From Living Doll to living legend
He's a contender for the Christmas No 1 single - again - and his album of duets is selling well. He will never be cool, but dismiss Cliff Richard at your peril, says Damien Murray
Published 06/12/2006 | 13:32
I have great admiration for Cliff's personal stance in the music business - he is one of the few who has the courage to stand by his principles. I also admire his staying power in that he has outlasted every musical trend of the past six decades with a sincerity and commitment that may well be unmatched.
As a music fan, I also respect the sheer variety of his offerings over the years - skiffle, rock'n'roll, pop, sacred, country and ballad, including some classics. In short, I believe that he is unique in the music business.
It would take a whole book to list all of his many achievements, but we will mention a few highlights ... Cliff is British pop's most celebrated survivor and in 1995 was knighted for his services to popular music and charity.
He has achieved longevity of career that others could only dream about and, boasting the release of 146 singles, 44 EPs, 77 albums and 11 compilations (most of them hits) holds the record, along with Elvis Presley, as the only act to make the UK singles charts in all of its active decades, from 1950s until the present.
His early success opened up the importance and strength of rock 'n' roll music to other British record companies who, looking for a 'second' Cliff and the Shadows, eventually signed the Beatles.
He appeared in a number of films, including The Young Ones, Summer Holiday, Wonderful Life and Finders Keepers, which led to him being named the top cinema box-office attraction in Britain during the early 1960s.
Another important aspect of Cliff's life was his conversion to Christianity in the mid-1960s. Standing up publicly as a Christian affected his career in several ways. Firstly, Cliff believed that he should quit rock 'n' roll, believing that he could no longer be the rocker who had been called a "crude exhibitionist" and "too sexy for TV", although his image had already become tamer due to his film roles and well-spoken voice on radio and TV.
He intended at first to reform his ways and become a teacher, but Christian friends told him that he did not need abandon his career just because he had become a Christian.
Cliff soon re-emerged and performed with Christian groups and recorded some Christian material. He still recorded secular songs with the Shadows, but he gave a lot of his time to Christian work.
As time progressed, Cliff balanced his life and work, which enabled him to remain one of the most popular singers in Britain as well as one of its best-known Christians.
Always staying true to his principles and being a very genuine person made him a real rarity in the music business, but it also led to much derision from others.
Christian music and Eurovision Song Contest entries may have provoked ridicule from some - but remember, Eurovision launched two of popular entertainment's most successful phenomena - Abba and Riverdance - while Christian music far outsells many other musical genres, including contemporary pop music.
However, Cliff has had no problem riding this continued storm of scorn, for another quality he possesses is an ability to laugh at himself (have you seen The Young Ones video?) and never to take himself too seriously.
In recent years, Cliff - who has homes in England, Portugal and Barbados - has also been involved in business enterprises. His range of perfume products and a wine range (his 2004 vintage received a 'Silver Best in Class' award in the International Wine & Spirit Competition) are available throughout the UK and he has a stake in a new hotel in Manchester.
So, should he just sit back and retire, or is Cliff still an important, vibrant part of British cultural life? Well, he was invited to attend the service at St Paul's Cathedral to mark the Queen's 80th birthday, and was honoured at Wembley Arena by the presentation of an award as the venue's best-selling artist.
BBC Radio 2's three-part documentary,Cliff - Take Another Look, is set be broadcast on December 12, 19 and 26 and a special celebration book will be published next year to mark his 50th anniversary in the music business.
He has just announced international tours next year of South East Asia, South Africa and Europe and his current album of duets - Two's Company - entered the charts at No 8, featuring duets with such luminaries as Brian May, Dionne Warwick, G4, Daniel O'Donnell, Sarah Brightman, Elton John, Olivia Newton-John and Lulu.
Indeed, a new version of his debut hit, Move It (with Brian May and Brian Bennett), from the album is now available as a single and, along with a new Christmas song, 21st Century Christmas, is a serious contender for the Christmas No 1 slot!
Of course, the biggest competition for the coveted Christmas top-spot comes from the as-yet-undecided X-Factor winner, who is almost guaranteed the accolade, no matter what the quality of their song.
There is an irony there, as only last week on The X-Factor, 18-year-old contestant Raymond Quinn may have performed Elvis Presley's Jailhouse Rock, but his performance looked every inch like an early Harry Webb whose first single, Move It, went to No 2 in the charts in 1958 and is still considered a classic.
So, RIP pop legend Cliff Richard? All the evidence would suggest that is still a long way off.
Cliff Richard's Belfast show has been rescheduled to Monday 4 December. Tickets for the original date, December 3, remain valid. There were still other tickets for sale, at the time of going to press, at £41.50 and £49, available from Odyssey Arena box office (9073 9074) or Ticketmaster outlets.
But here's someone who never wants to hear mistletoe and wine ever again ...
There's no getting away from the Peter Pan of Pop, especially at Christmas when a collective lapse of taste means you're bound to be assaulted by one of his seasonal ditties, most likely the syrupy Mistletoe and Wine.
Sir Cliff's enduring appeal is, quite frankly, inexplicable, save for the fact that his suspiciously unlined appearance exerts a powerful hold over a certain type of middle-aged woman.
And despite being dubbed 'the British Elvis', Cliff has little of the King's charisma and talent: he's not much of a singer and it seems laughable now that he was once castigated in the NME for his 'violent hip-swinging'.
But horrifyingly, Sir Cliff, in common with many other cheese-peddlers, seems to be carving out some sort of cult, 'ironic' appeal. My boyfriend, who has a wide-ranging and sophisticated taste in music, shamelessly admits to having the 1981 hit Wired for Sound on his MP3 player, the video for which features a whippet-thin Cliff, resplendent in leather trousers, roller skating around a Milton Keynes shopping centre with a selection of Lycra-clad lovelies.
This truly mind-boggling promo effort was once voted the worst ever, and it's not difficult to see why.
Of course, despite close friendships with Olivia Newton John, Una Stubbs and Sue Barker, the decidedly sexless Cliff is often described as a 'confirmed bachelor'. He admits to having had sex twice, in 1960. Certainly, the lyrics to his 1976 single Devil Woman suggest a slightly paranoid attitude towards the ladies: "She's just a devil woman/With evil on her mind/Beware the devil woman/She's gonna get you from behind".
Despite this interesting Freudian slip, Sir Cliff usually appears to be a mild-mannered, Christian gent. But judging by the truckloads of records and merchandise he's shifted over the years, behind that serene exterior lies a steely core. A cursory glance at his website reveals a plethora of Cliff-related merchandise for sale.
And should you be absolutely crazed by Cliff, you can even anoint yourself with one of his three perfumes - Miss You Nights, Dream Maker, and, you guessed, Devil Woman.
My personal favourite of Cliff-paraphernalia is a 2007 calendar in which Cliff is featured in 12 unforgettable poses: on a motorbike, at the gates to his sprawling mansion, polishing his car ?
Downloadable pictures on his website are similarly intriguing, especially the one in which Cliff, dressed in tennis whites, brandishes a racket in one hand and an acoustic guitar in the other. What can it all mean?