Born Harry Rodger Webb, 14 October 1940, Lucknow, India
Sir Cliff Richard OBE is regarded as a British institution. One of the most popular and enduring talents in the history of UK showbusiness, he has outlasted every musical trend of the past six decades. His total record sales are estimated at 260 million worldwide.
Born in India of British parentage, Harry Webb and his family moved to England (Cheshunt, Herts.) in 1948. Influenced by Elvis Presley and Bill Haley, young Harry developed the ambition to become a pop singer. After singing in a skiffle group in 1957, he became the lead singer of a rock and roll group called the Drifters in 1958, changing his name to Cliff Richard in the process. A performance at the famous 2i’s coffee bar in Soho, London, led to a contract with Columbia, part of the EMI group. Cliff Richard and the Drifters entered EMI's Abbey Road studio on July 24, 1958. First they covered “Schoolboy Crush”, a Bobby Helms number his producer Norrie Paramor thought had chart potential. Cliff was allowed to slap any old song on the B-side. He chose “Move It”, written by his guitarist Ian Samwell. Jack Good, then Britain’s principal rock & roll promoter, received an advance copy of the disc and found “Schoolboy Crush" unimpressive. The B-side, however, made him jump out of his chair. He could hardly believe that an English record could sound so good and promptly booked Cliff for a series of appearances on his TV show “Oh Boy”. Cliff became the major revelation of the show and on October 5 he began his first UK tour, which was headlined by the Kalin Twins.
“Move It” was the first British rock record with any intrinsic merit. It rose to # 2 on the UK charts to become the first of over 130 chart entries over the next 55 years. Norrie Paramor felt that Cliff’s backing group, the Drifters, wasn’t good enough for the big league and before the end of 1958 the original four members were replaced by Hank Marvin (lead guitar), Bruce Welch (rhythm guitar), Jet Harris (bass) and Tony Meehan (drums). This group was signed to its own EMI recording contract and would soon become famous in their own right, mainly as an instrumental act. Initially they still recorded as the Drifters, but after lawsuit threats by the manager of the American Drifters, they changed their name to the Shadows. They would stay with Cliff until 1968 (with a few personnel changes), backing him both in the studio and on the road.
In 1959 Cliff Richard starred in two films, “Serious Charge” and “Expresso Bongo”. Several other movies followed in the 1960s (“The Young Ones”, “Summer Holiday" “Wonderful Life”). By 1960, Cliff had marked up ten Top 10 hits, including three number ones : “Living Doll” (written by Lionel Bart), “Travelling Light” and “Please Don’t Tease”. With these songs, Cliff moved away from the Presley-inspired rock and roll of his early recordings, thus facilitating his acceptance as a middle-of-the-road family entertainer.
There were further # 1 hits in the 1960s : “I Love You” (1960), “The Young Ones” (1962), “The Next Time”/“Bachelor Boy” (1962), “Summer Holiday” (1963), “The Minute You’re Gone” (1965) and “Congratulations” (1968, also runner-up in the Eurovision Song Contest of that year). Chart success continued in the 1970s, but only “We Don’t Talk Anymore” (1979) reached the top of the UK charts. This was also a Top 10 hit (# 7) in the USA, where his success was rather limited compared to that in the UK, with 19 Billboard Hot 100 entries between 1959 and 1983. His only other American Top 10 hit was “Devil Woman” (1976). But his success in countless other countries truly makes him an international star.
In 1986 Cliff parodied one of his earliest hits, “The Young Ones” with the comedy quartet The Young Ones, another number one (produced by Stuart Colman). One feature of his talent that emerged during the 1980s was a remarkable facility as a duettist. Collaborations with Olivia Newton-John, Phil Everly, Hank Marvin, Sarah Brightman, Elton John, Van Morrison and others added a new dimension to his career. Cliff had also great success with leading roles in the musicals “Time" (1986) and “Heathcliff” (1996, self-written, loosely based on the novel “Wuthering Heights”).
Chart success continued, albeit at a more modest scale, in the 1990s (7 Top 10 hits) and the first decade of the new millennium (4 Top 10 hits). This makes Cliff the only artist to score UK hits in six different decades, along with Elvis Presley. In May 1995 Cliff Richard was knighted by the Queen for his services to popular music and to charity. A few other British pop singers have received the same honour (Paul McCartney, Elton John), but Cliff was the first. Nowadays, Sir Cliff divides his time between living in Barbados and at a vineyard property in Portugal. In 2013 he returned to his rock ’n’ roll roots with the CD “The Fabulous Rock ’n’ Roll Songbook”, the 100th album of his career. He remains British pop’s most celebrated survivor, a musical icon.
- Official website (with discography) : http://www.cliffrichard.org
CD recommendations :
Acknowledgements : Wikipedia, John Tobler, Colin Kilgour.
Dik, April 2016
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