Cliff Richard: Bold As Brass

Programme Notes, October 2010. Co-authored with Peter Lewry.

Cliff Richard: Bold As Brass

The idea for the making of the Bold As Brass album started during the summer of 2008. Cliff was rehearsing for his forthcoming 50th Anniversary tour, and had been debating which songs from his vast catalogue of recorded material he wanted to include in the Time Machine show that he took on the road that November. While rehearsing and performing I Don’t Know Why (I Just Do) from his second album Cliff Sings, recorded in 1959, he was reminded of his enjoyment for performing songs from the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

It was enough to reignite the idea for an album of standards that had been planted in his mind years earlier. His American record producer Michael Omartian, who also loved the idea, recruited a handful of Nashville arrangers to work on the list of songs Cliff had selected, and Cliff headed off to the Sound House in Franklin, Tennessee, to lay down the tracks that ended up on the album and which create the backbone for tonight’s show.

Looking back to Cliff Sings, and his first brush with the standards, it seems quite a remarkable step for a newly-emerged 18-year-old rock ‘n’ roll star to take, but it also demonstrates how ahead of his time he was. Very quickly after his rise to fame Cliff came to realise that, if he was to sustain any longterm popularity, it would be necessary for him to diversify musically, and that is exactly what he did, laying down the foundations for what would follow throughout his career. With songs like Embraceable You, As Time Goes By, Somewhere Along The Way and That’s My Desire, the idea to delve into the genre was an ideal move to establish Cliff to a more mature audience and also, unbeknown at the time, to pave the way for tonight’s concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

Much of the decision to record Cliff singing the standards for his second album was down to sound engineer Malcolm Addy. According to Norrie Paramor’s liner notes on Cliff Sings, it was Addy who suggested that Cliff should be presented on the album backed by both strings and The Shadows, so that on each side of the long player, Cliff could be heard singing four rock ‘n’ roll tracks with The Shadows, and four popular standards accompanied by a sweeping string orchestra of 28 musicians. Paramor confessed that, even though he and Cliff were a little apprehensive before recording with strings, neither of them had any further qualms after hearing the first playback.

Throughout the years, Cliff would often return to the swing and standards genre by frequently recording songs that had been popular hits in the thirties, forties and fifties. Among those he chose for both record and concerts included Fly Me To Me Moon, a song that Frank Sinatra made his own, Falling In Love With Love, Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Blue Moon and All I Do Is Dream Of You. With Bold As Brass, Cliff has fulfilled a dream to record a complete album of standards, backed by a full American swing band for the first time in his career. Now comes the live show, with an 18-piece swing band and three vocalists, and a set list that includes some of his hits, such as The Twelfth of Never, Devil Woman and Dreamin’, plus a selection of songs from the new album – all demonstrating once again yet another dimension of his remarkable musical versatility.

There can be no doubt that the music and lyrics of Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, George & Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart and Irving Berlin have become legendary in the world of popular music. Classified as standards and swing, their compositions have been recorded by a host of artists over the years including Peggy Lee, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Greco, Bobby Darin and, of course, Frank Sinatra. Songs such as Let’s Fall In Love, Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered, (Up A) Lazy River and They Can’t Take That Away From Me have all become classics, thanks to the beautifully crafted mix of music and lyrics that have stood the test of time and which, to this day, are considered masterpieces of popular musical enjoyment, both for performer and listener.

Although Cliff was probably the first rock ‘n’ roll idol to have recorded a selection of standards from the songbooks of the aforementioned songwriters while rock ‘n’ roll was still in its infancy, in the years since he became Britain’s answer to his own musical hero, Elvis Presley, there have been a number of performers from the world of pop, rock and country music who have also discovered the music that Cliff was recording at the start of his career. Among the most notable have been Linda Ronstadt, who was one of the few artists to have transcended a generation gap with the standards when she recorded three Grammy award winning albums during the 1980s with American arranger, composer, bandleader and orchestrator Nelson Riddle, whose own career spanned the late 1940s to the mid-1980s. Indeed, it was his signature sound and iconic arrangements that defined his work for Capitol Records and made such vocalists as Fitzgerald, Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Johnny Mathis and Rosemary Clooney household names. More recently, of course, one of Cliff’s favourites, Rod Stewart, has released three volumes in his Great American Songbook series including As Time Goes By and Stardust, while boy-band Westlife released Allow Us To Be Frank, and Robbie Williams, former vocalist with Take That, won chart success in 2001 with his Swing When You’re Winning collection.

Further back, in 1962, the sleeve notes for Cliff’s extended play record, Dream, described all five tracks as a ‘collection of romantic ballads, standards and evergreens’ – a description that could easily define the choices that Cliff has made in revisiting one of his own favourite genres of music for his new album and for tonight’s show.

In case there is any lingering doubt about Cliff’s ability to deliver a wide selection of stylish performances of any number of standards, the concert this evening and the Bold As Brass album should, once and for all, prove that Cliff can display a multitude of moods and styles, defeating any attempt to categorize his vocal skill. Sit back and be transported to the Art Deco of the 1930s, 40s and 50s with a concert that celebrates both Cliff’s 70th birthday and his everlasting appeal to audiences, both in concert and on record.