I’m Nearly Famous
Original album remaster released by EMI in July 2001. Liner notes, recording data and discography (with Peter Lewry).
It is ironic what is arguably the most significant recording date of Cliff Richard’s post rock ‘n’ roll career came about almost by accident, when in one forty-eight hour period in September 1975, Cliff made the decision to record under the production guidance of Bruce Welch, Devil Woman and Miss You Nights. It was these two recordings later released as top side singles in February and May 1976 respectively, that would set the tone for what many would call the renaissance of Cliff Richard’s recording career.
Just as ironic, according to some quarters, was the fact that Welch, the rhythm guitarist and often front man of Cliff’s former backing group, The Shadows, was instrumental in the re-launch of Cliff’s career. Ironic, that is, when you consider the two were not close aside from their love of music, and it was only when Cliff’s manager, Peter Gormley, who by this time was now quite worried about Cliff’s flagging record sales, which according to some critics was boring, bland and hitless, put out the word, whoever found the right songs for Cliff would be in with a chance to produce.
With the success of sharing composer and producer credits with John Farrar on three American top ten hits for Olivia Newton-John, it seemed Welch was uniquely placed with music publishers and songwriters to come up with the goods. He too was putting out the word that Cliff was now ready to dump his middle-of-the-road image. And as far as Cliff, Welch and management was concerned, the days of the Congratulations type songs were long gone.
In fact, it was during Welch’s material-gathering trip to Los Angles, that he found, albeit unknowingly, the song that would start the ball rolling. He had met with Lionel Conway, then the British head of Island Music in LA, who played him a batch of demo songs by Island’s songwriters. Not that Welch was struck by any of them, until her returned to London, and flipped one of the cassettes over, to hear Miss You Nights, a song Conway had omitted to tell him about, simply because it wasn’t a demo, but a track for a shelved, and much considered uncommercial Island Records album. There and then, Welch instantly knew that he had found a smash hit for Cliff. It had been written and performed by Dave Townsend, a 26-year-old songwriter from England, and it was this version that Welch took down to Cliff’s house in Weybridge that summer along with a couple of others.
Cliff had already been given one of those others, Devil Woman, the story of a seductive fortune teller, not by Welch, but by the writer Terry Britten, some months earlier but had done nothing with it. It was only through Welch’s sheer persistence and a no let-up pressure that Cliff ended up recording the song, exactly as the demo had sounded along with the third song, I Can’t Ask For Any More Than You by Ken Gold and Michael Denne.
By the time Cliff went into Abbey Road to record all three, Peter Gormley living up to his promise hired Welch as producer with Tony Clark engineering, retained Alan Tarney and Terry Britten from the 31ST OF FEBRUARY STREET’s Dave Mackay’s rhythm section, but added Graham Todd on keyboards, Clem Cattini on drums and Tony Rivers, John Perry and A. Harding on backing vocals.
Three months later, in December 1975, with neither Devil Woman or Miss You Nights yet released as singles, the same team returned to the studio to complete an album of the songs that Welch had collected.
Although Miss You Nights, the first single to be released sold well enough to place Cliff back in the top twenty for the first time in two years, ever since Hangin’ On had charted just outside the ten in may 1974, it was Devil Woman, released two months later that re-established his chart presence once more, eventually becoming Cliff’s biggest selling single since The Young Ones in 1961. He was also given the chance of another stab at the American singles chart, thanks to Elton John and manager John Reid’s Rocket label releasing the track that June. The ninth label incidentally to try and score a hit for him. It must be remembered that at this point in his career, Cliff had all but failed to take America by storm despite several attempts to do so. True, he had notched up a mediocre hit with Living Doll in the late fifties, but the films and two city to city tours had virtually made little impact to establish his credentials in the States. With Devil Woman, however, things momentarily changed. The record entered the Billboard charts at number eighty-four, and over the coming months slowly crept its way into the top ten eventually peaking at number six, becoming in the process Cliff’s first American million seller.
With precedent set in the UK, the album with its almost self-doubting title of I’M NEARLY FAMOUS and a cover symbolising Cliff’s fifties rock ‘n’ roll roots – lying on a single bed with notepad and pen scribbling the words of Eddie Cochran’s C’mon Everybody spinning on the vintage turntable near him and on the walls photographs of his own musical heroes – was released a month later to jubilant reviews. They couldn’t have been better if Cliff had written them himself…