Sunday, 21 October 2018

The Cliff Richard Diamond Liner Notes

Last Monday, the Cliff Richard Fan Club's charity CD single was released, one day after Cliff's 78th birthday and he had been presented with a copy by the fan club, during a soundcheck at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The strictly limited CD edition of the single had been available on pre-order since 24 September from Leo's Den, but had sold out in less than a week. For those unlucky enough not to have got a copy, here are the liner notes that I wrote for the CD version, but not available with the MP3 download that is currently available on Amazon...
The story of how this very unique CD single came about started long before it was decided to green light the project and turn it from an almost impossible dream into a reality. It really started with an email in November 2017 which Carol Hall, the president of the London and Surrey Cliff Richard Fan Club received from Susanne Fritsch, one of the club members, asking if there were any plans to present a gift for Cliff from his fans to celebrate his 78th birthday on 14 October 2018, and to mark his 60 years in show business. Carol decided to raise Susanne’s suggestion with the club’s Facebook page members and run a poll to establish if the members would be interested in donating to such an idea. It soon became apparent that they were! Everyone it seemed loved the idea of a Birthday and anniversary song, but the reality of making it happen was the part that needed careful planning and execution. If this could be pulled off, then it would be a fan club first that no other artist fan club had even got close to! Far more important than that was the sentiment of the project. To have a professionally written and produced song inspired by lyrics and sentiments donated by fans, which would be an extraordinary and unprecedented personal gift to Cliff. The big question was how to go about it and make it happen?
By her own admission Carol knew nothing about the record industry or even how one would go about producing a song, let alone getting it recorded. After commandeering the help of industry veteran Steve Carroll, it became clear that the fund would have to cover the cost of recording, studio time, mixing, mastering, artwork, packaging, manufacturing costs, digital distribution, producer, vocalist, musicians, and a load of other incidentals that Carol probably hadn’t even thought of. In other words, a ton of money. Initial enquiries came up with a ball park figure of around £4.5k to realise Susanne’s idea for a song for Cliff, but what an achievement it would be! What better way to thank Cliff for all the years of enjoyment he had given his fans than through a specially written song in which every fan had the opportunity to express their love and dedication! Carol launched a fund raising campaign on Facebook and through her club magazine, but little could she or Steve have imagined how fast and furiously the money would start flowing in to what was now called “The Diamond Song Project”.
The idea was to raise the budget needed for a song to be professionally written, recorded and produced, made available to download as an MP3 to be released on 15th October, and to produce the limited edition CD you now hold in your hands. This in turn would give the project the added bonus of giving proceeds from its sale to one of Cliff’s favourite charities, Tearfund, who are celebrating their 50th anniversary during this same year as Cliff was celebrating his 60th. Cliff had announced a new concert tour, and that could just provide the ideal opportunity to present the fan club’s gift to him, either on or off stage, on his birthday at the RAH in London, but by no means was this guaranteed. The presentation to Cliff would include a copy of the CD, plus a specially framed ‘scroll of honour’, which would include the name of everyone who had donated and contributed to the project. In addition to offering fans the chance to donate to the project, it also offered them the chance to submit up to two lines of lyrics that might have been incorporated into the finished song. Another Facebook poll meant that they could also vote on whether the song should be an up-tempo number or ballad. They decided it should be a ballad. When you think of the project in those terms and just how complex it was, and what was involved in making it happen, it was, without question, one of the most ambitious ever launched by a fan club of any artist. Many would regard it impossible, a farfetched dream, and above all, simply not feasible. 43 days after the idea was put to fans though, enough money had been raised to make it happen, so now the real work began to turn the dream into a reality.
From January onwards, Carol kept raising money through the fan club Facebook page, and started to collate the lyrics that fans were sending in with their donations. By the end of February, Carol had contacted the UK Songwriters Guild and eventually found Paul Whitfield who agreed to write the song, both music and words, based on the lyrics Carol had collected from fans. Paul produced a demo two months later in April. During this same period Carol was thinking over who should sing the song, and agreed with her partner-in-crime, Steve Carroll, that it should be a female. She got in touch with Suzie Furlonger and Helen Hobson who were both honorary members of the fan club. Suzie and her husband were expecting their first child so declined the offer, but Helen, was delighted to become involved, offering her professional services for free. It had been some years since she had seen Cliff and had played Cathy to his highly acclaimed portrayal of Heathcliff from 1996 to 1997, and so, the idea of being able to sing a song dedicated to someone she admired, loved and had worked with, simply delighted and thrilled her. Carol, of course, was equally thrilled to have found her voice.
Steve was busy pursuing more donations for the project, including a sponsor for the presentation frame. Both Carol and Steve were busy trying to improve every aspect of the project. Then in early June, another unbelievable surprise happened, when Carol received a message from none other than Alan Tarney who after being told about the project had expressed an interest and was keen to come on board to produce the track, also agreeing to offer his professional services for free as it was a charity single. It was Carol’s icing on the cake, the answer to her dreams to find someone to produce the song. She was completely, as she put it, “beyond excited!” Alan, probably best known for his production of Cliff’s ‘Wired For Sound’ and ‘Always Guaranteed’ Top 5 albums was the perfect choice to undertake producing duties. On the 17th June, Helen laid down her vocals at Alan’s studio, with Alan at the helm and John Brant engineering the sound. The competed track was sent a few days later to Cliff’s regular sound engineer, Keith Bessey, who Alan had in mind from the start for mixing and mastering the track ready for MP3 download and CD production. Once again Carol was literally blown away that she had managed to secure three major players for her project that at one time or another, had and still do, play a role in Cliff’s own recording career. What a literally astounding result for a project that had started out as just an idea. It was now happening for real and with three people she could have only hoped for. When she broke the news on Facebook, the fans were equally ecstatic, and who wouldn’t be? There was even more exciting news around the corner for her to share with the fans. The project has come in under the budget thanks to so many for giving their time and expertise for free. Carol had collected - at the time of writing this - a staggering £8.5k which meant the club’s donation to Tearfund far exceeded what she hoped for, that anybody could hope for. When she broke that news to Tearfund, they too were very excited. No one had raised money for them in this way. A very unique CD project!
When Keith Bessey sent Carol the finished, fully mixed and mastered song, she was suddenly and quite unexpectedly hit by the enormity and emotion of everything she and the fans had achieved. You’ve bought this song, and you have contributed to it. It is, as the cover suggests, the perfect gift to Cliff from his fans to thank him for all the fabulous years of pleasure he has given us through music, movies, TV performances and concerts. This song... a specially written, produced and beautifully crafted song, really says it all.
From us to you!
Thank you Cliff, Happy Birthday and huge congratulations on your 60th anniversary!

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

The Oh Boy! Album - 60 Years On!


Although many people think Cliff Richard's first album was the live set he recorded, backed by the Drifters, at Abbey Road Studio 2 in front of an invited audience of 200 fans in February 1959, simply titled Cliff, and released two months later, his first appearance on LP, was in fact on Jack Good's Oh Boy! soundtrack album of the hit TV show that was released on EMI's Parlophone label in October 1958, six months before his own debut album appeared the following year, so not only is Cliff celebrating the 60th anniversary of his first single, Move It, this year, but also his first appearance on an LP, that he shared with other artists from the show. What is remarkably interesting though, is that Cliff had more tracks on the album than any of the other artists featured. But perhaps that shouldn't be surprising when you consider this was the show that launched Cliff as "the boy who was going to rock the world!" Out of the twenty four selections, seven were by Cliff, while the rest of the album was made up by numbers from the other show regulars such as the John Barry Seven, the Dallas Boys, Vince Eager,  Peter Elliot, Cuddly Dudley, Neville Taylor and the Cutters, and the Vernon Girls.

When I was working on upgrading Cliff's catalogue for EMI with Peter Lewry, this was one of the albums we suggested should be put out as a special edition with bonus tracks, but sadly there were licensing issues due to getting clearances on the tracks by the other featured artists, despite the fact they had reissued the album a couple of times before, in the late seventies, through their own budget and mid price MFP (Music For Pleasure) label. Although we were unsuccessful in persuading them to re-release the original album, or produce a special edition, we did manage to include all the tracks that Cliff had recorded for the album on the four disc Rock 'n' Roll Years box set in 1997. What many may not realise is that Cliff was not at the recording session in Abbey Road's Studio 2 along with everyone else on the evening that the album was recorded as he was playing Colston Hall in Bristol as one of the support acts on the Kalin Twins package tour, so he went into Studio 2 to record his seven tracks for the LP two nights later, all of which he had performed in various episodes of the TV show, and like the rest of  the album were taped without an audience, even though it was marketed as if there was.

To celebrate this milestone, below are Jack Good's original album liner notes...

This recording was made in one session on the evening of October 19, 1958, the day before ABC Television had transmitted the sixth edition of 'Oh Boy!' and already the show was a smash hit. The number of viewers had doubled. Stage shows and films were being mooted. And now the L.P. In six short weeks 'Oh Boy!' had grown to the stature that '6.5 Special' had taken nine months to achieve. For, by an odd coincidence, October 19, 1958 marked to a day the first anniversary of the session at which the '6.5 Special' LP was made. And at that time '6.5 Special' had been running nine months. Both discs were made by Norman Newell and at both sessions I held a watching brief as producer of the television programme concerned. The difference of these two occasions formed a clear reflection of the changes that have taken place in the world of popular music.

A year ago we were at the height of the coffee bar era. The music was frantic, erratic and, for the most part, it had an intimate and amateur flavour. Nowadays the whole thing has become much more streamlined and professional. The music is no longer improvised to the large extent that it was. All the "Oh Boy" numbers are carefully and brilliantly arranged by our MD, Harry Robinson. Melody is now playing a much more important role - though the beat is just as insistent and exciting. Singers are currently set a much higher standard than in the early rock days. They are expected to count bars and sing in key, two things formerly regarded as frivolous refinements.

Summing all this up, the '6.5 Special' LP session had the excitement and hubbub of a jumble sale; the "Oh Boy" session had the excitement and organisation of a rocket launching. All the artists and all the numbers on this record have been featured on the actual show and, just as in the programme, we race from one item to another without pause. It was a very happy recording session. The audience has a whale of a time (as you can hear) - so did the artists. But then they always do. It is such a friendly team that every rehearsal and transmission is like a party. That this atmosphere has been vividly captured by the L.P. is a tribute not only to the skill of those at E.M.I. who created it, but also to the imagination, faith - and, dare I say, courage? - of A.B.C Television who gave the "Oh Boy" show a chance to prove itself on the millions of television screens it serves.

Cliff's first solo album, simply titled Cliff was released in April 1959

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Guest Blog: The Elvis Week Experience

I am thrilled that Ann Moses has written this guest blog exclusively for my blog about her recent trip to Graceland as a guest speaker during this year's Elvis Week. For those who may not have heard of Ann, or know who she is, she was the editor of the U.S Tiger Beat magazine from 1965 to 1972, sat on the stage for Elvis’ 68 Comeback Special, toured Elvis’ and Colonel Tom Parker’s offices, observed Elvis filming Change of Habit, and attended Elvis’ opening Las Vegas show in July 1969, so to most Elvis fans, she was one of the few reporters that got more access than most to Elvis in the late 60s and early 70s.

As we didn't have Tiger Beat in Britain, I first became aware of Ann through her "America Calling" column in Britain's New Musical Express (NME), and in particular, her reports about Elvis in Vegas. For anyone who was an Elvis fan, Ann was the Hollywood Correspondent who kept British fans up to date with the latest Elvis news, more so than any one else, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to see her pop up on screen in Elvis' 1970 movie, That's The Way It Is, having been a fan and follower of her column. When she published her autobiography last year, I was equally thrilled, simply because I would now discover more about her work at Tiger Beat, her interviews with some of the biggest teen idols of the period, and how she ended up in the Elvis movie, so now you know who Ann is, and how she played a part in my life as an Elvis fan, here is her story of her first Elvis Week experience at Graceland...

It’s been fifty years since I became a born-again Elvis fan (after falling for him when he sang Don’t Be Cruel on the Ed Sullivan Show, September 9, 1956, I strayed when the Beatles became a world-wide sensation in 1964). Being one of the fortunate few who attended one of the two tapings of his comeback special in 1968, simply titled Elvis, I could have never imagined all the things that would take place after that night.

Fast-forward to Elvis Week 2018 and here I was standing at the gates of Graceland with a VIP lanyard around my neck, as an invited guest speaker for Conversations on Elvis: Connections. Won’t you come along with me as I tour Graceland for the first time, tell my stories to moderator, Tom Brown, and the fans who are part of the reason any Elvis Week is a phenomenal experience?

Let’s start with introducing the Guest House at Graceland, the 450-room hotel which officially opened in October 2016. Before his passing in 1977, Elvis had plans drawn up for a guest house, for friends and family. These plans and his ideas were the nucleus for what turned into this five-star resort hotel, the perfect place to stay for Elvis fans. The first thing to strike me as we checked in was the Elvis music that played 24/7 in the public spaces (all of them) at the hotel. It was loud enough so I caught myself singing along as we went to our room, but I laughed when I saw other guests doing the same thing! It was infectious. The décor was unique and upscale. I loved that the floor each had an original photo, usually close-ups of his costumes, as the floor marker as you exited the elevator.

Wonder why there are no photographs of Elvis in the Guest House? As Priscilla Presley and Lisa Marie Presley were the principal designers for the GH, they knew that Elvis would never have put up pictures of himself in a guest house for family and friends. After our check-in and a great burger at E.P’s Bar and Grill, we were off to see the main attraction: Elvis’ home, Graceland. Surprise #1 on my first tour of Elvis Presley's Graceland: John Stamos narrates the tour on the tablet each person receives - and he shares that his character of Uncle Jesse on Full House was named after Elvis Presley's stillborn twin, Jesse Garon Presley.

My impressions of touring his home were just that – that it was his home, tailored for his lifestyle, a place designed for family and friends that was comfortable and lived in. I was inside many famous celebrity homes in Beverly Hills, but Graceland was unlike a celebrity home (except for EP’s love of state-of-the-art technology – like the TV room he had designed after he saw President LBJ’s set-up with three TVs and an early microwave in the simple kitchen). Many of the speakers at Conversations said the same thing “when you’re inside Graceland, you just get the feeling that Elvis will walk down the stairs at any moment.” 

The photos on the walls are of family (his parents, Priscilla, some of EP, and Lisa) – all from happier, more carefree times. As you are touring his home, there is a warmth and friendliness in the atmosphere, which let’s you envision Elvis sitting with friends and enjoying a meal in the dining room, or everyone playing pool in the billiard room, or Lisa Marie frolicking with her toys as Elvis plays the piano. 

All the fabulous photos which mark every period of his legacy are on full display throughout the attractions and exhibits of Elvis Presley’s Memphis, which opened in March 2017. EP’s Memphis includes the Graceland Mansion tour, Elvis’ Airplanes, Presley Motors Automobile Museum, Presley Cycles Exhibit, Archives Experience, ICONS: The Influence of Elvis Presley Exhibit, Elvis The Entertainer Career Museum, Lisa Marie: Growing Up Presley Exhibit, VIP Exhibit and Lounge, Elvis’ Tupelo Exhibit, Hollywood Backlot, Mystery Train: The Sam Phillips Exhibit, Hillybilly Rock Exhibit and Graceland Soundstage A.

While we enjoyed every exhibit, I could have spent days at the Archives Experience – looking at every fascinating piece of paper or a Presley possession. One is overwhelmed with the volume of the Archives. One of the coolest things about the Guest House, Elvis Presley’s Memphis, the tour of the Graceland Mansion and even the shuttle buses – no matter where you are, Elvis songs are playing 24/7, and when you step off the bus in the middle of Hound Dog, you hear the song continue as you walk up the entry, and then it continues wherever you go next – and it’s all synced for the entire place. It’s the most unique and perfect “attraction” for every Elvis fan. And to think they have the playlist like no other, it reminds you of the King’s legacy from his first release to his last.

Besides the attractions, to me, the fans themselves are like an attraction. We saw fans groups with matching tee shirts that had been around since the Heartbreak Hotel days through today. We saw fans from Scandinavian countries, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, the UK, and, of course, the USA fans. There were grandparents, kids, entire multi-generational families, women and men, boys and girls. Elvis fans come in every ethnicity and country around the world. And yet they all have Elvis in common. It’s a powerful atmosphere. And because every one has a bond with the others, it’s like a congeniality convention. No one hesitates to engage another person in an observation or conversation. Too cool!

On the day we arrived at Graceland, we knew we had a special night ahead of us: 7:00 pm Graceland Soundstage – 68 Special 50th Anniversary Celebration. But I had no idea how much of a celebration it would be. The event was sold-out, gathering over 1,500 Elvis fans in the magnificent soundstage auditorium. I had not seen the Special since it’s original air date of December 3, 1968. But it all came flooding back and the tape rolled. And all of the excitement I had felt on that night 50 years ago, I was feeling again as feelings of déjà vu overwhelmed me.

Before presenting each segment, the evening was enhanced with live, on-stage appearances recounting the making of the Special from Producer-director Steve Binder, musical director Billy Goldenberg, and writer Allan Blye. Each shared their own candid memories before introducing specific scenes. Dancer Tanya Lemani, who portrays the belly dancer in the Little Egypt scene, made a surprise appearance, dancing while donning a costume similar to what she wore 50 years earlier. Prerecorded reflections from Priscilla Presley, Elvis confidant and collaborator Jerry Schilling, songwriter Mac Davis and the late D.J. Fontana added even more perspective. The Costumes For the first time, Elvis’ trademark costumes from the original program, including that unmistakable black leather suit, were displayed onstage during a 68 Special screening.

So as each segment was aired, I found the dancing segments were nostalgic, but didn’t hold up as well as the live, Elvis-in-black-leather segments, backed not only by his buddies on stage, but a full orchestra. It wasn’t until the musical director, Billy Goldberg, told us how he had a full orchestra backing up Elvis in the background that I became aware of how much that enhanced the whole show.

Yes, I counted seeing myself five times. It was one of the eeriest feelings I’ve ever had. My folks never had a movie camera while I was growing up, so I had no memories of how I acted as a kid, but seeing myself at age 21 was so very cool! And to see myself, again, with my face superimposed with Elvis’ as he sang Can’t Help Falling in Love, was so mind-blowing and I hadn’t realized that I was singing along as he sang. But nothing at Graceland is ordinary. And this night was no exception. I had missed the Gospel celebrations earlier in the week, but on this night, we and the entire audience were astounded when, as Elvis was singing gospel songs on the big screen, below the Tennessee Mass Choir had gathered below the screen, live and rockin’ – and we were all on our feet, moving and joining in the revival-style music of this outstanding gospel choir. I had the same feeling that I had when we attended a moving service at the Anglican Church in Parys, South Africa.

I have to share this funny bit: a Graceland insider told me she was surprised that the Comeback Special audience was an overflow crowd because, “they can all watch the Comeback Special in their rooms at the Guest House – it’s shown 24/7 on the Elvis Channel available anytime in each room at the Guest House. Who knew? When we were in our room, I was studying my previous articles on Elvis and the Comeback Special published in the New Musical Express in 1968. While I had continuing memories of that day/time, I didn’t want to miss any detail, like some of the ad-libs those of us in the audience heard as the special was taped, and I wanted to share all those nuggets when I participated in Conversations on Elvis.

The next morning, we woke to a slightly cloudy Memphis morning. By the time we were ready to climb on the shuttle to the soundstage, the clouds had cleared and it was sunny and very humid, which is what we expected being in Tennessee. I was feeling nervous, as I have never been too comfortable getting up in front of an audience. I have never been, nor did I want to be, the center of attention. I always preferred being on the “other” side of the camera. As I visited with the other guests for Conversations-all performers who were used to the spotlight-it came to mind that they were not all that different than me, just folks who had a special talent. And while I did not feel apart of the group with special talents – be it gospel singing, back-up singing, country music or the like – I did have a confidence inside because moderator Tom Brown had shared with me in a warm-up phone call the week before that “Elvis fans love ALL the details.” Armed with that info and becoming more comfortable as all of us chatted in the green room, I was feeling a big better.

They had wound up the segment before mine and my introduction came on the big screen. Here I was, standing backstage at the foot of the steps, and on the sound desk screen (which was huge), my face suddenly appears on the screen. They had pulled my “interview” from the documentary Elvis That’s The Way It Was, where Denis Sanders is interviewing me at my desk at Tiger Beat, and cover shots of me working with an art editor. Even though I have this DVD at home, I had not watched it for years! There I was again, now age 22 and I’m talking about what it’s like to be an Elvis fan.

And before I could even grasp that concept, I heard my name introduced over the sound system by Tom Brown. I was massively nervous walking on stage, but as Tom greeted me, I think he was going in for a hug, but it just seemed right to smack a little kiss, so that’s what I did, which prompted Tom to say, “I didn’t know I was getting a kiss,” or something like that. The most unexpected thing happened – I relaxed and as I sat down and began answering Tom’s questions, I realized for the first time in my life, I was comfortable and actually enjoying the experience of sharing my Elvis experiences. It felt so freeing!

It was truly heartwarming to recount my experiences to an audience of about 300 people, all of whom were hanging on every word. It was empowering. They laughed at the funny bits, they cheered, whistled and clapped when I told about kissing Elvis during the filming of That's The Way It Is in 1971, and sighed when I said Elvis came up and talked to me one-on-one during a break in filming on the set of Change of Habit. Note to audience: thank you for your enthusiastic response – you truly have changed my life.

Following the final Conversation on stage, we were asked to be available for autographs at the back of the soundstage auditorium. I was permitted to sell my book and autographed pictures of Elvis and me, taken following his press conference after his first live appearance at the International in August 1969. But still, it was my first experience of people lining up and anxiously waiting to see me! Unexpected and thrilling. And everyone was so sweet. They would ask, “Can I take a picture of you,” and we would say, "Get over here, let’s get a selfie,” my husband would run around the front of the desk, grab their camera and get a shot of us. It was such a blast for all of us.

 Ann's book is available from Amazon - or for an autographed copy go here

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Winona Ryder - The Biography Revisited

In this first part of this special two-part blog article, I am thrilled to offer some background information on the making of my Winona Ryder biography that was published in the UK twenty years ago today in paperback by John Blake Publishing ... 

My love of movies dates back to the early 1960s when I first went to the cinema, with my parents, to see Carry On Constable, or at least that is my recollection of the first time I was treated to a night out at the pictures, but then twenty-six years later something extraordinary happened, I went to see a movie called Lucas. As I watched the scenes that featured a total unknown named Winona Ryder, I was moved by the vulnerability behind her huge hypnotic brown eyes. She has captivated me ever since with her public profile and each of the movies she has appeared in from the age of twelve. When I discovered in 1996, some ten years and almost twenty films later, that there had never been a biography about her, I felt compelled to write one, which then consumed the next two years of my life, and with running a Facebook fan page for the book, still does to this day. 

Twenty years on from when it was published, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on what became a major turning point in my writing career as up to that point I had only written music reference books, with the exception of a lightly worded illustrated biography of the Rolling Stones first ten years, but now I was jumping in at the deep end to write a full length biography of my favourite actress. I also want to try and address some of the questions I am often asked about the book. Several questions persist. How and when did I get the idea to write the book, did I ask Winona to participate, how did I go about the research, who did I speak to, and when will I update the original book?

Strangely enough, I was hoping to publish a special 20th anniversary edition this month, but could not find a publishing home for it. The idea for the all new edition was to completely revise the existing book by doing a new volume which would have been divided into three parts. The first part would focus on revisions to the original manuscript that have come to light since the book was first published, the second part would have been the original biography as it was published in 1998, and the third part  was to go from where the original book left off up to the present, Stranger Things, and her latest movie Destination Wedding. But every publisher that I approached with it didn't feel that now was the right time to be republishing, even with all the additional content and Winona's renewed profile. My feeling was and still is that there is no better time to re-access her life and career. As I told the editorial and sales teams, as an actress who changed the way cinema depicts women, and has championed for so many in the industry, she deserves a really good and up-to-date biography to be available, but sadly it was not to be. The new edition would have created a completely new portrait, which among other things would have told the exclusive untold story of her first and fascinating experience with the still camera some years before she was cast in her first movie, including my author interviews with photographer and stylist, take a fresh look at her early years from her first kiss on a playground carousel to her love of skateboarding and returning to the limelight in the medium she once swore she would never do, and to question why she still refuses to conform to the Hollywood ideal of fame.      

So how did the book all come about in the first place? Well, the initial idea came from Hannah MacDonald, then the publishing editor at Virgin Publishing. I had called her to ask if she would be interested in commissioning me to write a biography of Olivia Newton-John. Hannah's reply was not really. She said she was looking for someone more current at that time, someone who was regarded as young, cool and hip, someone like Winona Ryder. What Hannah didn't know that just a few weeks before that call in June 1996, I had gone to see Winona's then latest film How To Make An American Quilt at the MGM multiplex in Eastbourne with my daughter Kim on National Cinema Day that was celebrating 100 years of cinema, when 742 cinemas across the UK showed selected films all day long and charged only one pound to see any film. There were over 150 films to chose from. As well as the current releases there were 27 previewing films and classics ranging from Casablanca to the Sound of Music, and one of the previewing films was Winona's movie. When we left the cinema I said to Kim, "It's no good, I have to write a book about her!" So can you imagine how excited I was when Hannah told me that Winona was the kind of biography subject they wanted to publish, and not ONJ. I was secretly thrilled and spent the rest of the call trying to persuade Hannah that I was the right person to write a book about Winona. I prepared a proposal, sent it to Hannah, which she presented at a number of publication meetings, but it was rejected, which although disappointing, still encouraged me to start touting it around other publishers.

Most rejected it in their belief that Winona, although ranked among the top ten box-office stars, and certainly one who encourages millions of fans, still didn’t have the profile to warrant a book. I remember one publisher telling me that most bestselling film biographies were the ones about the male heartthrobs, or if female, the ones with a reputed gay fan following, and as Winona didn’t fall into either category, I didn’t find anyone rushing to do my book. The only publisher that showed any real interest was Robert Smith who owned Smith Gryphon Publishing, and had been producing a steady flow of celebrity and true-crime bestsellers since 1990. Although he could see how passionate I was about Winona as a biography subject, and had liked the attention of detail in my Stones book, he was still unsure about commissioning me unless the book was authorised, and I already knew that wasn't going to happen. Like Robert, I was only too aware, how difficult it is to encourage someone like Winona to participate and contribute to a book project, and even though Robert shared my view that it is better for a celebrity to co-operate and/or authorise a biography to ensure accuracy, not many Hollywood stars and their publicists shared that view. Nevertheless I had a go. In fact, I approached Winona’s publicist several times with several ideas asking for Winona’s co-operation and an interview, but as I have explained in my author note, her publicist made it clear that they were uncomfortable with the idea of a biography at that stage. When Hannah moved from Virgin to Andre Deutsch, she came up with the idea of Winona writing her own film dairies for a year or so, with me editing, but even that was a no-no.

Out of all the publishers I approached, Robert was the most interested, and despite turning it down to start with unless I could get Winona involved, he did eventually come back to me about eight months later, when I was about to put the book on the back burner, with an offer for an unauthorised work, and gave me a weekend to consider his offer because if I was going to accept, he needed know two days later so he could include the book as one of the lead titles in his Autumn 1997 catalogue, which had to go to print the following week, so after chewing things over, and accepting his terms and conditions, I began writing in the early part of that April, and quickly got up to speed as the manuscript had to be delivered at the end of June for publication that October to coincide with the landmark release of Winona’s twentieth film, Alien Resurrection. But about two weeks before it was due to go to print, Robert told me that he was having to dissolve his Smith-Gryphon publishing operation. The company and his entire catalogue of books would be offered for sale to other publishing houses, so my book, then titled Winona Ryder: The Unauthorized Biography, became stagnant, and was seemingly caught in the middle of a liquidation trap.  

After several offers were made to Robert's receivers, Smith Gryphon was eventually sold to Blake Publishing, who acquired the entire SG catalogue, but I still had no idea at that stage if they would publish my book or not, but as it turned out, once they had managed to rescue the book from Robert's printers, they scheduled a publication date for April 1998. The icing on the cake was the plan to publish it in hardback, now with two picture sections, rather than one, and with a new cover design. But their attempts to rush out my book didn’t really work out. WH Smith, then the biggest and most powerful bookseller in the UK were reluctant to order a hardback, and they also felt that they had not been given sufficient notice of publication, which was rather strange since Virgin’s sales teams had already been out selling the title for Smith Gryphon. Reluctantly Blake put publication back to September, and also decided to produce the book as a large format trade paperback instead of a hardback, simply because that's what WH Smith wanted and as they would be ordering more books than any other bookselling chain, Blake went along with their demands and decided to publish as a paperback edition only. The only differences would be the price and would now be in soft covers rather than a hardback. Even though I'd had my heart set on a hardback edition for April, there were advantages. with the delay and different format. I now had the opportunity to ensure that my book on Winona would be the most up-to-date published, which I think it was at that time since it ended with the story of Winona dating Matt Damon. Something that surprised Entertainment Weekly when they had been sent a proof copy for review and interviewed me for their magazine. They seemed genuinely amazed it was so up to date. The delay had allowed me to do that. It also give me the opportunity to do some fine tuning and polishing to other parts the manuscript. Not so good however was how we had to change the picture spreads due to some permission issues.

Most of the film companies were reluctant to grant permissions for some of the movie stills because the book was unauthorised, which was understandable. Although we could have licensed the stills from a number of picture agencies, my picture editor thought it was best not to since the film companies had objected to their use. I do remember calling Fox in the States to ask if we could use a publicity still from Alien Resurrection, whose response was yes as long as I got permission from Sigourney Weaver, Winona and the photographer, none of whom I had phone numbers for, and as Fox weren't about to share them with me, we didn't pursue it any further as it seemed out of our reach and a bit of a prohibitive exercise. With or without the Alien Resurrection shot, we lost a lot of images that we wanted to use. Mainly stills from Mermaids, Edward Scissorhands, The Age of Innocence, The House of the Spirits, Reality Bites, Little Women and The Crucible. It was very disappointing, but we managed to replace them with some relevant pictures, something that still had a connection wherever possible. For instance, we used Winona receiving her Golden Globe for The Age of Innocence, and Winona and Daniel Day-Lewis at The Crucible premiere in place of the actual movie stills.

In fact, I think we ended up with a selection of pictures that at that time hadn't been seen before, but then again it was in the pre-social media days and when the internet was still in its infancy, so yes, they were pretty rare for their day. Back then, I thought it made the plate section for the book far more interesting, personal and relative to the text. We actually ended up with some rather good shots. The most amazing find came from the Petaluma Argus-Courier who had shot Winona's very first publicity photo in her classroom at Petaluma Junior High in 1986. It's quite remarkable to look back on now because I don't remember there were any permission issues for the pictures in the Smith Gryphon version. Most of the photos had come from my private collection, and included some very iconic images of Winona, but I don't remember ever being questioned about ownership, but back in those days I was still a bit of a novice when it came to such things, and perhaps Robert wasn't too bothered about it either, or maybe, he thought I owned the photos or had clearance on them to use. 

In the next part of this article, I revisit how I went about the research for the book, who I managed to speak to and interview, including a scheduled but cancelled phone interview with Winona, and look at the aftermath of the publication and how the book came a Daily Telegraph bestseller and got nominated for a literary prize!

The cover for the Smith Gryphon version of my book 

Thursday, 24 May 2018

And Introducing Cliff Richard

Back in 1996, while working on the Cliff At The Movies double CD for EMI, and while working on The Ultimate Cliff, the third Cliff book I co-wrote with Peter Lewry, we were called on to help in the production of a programme about Cliff’s movie career for a Polygram video release. Soon after, we were given an uncut audio version of the interview Cliff filmed for the video, some of which was not used in the final programme, and so, for this article, I dug out the two C90 cassette tapes of the interview from my box of Cliff tapes, took a listen and transcribed some excerpts from the interview in which Cliff talks about life on set and behind the scenes of his first two movies.

“My first reaction to being asked to be in a movie was just total disbelief. You have to remember when my career started in 58, I was not quite 18 when I had my first big hit record and I had only been out of school for a year and a half, so I’d seen Elvis, the Ricky Nelsons of this world, and all the people who were big influences upon me in my career, I had seen what they had done, but I hadn’t dreamt I could actually become a recording artist, let alone a film star, so when Serious Charge came through, it was almost unbelievable, and I thought what am I going to do. All I had done was the dramatic society at the school, and I don’t know how good I was at that, so it was with a bit of fear and trepidation that I arrived on that film set for the first time, but they were fantastic. They must have known, and I must have looked terrified and naive, very young, and they were wonderful, the director, the other actors were fantastic to me, they were really wonderful, and molly cuddled me all the way through it. I know it was meant to be a B feature, but Living Doll was the song featured in the film, and so therefore, the record went to number one and it created this mood for the film, and the film became a big success. And it was really fantastic to be part of that, and when watching that film, for the first time, and even now, looking back, I have seen clips, shown now and then, and there is one little scene where I’m driven away at the end in a car, and the probation officer, a rather large lady, shuts the door and tells me to be a good boy, and there’s just one look that I give out of the window, and I thought ‘I can do it.’ Just that one look, the fact that I could stop being me for that moment and be someone else with someone else’s feelings, I thought ‘I can do this,’ and that’s always stuck with me, that one shot, of me looking through the window of a car, and I remember that moment a lot of times. Acting, after all, is trying to be what you’re not and any moments that I see where I’m really successful at it, I just store them away.

“The thing about going onto any film set - and I don't know whether actors feel it now after a dozen films - but all the films I’ve made, every single first day on a film set I find quite terrifying because you don’t really know what’s going to be demanded of you, you don’t know anything about the success or lack of success of the movie until after it’s made, you don’t really know the people you’re going to work with, they’ve all been cast, so you arrive there, you’re introduced to these people, ‘This is going to be your father, your brother, this is going to your friend,’ it’s all very strange. I’m not sure if anybody ever gets used to that, I certainly haven’t.

“I have to say because Serious Charge was my first movie it seems like such a gigantic step in my life. Even records, they were inaccessible to us at that stage. How did you make a record? None of us knew where a studio was, now they’re on every street corner, so to get my recording career off the ground was a mighty triumph, and to be offered a film in the first three months of my career was impossible, just impossible. I remember being driven to the studio with this script under my arm, not knowing what it was going to be like, I don’t think I had been so afraid, but being Curly was really strange for me, because not only did they give me this name Curly - if it had been an American film, I bet they would have changed my name to match my looks - but no, they changed my hairstyle, so not only was I making my first movie, I had to come out onto that stage set with these curls in my hair, which I wasn’t very happy about I have to say, but what do you say when you are not quite 18 and you’ve been asked to make a movie. I guess you just do anything they tell you, so I did, but it was quite terrifying.

“Anthony Quayle, Sarah Churchill and Andrew Ray, they were all wonderful to me, really friendly. Anthony Quayle would say, ‘Don’t worry, let's do that one again, let’s rehearse that again,’ and made me feel very comfortable, but it was Terence Young, the director, who said to me, ‘You’re a natural,’ I didn't know what that meant at first. I was heavily complimented. I realise now that really he was saying you’re not acting a part, you just really being yourself, and he said to me a number of times, ‘It’s not as easy as you think, so don’t worry,’ and he kept on talking me through it, and he was really, really kind to me, and again, the thing that’s really impressed me about my time in the movies is how much fun it can be. I know it’s hard work, we all know that your hours are whatever early hour in the morning they call you in, usually at 6 or 7 in the morning, and you’re supposed to look wonderful on camera a couple of hours later and have that sustain throughout the day, and it’s tough work, but on the whole, I found it to be totally fun. Even Two A Penny in which I had headaches in trying to work out the scenes I had to play, was totally satisfying, and I would still call it fun as well, so to have someone like Terence Young, who was a director I never heard of, I’d hardly heard of any directors before that time, to actually take the trouble to work on someone who was absolutely a novice, one hundred percent novice, was amazing. When you think there are so many actors out of work, they could have got a million actors, a million times better than me to play that part, but I think someone was being quite clever, they wanted a pop singer, an up and coming pop singer, so first of all, I wasn’t very expensive, but I was up and coming, and of course, during the shooting of the film, my record went to number two, and subsequently Living Doll next year was a number one, so that’s why I was there. But he was very tough on the natural acting bit, ‘Be a natural and play it this way, and listen to me, and you’ll be all right’ - and I think I was.

“In the days when I was offered those movies, Serious Charge and Expresso Bongo were both X rated movies, which is ironic, isn't it, my first two films would be X rated, and therefore my actual fans who were probably in their early teens and younger wouldn’t have been able to officially, legitimately see the films. I don’t think I had management at that time, in fact I had no real management at that time. I had a chap with me who discovered me, and we called him my manager, John Foster. He did actually mutter the immortal words in a pub where I was singing, ‘I’ll make you a star’ and he did. I have to say I owe John the beginning of my career. All the steps that followed were what he gave me to start with. But as I got older, and I’m sure John will forgive me for saying this, he also had no experience, no idea of what management really entailed, and we hadn’t got to that stage of deciding on routes and ladders to climb, and areas not to go in. We just instinctively did what was put in front of us, and when the opportunity came up for making a film, there was no way we were going to decide not to make a movie, even though Expresso Bongo did have sequences that were nude sequences, but of course, they were only seen in France. They are probably now available in Britain, but at that time, the sequences with Sylvia Syms where she was supposed to be a striptease dancer, and Laurence Harvey’s girlfriend, they filmed it in close and that was supposed to be the English version, and then they said, ‘Right close the doors, we are now going to do the French version.’ It was hysterically funny when you think about it, and of course, we were all around watching these nude scenes being filmed I have to say. When you look at the film now, you wonder how it could have possibly been X rated. It’s impossibly bad rating.

“I wasn't in all the sequences, of course. In Serious Charge, I wasn’t called on for the midnight skippy dipping shot, and I’m really glad I wasn’t actually, I have often wondered why I wasn’t because at that stage in my career I would understand it. There are certain things that I feel are unnecessary and feel I don't want to be part of, but its interesting when I see clips of that film now, it still looks so innocuous, there was naivety and an innocence about it, that in fact, makes it acceptable, whereas sometimes if you were to compare the kind of things that happen in Serious Charge and Expresso Bongo with the X rated movies of today, it’s almost Enid Blyton and pornography. I’m not saying the films I watch today are pornographic, other than I think the violence tends to be pornographic, and even some of the sex scenes are, but I don’t want to generalise, but if you compare what we did as an X rated movie to what we have now, we were really in the state of Enid Blyton.

“I think Serious Charge was meant to be a look at what was happening in the youth culture at the time. The Elvis phenomena had taken place, Ricky Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, the Everlys, it was a fantastically musical time, and there was this sort of liberating effect among teenagers, we suddenly had our own art form, but at that time, I didn’t think of it as art form, it was just frolics as far as I was concerned, but it was ours and nobody else seemed to like it, and there was a generation gap, which I believe doesn’t really exist anymore, but it was an insight. I remember the scene where you had Anthony Quayle playing the vicar character of the church suddenly coming in and seeing this young curly haired slob singing a song, and everyone dancing and bopping, and throwing the girls between their feet and lifting them up and swinging them round, and there was this kind of violent look to it, or so the older generation thought, and in the actual film, he stops it, and says ‘That’s enough of that, let’s all cool, down!’ And it was meant to be a bit of a warning, I suppose, but it wasn't really a warning, it was about this is what kids do now. This is what they do and how are we going to deal with it. It was probably one of the first films in Britain to be made where a message was trying to handed across, but looking at the clips I have seen recently, I don’t think in it was any kind heavy cane stick, it wasn’t this is what we want, this is what we’re gonna do. There was no demand from us as younger performers, it’s what we were and we did it. It’s interesting, but I watched one of the clips recently, and blimey, I’d forgotten Jess Conrad was there. I’ve acted alongside Jess Conrad before he ever became the Jess Conrad that made records later, and performed on the Oh Boy! show.

“I do think Serious Charge was one of a type, and probably, almost certainly, not one of the best of the type, but I don’t want to belittle the actors in the film or the people who were involved in making it, after all it was a massive step in my own move and in my career upwards, and so I will never totally put it down, but if you compare it to the kind of things that the Brando’s were doing in the States, the kind of gang warfare and stuff like that, ours in comparison was pretty lightweight. But then again, certainly at that stage, Britain has always been slightly more gentile, I suppose, so we may look at the same programmes and we may look at the same problems, but we don’t react in the same way, less so now, of course.

“The film industry is supposed to be, in some respects, notorious, has a lot of people in it that would squash you flat, that will upstage you, but I never had that. Robert Morley was wonderful to me in The Young Ones, the actors in Serious Charge were absolutely incredible, Laurence Harvey in Expresso Bongo was absolutely fabulous. I remember when we were doing a scene, he actually said to me, after we rehearsed it, he came to the side and said, ‘just listen to me one minute, try doing it like this.’ I don’t know if that is normal or not, but I found it fantastic, that he was actually willing to help me, improve my performance in a scene in which he was participating. And if all these other rumours had been true, he would have more likely, or should have just squashed me and said ‘yes, you are fine Cliff,’ but he didn’t.

“The story of Expresso Bongo is interesting because it was supposed to be depicting how perhaps life within showbusiness was lived, you know, managers getting hold of naive young singers, exploiting them, and I’m sure that’s happened. But I’ve been very lucky. In my whole career I’ve only ever had... a manager who was put in as a kind of a probationary period I seem to remember, a friend of Norrie Paramor’s, the producer who gave me fifteen years of hits. He found me this guy, and said, ‘look, just six months and if it doesn’t work we can forget it’, and sure enough six months later, we did forget it, and I was with someone else, a man called Tito Burns, who was my first real manager, and that lasted a year or two, and then I met Peter Gormley, and when my contract with Tito was over, Peter took over. And our relationship went right through to the day Peter retired, and now I don’t have a personal manager. I have a group of people that are a management team, and we work as a team, and so, I feel very fortunate that I managed to somehow sidestep all of that side, but the film did show what could happen and did happen in those days.

“I never actually wanted to be in movies as such, I had a naive approach to life and the simplistic view for me was why would I want to star in a movie, when in point of fact, so far, I had been introduced and co-starred in two movies, so I wasn’t the star of either of the films and yet I was revelling in the success of both of them, and I had this thing about I wouldn’t star in a movie but I would co-star in movies. I mean it’s ridiculous to think that way but that’s what I wanted to do, and I thought if the film was a success I could say ‘Well, I was in that film,’ if it failed I could say ‘Well, nothing to do with me, I’m not the star of the movie.’ And that was my naive approach to it.”

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Story Behind The Cliff Liner Note

I have to admit I was totally surprised when I received a call last month from colleague, Stephen Munns, who has for some years been servicing the Parlophone label with a number of very successful compilation album ideas and product, most notably the Cilla Black catalogue, to alert me to a new Cliff Richard compilation album that Warners were releasing on their Parlophone label in November. Stephen had quite unexpectedly been asked to write the liner notes, but knowing what the crew at Parlophone didn't, that I had spent 20-something years working on Cliff's catalogue when Warners were EMI, he turned down the gig, and suggested they ask me to do the liners as I was, in Stephen's words, the go to for Cliff guy. Within a couple of days, Warners had sent me an email outlining the project, sent the track listing, and asked if I could work up a liner note of about 500 words that could discuss the reflective nature of the songs in Cliff's career, and as this compilation was focusing more on Cliff's songs of reflection and love, they didn't want a straight biog because it wasn't that sort of best of album, but they did want something that bought a fresh insight to the tracks featured on the album. I immediately knew that what they were looking for was not the type of liner note I did, or had done on any of the 50 or so Cliff catalogue albums, box sets and compilations I had worked on in the EMI days, so it was pretty clear to me that I would have to pass on it, or find someone who could do what they were after. And as luck would have it, I knew someone who I thought would be just right for it!

Vic Rust had written and published a book on Cliff's recordings, writing about every song in the same reflective tone as Warners were now seeking for the liner note of the new album. Vic and his book were already well known to Cliff and his management team, and was involved, along with myself, in coming up with the 100th album figure for The Fabulous Rock 'n' Roll Songbook in 2013, and on top of everything else, his book had been highly praised by Cliff himself, so if I could get Vic on board the project, it would be the perfect solution. In the absence of not doing the liner note myself, it would provide Cliff and Warners with the kind of liner note they were after, keep me in the frame of things for any future ideas, and make Stephen's decision to pass the project over to me all worthwhile. I briefed Vic about the project, sent him the track list and told him if he wanted to have a go at it, purely on spec, I would submit it to Warners on his behalf for Cliff and his team to approve. Vic agreed, and less than a week later, he told me Cliff had chosen his liner note over and above another liner that had been submitted by a music journalist, and that it would indeed be used on the album, so as a taster of what to expect in the CD booklet, I am thrilled to share an exclusive first look excerpt from the opening paragraph of Vic's fabulous liner note... 

To call Cliff Richard merely a singer misses the point: The techniques, the versatility, the ear for strong melody and harmony all serve to highlight the impact of his huge back catalogue. In an extraordinary career of nearly 60 years, Cliff has recorded almost 1,300 songs, making each one sound unique, contemporary, poignant and essentially personal. The important goal for any singer is for the audience, the individual, to take something specific away from every one of their performances, be it simple enjoyment, strength of belief, a powerful message to ponder, or simply a hummable tune delivered to the best of their capabilities. Throughout his long career, Cliff has excelled in making this seem inordinately easy, which is one of the reasons that his fan-base has remained so resolutely strong. Of those hundreds of songs, most have understandably been about love because that is what the general pop genre demands, but there have also been many that talk about faith, and some that are quite pointed environmental protest songs. The key to creating a successful performance is to make the songs accessible to everybody at some level, regardless of their personal beliefs, and this is a skill that is often unrecognised. It is achieved by focusing on how the song is put together and then evolved to become the final polished product, so that every listener can take something that is important to them away from it.  

Cliff Richard Stronger Thru The Years is released on 10 November.       

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Olivia Newton-John In My Own Words


What a truly pleasant surprise it was to hear Olivia Newton-John telling her own story, in her own words, on BBC Radio 2 over the last couple of weeks. I say surprise because Olivia is not someone who is known for talking about her own life and career, has never written her own autobiography or participated in any book about herself, and there was a time when I wanted to do one, and is generally not someone who is known to give a lot of interviews or talk openly about her life or career.

Not only did I want to write a book about her, with her co-operation, but with my Cliff Richard writing cohort, Peter Lewry, we made several attempts to interview her about the duets she had recorded with Cliff over the years for our book on Cliff's recording sessions. To this day, it is still a bit of a mystery why she didn't speak with us, but maybe it was down to the fact that she may have felt a little uncomfortable to talk to a couple of unknown wannabe rock writers putting together their first book on one of her favourite people, despite the book being approved and authorised by Cliff himself, unless of course she never received our request that was sent to her through Cliff's office, which can often happen and does. It is not unknown for interview requests never to reach the people they are intended for.

We made other attempts to interview her, but again, without success, about some of the recordings we re-released on the Cliff album remaster series for EMI, including the backing vocals she contributed to the Cliff Live in Japan 1972 album, so with all that in mind, it was nice to hear her talk about recording Don't Move Away, her first B-side duet with Cliff in 1970, on the Radio 2 programme, as we had very little information about the recording apart from what Cliff told us, and what we found on tape boxes and recording sheets at Abbey Road. What I did find interesting to hear her say was  how petrified she was about going into the studio with such a big star as Cliff and having to record with an orchestra, neither of which, she had ever done before. For the purists, the track was recorded at the same session as the two other songs that appeared on Cliff's Sunny Honey Girl maxi-single. And even though Don’t Move Away was the first track to be completed with the third and last take being used to make up the final master, it wasn't remastered until we added it as a bonus track to the the reissued Tracks ‘n’ Grooves album in 2004.

It was a great shame we didn't get to speak with her as we found quite a few alternate takes, some with Cliff, and some of her own recordings for singles and albums, and even though we wouldn't have included any info about her early work with Bruce Welch and John Farrar in a book about Cliff's sessions, it would have satisfied my curiosity to have had the opportunity to listen to them, discover their history, and find out why certain takes were chosen over others, and why some remained unreleased, but sadly it was not to be. 

Probably one of the most interesting things we uncovered about her recording work with Cliff was the recording of Suddenly. For those who have read our book, you will know that Olivia's vocal for the duet was recorded in a garage located in Los Angeles, which obviously created some acoustic problems with traffic noise levels outside. Compounding the technical problems was the recording method used of Cliff and Olivia taping their vocals simultaneously onto a pre-recorded backing track. We were told that Olivia returned at a later date to re-record her vocals due to her track containing the noise levels mentioned. We were unable to trace the origins of the backing track or the musicians featured and never found any tape boxes or recording paperwork, and although it would have been something we would have asked Olivia, as we did Cliff, like Cliff, she may not have remembered.     

As Cliff said in the first episode, everybody loved her when she first burst onto the scene 50 years ago, and I was one of those people. For me it started back in 1971 when I bought her first album, simply titled Olivia Newton-John, and went to see her live at the Brighton Dome in November of that year during her first concert tour, for which she was not top of the bill, but a supporting act to headliners Cliff and Marvin, Welch & Farrar. Below are two pages from the souvenir programme. One features a biography of Olivia, and the other is an ad for her first two albums on the Pye International label.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Cliff At Christmas

Over the years, I have often been asked about Cliff's 2003 Christmas album, how did it come about, whose idea was it, and why no liner notes? Below, is the press release that I wrote for EMI to help promote the album, which hopefully will answer some of those questions, and for those who missed having a liner note, hopefully this be a good alternative...

When Mistletoe and Wine went to number one and became the best selling British single of 1988, it also became representative of one of Cliff’s most successful genres: the Christmas song. Like gospel music, it is a body of material that speaks directly to Cliff’s roots, and one he enjoys celebrating. With both new and old recordings, CLIFF AT CHRISTMAS brings together – for the first time – a collection of Christmas favourites.

Due in part to the success of the single Millennium Prayer, and in part to the almost traditional association of Cliff with Christmas, even when he had Christmas hits that weren’t Christmas songs, Cliff has decided, this year, to create an album of purely Christmas repertoire. The idea was to cut eight new songs and put them on an album with some familiar favourites. Although four of the ‘older’ tracks would be remixed to bring them into keeping with the new recordings, there is the handful that appear in their original form, all digitally remastered, to remind us of the unprecedented run of Christmas hits that Cliff’s had ever since his version of O Little Town of Bethlehem was released in 1982. After all, no Christmas album by Cliff could be considered complete without the Christmas number ones like Mistletoe And WineSaviour’s Day and Millennium Prayer.

Nor could a Christmas album by Cliff be considered complete without his own stylish arrangements of seasonal standards like Silent Night, which interestingly enough, includes his own additional lyric of Mistletoe And Wine ‘just being played on the radio’ – but now with a new hidden extra.

Another is White Christmas, the Irving Berlin favourite that Bing Crosby recorded in 1942 for the film Holiday Inn, and has since been in the charts every year at Christmas from its first release all the way through to 1962. Though dozens of artists have recorded it over the years, Cliff has given his own originality to the song. As with the other traditional selections on the album such as Winter Wonderland, When A Child Is Born and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Cliff says, ‘if you’re going to do a cover version, it should be distinct from the original. So you bend or change the melody, the arrangement, and all the guitar riffs. There’s no need to do it the same way. In everybody’s mind, the original way is always going to be the definitive version. There’s no point in making it sound exactly the same as the original.’

From the list of new material, Let It Snow and Walking in The Air, recorded in Nashville, are probably among Cliff’s favourites. ‘I did those tracks with Michael Omartian and I loved working with him. He was fantastic. They were really done as test cases to see how we would gel together, and it worked really well. The piano on those two sound great.’

One listen to this 17-track album, which also includes a duet with European star Helmut Lotti, should forever put to rest the question of Cliff’s deep-rooted feeling for Christmas songs and for the traditional simplicity that they represent.

With Cliff’s proven instinct to spot potential hit material, and Christmas number one songs, a special radio edit of Santa’s List, co-written by Chris Eaton, who also penned Saviour’s Day, will be released on 8 December as the single Cliff has chosen to promote the album, and more importantly, to echo his own distinctive feeling for Christmas.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Me, Elvis and The Sun Collection

Before I was a writer and got published, one of my dreams was to write a sleeve note for an Elvis Presley album, and in the early part of 1975, I thought I was pretty close to fulfilling that dream. The album in question was The Elvis Presley Sun Collection, which was going to be released that summer and would collect together all of the recordings Elvis cut at Sam Phillips' famous Sun Studio in Memphis between 1954 and 1955 and place them on a 16 track album, that would also launch the then new RCA mid-price Starcall label. It would also mark the first time that all the Sun sides had appeared together on a single album. Previously the tracks, with the exception of I Love You Because (2nd version), had been spread over a couple of earlier compilations in 1959 on A Date With Elvis and For LP Fans Only, while Elvis did his national service in the U.S Army, and were then new to LP.

What is perhaps surprising, or maybe it wasn't when you consider the wealth of its material, is that the album was Elvis's most successful album of that year in the UK. It was released one month after his then latest studio album Today and fared much better in the British album chart, and for the first time in four years, was packaged without the usual live picture of Elvis in a white jumpsuit, but in a sleeve with a striking illustration that reflected the music inside, and was, in fact, based upon a photo that had been taken during Elvis's historic performance at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas on 11 October 1956.

I can't remember where or when I first heard about the project, but if my memory serves me correctly, it was probably through the pages of the New Musical Express as the project was the brainchild of NME writer Roy Carr, who had collected all the tracks together and had somehow persuaded RCA Records in the UK to release them. Neither do I remember if the project had to be approved by Colonel Tom Parker before it got green-lighted for release, but let's presume it was, and they usually were, isn't it strange that Elvis seemed genuinely surprised and amazed about the album's existence when a British fan handed him a copy during his Dinner Show performance at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas on 13 December 1975, and despite what some have assumed on various Elvis internet forums that I was that British fan who handed Elvis the album, I wasn't.

Back in Britain, before any of that, my first port of call was to Shaun Greenfield, then the RCA product manager in the UK, who looked after all of Elvis's UK originated albums, and as this was a UK only release, Shaun whom I knew and had met previously in London's RCA offices, was my best bet. I asked him about the project, and whether or not he was looking for any sleeve notes for the album. Shaun gave me all the details, and told me that it was Roy Carr's baby, and although it was expected that Roy would write the liners, he told me I was most welcome to submit some of my own. At that stage it was uncertain whether Carr was going to write any notes, but when you consider it was his project, and as he was one of Britain's most respected music journalists, it was pretty obvious to me that he wouldn't want some wannabe rock journo treading on his feet for a project that was obviously close to his heart.

The offer that RCA made me was simple. If Roy wrote the sleeve notes  then they would be used, but if he didn't, and if the notes I was going to write, were good enough, then they would use them on the album. In the end of course, and as we all now know, Roy ended up writing the notes, and they were the ones, along with a detailed discography that appeared on the back sleeve of the album. It was the first time ever that such a lengthy, informative and factual sleeve note had appeared on an Elvis album. At the time I started to write my notes (which weren't anywhere near as detailed or as lengthy as Carr's), it still wasn't certain if and when Roy would supply his, but as luck would have it, by the time I had written mine and sent then to Shaun, Roy had already completed his, which were now in the hands of RCA.

Listen here to a live audio recording of the British fan giving Elvis the album

The only copy of the notes I kept was my own personal copy which I had printed on the back of a blank white 7-inch record sleeve, which I decided in the end to send off to Elvis's father Vernon, while he was in Las Vegas during Elvis's December 1976 season at the Hilton Hotel. I thought this was the best bet to get my work seen by Elvis and acknowledged with his autograph, which in my letter to Vernon I had asked for. The sleeve was returned to me, duly signed "Best Wishes Elvis Presley" from Memphis Tennessee in February 1977, the same month that Elvis's new single Moody Blue was released in the UK. Unfortunately the signed sleeve got lost in a house move during the early 90s, and the only photographic evidence I still have to this day is in a picture cutting that my local newspaper, the Evening Argus, ran in September 1977, when I was the Sussex branch leader for the official fan club, in which I can be seen holding the signed sleeve, a scan of which I have included below.