Last night I saw my first childhood music hero in concert for the third time. When I was five years old, Cliff Richard was it. Sure, Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon were up there too, but top of the pile as a Kiwi expat kid in Malaysia in 1986 was Cliff Richard. To see him live in 1991 – my first ever concert thanks to my Dad forking out $49.50 per ticket – was surreal, irrespective of Cliff wearing bike pants and a dinner jacket for the encore.
The second Cliff concert was three years ago in 2010 when he performed with the Shadows for their extended 50th anniversary tour which culminated in an alleged ambush at his hotel at 2am alongside his superstar wingman Hank Marvin, the original British guitar hero. A long story short, Cliff, Hank, my friend Jen and I had quite the chin-wag in the wee small hours that night, thanks to them arriving back at their hotel just as we were about to board a taxi…
For the third Cliff Richard concert experience I managed at the last minute to pick up a couple of tickets through radio connections to Cliff’s Rockin & A Reelin’ Auckland concert last night. Unfortunately at that kind of late notice I couldn’t find anyone to accompany me to the concert, though I did try. Plenty of folks claimed they would’ve loved to but had something on. “What a shame!” they exclaimed, though my suspicion was that they’d fallen prey to the myth that the most successful singer in the history of the British top 40 was somehow something of a joke. So I went by myself.
But who cares if he’s uncool? Who cares if two of his current backing singers / guitarists / dancers redefine what it means to be cringe-ably camp, Cliff Richard didn’t place more songs in the UK top 10 than anybody else (68) by accident.
So what is he like in concert at the age of 72? Nauseating support staff to one side, the answer is pretty damn good. Sure, I’d love to force upon him a set-list that removed any songs that weren’t originally hits of his and that focused mainly on his golden years of 1976 to 1989. That said, the man can still sing (though naturally, not quite with the gusto of his circa 1980 peak) and sure knows how to pace a show as well as anyone in the business.
Showing the benefit of an intermission in padding a show out, Cliff began at 8pm and didn’t leave the stage for the final time until 10.30pm having given the 9000-strong crowd pop standouts like Dreamin’, Devil Woman, Suddenly, We Don’t Talk Anymore, Some People, I Could Easily Fall In Love With You, Please Don’t Tease, The Young Ones, My Kinda’ Life, Move It, Livin’ Doll and Wired For Sound. Undeniably it frustrates me his in-concert predilection for interchangeable rock ‘n’ roll songs that were never hits for him in the first place or that he is covering for the first time, but that is a minor quibble.
Cliff may be unfashionably celibate, he may annoy some with his public professions of his Christian faith (though not once mentioned last night) and he may have had a knack for singing Christmas number one hits that sap the tragically hip’s will to live, but he is also the owner of one of the finest, most adaptable voices in popular music history. Privately he is also said to be one of Britain’s most generous philanthropists.
So for the uninitiated, here are 12 of my favourite Cliff songs from what I regard as his finest era, 1976 – 1989. It was at the start of this period that Bruce Welch from the Shadows produced Cliff, reviving his former lead-singer’s career by pushing him in a more blue-eyed soul direction and encouraging him to stretch his vocal range. Even now, listening to the falsetto-dipping Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music makes me think it should’ve been a contender for a Best Pop Vocal Grammy had the judges ever bothered to listen to it.
Operating as a functioning band with excellent material frequently coming from his guitarist Terry Britten and his bassist Alan Tarney (who would dominate production duties for Cliff in the 80s), these 12 songs and many others during this time represent one of the most consistently high quality runs in British pop history: Carrie, Dreamin’, We Don’t Talk Anymore, Can’t Ask For Anything More Than You, My Kinda’ Life, Hey Mr Dreammaker, Yes He Lives, Keep Me Warm, Devil Woman, Ease Along, Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music and Miss You Nights: