Cool Cliff (nicked from the internet)

Much as I sympathise with Cliff Richard for the shabby treatment he received at the hands of the BBC and Yorkshire Police, I cannot help but think that to some degree he brings his troubles on himself. Set yourself up as a paragon of virtue, as he’s done ever since he made public his Christian beliefs in the mid-sixties, subsequently allying himself with Mary Whitehouses moral crusade, and some will seek to claim otherwise. The more you insist on secrecy in your private life, the more some will seek to unlock its secrets. It’s the price of being a celebrity and if you don’t like it, then tough shit – you’ve got millions in the bank, a big house or two and a Roller in the drive, so live with it.
         All of this occurred to me as I watched Sir Cliff Richard: 60 Years In Public and In Private on ITV the other night. In reality it was 60 minutes of obsequious flattery – ‘hagiographic fluff’, as Lucy Mangan called it in The Guardian – designed to promote his new album but the BBC business gave it an angle and was threaded through the film in such a way that, as his story from the Fifties to the present was told, we were brought back to it again and again, largely through interviews with his supporters who expressed their abhorrence at what happened, and Cliff himself who tried very hard to be as generous as he could about it but was clearly equally indignant, as he has every right to be.
         Some interviewees, among them the music journalist Steve Turner and a former ‘Fleet Street editor’, seemed to agree with me, suggesting that Cliff’s eternal bachelor status inevitably leads to suggestions that he might be gay, which may or may not be true, but if he is then this doesn’t chime too well with his religiosity so he’s keeping mum. His live-in companion, we were told, is a retired Roman Catholic priest, so perhaps he’s been minded to take a vow of celibacy. Or perhaps not. Perhaps he keeps a harem of concubines in the Portuguese villa where he tends his vineyards. We’ll never know because he refuses to say, and the longer he refuses to say the more the speculation will continue.
         I am not a fan. I belong to the school of thought that believes Cliff hasn’t improved on ‘Move It’, the first single he ever recorded back in 1958, which was absolutely tremendous and remains, as one of the interviewees – I think it was the erudite Paul Gambaccini – said, ‘the best British rock’n’roll record until The Beatles came along’, or words to that effect. That’s true. Ernie Shear’s guitar intro was a gem, and when Cliff comes surging in on the last line of the first verse – ‘Let me tell you baby it’s called rock and roll’ – it’s as good as anything the Americans were coming up with. Furthermore, the message in the lyrics suggested the cool-looking singer in his white jacket, black shirt and white tie really did have faith in the power of rock. Unfortunately, though the follow-ups ‘High Class Baby’ and ‘Mean Streak’ weren’t bad, the rot set in with record number five, ‘Living Doll’, his first number one, beloved of Andrew Lloyd Webber we learned, and from then on Cliff changed his apparel and set his sights on that dreaded objective, becoming an all-round entertainer, exemplified in this show by an appearance in a pantomime. Thereafter his output descended into North European schlager (‘Bachelor Boy’, ‘Congratulations’, etc), sentimental balladry (‘The Minute You’re Gone’, ‘Miss You Nights’, etc) or God-fearing piety (‘Saviour’s Day’, ‘The Millennium Prayer’, etc), none of which are to my taste. 
         It could be argued, of course, that Elvis did the same when he came out of the army, but at least he left us four or five albums of decent stuff, as heard on the 50’s Masters box set, and he partially redeemed himself with the Memphis sessions in 1968 and ’69. For my money, Cliff’s only subsequent records of merit have been ‘Devil Woman’ in 1976 and ‘We Don’t Talk Anymore’ three years later, unless I’ve missed something which is quite possible as I gave up on him long ago.
         He certainly has a loyal fan base, mostly ladies of a certain age who don’t seem to see the irony in singing along to ‘The Young Ones’, as ghastly a song as he’s ever recorded. Cliff is now a cottage industry in this regard, a cult in a way, set apart from the mainstream music industry insofar as his records and tickets to his concerts can be marketed direct to this fan base without the need to engage with the public at large. Cliff gave the impression he’d like to expand on this, but it doesn’t really matter, not now. He’s 78 after all, but he still plays tennis.
         I am absolutely certain that whatever it was that motivated Yorkshire Police to raid his Surrey home four years ago was based on a pack of lies. He was innocent of whatever it was that someone suggested he did, and the BBC were way out of order in covering the raid in the grotesque manner they did, a dreadful, albeit uncharacteristic, lapse in editorial judgement for which they have rightly been censored. But, gee whizz, Sir Cliff Richard: 60 Years In Public and In Private didn’t half ladle on Cliff’s virtuousness thick. It was even felt necessary to point out that when Cliff generously donated a case of his vintage wine to the doormen at Wimbledon, the bottles would not be opened until they were off duty. Of course not.



By virtue of my longstanding friendship with Keith Altham, one of the UK’s longest serving music writers and PRs, I have been attending these lunches at the Bull’s Head in Barnes – the Scribblers, Pluckers, Thumpers & Squawkers (Writers, Guitarists, Drummers & Singers) Club – for about a dozen years now. As Lesley-Ann Jones relates above the pictures on my FB page, they began in a small way with Keith at the helm, then grew as others took over the admin, John Pidgeon followed by Ed Bicknell and now LAJ herself, assisted by David Stark and Rab Noakes. They take place twice a year, one in summer and the other in early December, and yesterday someone told me that the waiting list now runs to over 200. The only way get on it is for a regular to die, a bit like the MCC but probably more fun and there’s no dress code.
         The only rule is to leave your ego at the door. In this way those attendees who’ve made a bit of a name for themselves in the world of music are the equals of those who haven’t. In times past Bill Wyman was a regular but he seems to have dropped out, and I seem to recall Roger Daltrey joining us a decade ago. Noddy Holder is a regular, though he hasn’t showed for the last two, but his old drummer – sorry thumper – colleague Don Powell never misses. Reg Presley was a regular until he left us, and we are usually joined by a couple of Shadows, Bruce Welch and Brian Bennett, and three other drummers from the thumpers Hall of Fame, Clem Cattini, late of The Tornados and many more, Rob Townsend of Family, and John Coughlan from the Quo. As a surprise for Clem, LAJ once brought along his old Tornados guitarist pal George Bellamy who brought his son, Matthew, of Muse, probably the biggest ‘young’ star we’ve ever had.
         At first it was an all-male affair. Then I recall that Sandie Shaw once turned up as an honoured guest, which delighted me because Sandie was the first pop star of note that I ever met, back in Bradford in 1968 when she was modelling fashions for a mail-order clothing company based there. As the pop correspondent on the local paper, the Telegraph & Argus, I was assigned to cover her arrival in the city. She was very tall indeed and wore shoes, and quite lovely too. She didn't remember me. 
         But back to Barnes. Sandie opened the floodgates in a way and now the female contingent, all of whom dress exquisitely, number about 25% of us. There are some singers – yesterday we welcomed Madeline Bell, no less, along with the Lewis sisters, Linda, Shirley & Dee, Mari Wilson and Suzie Quatro, who’s become a regular – a couple of glamorous Quo wives, Patty Parfitt & Gillie Coughlan, writers, like my old friend Pauline McLeod, who was on the Daily Mirror when I was on MM, LAJ herself, and PR Judy Totton, who told me she’s working on Joe Brown’s forthcoming tour – and Joe will be 78 next May.
         Frank Allen of The Searchers has been an attendee for longer than I have, and I was saddened to learn yesterday that after a 60-date UK tour that takes place next January, February and March, The Searchers will finally retire, thus bringing a close to a career that began in 1959. “The two hours on stage is still magic,” said Frank. “It’s the travelling we can’t handle any more.”
         Tich (aka Ian Amey), of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, is still a regular though his boss, who once graced us with his boisterousness, left us in 2009. Rab Noakes, who now brings his guitar, is another long-standing member, along with singer Billy Nicholls and Mo Foster, who’s played bass on more records than he’ll ever remember, and who once wrote a great book called 17 Watts, all about the gear British would-be rock stars were obliged to suffer before Fenders and Gibsons arrived on these shores. Another regular bassist who joins us is the affable Tom McGuinness, late of Manfred Mann and many others. Yesterday we were joined by Blue Weaver, late of Amen Corner, who played keyboards for The Bee Gees for many years. It was nice to be able to tell him that ‘(If Paradise Is) Half As Nice’ is still of my favourite singles. 
         We also welcomed a couple of DJs, Andy Peebles and Paul Gambaccini, whom I’ve known since he used to be Rolling Stone’s London correspondent back in the '70s, which brings me to my writer friends, John ‘Bizarre’ Blake, his former colleague David Hancock from the Sun and Mirror, Gavin Martin and Chris Salewicz from NME, Phil Sutcliffe from Sounds, the acclaimed author Philip ‘Shout’ Norman, who’s at present working on a book about Jimi Hendrix, and my old MM colleague Chris Welch, next to whom I sat yesterday and, as ever, wallowed in nostalgic reminiscences from the time we sat next to one another in MM’s Fleet Street office.
         Simon Napier-Bell who, on handing over the management of The Yardbirds to Peter Grant famously advised him to fire Jimmy Page because he was a troublemaker, turned up yesterday, having evidently flown in especially from South East Asia. Another hi-octane manager who always joins us, of course, is Ed Bicknell, who managed Dire Straits after a career in the music business that began as the drummer for pop star Jess Conrad way back when. Ed took over the running of the event from the dear departed John Pigeon and, after inaugurating a tradition whereby the names of those in music, performers or otherwise, who’d left us in the last six months are read out, always lightened the mood with a few hilarious stories from his past.
         So I’ll end this little report with one of those, one that I’ve repeated many times now, with apologies to Ed. In 1988, as some may recall, a Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute Concert was held at Wembley Stadium, and amongst the many star names taking part were Dire Straits and Whitney Houston. Sometime during the course of the day word was passed to Ed that Whitney wished to meet Mark Knopfler with a view to him perhaps playing on a track on her next album. The meeting was duly set up and La Houston arrived at the DS backstage caravan. Amiable conversation ensued during which Mark advised Whitney of his willingness to contribute, it being decided that the details would be confirmed soon through Ed and Whitney’s ‘people’. Just as Whitney was leaving, however, things took a turn for the surreal. “I can’t wait to see Nelson,” she said. “I’ve got all his albums but I’ve never seen him live.”
         No surprise, perhaps, that Mark didn’t contribute after all.
         Apologies to anyone I’ve forgotten to mention. Like all of us, I’m looking forward to the next luncheon immensely, and as ever am grateful to LAJ, David and Rab for their efforts in assuring a splendid time is guaranteed for all.