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When Cliff Richard Said Yeah

In August of 1962 I was five years old and on vacation in Bournemouth, a somewhat working class vacation resort in the North of England.

It was then I went to my first concert, Cliff Richard and the Shadows, with my family. I would be lieing if I claimed to remember much about this: it is the haziest of memories, a very small, very round boy, dancing near the stage (that would be me, not Cliff).

I went with my family and legend has it my father hated it, my eldest sister loved it, and everybody else was some variation therein.

We are all products of our enviroments but when you are five years younger then your next losest siblings you are soaking up a heck of a lot of influences. In my house it went like this: my Dad loved the American songbook and musicals, my Mom preferred American and English pop and country stars like Jim Reeves. My eldest sister followed Elvis and Richard and other rock and roll stars, my brother would eventual introduce me so psychedelia: Hendrix and Cream, like that. The middle sister (later still) to glam rock and R&B, and the youngest sister to the Monkees.

Today Sir Cliff is a national institute in England; a life time superstar with impreccable pop credentials (try, to start with, his Van Morrision duet “Whenever God Shines His Light on me” for some modern stuff). In 1962 Cliff Richard was the biggest act in England. In the late 50s he was a sexually ambigious pretty boy Presley soundalike except that isn’t quite all -perhaps the Jonas brothers are a good comparison but not quite. Partially, because the Shadows were an exemplary instrumental band, partly because Richard chose superb material and partly because at first there was a seriousness to his rebellion, Richard was more than the English Presley or ever a Perry Comi-ish palative for the racial boundaries (and sexual anxieties) of the blues and rock and roll.

So at the start there was a rock legetimacy as well as an edge to the Richard sound. but 62 was past the start, “The Young Ones” -Cliff’s second movie had just been released (and it’s worth noting that it was more than just a star vehicle -with Robert Morley playing his father, rich boy Richard denies his roots to help a youth hostel remain open: the music stands up and so does the story) and was a huge hit. The tour was a sell out everywhere.

Back in the day, bands didn’t play for three, two or even one hour. They were part of musical caravans: the modern equivalent would be Hut 97s Summer Jam or Z100s Zootopia. Incidentally, not the worst way to check out pop bands.

Anyway, I believe Lonnie Donegan and Cilla Black (a harbinger of Liverpudlians waiting in the wings) were the opening acts. Legend has it the only person my father enjoyed was Cilla. And then the Shadows played a set and then to a deafening road that must have shocked my parents but is common ground to anybody who watched Taylor Swift on dateline last night, here came Cliff.

Cliff had about as much integrity as, say, Presley: he was on a road taken by only a few at that time: from rock and roller to family entertainer. Here we catch him in transition. Cliff’s first movie “Espresso Bongo” was a black and white movie about the seedy side of musical entertainment in the West End of London featuring the sexually very ambigious Laurence Harvey and Richard playing a supporting roll. “The Young Ones” was a hugely succesful full color musical starring Cliff!

The set saw Richard’s transition between the past and the present. R&B classics like “I’ve got A Woman,” American standards like “My Blue Heaven” and pure Richard pop bliss low lights ballads like “When The Girl In Your Arms” (“is the girl in your dreams thats when your falling in love…”

Richard was a pop confection, a dream of a middle to lower class boy next door changing the world on Presley’s hips and sneer and his own angelic looks and ambi-sexuality. The little girls certainly did understand. But what they understood was a mirage. The real Richard was a half-Indian boy from a council estate. Between caste laws and class restrictions, Richard was a product of so much disdain (among other things, his parents went bankrupt after coming to London: a true nightmare for the poor kid).

I guess what happened to Sir cliff was the American dream for a guy who never broke big here. Like the Jam and the Kinks before him -he couldn’t help being very very English. And he neither translated well nor did the States need another bridge between black rock and roll and a white teenage audience.

On this night in 1962, Richard was overwhelmed by the screaming girl audience in an age where amplification was still in its baby days. In the middle of the maelstorm he swiviled and pouted, he bluesed and rocked with that voice just too sweet for words, tuneful even when shouting.

And as this night he ended his set with the generational arbitrating rock classic: “We Say Yeah”.
“Mummy says no, Daddy says no, Brother says no, But they all got to go. Cause we say yeah .If we didn’t go ahead, And thought of all they said, Might as well give up, man, We might as well be dead.”

Somewhere over there Sir Cliff would become a major movie star, a pop star of the 70s, a national icon and a Knight. on this night he was the voice of his generation. On this night we all said yeah.

The Setlist:

Dim Dim the Lights
My Blue Heaven
Razzle Dazzle
Rovin’ Gambler
Save My Soul
When the Girl in Your Arms
I Got a Woman
The Young Ones Medley: Lessons in Love/Got a Funny Feeling/The Young Ones
We Say Yeah

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