Sir Cliff Richard (born Harry Rodger Webb in Lucknow, India, on October 14, 1940) is one of the United Kingdom‘s best known singers.
With his backing group, The Shadows, he dominated the British popular music scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s, before the advent of The Beatles. 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, even though he has had several chart hits there, Richard has remained a popular music, film, and television personality in the UK and also retains a following in several other countries.
During the last six decades, 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 its active decades (1950s–2000s). According to his website, he has sold 250 million records over the course of his career. In the British charts alone, Richard has had more than 150 singles, albums and EPs make the top 20.
Born in India, moving from Lucknow to Calcutta when he was a one-year-old, Richard and his family moved to Britain after Indian independence in 1947. There is a widely-believed rumor to the effect that he is of Anglo-Indian (Eurasian) descent, although he has never publicly commented on this.
Harry Webb came from a skiffle group to be lead singer of the rock and roll Drifters in 1958 (not to be confused with the American group of the same name). Before their first “big time” out-of-town performance at the Regal Ballroom in Ripley, they took the name Cliff Richard and The Drifters. The members of this band were Harry, who had become Cliff, Ian “Sammy” Samwell, Terry Smart and Norman Mitham. None of these survived to be part of the later and better known Shadows.
Cliff gained a recording contract for himself only, leaving the band behind, with EMI in the summer of 1958, where he remained until signing with Decca in 2004. As The Drifters faded away, Cliff and The Shadows would be contractually separate entities, and the group would not receive any performer royalties for the records they made backing Cliff.
Cliff went into Abbey Road Studios to record his first record on July 24, 1958, but the producer, Norrie Paramor, had little faith in the (pre-Marvin/Welch) Drifters, and consequently brought in two experienced session men, Ernie Shear and Frank Clarke, to provide backing on lead guitar and bass.
On the first 1958 record, Norrie Paramor provided a song called “Schoolboy Crush”, a cover of an American record by Bobby Helms. But Cliff was allowed to record one of their own for the B-side. This was “Move It”, written by Ian “Sammy” Samwell famously on a number “715” Green Line Bus on the way to Cliff’s house on the Bury Green Estate in Cheshunt for a rehearsal.
There are a number of stories about why the A-side song was replaced by the B-side. One story says that their producer, Norrie Paramor, played the record to his daughter, and she raved about the B-side instead of 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!, said the song to be sung on his show had to be “Move It”.
The single was flipped and went to number two in the charts. Music critics Roy Carr and Tony Tyler would later write that it was first genuine British great rock classic, to be followed by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates‘s “Shakin’ All Over” before The Beatles hit with “I Saw Her Standing There“.
In the early days, Cliff Richard was something of a British equivalent to Elvis Presley. Supplanting previous British would-be rockers such as Marty Wilde, Richard was the first in Britain to adopt Presley-style dress and hair styling. In performance, he struck a pose of rock attitude, rarely smiling or even looking directly at the audience or camera. His late 1958 and early 1959 follow-up singles, “High Class Baby”, “Livin’ Lovin’ Doll”, and “Mean Streak”, carried a real rocker’s sense of speed and passion. It was on “Livin’ Lovin’ Doll” that The Drifters began actually to back Cliff on record. By that time, the band’s lineup had changed, with the bringing-in of the more skilled Jet Harris, Tony Meehan, Hank Marvin, and Bruce Welch. They changed their name to The Shadows when legal complications began arising with the U.S. Drifters.
However, Richard’s fifth single, “Living Doll”, was a gentle ballad, ushering in a change of focus. Subsequent hits such as “Travellin’ Light”, “I Love You”, and “Theme for a Dream” became quite popular and cemented Richard’s status as a mainstream pop entertainer, rivaled only by a few others, such as Adam Faith and Billy Fury.
The Shadows were not a backing group just like any other. In 1959, The Shadows (then still known as The Drifters) won an EMI recording contract of their own, for recordings independent of Cliff. That year they released three singles, two of which were double-sided vocals and one of which had instrumental A and B sides. In 1960, they recorded and released “Apache“, which saw the birth of British rock guitar instrumental music. Hitting the top of the charts (all over the world, not just in the UK), the record set The Shadows on a path of their own, and they thereafter made many major hits of their own, as well as continuing to appear and record with Cliff and wrote many of his hits.
In the early 1960s, Cliff and The Shadows were virtually inseparable as the biggest concert draw in Britain. Typically, The Shadows closed the first-half with a 30-minute set of their own, and then backed Cliff on his show-closing 45-minute stint. Tony Meehan and Jet Harris eventually left the group, in 1961 and 1962 respectively, and later teamed up very successfully in the charts. The Shadows had a few more bass players, and also took in Brian Bennett on drums.
In the early days, Cliff also sometimes recorded without The Shadows, mainly to cater for other styles. Hits from 1962 onward in this mould included “It’s All in the Game”, “Constantly”, “The Minute You’re Gone”, and “Wind Me Up”.
In the period between 1958 and 1963, Cliff Richard and The Shadows stood as the biggest thing in Britain. They also toured the United States in 1960 and were reportedly well-received, but the record company did not provide strong enough support for album distribution - among other matters - and so the chances were lost. It was the same with their appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, which was responsible for much of the Beatles’ success, but did not really help Cliff and The Shadows. As a result, Cliff Richard remained almost completely unknown in the US. However, Cliff and The Shadows basically re-wrote convention in British recording companies and opened EMI up to the importance and strength of rock n’ roll music. It was due to them 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 (which would give its name to 1980s TV sitcom The Young Ones, a show which also made reverent references to Richard), 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 #1 cinema box office attraction in Britain for both 1962 and 1963.
As with the other existing rock acts in Britain, Richard’s career took an impact with the advent of The Beatles and the Mersey sound in 1963 and 1964. However, his popularity was great enough that he was able to weather the storm, and continued to chart successfully throughout the 1960s, albeit not at the level before. Nor did it open doors to 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 Cliff’s life was his conversion to Christianity in 1964. To stand up publicly as a new Christian was a decision which affected his career in various ways. First of all, Cliff believed that he should quit rock ‘n roll, as he thought he could no longer be the rocker who had in the early years been called a “crude exhibitionist” and “too sexy for TV” and a threat to parents’ daughters, although his image had already become tamer due to his film roles and well-spoken voice on radio and TV. He intended at first to reform his ways and become a teacher, but Christian friends told him that he did not need to abandon his career just because he had become a Christian. Soon after, Cliff re-emerged and performed with Christian groups and recorded 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, Cliff balanced his life and work, enabling him to still be one of the most popular singers in Britain while also one of the best-known Christians.
He also represented the UK twice in the Eurovision Song Contest, both times unsuccessfully, though his first attempt, “Congratulations“ in 1968, was a massive hit in Britain and most of the world and has become a standard, still sung on suitable occasions.
After The Shadows split in 1968, Cliff Richard recorded without his band. He had already become accustomed to The Shadows’ absence during his recording sessions, and he was able to record in any setting. Although many fans had in the early 1960s regretted Cliff trying out songs which were not strictly in the rock ‘n roll area, this slow process of getting used to recording with The Shadows as the “rock group”, while at other times singing with other musicians, without a doubt is at least partly responsible for Cliff becoming what he has become.
During the 1970s, Cliff became heavily involved in television shows, such as It’s Cliff, many of which also starred Hank Marvin. These shows made Cliff into a television personality, more than a recording artist, for a time. In 1972, Cliff made a short BBC television comedy film called The Case with appearances from comedians and dueting on songs with Olivia Newton-John, the first female with whom he ever sang a duet. Cliff was in everyone’s homes, and gave enjoyment to all the family, and still was a successful pop recording presence.
However, Cliff and others (like his former Shadow, Bruce Welch) decided that they would bring Cliff Richard back as a “rock” artist again. This collaboration produced the 1976 landmark Cliff album I’m Nearly Famous, which brought about the classic rock guitar-driven track “Devil Woman” and the haunting “Miss You Nights”. It was not just Cliff and the fans who were excited that the man who had been a part of British rock from its early days was back in strength, but also a host of big music names. People like Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and Elton John began being seen sporting big “I’m Nearly Famous” badges on their clothes, so pleased that their icon was getting back into the heavier rock in which he had begun his career.
A number of other strong albums were produced, and in 1979 he went to number one with the sad-but-defiant “We Don’t Talk Anymore”. It was his first time to the top in over ten years, and would become his biggest-selling single ever. A true Cliff revival was happening. There was even, at long last, some success in the States: His 1976 single “Devil Woman” accompanied by a promotional tour had given him a number-six 6 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, and now the follow-ups “We Don’t Talk Anymore” and “Dreaming” reached the top ten; his 1980 duet “Suddenly” with Olivia Newton-John would be a hit as well. American anglophiles also heard many references to him in the BBC comedy series The Young Ones.
In fact, in 1986 Cliff teamed up with The Young Ones to re-record his smash hit “Living Doll”, for the charity Comic Relief. The recording contained comedy dialog between Cliff and The Young Ones, along with the song and went to number one - making it the first time the same song by the same artist returned to the top.
Back in the UK, in the next years into and through the 1980s, Cliff remained one of the biggest music artists in the country, and he became a magnet for other music greats. In the space of a few years, he had worked with Elton John, Mark Knopfler, George Harrison, Julian Lennon, Freddie Mercury, Stevie Wonder, Phil Everly, Janet Jackson, and Van Morrison. He also did more work with Olivia Newton-John, and, to cap the decade off, filled the Wembley Stadium for a few nights in 1989 with a spectacular simply titled The Event.
The Shadows later re-formed (and later again split), and recorded on their own, but reunited with Cliff in 1978 and 1984 for some concerts.
Cliff Richard reached the pinnacle of his career when he was knighted on October 25, 1995. He was the first rock star to be so honored, ahead of Sir Paul McCartney (1997) and Sir Elton John (1998).
Sir Cliff is number 56 in the 2002 100 Greatest Britons list, sponsored by the BBC and voted for by the public. Adored especially by middle-aged women, many of whom camp out for his concert tickets, he has become a fixture of the British entertainment world and of British public life, an icon, and all the more because of the mostly British scope of his success.
The Ultimate Pop Star, a Channel 4 program 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.
Sir Cliff has become joint owner of the Arora International Hotel in Manchester, which opened in June 2004.
After having not performed as Cliff and The Shadows since 1989/1990, Cliff joined The Shadows on stage on June 14, 2004, 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 The Shadows.
Soulicious (2011) is a fifteen-song collection featuring Cliff and some of the greatest voices ever in soul music, including Percy Sledge, Roberta Flack, Billy Paul, Freda Payne, Peabo Bryson and many more.