After clearing his name following that controversial police raid, Cliff Richard is glad to be back focusing on his music. He’s also glad to count Daniel O’Donnell among his friends, writes Shilpa Ganatra
IN HIS six decades as the housewife’s heart throb, Cliff Richard has seen it all. At the same time as shaping popular culture, with classics like ‘Summer Holiday’ and ‘Congratulations’, he’s seen it change with rise of satellite TV and later the internet (popularised 40 years after his first single); he’s seen Michael Jackson and The Beatles come and go; most recently he’s experienced the unwieldy power of the media with the police raid on his house. But nothing’s managed to stop him in his tracks.
“We were written off as one hit wonders,” he smiles, remembering the start of his career, with backing band The Shadows. “‘Here today and gone tomorrow’: we read that about ourselves and we thought, maybe it’s true. Then 10 years went by and we made our 10th anniversary album. That’s when I thought, maybe there’s something in this, maybe I can keep going.”
That, right there, is the name of his game. The day before we meet him in London, he’s on the front of the British papers, again. He was never arrested, and cleared his name after sex offence allegations were investigated in 2014, but the issue is revived as he appears in the House of Lords to highlight the injustice.
But to him, that was yesterday, and today is all about Just... Fabulous Rock’n’Roll, his 45th album. It was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee soon after its precursor, The Fabulous Rock’n’Roll Songbook, but on pause until the matter blew over.
“This is a good time for me anyway,” he says, looking rather well at his record company’s HQ in London, dressed in a cowboy denim shirt with his wispy hair cleanly cut. “I had the record all ready to go and we decided now’s the time to do it. It’s near Christmas time, which is always a good time to release a record.
“Funnily enough, people always think that I’m the king of Christmas, but I’ve only had two Christmas number ones: ‘Mistletoe and Wine’, and ‘Saviour’s Day’,” he says.
“If you release a record in November, December or January, you have to compete with some of the best artists in the world because guess what they’re doing? They’re trying to get into the market too.”
The album sees Cliff do what he does best: lend his imitable voice to some classic songs, this time from Elvis Presley (‘Blue Suede Shoes’), Chuck Berry (‘Roll Over Beethoven’) and Jerry Lee Lewis (‘Great Balls of Fire’). Just don’t call them covers.
“They’re revivals,” he corrects. “Cilla’s ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ was a cover of Dionne Warwick because it was a current record for Dionne. Once 50 or 60 years go by it can hardly be called a cover.
“The BBC have been very kind to me, they’ve already been playing ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, and they’re going to put us on their B-list [a list of songs which governs how often songs are played on a station], with the intention of maybe putting it on to the A-list. After all these years, I don’t expect it anymore.
“I’ve had my day, but the fact that every now and then I can slip through the cracks is fabulous.”
It’s his 45th release (take that, Take That), a number which speaks of his longevity.
Since arriving on the formative pop scene in his clean-cut, wholesome way in 1958, he’s sold over 250 million records and is the UK’s biggest selling artist after The Beatles and Elvis Presley.
In Ireland, he holds the record for the most hits — 70 of them —trumping the likes of Michael Jackson and Madonna.
“Really?” he says, unaware of the accolade. “Ireland has always been good to us. The Shadows and I have had some hot places like the Netherlands, Ireland, New Zealand. I’ve always had a great time there. I like the Irish people. It’s one of those places where you can walk down the street and though they recognise you, they say, ‘Top of the morning to you Cliff, welcome to Ireland.’ And they get on with their business and you get on with yours.”
His friendship with Daniel and Majella O’Donnell brings him to these parts as much as concert duties. With similar religious devotion and musical outlook, the Daniel and Cliff became fast friends after meeting at a festival in the 1980s. They’ve even recorded together, with a cover (or revival?) of The Carpenters’ ‘Yesterday Once More’ appearing on his 2006 duet album, Two’s Company.
“We’ve gotten closer over the years, but Daniel’s always working so I see more of Majella now,” he says of their friendship.
“When he’s not working we try to get together; either it’s in Portugal, they’ve been to stay with me in Barbados, and I stay in their apartment near Dublin too, so it’s a nice relationship.”
“I wish I heard more of him on the radio because he has a very nice voice,” Richards adds. “Sometimes I feel like I have to fake it.”
The support they’ve given since the allegations cropped was significant — the pair went on Good Morning Britain to clear his name with the public once it had been cleared in court. How much did that mean to him?
“The last couple of years, I’ve had fantastic support. It’s always helpful if you’re going through a period of life where, whether it be a personal thing... ” he says. “I’ve relied on my fans and my friends, and there’s been great support.”
Apart from a solid friendship, Daniel and Cliff also share a long-standing place in a fast-changing music industry. Back in the 1950s, Richards’ first records were recorded in mono; now it’s Bluetoothed to wireless speakers through Spotify.
“In terms of technology and recording, it’s an absolutely creme de la creme time to make records,” he notes. “The irony is that no one buys them anymore. Some people give them away just to be able to go on tour.
“As someone who has sold close to 300 million records, you listen to some of the acts that have come from X Factor — they are so good, and to think that they won’t sell the way we sold records in the ’50s to ’90s. People like Ed Sheeran, Adele, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Lady Gaga — they’re all fabulous artists, they should all be million selling all the time, but they’re not.
“And those artists now are much better than we were, when we started,” he adds.
“They’re more confident with their voices, and they’ve been influenced by everything that’s happened over the last 60 years. My influence was Elvis, and that was it.”
So in this day of ever-changing phones, clothes, apps and artists, how does he suggest these artists reach their 45th studio album?
“Longevity can only come if you work for it,” he says wisely. “I’m doing so much promotion for this album, and I’m 76. I remember when I was starting out, another artist in their 20s cancelling one interview they had in Germany.
“You can’t do that and expect longevity. You have to be wedded for what you like. I’ve been wedded to my career, and okay, I suppose I’m pulling back now. I’m trying to make life a little cleaner for myself, but I don’t want to retire!”
With a tour planned next year, for which he promises to return to Ireland, make no mistake — it’s business as usual. And thanks be for that.
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