Cliff & The Shadows - Cardiff International Arena
2009 has been a year predominantly characterised by almost perpetual nostalgia. The UK was dominated initially by Michael Jackson fever before the entire world became submerged in a new wave of Beatlemania. The remastered reissuing of the Fab Four canon being a cause for the music monthlies to go into meltdown as, finally, those perpetual front covers could be justified by new content. The Beatles remain largely untouchable, it takes a brave soul to decry their talents, but if someone mentions Cliff Richard these days you instinctively expect it to be followed by a punch line. Christmas hits and unabashed, unfashionable religious expression dictate that he’s an easy target now, but 50 years ago things were very different: Cliff was hot, Cliff was headline news in the NME, heck, the appearance of Cliff even led to Manchester police calling in the riot squad to calm hysterical crowds. Forget Peterloo, dismiss the Happy Mondays, it was Cliff that really had Manchester fearing the end of civilisation.
Don’t let his latter MOR years fool you, this is a landmark tour. These guys, just teenagers at the time, were thrust into the limelight, forced to write the rules as they went along and, in a world dominated by light-entertainment, what they achieved was radical. It is no accident that Andy Summers cites Hank Marvin as a hero and there’s no irony in Neil Young’s voice when he tells you that The Shadows were the catalyst for his musical career. Cliff was never going to be Elvis but neither was he Tommy Steele and it seems somewhat churlish now, 50 years later, to continue to slate him for not measuring up to the King. 1950’s Britain had been decimated by the war, the place was a bleak cultural and physical wasteland and these guys were the escape route, the release valve to years of pain and austerity. ‘Move it’, still a highlight of the set, was the invitation the British youth had been waiting for and we are still riding that wave today in 2009; this was where it all began and if you don’t know your roots then you’ll never really know where you are at. As John Lennon once said, ‘no Shadows – no Beatles’. Simple as that.
Cliff is Cliff, if you don’t like what he does he’s not bothered, he knows that there’s plenty more that do and his refusal to pander to transient taste is probably a lot more punk rock than any bunch of haircuts desperate to get onto Jools Holland. Of course Cliff was more a draw for the screaming girls whereas the serious young boys, as evidenced above, all wanted to be Hank Marvin. Hank single handedly invented the guitar in Britain and with ‘Apache’ he elevated it to iconic status. It may be difficult to believe now but for a couple of years at the cusp of the 50s and 60s the Shadows dominated the UK charts with their unique brand of guitar instrumentals, of which we get an all too brief glimpse tonight. They emerged at a time when men with huge cigars ran the entertainment industry like the mafia and as an artist you did what you were told, career expectations were measured in months at best and yet here we are 50 years down the line and these guys can still pack out an arena tour. They may not be as ‘credible’ as The Shop Assistants but, of the two, which is currently residing in the where are they now file? Should men of nearly 70 still be playing rock n roll shows? Who knows? We’ve never had to cross that bridge before so they’ve just gone out and done it – still writing the rule book for future generations.
When they hit the stage those 50 years are rolled back in an instant. Of course the wrinkles are deepening and the joints stiffening but close your eyes and they sound as good as they ever did. Open your eyes and, hey, Cliff, all in black save an electric pink jacket, darts about the stage like he’s a man half his age. It may be the final joint tour but this isn’t about looking back to the past, this is about making it all happen again tonight so, of course there’s no irony when Cliff sings about ‘The Young Ones’ or being a ‘Bachelor Boy’ as everyone here has been transported back to their youth, if only for a couple of hours. Tonight was a joyful celebration on and off stage, in many respects a requiem for the living– an expression of relief as much as anything that everyone is still here. They may, 50 years on, represent a tribute to rock n roll rather than the gritty reality, but if anyone has then surely Cliff & The Shadows have earned that right. If you do nothing else in recognition of this anniversary then at least raise your glass to them as they pass by, we’ll never see their like again.
Words & Photography: Steve Burnett