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 the following year during her first concert tour, for which she was not top of the bill, but a supporting act, with Labi Siffre, to the headliners, Marvin and Farrar, and Cliff.  Below are two pages from the souvenir programme. One features a biography of Olivia, and the other is an ad for her then first and second albums on the Pye International label.