As we are waiting in the hotel lobby of the fabulous The Grand in Amsterdam, to do the interview with Sir Cliff Richard, the entourage of the poprock-artist asks me if I had interviewed him before. I must say I didn’t but I share a holy moment with him in Graceland, at the grave of Elvis Presley. An hour later I’m entering the room and the personal assistant of Sir Cliff Richard asks me I could tell him the story on Graceland. So I do.
Sir Cliff Richard: This is an incredible story. Amazing. I went to Graceland many, many years ago. It was 1962, we were in Memphis doing concerts and Elvis’ father was in the audience. Elvis was in Las Vegas at that time. He heard me say that I loved Elvis. He came backstage and asked me if I wanted to visit Graceland. We stood at the house at the front and I remember how big I thought it was whit these columns. When I went back again some years ago it all looked so small. They changed everything. Like the room with the pool had all his golden albums. It was fantastic. Now they have the museum on the other side of the road. It’s probably better that way cause you have more an overview in both parts of the museum: you can see all his clothes, guitars and the gold records.
You recorded your latest album nearby, in Nashville.
Seven years ago I recorded an album ‘Something’s going on’. And I met a lot of musicians. I like Nashville. It lives for its music. When you go to a restaurant, all the waiters and waitresses are singers, writers and players. They’re just waiting to get started. I always look at them thinking will I remember them when they get famous? The chances are that they will make it. There is a different feeling towards music that I like in Nashville. For my last album ‘The Fabulous Rock ‘n Roll Songbook’ I wanted to do it live and if you want get it a live excitement, Nashville is the place to go. These men and women they live to play music, they just have to play. When I did ‘Something’s going on’ I worked with a guy called Tommy Sims, and he invited me to one of his live concerts. It was in a local pub! The guy who wrote ‘Change the world’ for Eric Clapton ! So for me as an artist to go out there, find five musicians who stand with the, you know this is going to be good. You just have to tell them what you feel , play a few demos and they went straight in and played it. On my new album there is no overdubbing, except from some piano and an organ.
Vous avez enregistré votre dernier album à Nashville?
Il y a 7 ans, j'ai enregistré l'album " Something's going on" et j'ai rencontré beaucoup de musiciens....J'aime Nashville où l'on vit pour la musique.....Quand vous vous rendez au restaurant, tous les serveurs sont chanteurs, écrivains ou acteurs....Pour mon dernier album " Fabulous Rock..." je voulais vivre cette ambiance, cette excitation....Quand j'ai chanté "Something's going on", j'avais travaillé avec un gars qui s'appelle TOMMY SIMS qui m'avait invité à ses concerts en live...C'était un public local...Comme il avait écrit " Changer le monde" pour Eric CLAPTON...Nous avons trouvé 5 musiciens et je me suis dit que j'étais "dans le bon"....Sur mon album, il n'y a aucune doublure sauf pour le piano et l'orgue...Il suffisait pour moi de leur dire ce que je ressens et c'était parti....
This is your 100th album. Is there a different vibe when you go into the studio as a teenager than as a man who ‘makes 70 the new 50’?
I feel much better recording now. When I listen to the early records, I sounded really young. I hear a lack of confidence. And it’s true, I didn’t have confidence. I would sing very carefully. But as the success came, it gives you confidence and I started to open my throat more, growling a little bit, singing falsetto… I feel like I can sing now better than when I was 18. I’ve always tried to make my albums interesting. I mean, not everybody likes me anyway but to those who do like to hear me sing, I always try to make sure I have enough different tempos on the album, difference in emotional feelings. So you can have Devil Woman and Miss You Nights on the same record. So for this album I tried to find different songs like Dreamlover, Sealed With A kiss, Johnny B. Good… All different versions of poprock. And with the way my voice is now, I feel very comfortable singing that stuff. But something surprised me, I’ve always believed that the song tells you what it needs. And the perfect example was this album. After recording I took it home and listened to it from number 1 to 15. Number 15 is the new song. So Chuck Berry finishes the album with Johnny Be Good and then this new song starts. And it was such a shock to me. It sounded like I had taken it from another album. It was recorded on the same day, with the same musicians, same microphones in the same studio, and yet we all sound different. As I said, the song demands. ‘One more sunny day’ demanded me to sing in another way then the songs from the early years. I was quite fascinated hearing myself sound so different. It didn’t seem possible.
Isn’t that a very romantic approach? Isn’t it more talent, that you know what the song needs?
That’s the good thing about rock ‘n roll. There are no rules. You have to listen and think how you can use your voice. When I sing ‘Miss You Nights’ on the Devil Woman-album ‘I’m nearly famous’ I was thinking about Peggy Lee singing ‘The fool who lived on the hill’ (he sings the song), with a lot of breath. And I sing ‘I’ve had many times’… (sings again) Very breathy. You experiment a bit and if you like it, you use it. I enjoy it. But for this album, the musicians matched me. We were a good team.
To record American icons you had to be on American soil?
The songs came from that country. America will always be the fatherland of rock ‘n roll. They don’t own it but it is where it all started. They are the ones who gave birth to it. It seems to me that the rest of the world was waiting for this music. When I was young my parents listened to Frank Sinatra and some shows on the radio and suddenly Elvis came. Like he had landed from Mars. It was so fantastic. The Americans created it, but we were also able to do it. I remember there were times that in the top15 of America 10 of them were British: Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart, Elton John,… We all have the right to sing but for this album I thought it was right to go back in time.
" Pour rendre hommage à des icônes américains, c'est dans ce pays qu'il fallait enregistrer mon album....C'est de là que provient le Rock and Roll...Mes parents écoutaient Sinatra puis ELVIS arriva...Les Américains ont créé le rock même si nous (les Anglais) avons le droit de le chanter aussi. D'ailleurs, nous avons été plusieurs Britanniques à faire des Top 15...(F.Mac, Rod Steward, Elton John...)."
Those were the early days. How about the 21th Century? Can you keep up?
I try to. I’m a radioman. I try to find stations who play everything. I could never listen to a radio that only plays rap. I wish they would go back to broadcasting. You would hear One Direction, The Shadows, then Elvis, Rihanna, and then Cliff Richard and Adele. We would all be played. Music is like a great big supermarket. Sometimes you go through the store and say ‘oh yeah George Michael, I want George Michael’. We are choices for the public. But at the moment that isn’t the case anymore. We don’t all get played. We ought to be competitive. When you play tennis you get to play to guys who are ten years younger and the chances are that you will lose. But you can also win. Age should not be an issue, it’s just music. Someone told me that he couldn’t age me when he heard me sing, but that is good. If you don’t like the way I look, just close your eyes and listen to the song. It’s a shame that’s changed. But that’s the way it is. Life is like that, you have to roll with it. I’m not fighting it anymore. But they have to answer why our industry is so low in sales. Many of these things are the cause of it.
You will be playing in Brussels in May of next year. What can the fans expect? Will it be a big show or rather something intimate?
Watch my dvd which hit number one last week: it’s big. With fantastic lighting and I use my band in the show. My singers come down on stage and we move a lot together. It’s a history of rock ‘n roll. Normally I only do like two or three songs of a new album but this time the songs are well known so I’ll be playing like eight of them. But I also have to do some old hits like We Don’t Talk Anymore, The Young Ones, Summer Holiday and Dreaming.
Do you prefer a small band or big orchestra?
Small bands are easier to manage. The sound is better. Although a brass-section is very useful. I love the saxophone. There will be some solos in the concert and the saxophonist also plays the flute which we can use in slow songs.
"Je préfère jouer avec des petits orchestres, le son est meilleur et c'est plus facile à gérer...J'aime toutefois bien les cuivres, les saxos et même la flûte que nous utilisons dans des slows..."
How do you prepare yourself for these big tours?
I’ll be in Barbados through January, February and March. I work out every day. Monday, Wednesday and Friday I will be in the gym, and in between I play tennis. By the time I get to the end of that I start working my voice as well. So by the rehearsals I am physically fit. I already had my bloodtest and I can be insured. The insurance is a very big problem. They don’t like to insure people anymore.
Again your age that troubles you?
Yes, they think I’m going to die on stage. (laughs loudly) But my health is fantastic. Every time I go for a test, everything is fine. I’m a very lucky man. Roger Federer said that 50 percent of his success is because he never go injured. Well, 50 percent of my success is because I never really have been sick. Yes, we had to cancel maybe four times in 55 years because I got an infection. And I probably got it because somebody else was sick and came to the concert, screaming ‘we love you’ in my face (laughs). That’s the worry of touring: please don’t let me get injured, don’t let me be sick.
Health is a big issue for you. As well as your body. You cherish it don’t you. When I look at the success of your calenders…
Yeah, they’ve become like a tradition in England. I love doing them but I can’t do it forever. There comes a limit. How different can I look? How can I smile differently, stand differently… One newspaper said this is my last calendar. Although I said it might be my last but probably not. Maybe I should make it my last so it hits number one.
But it is obviously not the last one?
No, in February I’ll be shooting some pictures in Barbados. I turn 75 in 2015, so I thinking about a compilation of shots throughout the years. Even black and white pictures. After that, I wanna do one more calendar: all live pictures, me singing at concerts everywhere. That might be an interesting angle. But it has to stop at one point.
Where did you get the fascination for this calendar?
A long time ago I discovered that fans like me, for my music. But if there’s something else about me they can find to like –my wine, my charity or my calendar-, it makes my personality bigger for them. They can relate to you in different ways. Of course it’s enough to just love the music but if you as an artist can become more as a real person to them then you’re more important to them. I like all these different facets in my life. The calendar however is the biggest pressure in my life for the moment. I have a great photographer, he knows how to make me look good without airbrushes.
No photoshop at all?
I only did it once. I had a vain in my arm removed. It was there because I had to hold a glass up for like ten minutes to get the shot right. So the vain got airbrushed (laughs).
You’re very religious man. How do you cope with the cynical society.
Life is so much easier if God is part of it. If there’s no God there’s no answer for all the things that are happening on our planet. Why would you help if you have no morality? Morality comes from the spiritual state of mind. We don’t seem to be natural moral. We need to be inspired to be more moralistic. When spirituality became a big part of my life, I looked to people differently. I got much more involved with charity work. Cause I felt so lucky to be alive in the morning, knowing there are people who wake up in the morning not knowing if they gonna have something to eat that day. I became much more of a full person because you stop thinking only of yourself. And that’s a big benefit.
And on a personal note, media aren’t always that kind with you.
What media write about me is a stressfactor but my spirituality lets me sleep at night.
Do you feel anger when you read this gossip?
Frustration. There’s no point of being angry cause you can’t do anything about it. On the other hand, you know in a few days people won’t even remember it. Because it’s unimportant. What is important, is that those journalists are not lying to us about our politicians. I wanna know if it is the fact that I read in the newspaper. But they have written so many things I supposed to have said that have nothing to do with my philosophies of life that I wonder ‘are they quoting our Prime Minister correctly?’ But the awful part is, in the end we need the newspapers. We have no guarantee of airplay anymore so we need the papers to spread the message. I often wonder why we don’t just buy half a page in a newspaper and put in a commercial with an interview on my latest album. Maybe you can do the interview?
Only if it’s done in Barbados (laughter all around). Thank you very much for your time and see you in Brussels.
Sir Cliff Richard in concert, 31 May 2014. Paleis 12. Brussels. Tickets: www.yetix.be
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