By the time the long delayed Great 80 tour finally rolled into London town, its star had turned 81. “We are the survivors, and we survived that terrible time,” Sir Cliff Richard told his audience, as they bathed in a warm atmosphere of mutual delight at having got this far. And I am not just talking about the pandemic. Richard scored his first smash aged 17 in 1958 and landed a top 5 album in the UK charts last year, in a hit-making career that has now spanned eight decades. “It’s getting harder for me to look back,” the singer joked, “because I started at the beginning of time.”
Still slim, fit, energetic and absolutely in his element on stage, the lithest octogenarian in rock and roll stands as a beacon of hope that the past has not yet faded, and some things never change. There aren’t many sights more utterly delightful in modern entertainment than seeing Britain’s oldest pop star lead 5,000 fans of a similar vintage in a spirited singalong of “Young ones, darling we’re the young ones!”
Sir Cliff still has all the moves: the twirls, shoulder shifts, finger points, leg shakes, hip swivels, bum wiggles and the truly terrible amateur dramatics in which he enacts disappointment at being unable to deliver a letter during Carrie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, indicates the relative sizes of speakers in Wired for Sound and does the evil eyes in Devil Woman. It might be corny but it is exactly what the audience came to see.
And you cannot argue with the tunes. Richard didn’t become Britain’s longest serving hitmaker by accident. Alongside over a dozen massive hits (he has 67 top ten singles to choose from) he delivered stirring versions of such personal favourites as anti-war anthem Marmaduke. Richard claimed to have accidentally rediscovered it on i-Tunes where it was listed as an extra-track on 1989 album Stronger. “I don’t remember recording it but I suppose I must have done,” he joked.
It was a set that had to span a wide musical terrain encompassing early rock’n’roll swagger, cheery 60s pop craft, sleek 70s soft rock, bombastic 80s pop, power balladry and the evangelical Christian rock of showstopping 1993 fan favourite Peace in Our Time. A versatile seven-piece band moved expertly through the gears and Richard linked it all up with well-rehearsed repartee, corny jokes and earnest platitudes delivered with the “gosh wow” affected sincerity that has been his style since his days as a teenage idol. Well, it has worked for 64 years, I don’t think he’s going to switch it up now.
There was a bit of technical jiggery pokery, as is increasingly the way in too many modern concerts, whether performed by young artists miming through dance routines or old veterans sparing their vocal cords from overuse. Let’s just say the quality and sound of the lead vocals fluctuated suspiciously throughout, with certain songs evidently relying on pre-recorded parts. For me, it’s a pity Richard feels the need to rely on such showbiz trickery, because it is clear that his voice is still pliant and tuneful. The biggest moments came on such emotional ballads as Ocean Deep, Miss You Nights and Golden, particularly when arrangements were stripped back to piano and backing vocals, and the star sat down and put everything into his singing. Perhaps there is yet a different facet of his talent still to be explored in his ninth decade. But, for now, he clearly still enjoys the razzmatazz, the lights, the action and enthusiastic adoration of a long-serving audience.
As he launched into a flashy version of We Don’t Talk Anymore, his aged fans rose to their feet in approval, and a section of the crowd rushed to the front of the stage. Well, I say rushed. Not everyone in the venue was quite as sprightly as the star. But when their old idol sang, time melted away. That is the magic of music.