CLIFF RICHARD ENCOUNTERED (2013): Is Cliff a voice in the wilderness?

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Cliff Richard: One Night (live, 1959)
CLIFF RICHARD ENCOUNTERED (2013): Is Cliff a voice in the wilderness?

Cliff Richard was never my pop star. I was the perfect age for the Beatles and the Stones, so when She Loves You and It's All Over Now got their hooks in to me, Cliff seemed old fashioned, redundant and unnecessary.

However amidst my older sister's Elvis and Bill Justis 78rpms had been Cliff and the Shadows' Don't Be Mad At Me/Voice in the Wilderness single (from 1960) and before I had a soundtrack of my own I used to play it repeatedly. I still rate Voice in the Wilderness as a great pop ballad.

I never really followed Cliff's subsequent five decades-plus career (without hearing it, I honestly thought the song Goodbye Sam Hello Samantha was about a sex change operation) and, despite his best efforts to get my attention by touring regularly, I have never seen Cliff live.

Until now.

A week ago a friend told me someone we knew in Cliff's record company had tickets available and so, feeling I could no longer avoid a man who has been popular for more than half a century, I made the call. We would be two rows from the front at Vector and amidst the chapter of the Sir Cliff Richard Movement of New Zealand.

Could it get any better than that?

cliffCliff is many things, and one of them is punctual. The ticket said 8pm and at one minute past he was on stage and began Reelin' and Rockin' looking as slim as Jagger in a sparkle-jacket and matching sneakers. And -- with great sound, an eight-piece band and a superb light show -- Cliff was front'n'centre for the full 50 minutes of the first half.

He sang hits, joked about his flops (Miss You Nights which was hardly a chart disaster in the UK where it went to number two), sang some oldtime rock'n'roll hits which weren't his (Poetry in Motion, Sealed with a Kiss), did a duet with the striking Suzie Furlonger, mentioned his next album to be recorded in Nashville in April, told pointed and self-effacing anecdotes (the Parisian waiter who, on being told he was Cliff Richard said “but surely he is dead?”) and never looked like he was straining his vocals.

Whether you like his music or not, you'd have to concede he still has A Voice . . . and he didn't lip-synch like some we could mention.

More remarkable, after a 30 minute break, he came back for a whopping 70 further minutes of hits (among them an exceptional treatment of the big ballad Ocean Deep), joked about being asked in the 70s if he wasn't past his selling date (“then this happened” he laughed and sang his million-selling Devil Woman), sang even more hits (We Don't Talk Anymore and Wired for Sound from the 80s) and was called back for more.

Not once did he stop for a breath or even a drink of water, and at 72 the man is a remarkable advertisement for tennis, good taste in wine and possibly his faith. He looked ridiculously youthful (yes, he's had work done said my wife) and gave the audience a great show. People loved it, and isn't that what popular entertainment is all about?

Value for money too: by my count he was up there for more than two hours (not bad for the first show on the tour) and even the tour programme was generous, being full of photos, song lyrics, Cliff's asides and thoughts etc. Better than that shitty thing Dylan was flogging.

Megan also bought the tea-towel set (not the teddy bear though) and it goes with our Elvis beach towel from Graceland and our “out damned spot” Lady Macbeth tea-towel from the Globe in London. Just tacky stuff, but fun.

cliff2Okay, at times – as when he sang in an acoustic setting with his two backing singers, one of whom looked like a young Dave McArtney – this looked liked like a theatre production (sort of The Cliff Richard Story with “boy dancers”, as they used to call them in the “thee-ater dahhling”) and there was very little chemistry between him and Furlonger on the big ballads (sung to the crowd not each other).

And of course you have to like 50s and 80s pop, and not be embarrassed by singing along to The Young Ones (which, to be frank, is actually less embarrassing than singing “hope I die before I get old” at a Who concert).

So it was a terrific Show And Production and yes, here it comes. We and just a few others went backstage to meet Cliff afterwards.

He was more slight than expected (and slightly older looking up close naturally), funny, charming, self-effacing and admitted he has been surprised by his good fortune given there are so many other singers out there better than him. Anyone on an Idol show and those in his backing band, he said. He mentioned being sidelined when the Beatles came along and I asked him if he genuinely felt that at the time.

He said he did and asked his manager if he should be worried. The manager asked if he was still having number one hits (yes), still selling out concerts (yes) and still hugely popular (yes). At that he laughed. He just carried on doing what he was doing away from the whims of musical fashion.

We spoke about recording in Abbey Road (he was there five years before the Beatles when he recorded his classic slice of British rock'n'roll Move It in '58) and he said in some small way he and the Shadows could take some credit for the Beatles' career. By them having Britain locked down the Beatles had to go to Hamburg, but of course when they came back . . ..

220px_Listen_to_cliffHe seemed in no hurry to go off to dinner but after a glass of wine he was happy to have his photo taken with us (I didn't, we don't have functioning camera phones) and sign some autographs.

In anticipation I had taken along two old albums I bought in the past few years, Me and My Shadows (1960) and Listen to Cliff ('61). He laughed when he saw them – he looks impossibly young on the covers, but still does of course – and then I produced my ace: the single of Don't Be Mad at Me/Voice in the Wilderness which I have kept for over 50 years.

He did a double take at that and said “Voice in the Wilderness” to himself as if remembering something.

220px_Me_And_My_ShadowsSir Cliff Richard is a remarkable figure in popular culture. Hip and cool folk don't rate him of course (“Cliff 'em all”, I say. Metallica joke, right?) but his peers know better: he has sung with Van Morrison, the Young Ones, Percy Sledge, Freda Payne, Elton John, Janet Jackson, Sarah Brightman, Stevie Wonder . . .

He said he'd like his next album to be rock'n'roll duets with Elvis which are of course possible due to technology and that they both sang those hits in the same key. There is of course the Presley estate to negotiate, he laughed.

So there you have it: I went to Cliff Richard . . . and an admission like that is sure to destroy whatever shred of credibility as a music writer I might have had left. But I couldn't care less.

I enjoyed The Show (if not all the music) in an utterly non-ironic way and admired his energy, enthusiasm and genuine connection with his audience.

And there is nothing better than being in a crowd of people unashamedly enjoying themselves. I find it life-affirming and, that most underrated feeling, fun.

Jeez, last week Elvis Costello delivering a blinder at the Civic and now Sir Cliff? Roll on Laneway and let's see what the grandchildren of Cliff's generation have done with popular music.

Sometimes you wake up and think it's great to be alive . . . and wired for sound.


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Your Comments

Evan Silva - Jan 29, 2013

Thanks Graham trust your impressions,
Evan Silva

Gaylene Martin - Jan 29, 2013

What a good story - music has its suprises even after years of attending and hearing and seeing great live shows. You are right in that you should not care less about what some people may think of your credibility as a music writer. You have the knowledge to respect good performers when you see them. Cliff Richard has a huge following and has had for decades!

Jan - Jan 31, 2013

There are so many people out there who just don't realise how great Cliff really is, and most wouldn't dream of going to a concert, even for free. You, being in the minority and accepting the free ticket, have seen and described what we fans have known for decades. Glad that you enjoyed it, and thanks for sharing.

Barbara - Jan 31, 2013

Thank you for your wonderful review of Cliff's concert, I really enjoyed reading it, it was so nice to see someone give a true review of such a talented performer and legend, I'm so glad you got to see Cliff Live in concert after all those years, I would like to recommend a couple of Cliff's more recently recorded outstanding albums, 'Somethings Goin' On' 2004 and 'Real As I Wanna Be' ' 1998, Fantastic albums.

Ann Backhouse - Jan 31, 2013

Great article, well written and honest! It is hard for those of us who have been Cliff fans from the beginning to see and hear people putting Cliff down as a has been...without having listened to any of his music for years! I realize that some of the older songs seem dated...but there are so many newer albums that are full of great songs...'Something Going On' for instance. It is nice to read positive words, especially from a non fan! Thank you so much for going to this concert and giving Cliff a chance!! x

Justine Lewis - Jan 31, 2013

fantastic article thank you. us in britain are waiting anxiously for June for the concerts and they are going to be fantastic for sure. hope are reporters do as good a job as you have done here. thanks again a hugh CLIFF fan from Tamworth England...

Margit Meisel - Feb 1, 2013

Thank you for writing such a fab article on Cliff´s concert. He really deserves it! He is a fantastic musician, one of the world´s best!-Within the years he has recorded numerous albums which include top hits with his great voice! Cliff has always been busy and loyal to his fans who , nowadays, follow him around the world!!!!!!

Catherine - Feb 1, 2013

Thank you so much for sharing your views on this man that I and so many others think is fantastic. Thank you for your honesty and your ability to get past Cliffs age and see the man for who he is. Awesome that you got to meet him afterwards and that he was as genuine in person as he seems on stage.

evelyn mcnamara - Feb 1, 2013

Evelyn McNamara likes an article on Elsewhere. Yesterday. It is such a treat to see in writing what us CLIFF fans have known for 50 odd years.... CLIFF is an excellent Singer and entertainer and puts on "The Best" concerts ever. He is a perfectionist and gives his all in every thing he does... It's just a shame that our Press do not give him the accolade he so justly deserves... Thank You so much for your honest opinion and Thank You for giving him the chance to show you what a CLIFFtastic showman and beautiful person he really is. CLIFF "Simply the Best" "Always and Forever".... "FOR LIFE" XXXXXX

Maggie - Feb 3, 2013

Loved your article, have been to MANY concerts since my first in 1969 and have never been disappointed.

Enid - Feb 9, 2013

Loved this review. Thanks. It was almost like being there! Unlike a lot of other people, there is only one side to Cliff. Lucky you getting to meet him after!

jennie wallis - Feb 9, 2013

thank you for your positive comments . Cliff is well loved by all who have listened to and seen him live over the years . He doesn`t get the credit he deserves ,and I think that is because people don`t (in general) like nice people xxx

Ludmila Olsson - Feb 9, 2013

Cliff, you are so wonderful..,
thank you for the music!!!

Moya Fleming - Feb 9, 2013

What a brilliant review, so well written and with refreshing honesty. A pleasure to read, almost like being there -I cannot wait for June!! So nice to know that you have found out what Cliff's fans have known for years. Thank you

Andree Malenoir - Feb 9, 2013

Brilliant review....wish other detractors would take the time to see Cliff live!

Barbara Price - Feb 9, 2013

Glad you enjoyed Cliff I have followed him ever since he started I was then 28 now I am 82, i go to all his concerts when he comes to Perth Australia may he go on foreve he is great xx

Dave McCarthy - Feb 9, 2013

I too have taken several non-believers to a Cliff show and they have ALL come away with a new found respect for Cliff. A genuine, nice person with great time for his loyal fans. Heres hoping Cliff might bring his show to Cork in Ireland to treat his many southern Irish fans.

Brenda Rosser - Feb 9, 2013

Loved every minute of the Brisbane Concert! Never had the opportunity to see Cliff 'live' while growing up in the UK, who would have thought that I would go to my first Cliff Concert 48 years on & in Australia! The man is a Legend!

Les Zorn - Feb 9, 2013

A truly wonderful entertainer (Britains Best) who prior to his final performance (CBS Arena) Christchurch NZ arranged a tennis coaching session at 'our' local Tennis Club. During this 'prime time' he made two of our children the happiest in New Zealand by having a photograph taken with them and signing autographs for them. Cliff -You are Truly Inspirational Thankyou!

Robyn Bremner - Feb 9, 2013

Hi Cliff I went to your concert in NewZealand Wellington 28 Jan 2013. What an awesome concert!!!!Cliff you are still great at your age!!!!! You are my favourite singer!!!!!! Go Cliff!!!!!Thanks for a wonderful concert!!!!!

Sue Rose - Feb 9, 2013

I am eagerly anticipating Friday next week (15th Feb) in Melbourne. Can't wait. Have been a fan of Sir Cliff for as long as I can remember. Bought some of his Christian LP albums, and have recently bought the CDs of these albums. Bring it on!!!

Tracey Shields - Feb 9, 2013

The Cliff concert in Newcastle on 5th February was absolutely sensational! Even better than I ever imagined he could still be, and I have not missed a Cliff concert in Australia since 1982. You mentioned two old albums..I have an album titled "Cliff" which on the back cover states Cliff Richard and The Shadows but on the label on the platter inside states Cliff Richard and The Drifters! I wonder how this one slipped through to be released? Obviously the name change came after the vinyl was pressed and before the release of the album itself. It's definitely one of my most treasured possessions.

Paul Andrew - Feb 9, 2013

Good piece, they've linked this one on Cliffs facebook page. I'm not a stereotypical fan and get where you're coming from. He's seriously uncool in some circles but I couldn't give a crap about that. Cliff is a gazillion times cooler than any critic. And thats a 100,000% fact.

Pat Minifie - Feb 9, 2013

53 years ago I used to sneak into my sister's room to play Living Doll on her record player. No more sneaking around I can play your music to my heart's content.
Thanks for "ROCKING AND A REELING" It was superb.Those who haven't seen it yet BEWARE it will blow you away. Cliff you are better than ever

Susan Collier - Feb 9, 2013

Realy enjoyed reading this review, I live in hope that I will one day get to see him live but only live where there is a small theatre so I would have to make an away trip out of it to somewhere bigger like Birmingham or Plymouth

Diane King - Feb 10, 2013

So glad to hear that the concerst are going a storm down under. Unfortunately I shall be unable to go to a Cliff concert in the UK this year and this will the first I have missed for years. However I enjoy reading all the comments re this amazing performer and gentleman. Long Live CLIFF

Pam Harris - Feb 10, 2013

I am the self proclaimed "#1 U.S. Cliff Richard fan" and I applaud you for such a great review of Cliff's concert. He deserves so much more good press than he's been given. He's always been my favorite singer and I even flew across the pond in '06 after buying tickets on EBay - never realizing I'd actually WIN them. Best thing I ever did! I came back home and joined the Cliff Richard Fan Club of Am and I promote him everywhere I go. Someone has to tell the US about Cliff and I "love" my job!

gloria taylor - Feb 10, 2013

what a lovely and unbiased comment. nice to hear it. looking forward to when cliff is back in england for our concerts. gloria.taylor;. essex, england

Elizabeth Webster - Feb 10, 2013

Can't wait for Cliff to come back to Belfast.

Freda Marsh - Feb 11, 2013

Looking Forward To Seeing You at Warwick Castle.
In June.Love You Clff. xx

Francis Pretorius - Feb 12, 2013

Thanks for the lovely article, yes he is very impressive. Am a member of the South African Cliff Richard Club. Met him at the 2007 concert in Jo'burg, but have been a fan since his first Jo'burg concert 1961!

Nigel Horrocks - Feb 12, 2013

This has to be your best if not bravest review ever, Graham. And you're right, he says embarrassingly clutching his autographed CR album. I'm glad I didn't pick Ringo for the nostalgia "give it a try in case it's a surprise winner" concert of the year. GRAHAM REPLIES: Brave? Not sure about that, but it is useful to have your prejudices/preconceptions tested. I went to Ringo, my review of that sorry affair is at

Helen Hack - Feb 24, 2013

Just came home from the Perth concert and we are even luckier as we also had the pleasure of Hank Marvin (who resides in Perth nowadays). All of your comments are pretty exact to what I would have said. I certainly hope I can move half as good as he can at 72. Wonderful and such a joy to listen to and watch. Is it possible to get a list of the backers anywhere, they were all pretty impressive as well!!

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