|Cliff Richard with Cilla Black (and with Lulu as well – bottom left).
A link I put on my Newstalk ZB Facebook pages (facebook.com/timroxborogh and facebook.com/zbthetwo) yesterday showing Cliff Richard singing at Cilla Black’s funeral has quickly become one of the most liked and viewed posts I’ve ever shared. And so while there’s a good chance you’ve already seen the clip if you follow me on Facebook, I just wanted to tap out a few words about why I believe this footage has resonated so much.
The first point is obvious: Cilla Black was a much-loved entertainer who managed to surpass her 60s pop-star success by becoming an endearing TV-institution in the UK. As such, people were always going to be interested in her funeral. But the clip of Cliff talking about his great friend and then singing was something uniquely special.
Cliff will be 75 in two months and has endured the worst year and a bit of his life with the as yet unsubstantiated claims about him. Some recent photos have the man so often referred to as being “ageless” or the “Peter Pan Of Pop” looking decidedly worn out, even gaunt. At least that is how some media have portrayed him.
So there’s Cliff Richard, nearly 11 years older than Paul McCartney’s 1960’s idea of what once constituted old-age, singing at a funeral for the dearest of friends, against a backdrop of his own personal trauma. And he knocked it out of the park. His vocals were nothing short of remarkable, so too the song.
Faithful One was the final track from 2004’s Something’s Goin’ On, one of the three best albums he’s made in the past 30 years, alongside Always Guaranteed (1987) and Stronger (1989). Recorded in Nashville and Miami, Cliff assembled mostly American writers, musicians and producers who really didn’t know him from a bar of soap, let alone the singer who’s placed more songs in the UK top 10 (68) and top 40 (124) than anybody else.
The two exceptions were Isle Of Man-born Bee Gee Barry Gibb who contributed the excellent UK top 20 hit I Cannot Give You My Love and the British contemporary Christian songwriter Chris Eaton who wrote or co-wrote four songs for the album. One of those songs was Faithful One.
Standing at the cathedral lectern, Cliff looked healthy and composed as he spoke off the cuff of a friend who’d stood by him through thick and thin for 50 years. Admitting he’d left his lyric sheet behind, Cliff then declared he should be nervous, “but didn’t care anymore.” After explaining the “faithful one” referred to in the song is Jesus, he launched into one of the finest spirituals of his seven-decade career.
He did so with a kind of authenticity that struck me as less about preaching and more of, “I don’t care what anyone thinks of me – this is my truth and I’m saying these words and singing this song because I believe it.” These lyrics perhaps mean more to Cliff now than they did in 2004:
I walk a narrow road through valleys deep
In search of higher ground on mountains steep
And with feet unsure I still keep pressing on
For I am guided by the faithful one
For a enigmatic celebrity so lampooned for his Christianity, for his celibacy, for the general mystery of his personal life, this performance ironically felt like the redemption of his public image. He seemed brave.
Candle In The Wind ’97 this is not – for a start he sang to an instrumental backing track so the recording is not of commercial-release standard. But if it is the beginning of a reassessment of an artist with far more credibility than many critics have cared to remember or realise, than what a gift Cilla Black has given to him. The clip from the funeral as well as the studio version are below.
Afterword: Cilla Black died August 1st aged 72 following a fall in her Spanish home. Shortly after her death she achieved the first UK#1 album of her career – The Very Best Of Cilla Black.
Click here to link to a piece I wrote last year about the police investigation Cliff is facing. It is a defense of both the man and the music he’s made.