Gary James' Interview With
Sir Cliff Richard

He's a show business legend. Having been a performer for over four decades now, he's sold over 250 million records.

His name is Cliff Richard or should we say Sir Cliff Richard, having been knighted by the Queen.

Sir Richard took some time out recently to speak with us about his career in music.

Q - As I understand it, you are either in the process of or already have recorded a CD that includes standards like "Over The Rainbow" and "What A Wonderful World".

A - I already did that. I recorded it in January of 2001. We already went Gold here in Britain with the album. The single didn't quite make it as high as I expected. I have great trouble here with airplay. Everything I do is really off my own bat. I have to do as much as I can with the press and television. Rock 'n' Roll and radio always went together. If you don't have that kind of rotational play...people watching a TV show will just hear it once. So, it's very difficult. I'm slightly disappointed with the single, but the album's been well received.

Q - What was the single..."Over The Rainbow"?

A - Yes it was. I did a kind of reggae version of it. It really worked well. Sometimes you can show disrespect to a song by changing it drastically. But, this sort of gentle reggae feel seemed to work really well with it, and I thought it was a really positive approach to life again after the depressing time we've had these last three months, thinking about the September 11th incident. I thought this will be really positive to offer people. I had great hopes for it and who knows? I don't know, it could still happen elsewhere in the world. It got to number 11 in the British charts.

Q - By doing a CD of standards, are you saying that Pop music has pretty much run it's course and there aren't enough good songs in that category to record?

A - Oh, no. I don't find it difficult to find good material at all. I just wanted to do this because it just seemed right. I've had a year's break and I hadn't been in the studio for nearly three years and I had a new record company. They had actually suggested it. With the problem of airplay, we would probably have to go on television to advertise and therefore if you catch a public who are watching their favorite show on television, the commercial that they see should have something recognizable. And so I chose the songs that I really liked that were influential for me. They're fairly representative of the period from 1957 to 1989. The newest song on there was the Richard Marx song "Right Here Waiting For You".

Q - Were you a solo act when you signed with E.M.I.?

A - I was always sort of a solo act, although I had a band, so I was well-known as Cliff Richard And The Shadows.

Q - Where did The Shadows enter the picture? Were you always with them?

A - No. I kind of created them. I went on tour with a band of guys that were with me at school and it was obvious professionally that we weren't cutting it. So, I recruited a guy called Hank Marvin and a guy called Bruce Welch and they became my guitarists. During that tour we met up with a guy called Jet Harris, who became my bass player. Then the three of them remembered a young drummer they jammed with in a club in London called Tony Meehan, and he joined us. So, it took me about a year to get it all together. Then of course, I called our band The Drifters. We were not aware at that stage in 1958 of the American band The Drifters. Of course as soon as we got stared, the American Drifters came through and had some fabulous hits over here, so quite rightly we bowed to them and gave up the name. And we chose the name The Shadows.

Q - Didn't you tour the world in 1961?

A - Yeah. We started off touring Europe obviously and then we found we had great demand in Japan and the Far East, the Middle East, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. So, we just followed where the demand was. We covered quite a bit of the planet.

Q - What did you think of the girls who would scream while you were singing?

A - Well, it was slightly unbelievable because when I was at school, of course Elvis was the great inspiration for most of the people my age. Screaming became synonymous with someone like him. Rock 'n Roll, screaming and girl followers were all synonymous. So, when I chased the dream and suddenly found it came true, it was unbelievable that people would actually scream at me. I could see no connection between myself and Elvis. I always thought Elvis was the master of it all. I had rather humble beginnings I suppose. My first record went straight to number 2 and threw me into all of this. It was just the most wonderful fun I have to say. It was unbelievable, but great fun.

Q - You admired both Elvis and Rick Nelson. Did you ever meet either one of them?

A - I did meet Rick Nelson just once, briefly. He did a concert at the Royal Albert Hall here in London. After he'd had the hit with the "Garden Party" song. I met him then. Elvis, I never did meet and I wish I had. Elvis was my reason for existing as a Rock singer. Had there been no Elvis, I don't think there would've been a Cliff Richard either. But, I never did get the chance to meet him.

Q - When you performed on The Ed Sullivan Show, did you realize just how popular and influential that show was?

A - Well, I obviously did realize because my agent here said to me, this is such a huge show we need to get you on it. Now the problem was and in a way as much as it was a wonderful thing to do Ed Sullivan because of his demands on what I should do, gave me the worst start possible. I had a film called The Young Ones. I would've liked to have sung the hits I had here, "Living Doll", "Move It", the kind of Pop / Rock stuff I was doing. But in the film The Young Ones there was a sequence in there where we as youngsters take over a theatre and we put on kind of a Vaudeville show. And so, he liked the way I was dancing and doing all these old fashioned, English songs from Vaudeville, and that's how I was presented the first time I was ever seen. I was a 19 year old Vaudeville artist. I always think it was great to be on the show. Now, when I look back, I can say I was on The Ed Sullivan Show, excuse me. But when I look back, I think that it was probably the wrong thing to do. If I had been a bigger star at the time I would've said "Look, I'll do this for you, but I need to sing my new single."

Q - John Lennon was a fan of yours. Did you get to meet him or any of The Beatles?

A - I did, only once or twice. Once, very, very early on. My guitarist Bruce Welch had a party at his house one night and when we got there, we were all on the same label, E.M.I. He said "The new band is here." So, I met them all and talked for a while. John was always very interesting 'cause he was sort of off the wall. I found him difficult at first and then I realized he said things that probably he didn't mean. They were just meant to shock a little. Anyway, we talked for a while and then we were in the kitchen and they were saying OK, we've had a couple of hits. They'd had "Love Me Do", which was a start but nothing much. Then they had "Please Please Me" and they weren't sure whether the next record was gonna be a hit. We sat there and they grabbed one of our guitars and played "From Me To You". We thought this was gonna be one heck of a competition. It was obvious to us that this was gonna be a hit. But, that was almost the last time I met any of them other than I met Paul when they had a shindig at the old Abby Road studios, fifteen years after we'd been recording there. It's strange because Paul said to me "We always felt that E.M.I. favored you and The Shadows." I said "No. Wait a minute. Every time we rang up for the studio, studio two was our favorite, they always said The Beatles have got it." He said "No. Whenever we rang up, they said you had it." So this strange thing was going on. (laughs). We both thought that the other group was being favored by the record company, when in fact it wasn't true at all.

Q - Maybe the record company was trying to create some competition?

A - No. I think the fact is we both loved that studio. I believe Paul actually had a replica of it built in his home. But, I didn't go that far. I just thought I can go and use the studio. When you start working somewhere you get used to the woodwork, the fabrics around the place. You almost count the steps leading up to the studio. The more comfortable you feel in the studio, the better. But, as I've gotten older I realize you can stand in someone's kitchen and record. The minute you get your headphones on and you're singing to the mic, your voice goes straight down the wires and into your ear. You could be anywhere on the planet. It doesn't really make any difference. So, I'm now more philosophical about it. If I'm working with a producer who says "I like to work in Austria", I say "Fine, I'll come to Austria."

Q - When Beatlemania was in full swing, how did you manage to keep your career going? Was it the fact that you made movies?

A - Yes. It's difficult really to be analytical. I know I started five years before The Beatles. So, before Beatlemania we had Cliff and The Shadows mania. I've got these wonderful old clips of us arriving in places, airports being closed. I've got films where the west end got blocked. My second film, Summer Holiday, which was in '62, I never made it to the premier. The police wouldn't let me out of the car. There were too many people. Nowadays, when I go to a premier, it's all so beautifully organized. I guess I survived that Beatle period by continuing to do what I believed I should do. I made the records I wanted to make. My band and I had strength in our position because they also had a career as instrumentalists and had number one hit records alongside myself. So when we went on tour during that whole Beatlemania period, we never, ever played to less than a full house. And our records still reached number one. The Beatles weren't a threat. They were merely competition, and competition does you no harm.

Q - Why in 1967 did you tell The Beatles they were wasting their time with the Marharishi?

A - I didn't tell them that. I would never tell anybody that. I may have personally felt that my faith as a Christian was just as valid as theirs. I think Christianity is sometimes overlooked, unfortunately. It's a very realistic faith. But, no I would never tell people they're wasting their time. Certainly if I did say that, I would repudiate it now. I would say I was young and stupid to say that. But, I certainly would never say that now to anybody. Everyone has the right to follow their own instinct. Spiritually, I've been asked about George since George's death and I said "Well, we met a couple of times and that was it, but I felt that we would've had so much in common now." Spirituality draws people together. We're both actually seeking the same God. We've got different methods of reaching him. I remember watching George in an interview once and he said that a Christian had told him it wasn't possible to know God. And yet, the Christianity I follow says that's exactly just what Christianity is. Through Jesus you actually in his company even though you don't deserve to be there. So, no, I would never have said that. Again, I have difficulty clearing my name of some of the things that the press say that I say. I guess the public listening to us now knows that you can't really trust the press.

Q - You did a benefit for the Prevention Of Cruelty to Animals. Are you actively involved in animal rights?

A - No. I'm not actually. I've done all sorts of charity work. I'm not a great campaigner on their behalf, although I would say I would join with all those who say that cruelty to animals is despicable and have said that many, many times.

Q - In the course of your career, the U.S. has been a tough country for you to break into, hasn't it?

A - Yes, it certainly has.

Q - Why do you suppose that is?

A - I don't know. It's difficult really. America has been very difficult for me. It's only recent times that maybe I've had a hint as to why things didn't happen the way I'd like to have happened. There were nine occasions I can think of where I went to America to promote a single and the promotional trips worked. About ten years ago, my record company here said to me, "E.M.I. America is not excited by Cliff Richard material and that's why there's no support." Well, my heart sank because you know the competition is great. There are loads of great artists both new and old and it's tough enough just competing and building up your resources to do good concerts and to continue making records that are pleasing to the ear. When I was told that, I thought it's no wonder. I really didn't stand a chance of cracking the States because I could never get the album off the ground. It makes sense: if the record company wasn't supporting me on that level, then let's face it, I could have a "Best Of" album with nine Top 30 American hits and people wouldn't know who I was. So, I've been kind of philosophical. In a way it's disappointing for me 'cause Rock 'n' Roll is an American art form. I know you guys don't own it anymore, but it began there and I would've loved to have had success. Elton, Eric Clapton and others I've met who've had big success there long after I got started have often said we'll never understand why you didn't make it there. So, it may just be an excuse on my part, but I do feel that the lack of help from my record company in America wasn't helpful. But, I'm prepared to try once more. I've got a new record company and I've said if you have any plans, any ideas... I have a home in Barbados and I can either live in or close to America. In four hours I can be in New York and another three and a half hours I can be in Los Angeles. If you really think it's worthwhile, then I'm prepared to make one more attempt to back it. But, I'd need their backing on it. I don't think Americans living in America realize what an amazing marketplace it is. It is massive. For people like myself to make a start in someplace like that, you have to be prepared to give up six months of your life maybe and spend a lot of time going around to the radio stations and wining and dining journalists. I'm prepared to give this one more attempt. (laughs) Otherwise, I'm really happy with the way it is. I like going to America 'cause nobody knows me. I'm gonna blow my cover if I actually have any success. (laughs)

© Gary James. All rights reserved.