He was Britain’s first rock and roll idol, and at 83, Cliff Richard can still move it and groove it. Rather impishly opening with The Young Ones, spinning on the spot, shaking his hips and executing nimble side steps with his band, Sir Cliff seemed determined to prove that age is just a number.
The veteran rocker had what might be described as a senior moment last week on Breakfast TV, when he muddled up the acronym AI and proudly proclaimed that can still sing without the help of “Artificial Insemination.” To be fair, he laughed at his own malapropism. And to be even fairer, he really can still sing, his voice soft, smooth and youthful without the aid of AI, Autotune or any of the other tools modern pop stars take for granted. With no big screens to show close ups of wrinkles, the ageless octogenarian looked and sounded unchanged from his prime, albeit its a prime that lasted longer than most pop stars entire careers.
Celebrating 65 years in the music industry, the Living Doll has taken up residence in the Hammersmith Apollo, playing six nights at the 3,500-capacity venue this week, before heading to Blackpool and Glasgow. A film of one of the Hammersmith concerts will then be broadcast in 400 cinemas across the country over the weekend of November 25th. It may not inspire Taylor Swift-style box office meltdown, but it shows Cliff is still a multi-media attraction.
His latest show is part greatest hits, part audience with Cliff. Sir Tim Rice came on twice for extended sit-down chats. Sir Cliff helped the 78 year old lyricist into his chair, joking “I like to assist the elderly.” The interview sections and between show patter all focused on Richard’s astonishing career as a hitmaker. Considering his success, he was oddly chippy about chart positions. “I’m going to play all my 14 number ones,” he told the audience, “and three or four that weren’t number one but should have been.”
Blue Sapphire is the designated gemstone for a 65th wedding anniversary, so naming his tour in its honour may be an acknowledgment that the confirmed Bachelor Boy has effectively been married to his career since he was but a callow teenager, recording his first hit in 1958. His pliable voice and theatrical commitment enabled him to find an entertaining through line from the snappy rock n roll of Move It to the pious pomp of Millennium Prayer. We were treated to a really sweet Miss You Nights with spinetingling a capella and a raunchy rocking Devil Woman.
Cliff jokingly apologised for being the first person to wish us a happy Christmas this year, but most of his later number ones were Christmas songs so they had to be included in this self celebrating set. Also included was a singalong of 1968 Eurovision entry Congratulations, complete with remarks that suggested missing the top spot by one point still stings 25 years later. It’s evidence of a competitive edge that has presumably helped keep Sir Cliff Richard fired up for so long, and it is both astonishing and inspiring to see. Rock and roll may have grown very old, but somehow Britain’s original rock idol hasn’t. The youngest octogenarian in pop is still wired for sound, and there’s nothing Artificial about it.