In the 1960s John Lennon declared that “before Cliff and the Shadows, there was nothing worth listening to in British music.” Nearly six decades on, and still reinventing himself as an icon of British Rock and Roll, Sir Cliff Richard appeared on stage at the Royal Opera House Muscat to round off the weekend with a sensational performance to a sold-out house.
It was a tremendous, once-in-a-lifetime experience for all those who attended the show, and a phenomenal coup for ROHM, which made history by engaging the world-renowned British popular singer and megastar to the prestigious stage.
After two chords from the assembled band, Cliff fairly ran on stage; no opening instrumental number for him. He looked for all the world like a 40-year-old Rock superstar, dressed in a sparkly silver Ziggy jacket and white trousers. He sang and danced, moved and chatted for the two 45 minute sets without a flinch, and his personable, informal style instantly won the audience’s adoration. Some present must have grown up with his music as a backing track to their lives and Cliff started the show with a standing ovation.
He opened the set with what must be a mantra of his life: “It’s going to be OK”. And suddenly the auditorium transformed into a spinning disco of dazzling coloured lights, thanks to his superb lighting technician, designer Derek Jones. Cliff’s speaking voice still sports that idiosyncratic lilt that brought us back decades, while his singing voice has lost nothing of its warmth, conviction and range.
The opening number morphed into a hard rock classic, “Stronger” delivered with power and strength, and then dissolved into the beautiful ballad, “Travellin’ Light”. Cliff sang his 1959 no.1 hit with his backing singer, the young Suzie Furlonger who has been touring with Cliff since 2011. She wore a black cat-suit from the 1970s era and her clear, unwavering pop vocalist sound always blended well with Cliff’s voice, either in duets or as backing.
Suddenly we were with Chuck Berry in “Roll over Beethoven” and people were dancing in their seats and waving arms in the air. Cliff paced himself well from jiving and strutting across the stage to standing still in quiet numbers, such as in his 1975 Dave Townsend hit, “Miss You Nights”, which ended with a rather misplaced guitar-smashing gag.
Then there was a story about a shopkeeper in New York told in a questionable Indian accent — much to the amusement of the many Indian nationals in the hall — which led to my two favourite film songs of the programme: “The Young Ones” followed by “ We’re All Going On a Summer Holiday”, both Roy C Bennett songs from Richard’s most successful movies of the early ‘60s. “Ocean Deep” was a very moving, slow solo ballad, followed by an all-time Classic, “Devil Woman” which brought the first half of the show to an explosive finale. The British backing band was led from the keyboard — sometimes as a Hammond Organ, sometimes as a Fender Rhodes, by MD with Sir Cliff for 20 years, Keith Hayman. There had been some superb solo guitar riffs in many of the songs, performed brilliantly by left-handed Bobby Harrison, who also provided excellent vocal harmonies and backing in many numbers.
It was hard to believe that Sir Cliff could keep up the momentum in part two, but he rose to the challenge in a tight-fitting dance suit with his fast rock number, “Wired for Sound”. An anecdote about the number of high-profile deaths over the past four years, many of whom were friends, led Cliff seamlessly to the Robin Gibb ballad, “Don’t Cry alone” sung from the heart, perched on a high-stool in a pool of light. He certainly knew how to milk emotions, and here there was an allusion to his deep and lasting religious faith.
John Farrar’s 1980 composition for Olivia Newton-John and Cliff Richard for the film, ‘ Xanadu’, “Suddenly” was performed as a duet with Suzie Furlonger with carefully choreographed movements across the wide stage, and by now she had won the audience’ approval as a musical partner and singer in her own right. In contrast Hank Marvin’s “The Day I met Marie” had been a Rock and Roll hit for Cliff Richard and the Shadows in 1979, and Chuck Berry’s 1958 “Sweet Little Sixteen” returned the mood to the hey-day of American R & R, complete with lighting effects and driving drum rhythms from Scottish Andy McGlasson.
One of the first Rock and Roll hits ever may well have been the 1950s “Singing the Blues” but Sir Cliff Richard and his band brought it right up to date (in a blue light, of course) with some fine bass playing from the brilliant South Londoner, Steve Walters. With a revisit to the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest (which he did not win) with “Congratulations” we were singing along in our seats — actually in sections, directed by the singer! Finally, Britain’s first authentic Rock and Roll Classic of 1958 was Cliff Richard’s “Move it”, the best saved till almost last. With an appropriate reprise of “It’s Gonna Be OK” as encore, there was nothing left to say except, “Good night Cliff, and thank you for bringing Britain’s golden age of Rock and Roll to Oman”. He is a role model without a doubt; I wonder how many of us will be singing and dancing like him on our 77th birthday.