Girl, an excursion into ska with Ross singing in a passable Jamaican accent, which became a top 20 hit in Germany in 1964. MacManus had earlier used the pseudonym David Ross to record cover versions of American songs for Embassy, a cut-priced label sold only in Woolworths.
In the 1970s, MacManus embarked on a solo career as a songwriter and cabaret singer. He recorded an album of sea shanties (The Leaving of Liverpool) and a version of Lennon and McCartney's The Long and Winding Road, released under the name Day Costello (a family name). An LP he made of Elvis Presley songs was reissued on CD in 2008 as Elvis's Dad Sings Elvis.
In 1973 MacManus wrote and sang the theme music for an R White's soft drinks advertisement about a secret lemonade drinker, with his son on backing vocals. The commercial remained on television for 11 years.
Although Elvis had borrowed one of his father's pseudonyms for his stage name, MacManus had counselled his son: "Don't tell anybody your dad sings with the Joe Loss band because they'll discount what you're doing." Nevertheless, the success enjoyed by Costello enabled MacManus to return to his first love, playing the trumpet, on the 1987 album Out of Our Idiot and on Mighty Like a Rose in 1991. He was very proud of his son's achievement and once said that he would like his epitaph to be the song The Birds Will Still Be Singing, from the 1993 Elvis Costello album The Juliet Letters.
MacManus was born into an Irish family in Birkenhead, Merseyside. His father had been an army bandsman, and later a trumpeter in ships' orchestras. MacManus played the violin in the orchestra at St Anselm's college in Birkenhead before serving two years of national service with the RAF in Egypt. There, he learned to play bebop on the trumpet, finding Miles Davis easier to imitate than Dizzy Gillespie.
Back on Merseyside, he sought out jazz musicians in Liverpool, later recalling the first time he was allowed to sit in with a group of black performers in Wilkie's club on Upper Parliament Street: "I was on top of the world. I even played my trumpet on the bus going home!" In 1950 he formed his own group, New Era Music, to perform on Merseyside.
This led to a spell with Bob Miller's band at the Mecca Ballroom in Leeds. By 1955, MacManus had moved to London where he played jazz with the baritone saxophonist Ronnie Ross before Loss invited him to join his band.
MacManus is survived by five sons: Declan, from his first marriage, to Lillian, which ended in divorce; and Ronan, Ruari, Liam and Kieran, from his second, to Sara, who predeceased him.
� Ronald Patrick Ross MacManus, trumpeter and singer, born 20 October 1927; died 25 November 2011