Original album remaster released by EMI in March 2007. Liner notes, recording data and discography (with Peter Lewry).
SMALL CORNERS was Cliff Richard’s third gospel album. It was released in February 1978, the same month that Cliff would reunite with The Shadows for a two-week season of reunion shows at the London Palladium, which in turn provided them with their very first live album together. (Apart from the then unreleased Kingston set, the debut live-in-the-studio Cliff album from 1959 and any of those released overseas, THANK YOU VERY MUCH, released exactly one year after this album, would be their first.)
Interestingly enough, it was when Cliff returned from a visit to Tearfund projects in India and Bangladesh that he set about recording SMALL CORNERS. Perhaps the decision to do so was influenced by his shock at the sight of people sleeping in the streets of Calcutta, in the country where he spent his early childhood. Certainly Cliff said later that, when he visited Mother Teresa at her hospice and spent a day watching her care for the sick and dying, praying with her and reading from the Bible, it was inspirational.
After the success of I’M NEARLY FAMOUS almost two years earlier, it seemed natural to offer the project to former Shadows frontman Bruce Welch as the album’s producer, but Bruce wasn’t at all interested.
Engineer Tony Clark recalls that Bruce ‘was asked but said he didn’t have anything to offer a spiritual album with God lyrics. Cliff himself was obviously determined to do it and he chose to produce it himself using me as his engineer because by then our working relationship was very strong.’
According to Steve Turner’s biography of Cliff, ‘It was harder for him to come up with good material for his gospel albums because the pool of writers available to draw on was necessarily smaller. Most of the songs on SMALL CORNERS were written by American writers of what was becoming known as Contemporary Christian Music, which was really Jesus Rock under a different name.’
During the recording sessions, Cliff admitted that part of the problem was down to the fact that he didn’t write. ‘If I was a writer I would have probably have done more gospel albums. So I rely on the fact that I listen to a whole lot of albums and then use the best songs in my stage act. This album is full of stuff I’ve sung in concert for a long time but never recorded.’
One of those American writers to contribute material to the album was Larry Norman, who Cliff first heard of from his HELP IT ALONG producer Dave Mackay. Norman was a Californian with shoulder-length blonde hair and an acoustic guitar, who was writing what Steve Turner and the media called Jesus Rock. This was a new type of Christian music that owed more to Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones than it did the sort of gospel music that Elvis Presley used to record, or indeed what Cliff had recorded for his first gospel album, GOOD NEWS, back in 1967.
In his commentary for Cliff’s biography, Turner described Norman as a mesmerising stage performer who planned every gesture for maximum effect. ‘He often chided audiences for clapping during his concerts and developed the one way sign (pointing heavenwards) to indicate where the appreciation should be directed.’
Cliff went to see Norman in concert at the Royal Albert Hall and later they met up to talk. ‘As soon as we started talking about the songs and the reasons I had for writing them,’ said Norman, ‘he explained the dilemma he was in having to sing music from his past, music for the future and also gospel music. He wasn’t sure what was the most dignified or credible way to present the songs he really cared about. He seemed very wise and thoughtful about it.’ Certainly Dave Mackay encouraged Cliff to write more of his own material and to work on his playing technique as a way of getting back in touch with the music.
For SMALL CORNERS, he probably did that. But none of the songs that ended up on the album were Cliff’s own compositions. Some of the ‘fantastic tracks’ on the album, Cliff once remarked, were Norman’s: Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music, Up In Canada and I Wish We’d All Been Ready. And interestingly enough, a version of Why Me Lord, the gospel song Elvis Presley had been performing regularly since 1972 on his tours across America. Presley’s version was intriguing to say the least. Sometimes he would perform it in harmony with his backing group the Stamps, and sometimes, he would have the Stamps do it without him, so he could just listen to what he called his favourite style of music.
In fact, it was in the same month that Elvis performed his final concert in Indianapolis in front of a CBS television crew that Cliff was laying down the final track for his album at Abbey Road studios, never thinking that when he returned from his summer holidays in Portugal two months later, he would take a call from LBC Radio asking him to comment on Elvis’s death.