You wouldn’t expect Cliff Richard to rock up in South Yorkshire.
The county’s constabulary raided his Berkshire house last year, triggering an annus horribilis that has taken in three investigations into alleged historic sexual abuse (strongly denied, one inquiry already dropped) and the deaths of both his niece and close friend Cilla Black. About to turn 75, he only mentions the controversy indirectly, referring to a press story depicting him as “fraught” after he hit the bar during a flight delay.
“I wasn’t fraught, I was drunk,” he chortles. Indeed, who knew the eerily youthful singer could do funny? He duck-walks, spills his water (“It’s vodka and tonic”) and cheekily dedicates The Young Ones to “anyone under 76”. The poignancy of dedicating 1962’s The Next Time to Cilla isn’t unduly spoiled by the hurled small teddy bear that lands on stage.
However, following his grim year, he’s visibly thinner, his voice huskier and the show has an emotional edge as the umpteen-song setlist mercifully shuns ghastly late-catalogue horrors such as Millennium Prayer in favour of songs that mean most to him. There are rock’n’rollers from his “British Elvis” days (1958 debut Move It), 60s pop gems (Girl in Your Arms), and Miss You Nights quivers beautifully. Delivered after a spontaneous ovation, his latest single, Golden – effectively a thank-you to fans for standing by him – is peculiarly moving.
With diehards roaring him on, he noticeably perks up during the two and a half-hour marathon. Even the sternest Cliff refusenik would surely surrender during the delve into his stellar AOR period that once led Factory indie guru Tony Wilson to declare We Don’t Talk Anymore a work of pop genius.
There can be few more surreal sights in pop than that of an apparently seventysomething in leather trousers, tearing through Jerry Lee Lewis numbers surrounded by equally hip-waggling ladies of a certain age, but performer and fans alike seem thoroughly unburdened.
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