Cliff Richard and The Shadows: 50th Anniversary Tour

Programme Notes, September 2009. Co-authored with Peter Lewry.

Cliff Richard and The Shadows: 50th Anniversary Tour

It seems almost impossible that’s it over half a century since British teenagers were raving about Cliff Richard and The Drifters. It still does not seem feasible that it was in February 1959 – when Harold Macmillan was Britain’s Prime Minister, the farthing was still legal tender and Elvis Presley was in the US Army – that a seventeen-year-old singer named Cliff Richard and his group, The Drifters, whose experience mounted to not much more than an apprenticeship in skiffle music and a few gigs at Soho’s famous 2i’s coffee bar, made their debut album in front of a live audience at Abbey Road’s Studio 2, under the direction of Norrie Paramor. It was a startling vote of confidence from the Columbia/EMI hierarchy in their abilities as performers. There were not many artists, back then, that would begin their album career with a live record.

It was, after all, only six months earlier that Cliff had made his first recording,with the help of just a couple of session musicians. It has been well documented since then that the proposed A side Schoolboy Crush was eclipsed by the planned B side Move It, which was to launch Cliff and his colleagues into rock ‘n’ roll history. The group’s then rhythm guitarist, Ian Samwell, who had never written a song in his life, came up with Move It in 40 minutes on the upper deck of a London bus – a song, often described as a violent rock opus, which, unbeknown at the time, would change the face of British rock ‘n’ roll for ever.

An acetate of the recording was paraded around Tin Pan Alley and came to the attention of the influential television producer Jack Good, who with characteristically manic enthusiasm for the disc, and rightly recognising that it sounded like nothing else in the history of UK pop, flipped the record. The distinctive riff and unaffected vocal seemed authentically American, completely at odds with the mannered material that usually emanated from British recording studios. With Good’s ceaseless promotion, which included a full-page review in the music paper Disc, Cliff’s debut was eagerly anticipated on Good’s Oh Boy! TV show, and then, after his appearance, he rapidly replaced Marty Wilde as Britain’s premier rock ‘n’ roll talent.

Commonly accepted as the first British rock ‘n’ roll record, and still unsurpassed, Move It took Cliff and The Drifters to #2 in the charts in September 1958, and kick-started a staggering run of successes that Cliff and his group maintained for the first ten years of their career together. In that time, Cliff and The Drifters as they were known before they became The Shadows just a couple years after they met Cliff at the 2is coffee bar, had 41 hit singles, with not one of those failing to make the British Top 30 – an incredible and unequaled achievement. Although there were several artists who had hits before 1958 and who still scored the odd hit or two… for sheer consistency, Cliff and The Shadows held the record. In fact, it was pretty much unbeatable.

If there was anyone who could challenge Cliff and The Shads, as they had become affectionately known among fans, it was, interestingly enough, The Shadows themselves! When The Drifters became The Shadows (to avoid confusion with the American Drifters), the group featured Hank B Marvin (owner of Britain’s first Fender Stratocaster) and Bruce Welch on guitars, Jet Harris on bass, and Tony Meehan on drums. It was the same line up as when they first found fame as Cliff’s backing group, and then later, in their own right as Britain’s top instrumental group. Brian Bennett (from Marty Wilde’s backing group, The Wildcats) replaced Tony Meehan on drums in 1961 and Brian ‘Licorice’ Locking (a fellow Wildcat) took over bass from Jet a year later. John Rostill in turn replaced Licorice in 1963 and that was how The Shadows line up remained up until 1968 whether they were backing Cliff or playing on their own hits.

Once Cliff and The Shads had celebrated their first decade together in show business in 1968, Hank, Bruce and Brian broke up and went their separate ways, while Cliff nailed himself to a jaunty Eurovision sound for several years starting with his biggest hit yet, Congratulations. The Shadows would not come into existence again until 1970 (as Marvin, Welch and Farrar) and would not reunite with Cliff again until 1978, one year after The Shads had taken their Twenty Golden Dates tour on the road to celebrate their own twentieth anniversary – and played a two week season of reunion concerts with Cliff at the London Palladium to celebrate their 20-year history.

With a working title of Reunion at the London Palladium, and later The Palladium Album, it ended up as Thank You Very Much, with a great deal more than just ticket and merchandise appeal. The shows were filmed and recorded for a sound and picture release that not only provided a permanent souvenir of the occasion for those who were at the shows, but also enabled those who had not attended to see what they’d missed!

The Palladium was, of course, the site of many of their earlier successes that included concerts, summer seasons and pantomimes, with as much audience frenzy as the one-nighter tours that filled almost every Rialto and Ritz across the country in the early 1960s. The pattern for those early tours was very much like a variety show from the the golden days of music hall. They usually consisted of five supporting acts, a compere, and The Shadows playing their own set. After an interval, Cliff and The Shads would play their set of half a dozen songs or more.

Such a performance was taped for a projected live album in March 1962 in Surrey during Cliff’s and The Shadows’ twenty-three date tour in the spring of that year. Although mixed and cut to record lacquers, the album was never released at the time, but eventually saw the light of day exactly thirty years after it was recorded. It forms a unique document of that era, and also, captures the feeling of the hysteria of what it was like to see Cliff and The Shadows in person during the early heady days of their career.

But unlike today, when artists are driven between venues or fly across the country, those early tours would involve Cliff and The Shads loading and unloading their equipment from their own van, and driving several hundred miles between shows. Sometimes these would be at opposite ends of the country and, without motorways in those days, the trek between venues was often tedious. The luxury of limousines, tour buses and roadies was then a thing of the future.

Neither, in those days, was it unusual for Cliff and The Shadows to battle it out for the number one position against The Shadows, or vice versa, and on several occasions, they replaced each other at the pinnacle position in the British record charts. In 1960, for instance, Apache replaced Cliff’s Please Don’t Tease at number one on the singles chart and in the following year, Cliff’s 21 Today took over the top spot from The Shadows self-titled debut on the album chart.

Looking back on Cliff’s start in films is equally fascinating. His acting career did not get under way until 1959 with the darkly tormenting Serious Charge and the harsh coffee-bar melodrama Expresso Bongo the following year (probably the best British rock ‘n’ roll film of the period), both shot in black-and-white. It was not until the Technicolor musicals – such as The Young Ones, Summer Holiday and Wonderful Life – came along and packed out the nation’s Odeons and Essoldos that The Shadows came into their own, both with their cameo roles in the films, and with the writing of most of the songs for the soundtrack albums. It was what helped them to become listed among Britain’s most prolific and popular songwriting teams at the time, but without the same public furore that later surrounded Lennon and McCartney during the height of Beatlemania.

And they didn’t just find their niche in movie songs. They had already proved their worth on the Me and My Shadows long player, released in 1960, their third album with Cliff, which remains arguably one of the greatest British rock ‘n’ roll albums of its time, with nine of the the sixteen tracks sharing song writing credits between Cliff, The Shads and Ian Samwell. The album also lent its name to a weekly series on Radio Luxembourg that allowed them to showcase live versions of tracks from the LP and other, more familiar rock ‘n’ roll, from the catalogues of Elvis, Ricky Nelson and Buddy Holly. Each fifteen minute show, broadcast on Sunday evenings, was opened and closed with an instrumental version of the classic standard that shared the same title as the album…