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Sir Cliff Richard

I'd always been a fan of Cliff Richard and The Shadows, and like a million other singers and groups around our area, East London, the rest of the UK (and probably the World), would try to sound like them whenever we did a gig. In fact my very first venture on to stage was to sing a couple of Cliff and the Shadows songs, at the Butlins Staff Show at Clacton, (coincidentally where Cliff had worked a couple of years earlier), of course he was a Redcoat, and I, a humble "stores clerk". I'm pretty sure that I sang, "Gee Whizz It's You", and "Theme For A Dream". Even when I used to get up to sing at the local pub in Dagenham, while the regular singer was organising a 'whip round' for  the band (group), I would sing "Gee Whizz It's You" and Ricky Nelson's "Hello Mary Lou" (See the Biography for the full story).

Years later, suddenly I'm talking on the phone to none other than, Bruce Welch! He told me that he'd heard a song that I'd written, and wanted to know if I'd done the backing vocals, and the vocal arrangement. The song was "You're The Song I Can't stop Singing" which was a record I'd recently had released on C.B.S. under the name 'River'. This was in fact, John Perry and me, also on backing vocals, was an American called Dan Loggins, he was head of A+R at CBS (and if he wanted to be on b/v's, NO PROBLEM!) This phone call from Bruce turned out to be the one that changed my life. After being on the road for years struggling for the elusive 'hit record' with the Castaways, then Harmony Grass in the 60's, I'd become a session singer, doing 'lead' or 'backing vocals', quite often for those infamous 'Top Of The Pops' Hallmark albums, and also on songs of mine, or records I was making under different names, but 'til that phone call, never with anyone of Cliff's stature in the business.  The last thing I expected, was to be touring the world 5 times with his 'Cliffness', but that's what was about to happen! At first though, there was no hint of that.

All I had to do, was come up with some sparkling vocal arrangements (and sing them of course), for three songs that we were to record at Abbey Rd. This was pretty exciting. I'd been arranging harmonies for a long time and the songs Bruce had found, suited my style quite nicely, also, I had been doing sessions for some years, with a couple of friends, who just happened to be great singers, John Perry and Ken Gold (sometimes three, Stu Calver). We worked well together and had our own sound. The songs to be recorded were, 'Miss You Nights', 'Devil Woman' and another called 'I Can't Ask For Anymore Than You'. These all became single releases and all were Hits'. 'Miss You Nights' made the Top Twenty and is still voted the most popular Cliff song of all time by his fans. Not a bad tribute when you realise just how many recordings he has made! 'Devil Woman' was the biggest hit of three records making the top ten in the UK and Number 5 in the USA! 'I Can't Ask For Anymore Than You' made the Top Twenty. We also had to record B-sides for the singles, these were recorded at Abbey Rd. I was no stranger to the EMI studios, having made several singles over a period of 4 years or so, as a member of Tony Rivers and the Castaways. We had always been known for our harmonies and at last it had started to show some results. Not that we'd been doing it for the 'financial incentives' 'cos there weren't any! We'd have done better taking up the 'Blues' or going 'Heavy' man! It was a great couple of days in Abbey Rd, meeting Cliff and all the superb musicians Bruce had gathered to make these recordings. The late great keyboard player Graham Todd, Terry Britten on guitar (writer of 'Devil Woman' and 'What's Love Got To Do With It?' and many others for Cliff and Tina Turner). The legendary session drummer Clem Cattini, who I'd worked with years before at the Granada Walthamstow, (see Biog.) and the very talented Alan Tarney, on bass, (probably my favourite that I've ever worked with) and soon to become an extremely successful songwriter and producer for Cliff /Leo Sayer/ Barbara Dixon and AHA. It was good to be back at Abbey Rd and the sessions went well. There was a great vibe between all the musicians and the sound engineers were great. Peter Vince was one I remembered from way back in 62/63 when the Castaways and me had done our 'recording test' at Abbey Rd, he was engineer that day. Anyway, Bruce Welch had gone out on a limb a bit with one of the songs 'Miss You Nights', which everyone now knows and loves, but at the time wasn't such an obvious choice. He booked a big orchestra at great cost, but he was convinced that it would become a classic. I think, looking back, that he wasn't far out. When we were laying down the backing vocals, after the orchestra had gone home, the four of us, Cliff, Ken Gold, John Perry and me, were standing in a circle round our favourite microphone (the Neumann U 87). We tracked the vocals four times and spread them left and right, in other words double tracked either side. We'd often done this on sessions before, and it was always a great sound. Cliff was singing the low parts, he's got a mega bass voice. Up in the control room (the same one The Beatles used to record in), the engineer Peter Vince, played the song back and we all listened. It was played back with the speakers on all around us and sounded AMAZING! I asked Peter (engineer) to take out the orchestra at a particular place so we could check the harmonies for 'dodgy' bits, something I would always do on playback, then Bruce said that's how it would be on the mix, and that's how the acapella section happened on the record! It's probably the piece of our work that gets the most complimentary comments, and possibly nudged people to book us for the sessions that came later for us, and how!! Funny how little things like that can have such important consequences. 'Miss You Nights' wasn't a huge hit on release, (number 15 I think), but over the years has been used on so many 'Greatest Hits' and 'Love Songs' albums that I think we can say that it was a big hit! 'Devil Woman' sounded like a 'Hit' as soon as we started to record, and the other song on the session, 'I Can't Ask For Anymore Than You' was a 'funky/pop/soul' song written by Ken Gold and another friend of ours Mick Denne, The original demo had Mick singing the lead vocal in his high voice and Bruce liked it so much he kept it in the same key, and got Cliff to sing it in that key! I doubt whether Cliff expected that. He probably thought it would be in a nice 'easy key' and he'd breeze through it. Ha! He was soon to learn that 'Brucie' had other ideas. When it was released, nobody could believe it was Cliff singing. He'd discovered 'falsetto', and he's used it on just about every record, and every stage performance since!!
Bruce had got Mick Denne to play his original 'funky' guitar part from the 'demo', on the actual recording and that's what you hear on the single. This caused a few problems because he wasn't a 'Union Member' and they didn't like that! They weren't going to let the record be released or something until Mick joined the M.U.!! It was released and was another 'Hit'!!! I'd begun to realise, making hit records was 'easy', all you needed was Cliff Richard up front!! A memory I have of those early sessions is, going to   Bruce Welch's apartment in Hampstead with Cliff and Bruce, after recording at Abbey Rd, and just sitting around playing guitars, singing 'Please Don't Tease' and those early Cliff & The Shadows songs! This was at my request I might add.

EMI were very happy, and soon we were working on the album that was to give Cliff a bit of 'street cred', 'I'm Nearly Famous'. This was a beautifully produced collection of songs that Bruce had found. He used the same band and singers, that recorded the earlier sessions, the record sold very well and gave Cliff a perfectly timed, 'hit album'. I think it's safe to say that people were probably a bit surprised when they discovered what a good album it was, and perhaps it changed people's perception of Cliff, at least for a while. I'd never had any doubts. When you've stood at the same 'mike' as Cliff you KNOW what a great pop singer he is.


Photographs copyright Tony Rivers