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Groovy Cliff

In 1959, when I was seventeen, I had
the debatable privilege of meeting Cliff Richard.  We had only a brief chat – about what I don’t
recall, or care to – but it may be significant that the boy has never looked
back since then.  

If it is, can you ever forgive

This week, more than half a
century later, Cliff – known to his intimates as Sir Cliff – has announced a
landmark event: the imminent release of his one hundredth album.  Modestly titled ‘The Fabulous Rock ‘n’ Roll
Songbook’, it will include new interpretations of Elvis Presley’s Teddy Bear, Little Richard’s Rip It Up and Buddy Holly’s Rave On
No fabulous new Cliff songs, then, just some fabulous regurgitated hits
from yesteryear, transformed by Cliff’s inimitable treatment. 

Perhaps that’s what happens when
you are seventy-two, as Cliff is, although thanks to a revivifying regime involving
regular physical exercise, ten pills a day and an unshakeable devotion to his
Lord and Saviour, he looks only marginally older than he did the day we met.  Don’t look too closely, mind.

You’re probably not dying to know how I came to meet this
perky Peter Pan of Pop but I’ll tell you anyway.  I was a (reluctant) member of a church youth
club in Hackney called the 59 Club, reflecting the year of its founding.  The brainchild of one of the church’s curates,
Father John Oates, the 59 Club became celebrated across London, and perhaps
beyond, a tribute to the founder’s very evident talent for promotion, and its
opening night turned out to be something of an East End event, attended by Cliff
himself (who had already recorded his first two hits Move It and Livin’ Doll)
and an impressive assortment of entertainers and celebrities, among the latter Princess
Margaret.  (The 59 Club still exists, by
the way, as a biker club, the legacy of Father Oates’s boss, the church’s speed-loving
leather-clad vicar, the Reverend William Shergold.)

My opinion of Cliff today, my
taste in many matters having changed radically, is little altered from what it
was fifty-five years ago, when I was at an impressionable and deferential age.   He was
awful then, and he’s awful now.

To be fair, he seemed in casual
conversation a pleasant enough fellow, with a ready smile and a line in ‘cool’
chat.  But he also came across as terribly
ardent, almost unctuous in his desire to please, and the ingratiating manner
may be even be worse now, every simpering gesture and cheery response suggesting
an ingrained narcissism as mechanical as that programmed into the Stepford

And that speaking voice, slightly
husky, still doesn’t ring true.  The origin
of the underlying accent (delete ‘under’ if you wish) is unidentifiable, neither
West End nor East End, nor any of the other Ends
with which I’m acquainted.  He’s had
elocution lessons, I’ll warrant, because he verges on the well-spoken.  But he only verges.  It’s actually hard to tell what’s really
going on because he also insists on softening his Ts and introducing a vague
drawl in an effort to sound more American. 
Once, early in his career, he yearned to make it big in America, and so
perhaps assumed that a mid-Atlantic twang would help.  (He never did go down well in the biggest pop
music market, a source of regret by his own admission.)    

Of his singing voice, the best
that can be said, or the best that I can say, is that it’s usually more or less
in tune.  It might also be said that the
tunes are unfailingly tuneless.  Performing
on stage Cliff valiantly injects his vapid personality into all of them, hard
rock numbers and soft ballads alike; the former he invests with the syncopated
‘coolness’ of gyrating hips and snapping fingers, a kind of parody of Mike
Myers, the latter with a kind of moonstruck skyward gaze that invites us to feel
the pain.

I feel the pain alright.           

But it isn’t felt by millions of
ladies of a certain age who loyally help to sustain Cliff’s show business
longevity, and in many cases do so, I imagine, to the amazement or at least bemusement
of their husbands.  Star-struck teenagers
during his early years, they are now, as his dotage approaches, mind-struck
housewives.  They have been stuck in a
time-warp, their powers of musical appreciation, and other powers besides,
evidently suspended while they endured the distracting tribulations of marriages,
childbirth, divorces, remarriages and abandoned careers.  Oblivious to the evidence of Cliff’s lifelong
lack of interest in the Fair Sex, they long to turn back the clocks to that groovy
year when Cliff invited them to clamber, breathless and bikini-clad, aboard that
ubiquitous double-decker bus in Summer
Cliff at the wheel, warbling merrily.  What he planned to do with them when the bus
reached its destination I’ve forgotten and can’t imagine.   

I’m prepared, charitably, to
congratulate Cliff for staying such a long course, and for achieving a century
of albums.  But I think he ought to
consider taking a rest from his exertions. 
Needless to say, he’s not getting any younger, doesn’t need any more
money – which means that, almost needless to say, he’s going to be wailing at
us for many more years to come.


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