Sir Cliff Richard OBE (born Harry Rodger Webb on 14 October 1940) is an English singer, actor and businessman.
With his backing band The Shadows, Richard dominated the British popular music scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s, before and during the The Beatles' first year in the charts. A conversion to Christianity and subsequent softening of his music led to his having more of a pop than rock image. Although never able to achieve the same impact in the United States as in Britain (in spite of several chart singles there), Richard has remained a popular music, film, and television personality in the UK; he also retains a following in several other countries.
During the six decades in which he has been active, Cliff Richard has charted many hit singles, and holds the record (along with Elvis Presley) as the only act to make the UK singles charts in all of its active decades (1950s–2000s). According to his website, he has sold over 250 million records. On the British charts, Richard has had over 90 singles, albums and EPs make the top 20, more than any other artist.
Cliff Richard was born at the King George Hospital, Victoria Street, Lucknow, India in 1940 to parents Rodger and Dorothy (born Dazely) Webb. A year later his family moved to Calcutta. In 1947, following Indian independence, the family moved to Britain.
The Webbs moved from comparative wealth in India (with servants) to a much lower standard of living in England. For three years the Webbs did not have their own home and stayed with relatives. In 1951, they were awarded a council house in the town of Cheshunt. Richard has recalled his father having to make furniture from packing cases.
1958—1963: Success and stardom
Beginning as a member of an obscure skiffle group, Harry Webb soon became the lead singer of the rock and roll group the Drifters (not to be confused with the American group of the same name). Before their first large scale appearance, at the Regal Ballroom in Ripley in 1958, they adopted the name "Cliff Richard and the Drifters". The four members of the band were Webb, Ian "Sammy" Samwell on guitar, Terry Smart on drums and Norman Mitham on guitar. None of the other three played with the later and better known Shadows, although several would write songs for Richard's later career. In the summer of 1958 Richard obtained a recording contract with EMI's Columbia label for himself only, leaving the band behind. He remained with EMI until signing with Decca in 2004. Richard recorded his first single on 24 July 1958 with the (pre-Marvin/Welch) Drifters. However, producer Norrie Paramor had little faith in the band and brought in two experienced session men, Ernie Shear and Frank Clarke, to provide backing on lead guitar and bass.
For his debut session, Paramor provided Richard with a song called "Schoolboy Crush", a cover of an American record by Bobby Helms. Richard was permitted to record one of his own songs for the B-side; this was "Move It", written by the Drifters' Samwell (famously on a number "715" Green Line Bus on the way to Cliff's house for a rehearsal). John Lennon was once quoted as saying that "Move It" was the first English rock record.
There are a number of stories about why the A-side song was replaced by the intended B-side. One is that Norrie Paramor's young daughter raved about the B-side and not the A-side. Another possible reason for the flip was that influential TV producer Jack Good, who used the act for his TV show Oh Boy!, wanted the only song on his show to be "Move It".
In any event, the single was flipped and went to #2 on the UK charts. Music critics Roy Carr and Tony Tyler would later write that it was the first genuine British rock classic (to be followed by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates's "Shakin' All Over") before the Beatles' hit "I Saw Her Standing There".
In the early days, Cliff Richard was marketed as the British equivalent to Elvis Presley. As did previous British rockers such as Marty Wilde, Richard adopted a Presley-like dress and hairstyle. In performance he struck a pose of rock attitude, rarely smiling or looking directly at the audience or camera. His late 1958 and early 1959 follow-up singles, "High Class Baby", Lionel Bart's "Living Doll" were followed by "Mean Streak" which carried a rocker's sense of speed and passion. It was on "Living Doll" that the Drifters began to back Richard on record. By that time the band's lineup had changed with the arrival of Jet Harris, Tony Meehan, Hank Marvin, and Bruce Welch. The group was obliged to change its name to "The Shadows" after legal complications arose with the U.S. Drifters.
The Shadows were not a typical backing group. They would become contractually separate entities from Richard, and the group would not receive any performer royalties for the records they made backing the singer. In 1959, The Shadows (then still known as the Drifters) landed an EMI recording contract of their own, for independent recordings without Richard. That year, they released three singles, two of which featured double-sided vocals and one of which had instrumental A and B sides. In 1960, they recorded and released "Apache", which augured the birth of British rock guitar instrumental music. Hitting the top of the charts in more than one country, the single set the Shadows on a path of their own. They thereafter had several major hits of their own, including five UK #1s. The band also continued to appear and record with Richard and wrote many of his hits. On more than one occasion, a Shadows instrumental replaced a Richard song atop the British charts.
Richard's fifth single "Living Doll" triggered a change of focus with a softer, more relaxed, sound. Subsequent hits, the #1s "Travelling Light" and "I Love You" and also "A Voice in The Wilderness" and "Theme for a Dream" cemented Richard's status as a mainstream pop entertainer (along with a few contemporaries such as Adam Faith and Billy Fury). Throughout the early sixties his hits were consistently in the top five.
Typically, The Shadows closed the first half of the show with a 30-minute set of their own, and then backed Richard on his show-closing 45-minute stint. Tony Meehan and Jet Harris eventually left the group, in 1961 and 1962 respectively, and later had their own chart successes. The Shadows added a few more bass players, and also took on Brian Bennett on drums.
In the early days, Cliff Richard sometimes recorded without The Shadows, mainly to cater to other styles. Even after the Beatles invasion he continued to achieve hits, although more often without the Shadows but with an orchestra: a revival of "It's All In The Game" and "Constantly". A session under the direction of Billy Sherrill in Nashville yielded two more top two hits: "The Minute You're Gone" and "Wind Me Up" in 1965.
Cliff Richard and The Shadows were unable to parlay their UK stardom into hit status in the United States. In 1960 they toured the U.S. and were fairly well-received. However, lacklustre support and distribution from the record company proved costly, and the chance was lost. The band made appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, which was a crucial outlet for the Beatles' success, but these performances did not really help Cliff and the Shadows. As a result, Cliff Richard remained obscure in America. In England, however, Cliff and the Shadows were key in calling EMI's attention to the importance and strength of rock n' roll music. It was due to their popularity that Parlophone were looking for a "second" Cliff and the Shadows, eventually signing the Beatles.
Cliff and The Shadows appeared in a number of films, most notably in The Young Ones, (the title song being his biggest hit up to "Mistletoe and Wine"); Summer Holiday (which featured a slimmed-down Richard with visible dancing skills), Wonderful Life and Finders Keepers. These movies created their own genre known as the "Cliff Richard musical" and led to Cliff being named the number one cinema box office attraction in Britain for both 1962 and 1963. The irreverent 1980s TV sitcom The Young Ones took its name from Richard's 1962 movie, and also made references to the singer.
1964—1975: Changing circumstances
As with the other existing rock acts in Britain, Richard's career was affected by the sudden advent of The Beatles and the Mersey sound in 1963 and 1964. However, his popularity was established enough to allow him to weather the storm and continue to have hits in the charts throughout the 1960s, albeit not at the level that he had enjoyed before. Nor did doors open to him in the U.S. market; he was not part of the British Invasion, and the American public had little awareness of him.
Another important aspect of Richard's life was his conversion to Christianity in 1964. Standing up publicly as a Christian affected his career in several ways. He believed that he should quit rock 'n roll, feeling he could no longer be the rocker who had been called a "crude exhibitionist" and "too sexy for TV" and a threat to parents' daughters. However, his image had already become tamer due to his film roles and well-spoken manners on radio and TV. Richard intended at first to 'reform his ways' and become a teacher, but Christian friends advised him that he did not need to abandon his career just because he had become a Christian. Soon after, Cliff Richard re-emerged, performing with Christian groups and recording some Christian material. He still recorded secular songs with the Shadows, but he gave a lot of his time to Christian work. As time progressed, Richard balanced his faith and work, which enabled him to remain one of the most popular singers in Britain as well as one of its best-known Christians. He was a leading figure in the Nationwide Festival of Light of 1971, protesting against the commercial exploitation of sex and violence in Britain, and advocating the teaching of Christ as the key to recovering moral stability in the nation.
Cliff Richard's first straight acting role took place in the 1968 film Two a Penny, in which he played a young man who gets involved in drug dealing while questioning his life after his girlfriend changes her attitude. Also in 1968 he sang the UK's entry in the Eurovision Song Contest "Congratulations" by Phil Martin and Bill Coulter. It lost by just one point to Spain's La La La. Nevertheless, "Congratulations" was a huge hit throughout Europe and yet another #1 in April. In 1973 he sang the British entry Power to All Our Friends. The song finished third, close behind Luxembourg's Tu Te Reconnaîtras and Spain's Eres tú. Richard also hosted the BBC's qualifying heat for the Eurovision Song Contest, "A Song for Europe," in 1970, 1971 and 1972.
After the Shadows split in 1968, Cliff Richard recorded without the band. He had already become accustomed to the Shadows' absence, and was able to record in a variety of settings. Although many of his earliest fans regretted that Cliff had tried out songs which were not strictly in the rock 'n roll genre, most had got used to his habit of recording rockier material with the Shadows, while producing more middle-of-the-road material at other times. This versatility extended Richard's career prospects.
During the 1970s, Richard took part in television shows, such as It's Cliff, many of which also starred Hank Marvin. These shows, for a time, branded Cliff Richard as a television personality more than a recording artist. In 1972, he made a short BBC television comedy film called The Case with appearances from comedians and his first-ever duets with a woman, Olivia Newton-John. In 1973 he starred in the film Take Me High.
In 1976 the decision was made to repackage Cliff Richard as a "rock" artist. That year he produced the landmark album I'm Nearly Famous, which included the successful guitar-driven track Devil Woman (Richard's first true hit in the United States) and the ballad Miss You Nights. Richard's fans were excited about this revival of a performer who had been a part of British rock from its early days. Many music names such as Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and Elton John were seen sporting I'm Nearly Famous badges, pleased that their boyhood idol was getting back into the heavier rock in which he had begun his career.
Notwithstanding this, Richard continued to release gospel-tinged albums in parallel with his rock and pop albums. For example, Small Corners from 1978 contained the singles Yes He Lives. Despite his 1976 comeback, this single failed to chart in the United Kingdom. In 1980, the singer officially changed his name by deed poll from Harry Webb to Cliff Richard.
In 1979, Richard teamed up with the producer Alan Tarney for the pop hit single We Don't Talk Anymore, which hit #1 in the UK, and #7 in the U.S. The song was quickly added onto the end of his latest album Rock 'n' Roll Juvenile. It was his first time at the top of the UK singles chart in over ten years, and the song would become his biggest-selling single ever. At long last he had some extended success in the United States: following the #6 placement for Devil Woman in 1976, the follow-ups We Don't Talk Anymore and Dreaming both reached the top ten. His 1980 duet Suddenly with Olivia Newton-John was a Top 20 hit in America. Richard continued with a string of top ten albums, including I'm No Hero, Wired For Sound, Now You See Me, Now You Don't, and, marking his 25th year in show business, Silver. The singles chart also saw his most consistent period of top twenty hits since the mid 1960s. The year 1987 saw Richard record his Always Guaranteed album, which became his best selling album of all new material. It contained the two top ten hit singles, "My Pretty One" and "Some People". Richard concluded his thirtieth year in music in spectacular chart style, reaching number one on the British singles chart with "Mistletoe and Wine", while simultaneously holding the number one positions on the album and video charts with the compilation Private Collection summing up his biggest hits from 1979-1988. "Mistletoe and Wine" was his biggest seller to that point.
In 1986, Richard teamed up with The Young Ones to re-record his smash hit Living Doll for the charity Comic Relief. Along with the song, the recording contained comedy dialogue between Richard and The Young Ones. The release went to #1. That same year he opened in the West End as a rock musician called upon to defend Earth in a trial set in the Andromeda Galaxy in the multi-media Dave Clark musical Time.
Further top ten albums included Stronger in 1989, From a Distance in 1990 and yet another number one with The Album in 1993. The next few years saw Richard concentrate on bringing the musical Heathcliff to the stage. The production was a resounding success, but the time it took seemed to take a toll on his reinvigorated chart status. Back in the UK during the next years and throughout the 1980s, Richard remained one of the best-known music artists in the country. In the space of a few years he worked with Elton John, Mark Knopfler, Julian Lennon, Freddie Mercury, Stevie Wonder, Phil Everly, Janet Jackson, Sheila Walsh, and Van Morrison. Richard also reunited with Olivia Newton-John. In 1989, he filled the Wembley Stadium for a few nights with a spectacular titled "The Event". Meanwhile, the Shadows later re-formed (and again split). They recorded on their own, but also reunited with Richard in 1978, 1984, and 1989-90 for some concerts. On June 14, 2004 Cliff joined the Shadows onstage at the London Palladium. The Shadows had decided to re-form for one final tour of the UK, with this concert heralded as their final ever concert as "Cliff and the Shadows."
1995— Sir Cliff
Cliff Richard was knighted on 25 October 1995. He was the first rock star to be so honoured, ahead of Sir Paul McCartney (1997) and Sir Elton John (1998). In 1999, controversy arose regarding radio stations refusing to play his records. EMI, Richard's label since 1958, refused to release his latest single. Richard took his "Millennium Prayer" to an independent label, Papillon, which released the charity record (in aid of Children's Promise). The single went on to top the UK chart for three weeks, his fourteenth #1, and the third highest-selling single of his career. Richard's next album (2001) was a covers project, Wanted, followed by another top ten album with Cliff at Christmas. The holiday album contained both new and older recordings, including the single "Santa's List", which reached #5 in 2003. Richard decamped to Nashville, Tennessee for his next album project in 2004, employing a writer's conclave to give him the pick of all new songs for the album Something's Goin' On. Though the collection was critically well-received, it had disappointing sales. Nevertheless it was yet another top ten album, and produced three top fifteen singles:
"Something's Goin' On", "I Cannot Give You My Love", with Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, and the lively "What Car".
However, Richard did not hide his disappointment with the album's lacklustre sales, and it was speculated that it might have been his last ever album of original songs.
Sir Cliff Richard finished number 56 in the 2002 100 Greatest Britons list, sponsored by the BBC and voted for by the public. Adored especially by baby boomer women, many of whom camp out for his concert tickets, he has become a fixture of the British entertainment world. For a number of years, he would lead the Wimbledon Centre Court crowd in singing during rain delays. The Ultimate Pop Star, a Channel 4 programme broadcast in 2004, revealed that Cliff Richard had sold more singles in the UK than any other music artist, ahead of the Beatles in second place and Elvis Presley in third. Richard has become joint owner of the Arora International Hotel in Manchester, which opened in June 2004. He spends much of his time at his house in Barbados, and has lent it to British Prime Minister Tony Blair at times. Richard's most recent project is an album of duets, including newly-recorded material with Brian May, Dionne Warwick, Anne Murray, Barry Gibb and Daniel O'Donnell, plus some previously recorded duets with artists such as Phil Everly, Elton John and Olivia Newton-John. Released to coincide with the UK leg of his latest world tour, the album "Here and Now" includes a number of lesser known, but fan-favourite songs including, My Kinda Life, How Did She Get Here, Hey Mr. Dream Maker, For Life, A Matter Of Moments, When The Girl In Your Arms, Every Face Tells A Story, Peace In Our Time and the latest Christmas single 21st Century Christmas, which debuted at #2 on the UK singles chart. Richard's mother, Dorothy Webb, suffers from advanced Alzheimer's disease. In a September 2006 interview with the Daily Mail, he spoke about the difficulties he and his sisters had in dealing with their mother's condition.
"The most radical rock star ever"
Cliff Richard openly laments the lack of commercial support from radio stations and record labels. As noted in the recent BBC Radio 2 documentary "Cliff - Take Another Look", he points out that many documentaries charting the history of British music fail to even mention him.
It is true that his protracted chart success invalidates radio stations' claims that he does not enjoy public support (or, at least, not from their target audience). Cliff claims he is "the most radical rock star there has ever been". Richard's premise is that his decision not to adopt the "sex, drugs and alcohol" image expected of rock stars, then and now, was the truly avant-garde choice.