Cliff Richard: From A Distance – The Event

DVD and VHS released by EMI in March 2005. Booklet notes and memorabilia research (with Peter Lewry).

Cliff Richard: From A Distance - The Event

It’s hard to know why it took Cliff Richard so long to play Wembley Stadium. Although he had performed at one of Wembley’s other venues, then the Empire Pool, for the New Musical Express Pop Poll Winner shows through the Sixties, and had appeared many times at Wembley Arena, Britain’s most popular pop star had never played a stage show in his country’s most popular venue. That changed on June 16-17, 1989, when Cliff played what he later called the two most challenging live shows of his career. Playing to his then largest audience ever, it was the highlight to his previous year’s 30th anniversary celebrations, which had included two world tours, three Top 3 singles and his biggest-selling album.

Originally planned as a one-off show for the Friday evening (with another show quickly added for the next night after tickets sold out in three hours), Cliff had already spent six weeks in rehearsal at Shepperton Studios, working with 90 artists, singing 45 songs, making five costume changes and moving in style from Fifties high school hop to late Eighties high-tech pop. Well aware that everything was to be recorded and filmed, he was conscious of the fact that there was no room for anything to go wrong, be it a technical hitch, a spate of bad weather, or a dicky throat.

The first of the two shows kicked off on a hot summer’s day at five o’clock in the afternoon, with a short set based around the idea of the ‘Oh Boy!’ TV show which had given Cliff his first national television exposure in 1958. Then, like Elvis before him (who could only be filmed from the waist up on the Ed Sullivan show in 1956) critical objections were voiced about Cliff’s performance on Britain’s first-ever rock’n’roll show. The New Musical Express called it ‘The crudest exhibitionism ever seen on TV.’

The ‘Oh Boy!’ Show’s two resident vocal groups – the Dallas Boys, dressed in red satin bomber jackets and white trousers, and the Vernon Girls, in party dresses, petticoats and shorts, re-formed specially for the occasion, and the Show’s original host, Jimmy Henney, decked out in a pale blue and white pullover, made the opening announcement that ‘this is how it all began thirty years ago.’ The ‘Oh Boy’ band played the opening chords of Buddy Holly’s Oh Boy; the five original Dallas Boys were the first to appear on the stage, followed by Cliff, in a pink jacket, black shirt, pink belt, black trousers and pink socks, exactly the same as he wore the first time he sang Move It on stage. That was probably in October 1958, when he was one of the supporting acts on the Kalin Twins UK tour from America; they also returned to play with Cliff for the fist time since their chart-topping heyday, 30 years previously. Dressed in black dinner jackets, they added their vocals to an array of songs from Jerry Lee Lewis’s Whole Lotta’ Shakin’ Goin’ On to the Everlys’ Bird Dog and Elvis’s Let’s Have A Party.

The ‘Oh Boy!’ section was immediately followed by Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Searchers in tribute to the Mersey Sound. After a break of 15 minutes, Cliff joined Aswad’s set to duet on Share A Dream, which to this day has only ever been released as a studio recording. Following another break of almost 30 minutes, Cliff returned to the stage to perform eight songs with the Shadows, of which – The Young Ones and In The Country are the only two to have been released on vinyl. Cliff then left the stage for the Shads to do their own set of hits before another break. Cliff returned at 8.45pm to do his own solo set with his regular live band, plus a guest spot with original Shadows members, Tony Meehan and Jet Harris, backing him on the song that started it all off, Move It. Interestingly enough, and probably forgotten by most, Cliff hadn’t played live or in the studio with his former drummer and bass guitarist since 1961, when they recorded The Young Ones soundtrack.

By this time the night sky had turned pitch black. Cliff dressed in white made-to-measure jacket, studded with 2,000 diamantes that sparkled under the array of spotlights, presenting a set that was a mix of familiar hits, new hits and forthcoming hits from his then current Stronger album. ‘For 30 years you have given me a really glorious career,’ he told the 72,000-strong audience on each of the two nights. And, as if to prove the point, he dedicated his then current (and 100th) single The Best of Me to everyone there. He sang his next single, Just Don’t Have The Heart with the production team of Stock Aitken and Waterman on backing vocals, and thumbed his nose to criticism of his religious beliefs by performing two gospel songs.

The finale – the most emotional point of the show for Cliff – came with From A Distance. Steve Turner so accurately described the scene in his biography of Cliff: ‘He stands on a plinth swathed in light while the rest of the night’s performers congregate around him. During the instrumental passage, as the lights sweep the stage and flags flutter in the breeze, he grabs the radio mike close to his lips with both hands and when he lets it drop it’s clear that he’s close to tears. He regains his composure long enough to get through the last verse and then when it’s all over he says “Thank you, goodnight and God bless,” and walks away wiping his eyes’.

Today, looking back at The Event, it was probably the most taxing live project of Cliff’s career from all aspects. It was the one where he put on his most lavish and comprehensive performance up to that point, the one that probably caused promoter Mel Bush months of nightmare organisation. As with many live recordings of a major concert, in a large sports stadium with so many different acts, it could have proved a logistical nightmare but, as with Live Aid a few years before, it all seemed to work with perfect results.

Engineered by Keith Bessey and Mick McKenna using the Rolling Stones mobile (their then biggest production), both shows were taped, utilising over 10 miles of cable, 156 microphones and well over 60,000 feet of 48-track digital tape. The tracks were later mixed at Sarm West Studios during late 1989 and early 1990 for sound and picture release…