The Stables at Prestonfield witnessed a little bit of Edinburgh Fringe history this August with the addition of ageless pop legend, Cliff Richard to the thousands strong ranks of Edinburgh hopefuls past and present. Interviewed by broadcasting royalty Gloria Hunniford, there was more star power on offer than anyone could possibly shake a stick at.
Introduced with a heavy nod to his incredible 8 decade spanning career as a charting artist, Cliff immediately launched into an anecdote plucked from a long ago concert at the Usher Hall. A large box awaited him there, but instead of the huge television he hoped for, a girl jumped out asking for his autograph (she’d been signed, sealed and delivered by her very understanding boss!).
Talk turned to Wimbledon, and Cliff’s migratory habit, bringing him from his Barbadian home to SW19. “In 1996, I was made a member there – it’s really impossible you have to wait for years!” However, having created a fund to help bring tennis into UK schools, his membership was fast tracked. “I remember reading,” he added, “a story about a guy. ‘4 years is nothing’ this guy said, I’ve been waiting 60! I felt so sorry for him!”
Discussions turned next to Cliff’s career, specifically his enduring competitiveness as a charting artist. “I don’t know anyone in our industry…you don’t go into the studio saying ‘I’m going to make a record that gets to number 30. No, the aim is No.1.” He added, however, it was the records that didn’t make no.1 that cements a career. “You just have to compete. If someone else has a better record than you – which is rare! – it’s going to be a bigger hit.”
Cliff spoke of the current music industry where talented singers are no longer supported if they don’t hit the heights right away. In contrast , Cliff was told ‘don’t panic’ we’ll find the right song, they didn’t cancel my contract. And sure enough my next record was a million-seller, ‘Living Doll’.’
Hunniford recalled a conversation of a few years back, “I remember talking to you about a release, and saying ‘Wow! It got into the top 5.’ You said, ‘but it wasn’t no.1!’ You still have that passion and zest!’ Cliff replied that he liked recording, recalling his breakout hit ‘Move It!’ – “I don’t know how old you told them I was,” he said, “I am 65! The reason is I was born in the corner of Studio 2, Abbey Road, 5 years before the Beatles! I would record every day if I could.”
Cliff explored his competitive streak further, “I wanted to be 2 to Elvis, not 3 to the Beatles (talking about lifetime sales).” He’d taken a look at the lists, and realised the Beatles weren’t listed individually, “I bet you they’ve taken their sales, and added it all to the Beatles! I am ambitious, and I am going to find out if that’s true!”
Elvis figures greatly in Sir Cliff Richard’s formative story, first heard through the window of a Citroen car, he even broke into a few bars of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ to delight the audience. “If there had been no Elvis,” he stated, “there would have been no Cliff Richard. The way he looked, the way he sang, I always felt he was influenced by something we didn’t get: black music, country music…I used to listen to him and think he could be black, he had such soul!” Elvis, he was clear, influenced his own music to this day, and his dancing.
Hunniford referred to his upcoming autobiography, “There’s great detail. You had to save up for that first album. Did you bore your parents with playing it over and over and over again?”
“Oh yeah!” Cliff replied, “but they were really good about it. They let me play, but when it came to the 6th or 7th time, Mum might say ‘do you think that’s enough darling?’ They were just so kind and encouraged me. I wrote a book a few years back, ‘The Dreamer’, and I didn’t realise till I read the whole book through that I spoke about my father all the time. I remember one of the last things he said to me? ‘Do you really want to do this?’, I said, ‘Yes, I really want to be a rock and roll singer’, he said ‘OK, just remember you are my son, so you better be the best singer you can be!’ That’s still with me to this day.”
His dad would buy Cliff his first guitar, for the princely sum of 27 pounds in 1956. “I looked it up” he said “that would be about 1000 pounds. My Dad spent that money, I had tears in my eyes when he handed it over to me.”
“I worked with two producers last year” he said, “one strictly for the rock and roll side, the other worked with strings and such. You need their input! You cannot do it by yourself. I think that one got to number 2, you know! Do you know who beat me?” he asked the audience, delighted when they did not…”Taylor Swift! This is a contemporary artist, one of the biggest on the planet, and I get to no.2! I would have thought that was impossible at my age! 44!”
Cliff’s admiration of Elvis could be too much though, “The very first TV show I did, under Jack Goode, ‘Oh Boy’. After the first couple of rehearsals, he said, ‘I need you to change things – get rid of the sideburns’, so I shaved them off.” They next day Cliff was told to lose the guitar, and feared his career was at an end, but Jack explained, “I do not want an Elvis impersonator, I want Cliff Richard.” The rest is history.
Hunniford observed the importance of the people you meet along the way in a career who ‘help you see something in you that maybe you haven’t for yourself. Bringing things right up to speed, in recent years you’ve been working Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, making great stuff!”
Cliff talked about a song Barry wrote & mostly produced for him a few years ago in Nashville. A request for Robin Gibb to come in and sing backing vocals, being against family policy, so Cliff and Barry laid down the backing track themselves. “In fact, I am a backup singer! I love to do the harmonies on my album. Because it can be a bit incestuous if you have your own voice multi-tracked, we’ll either get 3 girls, or 3 girls and 3 boys to join. But I love singing harmonies. However, The Bee Gees are my favourite band, they made the most incredible records.”
At this point Gloria Hunniford related a run in with Barry back in the 90’s, when making a documentary for Radio 2 on Royal Occasions. “I’ve been there from 8am in the morning, the Bee Gees didn’t get off the plane till 5. I was being incredibly enthusiastic about the Royal Variety concert that evening!” The Bee Gees would arrive with a giant entourage, amongst whom Gloria would have to do a bit on the Gibb brothers. “I just blanked on Barry’s name! Not a good thing!’” Barry Gibb, who the following evening would storm off Clive Anderson’s show in the huff, was incredulous and wouldn’t let it go, despite Hunniford flawlessly running through on the second attempt. “Something went off in my brain. I looked up at him and said, ‘You know something, big people like you, shouldn’t make small people like me feel even worse.’ With that, I took my crew and flounced off!”
Several ambassadors from an apparently recalcitrant Barry Gibb, including his wife later, and Hunniford eventually recanted. The interview went brilliantly, but little did they know Clive Anderson was waiting for them.
“It’s always nice to go to new countries. I don’t live in Britain anymore…I don’t ever want to be in Winter again! My mum and dad always said they wanted to get somewhere sunny when they retired. I kept thinking ‘oh these old people!’…and what do I do?!”
Cliff went on to detail his long love affair with the USA, “Life is very accessible. You can get to the cinema at midnight! Get popcorn and watch a fabulous movie. It’s so difficult not to fall in love with that sort of life. From Barbados to Fort Lauderdale or Miami it’s only 3 hours 7 minutes one way, 4 hours and a half the other.”
Cliff was then encouraged to think back on the sudden onset of fame as a young man. He revealed the first time he was screamed at came before his recording career had begun. The Empire in Shepherd’s Bush held a talent competition on Saturday morning, and his then manager offered Cliff Richard and his band for free. “I think it was the word ‘free’ I think made it work! We got the most fantastic reaction!” Indeed, so fantastic was the reaction that Cliff would need the police to rescue him from a toilet whilst newly adoring fans laid siege outside.
Cliff also revealed that he thought of himself, “heart and soul” as a rock and roller, and that this was tied to his love of the USA. Ever since American music made it across to the UK, “we wanted to be part of that” he said. “You see, Rock and Roll isn’t just a tempo, it’s a whole umbrella of music. The song I did called ‘Miss You Nights’ is an out and out ballad, but it’s not operatic, it’s not jazz, it’s not blues, it’s Pop-Rock. It’s a ballad sung by a Rock and Roller. I’m still basically the Rock and Roll person I was, but I’m prepared to be tested.”
Cliff was then happy to reprise a few bars of ‘Move it’ much the audience’s delight.
Cliff went onto discuss his long admiration and association with the Royal Family. When the letter arrived offering a Knighthood, he became hysterical, and couldn’t stop giggling with pleasure. “It was just fantastic! I could never have expected it. I was the first popstar to get it in Britain! Althought another popstar got one before me, but he was Irish…so therefore I remain the first.” The Irish popstar? Bob Geldof, “He’s Irish, and it serves him right!” Cliff swiftly added his admiration for the Live Aid heroics which had led to said knighthood.
Cliff then spoke fondly of meeting the late Princess Diana, the now King Charles, and their 2 children when skiing in Austria. A private concert was requested, arranged, and when Prince Harry expressed his boredome, Cliff took requests. Harry’s request? ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’, at which point the younger prince jumped from his chair and began to dance, whilst Prince William opted to jive, safely, in his seat.
That admiration is famously mutual, Cliff recounting the run-up to the 2012 Jubilee Concert, when the Queen made only two requests of concert organiser Gary Barlow: it mustn’t be too loud, and Cliff Richard had to be there. “All of the Royal Family have an aura around them. They’re not like us, we’re not like them. I don’t know what people think about the Royal Family, but we live in a country that actually has castles that have people living in them!…It brings in an amazing amount of money in terms of tourism.”
He went on to say “I think Charles has a big job ahead of him…I think the Queen is a hard act to follow.”
Talk turned to the people who’ve been part of Cliff Richard’s professional story. This naturally began with The Shadows, and specifically his first days without them as his band. “For me, we were more than friends, we are a family.” When in Australia, Hank Marvin will often join Cliff on stage, and the crowd love it, “He’s one of the few people I have to say ‘get off!’” Hunniford then turned Cliff’s attentions to when a young Pat Carroll and Olivia Newton-John booked their place as Cliff’s backing group. Such were their talents, and tendency to migrate front of stage, Cliff explained he had to place a grand piano between them and the audience to keep all eyes on him!
Then came memories of time with pop-icon, Neil Diamond, who Hunniford had taken to the Albert Hall to see Cliff amidst a 32-night booking. Afterwards, all repaired to the Langham hotel and a private room for dinner.
“We hadn’t met before then,” Cliff recalled, “he [Neil Diamond] turned to me and said, ‘Cliff, you saved my life’. I said, ‘Neil, we’ve only just met!’. He said, ‘No, we didn’t meet!’ He told me he’d been ‘on his uppers’ in New York, no money, wondering what the heck he’s going to do. Suddenly this cheque arrives for about 6 thousand dollars. It was from some guy called ‘Cliff Richard’…I had recorded 3 of his songs. Why? Because I loved the songs!”
Cliff was keen to stress that, in his opinion, no recording artist is an island, they were all products of artists who came before, and influences of others around him be it Elvis, Diamond, or soul singer Curtis Mayfield.
However Hunniford was not done with Cliff Richard and Neil Diamond’s night in London. “It was about 3 o’clock in the morning…we were all singing. The singing got more raucous, and we got a call from the front desk to say, “would you tell those bloody people to shut up! I thought wouldn’t it be great if he walked into the room and saw Neil Diamond and Cliff Richard?!”
No talk with Cliff Richard would be complete without comment on his famously enduringly svelte physique, Hunniford prompting Cliff to tell the audience ‘about the blood diet!” This, the audience learned had been prompted by dialogue in Coronation Street talking about “that chubby Cliff Richard.” A little research later, and Cliff learned of the ‘Blood type diet’, a lifestyle based on your specific blood type. Though this diet yielded results, Cliff would later discover that whilst he was eating for an ‘O’ type, he was actaully ‘A’. “I found that absolutely hysterical” chuckled Hunniford.
The hour approaching the end, Cliff discussed his evolving approach to dance, “The last thing I want to do is be an 83 year-old, trying to be 18.” A small demonstration later made clear that his current moves were more than sufficient to please the fanbase!
However, Cliff has no intention of retiring! “I talk to my manager and say, sometimes I’d like to stop” Cliff said, “you see a red light, you stop. When it goes green, you start again! I’m trying to pace my life a little bit. Our lives are not normal, we’re on call almost daily. I sign hundreds of autographs. I’m sure alot of people think they’re fake, but they aren’t: I do them myself! The thing is, the business and the love of singing, makes you want to continue until you drop!”
Cliff finished by saying that he hadn’t really known anything about the August festivals in Edinburgh before this year. “I didn’t know anything about it, other than I kept seeing comics coming out from the Festival. You have been absolutely stunning: you either have no taste, or you have perfect taste! It’s been a treat to be here!”