POP / And the crowd goes wild

If it's Cliff, it must be Christmas. Mark Wareham puts his hands togeth er at Wembley Arena
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The Independent Online
When Cliff Richard's current tour was announced under the title, ``The Hit List'', it gave considerable cause for alarm. You might expect a thrown-together K-Tel night-out from some workaday pop-jobber like Phil Collins, but Cliff stands on a higher rock god's pedestal and must be judged accordingly. ``The Hit List'' has a kind of dismissive, uncaring air about it, as if Cliff's just going to reel his biggest sellers off like some callous, money-grabbing pop tycoon, as if a hit were just something to be conveyor-belted out into an arena full of merchandise opportunities, when really everyone know he's a sensitive, sharing performer, giving a little bit of himself to each and every one of his fans.

So it came as some relief to discover the meticulous attention that Cliff had paid to the preparation of his list. Not only were we to be treated to every top four hit he'd ever had, but we were to hear them in the strictest pecking order, starting with the number fours, then the threes, twos and lastly [drumroll] those cherished number ones. Cliff is so anal about his chart success, you get the feeling that if you quizzed him, not only would he know where each song got to on the hit parade, but the exact date and number of weeks spent there, units sold and royalties earned. See what happens, boys and girls, when you don't do a healthy stash of drugs in your formative rock `n' roll years.

Not that this lack of spontaneity was going to hold back the audience. Cliff's fan base is female, forty-ish, permed of hair. Never have door marshals been called upon to rifle through quite so many handbags as when Cliff's army is on the road. They are some of the most loyal fans on planet pop, enduring harsh mid-winter frosts, fuelled only by Vermouth and Quality Street, as they camp out overnight for front-row tickets. Come concert night, the venue is awash with excitement. ``Ooh the nerves, the nerves,'' a couple of wriggling Brummie mums squeal, sitting on their hands to try to contain themselves. Up front, a woman holds her hands together, as if praying, clutching her tinsel in readiness for the Christmas number ones. And somehow, you can understand the fervour. Let's face it, he's still available.

As the curtain shoots back and the first chords of ``Wired for Sound'' fly out over the seats, Cliff stands jigging on a boxed platform, a vision in cream (with silver circles). Then he's off, bouncing along the stage front, intricate footwork a doddle, waving here, grinning there, no one ignored, nothing too much trouble. ``AM, FM, I feel so ecstatic,'' he sings, all sidekicks and backflicks, for all the world as if he were Little Jimmy Osmond playing football.

More marvellous to behold, even, than his tight-buttocked, twinkle-toed shimmying is the hair, unchanged since 1981 when he recklessly sang ``Wired for Sound'' with just a hint of rebellious stubble. There it sits, tapered to a halt a fraction beneath the collar, halfway over the ears and airbrushed back at the front with not so much as a hint of recession, and there it remains, perfectly positioned throughout, impervious to any amount of jiving.

Unlike Mick Jagger, whom he can match for youthful energy, he makes no pretence of having anything fresh to offer the rock world (see his ``new'' single, ``All I Have to Do Is Dream'', a duet with Phil Everly). Even the am-dram gesture, much favoured by hammy performers in the Seventies to illustrate lyrics, surfaces in ``Carrie''. ``Carrie, where are you?'' he shouts, turning, hand held over eyebrows, to scour the arena for her.

The chart smashes come and go across five (yes, five) decades, every dreamy Fifties and Sixties number (''Move It'', ``The Young Ones'') matched by a succession of Seventies and Eighties dogs (''Don't Talk Anymore'', ``Mistletoe and Wine''), just occasionally mixed in with some long-forgotten delicacy like ``Theme for a Dream'', lacking only the Cliff quiff and candy-girl vocals to complete the polka-dot picture (strangely, Cliff's backing singers tonight are all male). ``Summer Holiday'' illustrates how little his singing has changed in 35 years, the pureness of voice tainted only by a slight huskiness.

Of course, it should all have been so different. November was to be the opening of Heathcliff, the musical currently being penned by Cliff and Tim Rice but which has been put back a year owing to their not having written it and problems over finding the right Cathy (if Cliff is considered the right casting for Bronte's rugged man of the moor, then perhaps they should dig up Bonnie Langford as Cathy).

Five numbers are already in the can, three of which were served up here as Cliff, wind whistling hard through his hair, strode behind the transparent backdrop of the moor. This was nothing if not sub-Lloyd Webber, all tremulous note-holding and melodramatic lines like ``She's a woman, nothing more''. It was hardly the impartial place to road-test the material, but Cliff seemed pleased with the response. ``You won't know how much your applause means to me,'' he told us. What it means is that he will not be deterred from a project which he should recognise for the turkey it so clearly is. Christmas is coming, and as all Cliff fans know, it's a charitable time of year. And you know what happens to turkeys at Christmas.

(Photograph omitted)