People forget we were a rock'n'roll band and we still are," Cliff maintains. Tonight, it appears it's only rock'n'roll, and, well, Sir Cliff likes it.
Harry Roger Webb has been mocked in some quarters (many quarters) for a considerable time and for many reasons – his Christianity, his fashion choices, his sexual ambivalence, his hanging around Wimbledon like a bad drop volley, his absurd video to "Devil Woman" – but the O2 Arena has nothing but respect for the Peter Pan of Pop, and Hank Marvin's immaculate, crisp- sounding Shadows lend the trim 68-year-old showman a respectability he hasn't achieved for aeons.
The generous 41-song set is devoted to early Cliff and the Shadows. They tear through "We Say Yeah", "A Girl Like You", "I'm the Lonely One" and the unfortunately titled "Willie and the Hand Jive". We're not treated, thank the sweet lord, to the creepy turgidity of "Mistletoe and Wine" and the "Millennium Prayer" – the sort of ditties they'd lull you with in "The Wicker Man" before constructing a pagan structure and burning your petrified flesh – or the soft Seventies rock of "Devil Woman", "Wired for Sound" or "We Don't Talk Anymore", all perfectly serviceable pop camembert. In fact, it's an irony-free night of rock'n'roll tunes that harks back to Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly. Cliff, of course, started his career being compared to Elvis Presley, he was sold as "dangerous", he looked like a singing Dirk Bogarde and sang snarling rock songs like "Mean Streak". However, Cliff's fifth single, the slightly disturbing "Living Doll" ("I'm gonna lock her up in a trunk/ So no big hunk can steal her away from me") heralded a "softer" side to Cliff, a side he's clung on to and exploited for nearly 50 years.
This tour, the final one for Cliff and his Shadows, appears to be a worthy attempt to reclaim the rockabilly in Richard. The audience are restrained, enthusiastic but save for a group who don sailor hats for "Sea Cruise" not evangelical or obsessed. Oh my lord, I've been converted. Even the terrifically annoying "Summer Holiday" is bearable as is the horribly prescient "Bachelor Boy".
Cliff's committed too many crimes to music to completely convert you, but this simple rock'n'roll show is blessed by the presence of the Shadows (Marvin, Bruce Welch and Brian Bennett) and the absence of all the usual nonsense associated with Richard. He's forgiven.