The 31st of February Street
Original album remaster released by EMI in July 2004. Liner notes, recording data and discography (with Peter Lewry).
Between 1972 and 1974, it seemed as if Cliff’s tally of hits was noticeably less than in previous years, and one cannot help wondering if that was largely down to the fact that two years earlier, during the first spell of his long period out of the charts, he had lost record producer, Norrie Paramor. After all, it was Paramor who Cliff relied on to organise his recordings, choose songs, discuss musical arrangements and had always been in the studio for almost every session since 1958.
Paramor, then retiring from EMI to move to Birmingham to conduct the Midland Light Orchestra, handed the reigns over to Dave Mackay, a former house producer for EMI Australia, who had come to London to work with the New Seekers, and whether immediately successful or not, he was probably the best choice of producer to see the changes that were needed to return Cliff’s recording career to its former glory.
It was a time when Cliff, like so many others, was in danger of becoming the type of entertainer that, although he could always sell out a show, concert or cabaret season, he was no longer regarded at the top of his recording table. Not only that but rock music was going through a strange time, suffering fatigue after the great party of the sixties. The Beatles, who had led so many of the changes, had broken up acrimoniously. Both Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and Jim Morrison of the Doors were now dead, and to many Elvis Presley had now passed his most glorious moments in the aftermath of his 1968 comeback television special and the globally transmitted live Aloha From Hawaii concert, and was only now just a few years away from his untimely death.
The British charts, which had such a short time ago been full of classics, were now laden with acts such as Chicory Tip, Donny Osmond, Lieutenant Pigeon and Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs. Acts which survived the sixties were no longer sure where they belonged. There wasn’t a movement to be part of, and none of them were willing to compete with the likes of Slade, Mud and Sweet by becoming glam rockers. Least of all Cliff.
Although Mackay’s singles with Cliff were deemed commercial disappointments with one complete failure and three other low-ranking hits, and on the album front, similar disappointment with Cliff’s then latest movie soundtrack Take Me High and his live-in-the-studio gospel album Help It Along, it was nevertheless, Mackay whose third album collaboration with Cliff introduced the changes that would shape what would be gloriously hailed as Cliff’s renaissance the following year, which perhaps, apart from Elvis, was one of the most durable comebacks in show business history.
In fact, when The 31st of February Street, Cliff’s first studio album since Tracks ‘n’ Grooves four years earlier was released in November 1974, it didn’t get any great reviews, didn’t produce any singles and wasn’t a bestseller, but it was, with its softer, more introspective mood, an album that many claim to have taken Cliff into the seventies with an album that had almost half the songs written by Cliff himself.
‘The recording coincided with my renewed interest in my own career,’ Cliff says. ‘I suddenly started getting involved in the production side. I started writing. Dave would sit down with me and I would play him bits that I had written and he’d tell me what he thought was good and what he thought I should finish. Other than Bill (Latham) and Tear Fund, he was the only person ever to encourage me to write. That album was, to me, the turning point in my career.’
Another turning point was the number of singles he put out. For 1974, (You Keep Me) Hangin’ On was his only single, and although his movie from the previous Christmas, Take Me High, in which he played a young merchant banker who goes to Birmingham to revive a restaurant’s flagging trade by inventing the Brumburger, was still out playing on screens across the country, it was, again with disappointing results. And as already mentioned, the live-in-the-studio gospel album Help it Along, recorded the previous September at Morgan Studios, had perhaps a far less commercial appeal than his previous secular work simply because it focused on 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.
Other changes were reflected in recording sessions, especially for The 31st of February Street. In comparison with his two previous studio albums, he had returned to a formula not that far removed from how he used to make records at the beginning of his career. Laying down three to four songs in one three hour session, instead of collecting tracks over a period of time. For this album, he went in and out of Abbey Road Studios for two weeks during February 1974, and with the addition of two tracks he had taped at the same location in October 1972, he laid down all the tracks that would make up the content of the album…