Fifty three years on, the front man and lead singer of the iconic late 50s and early 60s inspirational British pop band – originally known as 'Harry Webb and the Drifters', then in turn 'Cliff Richard and the Drifters' and 'Cliff Richard and the Shadows' – is still singing, recording and touring. Mainly thanks to arranger Norrie Paramor and his orchestra – and his own band and backing singers – he carried on as a solo artist when the Shadows broke up in December 1968. Ever since, musical director Keith Hayman and songwriters Alan Tarney, Terry Britten and Chris Eaton have given him fabulous songs like 'Devil Woman' and 'We Don't Talk Any More', so his music has evolved over the past decades. Live performances which Sir Cliff obviously enjoys bring it out clearly with the help of modern choreography, sound engineering, stage set, lights and laser technology.
A musical phenomenon
Tommy Steele, Cliff Richard, Adam Faith, Billy Fury, Marty Wilde are the names that come to mind when we recall the British pop scene in the preBeatle era. Cliff is the only one to have lasted well beyond that time. His extraordinary showbiz career which spans 53 years has featured over 150 singles, 14 number ones, successful films and a record-breaking stage musical.
As documented by The Daily Mirror in its 82 page publication 'Sir Cliff Richard Congratulations-70th Birthday Special' (2010) “… In the early 1960s he was the dominant personality within British music with a succession of 23 top 10 hits between 1960 and 1965. The emergence of the Beatles in 1963 challenged his pre-eminence and as the decade progressed the bigger hits became less frequent…”
On October 14 2011 Sir Cliff turned 71. Yet his enthusiasm and devotion to his fans who include not just the 55-70 year olds, do not seem to wane. Combining live performance and the promotion of his latest album of the same name produced earlier in 2011 in Memphis by David Gest, he was immediately on the road again with The Soulicious Tour, singing his greatest hits and fan favourites as well as duetting with soul guests Lamont Dozier, Freda Payne, Percy Sledge, Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr., Jaki Graham and James Ingram, who also sang celebrated solos of their own. A DVD of the live show at the London O2 Arena on October 25 and 26 came out in mid-November, hopefully making good for the fact that only six English urban venues were included this time, probably causing a little frustration among some fans at home and abroad, who perhaps tend to be too demanding and forget they are luckier than those who never got a chance to see Cliff perform live !
Technology helps as it bridges the distance between people and places. Not just in spatial terms ! The Time Machine Tour, the outcome of a concept designed to take the audience back through time to the events and personal memories surrounding half a century of musical companionship, was filmed live at London's Wembley Arena in 2008 and Cliff and the Shadows : the Final Reunion in 2009 at the O2 Arena. These DVDs became bestsellers just like the autobiography 'My Life, My Way'. Yet these concerts were brought by the CRO (Cliff Richard Organisation) to venues located in other parts of the UK, Ireland, the Continent, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, to kick off Cliff Richard's 50th Anniversary Celebrations. Besides, Cliff Richard's songs and acts have a following in countries as far as Japan, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Belgium, Holland, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Canada and the United States.
Again in 2010 another dimension of Cliff's musical versatility was highlighted with yet another stupendous concert : Bold as Brass. Also available on DVD, it was filmed live at the Royal Albert Hall to mark Sir Cliff's 70th birthday. The host was accompanied by a swing band, conducted by Grammy Award-winning Michael Omartian and including some of the Nashville musicians who played on his album of the same name. A balance was struck as usual between some of the greatest hits of his 52-year career and such timeless classics as I've got you under my skin and Fly me to the moon. So, Sir Cliff has reached a point where he can afford to indulge in other musical genres out of sheer pleasure and also revisit the roots of skiffle, country, rhythm 'n' blues and rock 'n' roll which got him started more than half a century ago. And to see him take up the challenge with overt enthusiasm and undeniable professionalism speaks volumes. It is simply contagious for his audience.
The early years
“'Move It' was the first piece of authentic British rock 'n' roll. Before Cliff and the Shadows there was nothing …” (John Lennon)
Tagged as the 'Peter Pan of Pop' by the popular press for his youthful appearance (it was felt that though he has grown old, he has barely aged), Cliff has also had a movie career, featuring in 'Serious Charge' (1958), 'Expresso Bongo' (1959), 'The Young Ones' (1962), 'Summer Holiday' (1963), and 'Wonderful Life' (1964). Furthermore he has played leading rôles in a couple of stage musicals directed by Tim Rice and Dave Clark.
His song 'Move It' which was released by EMI Columbia Records as the B side of the single 'Schoolboy Crush' in 1958, shot to number two in the UK pop charts after having entered at number twelve in Melody Maker's top twenty. Producer Jack Good of the new television ITV pop programme Oh Boy ! had the flair to tap Cliff's voice, looks and general body language modelled on Elvis Presley : screwing up his face, curling and making his lower lip tremble, thrusting his hips, wiggling and clawing the air, combing his hair into a quiff like his, and adapt them to the needs of the postwar British teenage audience responsive to the musical and cultural influences that came from North America via radio, movies and popular magazines.
” He didn't want an Elvis impersonator ; what he wanted was someone who had the same appeal as Elvis and who would have the same impact…”, Cliff Richard recalls in his revealing bestseller autobiography written with the help of broadcaster and biographer Penny Junor : 'My Life, My Way' (London : Headline Review, 2008), p. 62. Thus, Jack Good asked him to get rid of his guitar and cut his sideburns, and suggested lowering his eyes and looking up from underneath his eyebrows. And Cliff would go beyond and apply what he had read in a newspaper about his sexy eyes. Basically, it was all about creating an image for a predominantly female audience. Girls would scream and swoon, and boys would stamp their feet and kick over a few chairs, foreshadowing the release of pent-up emotions that came to a head with Beatlemania and cognate behaviour.
Paradoxically, all this was part of the stage act young Harry Webb was cut for, as his English and drama teacher Jay Norris had perceived at Cheshunt Secondary Modern School in Hertfordshire. He attended that school from 1952 to 1957. That energetic and optimistic teacher who was in her mid-twenties was passionate about poetry and drama, and instrumental in shaping Cliff's career. The young Harry Rodger Webb joined the drama society, and this nurtured his inclination for pantomimes and the theatre in general. As an artist later, he benefited from this modicum of education-short of what he would have obtained at a grammar school in those days when the 11-plus examination held sway, had he made it ! It fitted him out to become articulate and “play out his phantasies.” Cliff has remained in touch with her, and has been an active Old Boy of his school, which is now a Foundation Specialist Technology College.
The singer remembers once having to explain his way out of not having done his homework and inevitably turning on the charm. At the end of it she is reported to have told him, “When you leave school, you really should get a job that involves smiling at women.” Cliff Richard adds : “I've reminded her of that so often.” (MLMW, p. 25)
TO BE CONTINUED
A RECAP OF CLIFF RICHARD'S NUMBER ONE SINGLES (Récapitulatif et dates des 14 numéros 1 de Cliff)
1. 1959 LIVING DOLL
2. 1959 TRAVELLIN' LIGHT
3. 1960 PLEASE DON'T TEASE
4. 1960 I LOVE YOU
5. 1962 THE YOUNG ONES
6. 1962 BACHELOR BOY/THE NEXT TIME
7. 1963 SUMMER HOLIDAY
8. 1965 THE MINUTE YOU'RE GONE
9. 1968 CONGRATULATIONS
10. 1979 WE DON'T TALK ANYMORE
11. 1986 LIVING DOLL
12. 1988 MISTLETOE AND WINE
13. 1990 THE SAVIOUR'S DAY
14. 1999 THE MILLENNIUM PRAYER