Cilla at the BBC

Tx. 16.08.15. 9.00-10.00pm, BBC Four


 

A compilation of Cilla Black’s  ‘pop star days’ as the announcer put it, spanning mainly 1964-76 and in broadly chronological broadcast order – in remembrance of the singer and television star who died on August 1st.

Here is a complete rundown of the show.


Anyone Who Had a Heart

“From Liverpool, the young lady who captivated everyone’s heart, in fact, anyone who had a heart, that is…’  the words of David Jacobs’ introduction to Cilla’s appearance at the 1964 Royal Variety Performance.

As if to emphasise her new found pop star status she arrives in a sports-car on the Palladium’s famous revolving stage before launching into possibly her most famous song.   Through a grainy picture we see Cilla, a spotlighted, solitary figure for the song’s duration and only 21 years old, stealing a glance at the royal box, perhaps in disbelief that she is there at all.  A caption informs us that Elvis had a copy of the song on his Graceland jukebox.


[Film extract]:  short film extract with Cilla, interviewed in her dressing room, acknowledging Brian Epstein’s vital role in her success.  Can anyone place the interviewer?


If I Fell

 

Cilla struggles to reach the end of Lennon-McCartney’s song without collapsing into fits of giggles as Dudley Moore (at harpsichord?) adds brilliantly absurd falsetto counterpoint.

This 1966 clip from Not Only…But Also has surfaced at least several times previously but is so utterly charming (despite being no doubt ruthlessly rehearsed) that it’s a delight to see it again.

Cilla manages the comedy/music divide with girlish ease and sports a great Mary Quant haircut.

Watch If I Fell


Alfie

“A song about one of me favourite boyfriends…” quips a sequinned Cilla in this clip from The Ken Dodd Show before a live audience in 1966.

There is a curiously different sheen to this b/w film from the previous clips.


 

 


You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’

A hit for Cilla in 1966 and the first of numerous clips taken from her Saturday night BBC series Cilla which incredibly ran January 1968-April 1976 (I wonder how much survives in the archives?)

For me, this is one of the most revealing clips here.  Although her version of the Righteous Brothers’ song was undoubtedly opportunistic and widely regarded as inferior to theirs, what is striking here is the resolute passion with which she delivers the song.

Unlike her Top of the Pops appearances, she would have been singing live to a studio audience in the BBC Theatre.  It’s interesting that she rarely looks directly into the camera yet is able to impart the song’s emotional charge directly to the viewer.

Backing vocals are low in the mix apart from some siren-like ones in the second verse and drums are quite high but not obtrusively so.  Overall it’s a great rendition.

Watch an alternative version of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’


[Vox pop extract]:  Cilla meets some ‘rather super’ people in a supermarket.  Her variety series was quick to catch onto her easy rapport with the public and vox pop sequences like this one became a staple part of her shows five years before That’s Life claimed them as their own.


Where is Tomorrow

A  rarely seen Top of the Pops clip from 1968 of this underrated song filmed in characteristic fashion, slightly from below so as to take in plenty of lights and ceiling.  Someone should have told her about the one-sided upturned collar.

Watch Where is Tomorrow


Step Inside Love

 

This suave Paul McCartney composition became the theme for Cilla’s TV series.

In a 1968 clip she accedes to viewers’ requests to perform the entire song including ‘the bit in the middle’ as a handy bit of promotion for her single.


Love’s Just a Broken Heart

A grainy, high contrast picture for this arresting song.  From Cilla, 1968.

Watch Love’s Just a Broken Heart


Friendship

It’s 1969 and Cilla meets children from the Corona Stage School who naturally declare Dusty Springfield to be their favourite singer.  This probably led into Dusty Springfield performing solo but here segues into Cilla dueting with Dusty on the comedy number ‘Friendship’, in a fashion typical of guest spots on her TV series.

In long coats and hats ‘Springfield and Black’ alludes to Flanagan and Allen so possibly ‘Friendship’ was first performed by the popular 1940’s duo.

 

Some of the formats in Cilla deliberately hark back to the eras of concert hall and music hall so as to draw in older viewers whose memories would have stretched back to the tunes of both World Wars.  The comedy aspect would also have appealed to children whilst Cilla’s pop persona would draw in young people.

Cilla showed herself to be an all round safe pair of hands with appeal across generations.

Watch Friendship


Surround Yourself With Sorrow

After the last clip, suddenly Cilla seems young and with-it again, performing this 1969 hit in a modestly psychedelic Top of the Pops studio.  As always the shots of the dancers are as fascinating as the performance.

The single release of Surround Yourself With Sorrow has a fade-out but Cilla punctuates this shortened version of the song with a sudden closing ‘ooh!’

Watch Surround Yourself With Sorrow


Liverpool Lullaby

 

Studio and Cilla’s dress go op-art for this 1969 performance of Cilla’s signature song taken from her TV series.

Long before Cilla replaced the references to a father belting his children with a telling off (on 2013’s ITV tribute show The One and Only Cilla Black) she inexplicably substitutes ‘blighter’ for ‘beggar’ as in ‘the blighter drinks it all away’.  Probably faint hearts at the BBC.

Watch Liverpool Lullaby


[Film extract]:  Colour footage of Cilla’s 1969 wedding to Bobby Willis accompanied by Everything I Own, a track from her 1974 album In My Life, possibly the only occasion this programme makes a glaring chronological contradiction in order to support the narrative.


Anyone Who Had a Heart

Sporting a new hairstyle (see 1970’s Sweet Inspiration album cover), Cilla contributes to Pop Goes the 60s from the closing day of that decade.

With bright yellow maxi dress against moving green and purple backgrounds the show is eager to promote the benefits of colour television which had reached BBC-1 only the previous month.

At first I was unsure as to whether Cilla is miming but the definite ending given to this rendition (as against the fade to the record release) firmly suggests that she is singing live.

The show featured a range of artists who had come to prominence in the 60s.  Cilla’s contribution was recorded separately from the main role call, presumably due to her unavailability.

Watch Anyone Who Had a Heart


‘Morecambe and Wise Show’ sketch:  this was a sketch on the theme of a recording contract shown on 3rd October 1971.

No song from Cilla is included from the show, though in all probability she contributed one or that role might have gone to fellow guest Ronnie Carroll.

Watch Cilla on Morecame and Wise


Norwegian Wood

From TV special Cilla in Scandinavia (transmitted on BBC1 on 27/1/71 and filmed at various locations in Norway, Sweden and Finland earlier that year) Cilla performs Norwegian Wood in a TV studio (presumably the BBC Theatre despite the ‘Scandinavian connection) with excellent harmony backing from Marvin, Welch and Farrar.

Her covers of Beatles songs seem like easy, reliable options only if you forget her background and how her early career was bound up with that of The Beatles.

Watch Norwegian Wood


The Snowman Song

Also from Cilla in Scandinavia, Cilla sings The Snowman Song with Ringo Starr and posh puppet fox Basil Brush at the Geilo winter resort in Sweden as said snowman slides away behind them.

Watch The Snowman Song

Elsewhere on this special, Ringo performed It Don’t Come Easy on a mountain top, marking his third and final appearance on Cilla (he appeared in the first ever edition).

Then we move from 1971 to 1973 with surprisingly no sign of Something Tells Me (Something’s Gonna Happen Tonight) which replaced Step Inside Love as theme to Cilla’s TV series and gave her a final sizeable hit in 1971.

Watch Something Tells Me 

 

From about this point on, the clips maintain a curiosity value but seem less vital as Cilla’s chart career essentially winds down.  Although I feel a certain fondness for some of them, a tackiness creeps in and the truth is they feel nonessential compared to her 60s songbook.


Life’s a Gas

A January 1973 clip seen numerous times illustrating the sometimes bizarre counter cultural collisions on 70s variety shows.

Cilla duets with Marc Bolan in a combination which might have appalled teenagers at the time but has come to seem oddly endearing.  And it’s all sealed with a kiss.

Watch Life’s a Gas


Imagine

Cilla never committed this song to vinyl (at least not until 2003) but its inclusion here from her TV series shows how Imagine gained mass MOR respectability early on.  In fact the simple piano chord structure at the song’s heart would have rendered it as an obvious candidate for Cilla’s sometimes gospel flavoured 1973 album Day by Day.

Another clip has surfaced from a similar vintage with backing dancers in a monochrome set, but here, in the better of the two versions, Cilla performs in a misty-edged blue/green studio.


It Only Happens When I Dance With You

Cilla, Bruce Forsyth and a troublesome feather boa feature in this 1973 song and dance routine from her TV series.


I Don’t Know How to Love Him

Another 1973 clip from Cilla and a track from 1973 album Day By Day.

Watch I Don’t Know How to Love Him 


Equality

A comedy burlesque song and dance routine with female dancers on feminist themes.  This leads into the following item, very probably from the same 1974 edition of Cilla.


[Vox pop]:  with Cilla asking passers-by for their views on ‘women’s lib’.  Some very of-the-time comments follow, one man declaring “They haven’t got the brain…” and a feisty woman “It’s about time we had a woman for prime minister then we’d put the men in their place”.

The way in which ordinary people respond completely naturally to Cilla as one of their own, almost as a friend (“How’ve you been keeping?”) is testimony to her enduring common touch.


Let It Be Me

A duet with Phil Everly from a 1974 Cilla in which his voice sounds husky compared to Cilla’s.

Watch Cilla and Phil Everly


And I Love Her

Cilla duets with a characteristically white suited David Essex, Cilla 1974.

Watch Cilla and David Essex


[Vox pop]: a factory worker introduces Chiquita the diminutive guard dog (I would guess from 1976) leading into…


Leaving on a Jet Plane

With the wind in her CSO hair, eight male cabin crew do windmills on airplane wings as the BBC bring technology to bear on the long-running format of Cilla.  The result has considerable camp appeal.   ‘I’m leaving…’ Cilla sings as her TV series comes to an end after eight years in 1976.

Given the array of guest stars who appeared on Cilla, I’m a little surprised at the absence of friend Frankie Howerd; the pair surely featured together though quite possibly footage no longer exists.

 

Watch Leaving on a Jet Plane


Step Inside Love

A slightly slow version at the start, this comes from Cilla’s 1983 appearance on Wogan which reputedly launched the second phase of her career as a major television personality.  An extract from both the song and the interview are included here.

The interview extract, in which she claims to have once sung ‘steak and chips’ to the lyrics of Alfie, again illustrates that her extraordinary lack of pretentiousness is undiminished after seven years concentrated on bringing up her family (although she did make at least two appearances on Top of the Pops in 1978 and feature in a memorable Cadbury’s Dairy Milk commercial (these not included in the show though).

Watch Cilla on Wogan
Cadbury’s commercial 1978


I Want You to Stay…

 

We end with a b/w signing off from an early Cilla show – “The only thing left to say really is Ta-ra then” and an ethereal , sylph-like Cilla does an about turn and walks away from the camera, one last time.

Cilla at the BBC
 


Take Three Songs by Cilla Black
Cilla: lightspots review of ITV’s biopic with Sheridan Smith
 

Take Three Songs … by Cilla Black

Cilla Black said she wanted to be remembered for her music.  Yet amidst all the accolades and plaudits following her untimely death last Sunday, when it comes to Cilla’s music, I sense a little reluctance, maybe even embarrassment on the part of the obituarists to acknowledge anything beyond how her cheeky Scouse persona translated into incredible chart success.

We have a little snatch of her signature Liverpool Lullaby here, a strain of Anyone Who Had a Heart there and then there’s the historic black-and-white wonder of those alleged twenty-nine takes of Alfie with Burt Bacharach, a 48 piece orchestra, George Martin and The Breakaways at Abbey Road.

But no one actually wants to commit to the non-commercial, intrinsically musical value of what she created, let alone suggest a musical legacy.  That would probably involve mentioning the word ‘artistic’ which tends not to be placed in the same sentence as the words ‘Cilla Black.’

So that’s what I’d like to do here by choosing three songs – not necessarily the best songs she recorded or even my favourites (though the first one is, actually) – but three songs which showcase what Cilla Black brought to pop music: her vocal power, range, warmth, genuineness and yes, at times, even subtlety.


I’ve Been Wrong Before

Performed by Cilla Black
Written by Randy Newman
Produced by George Martin
Parlophone A-Side, April 1965


 

Cilla fully inhabits this tremulous Randy Newman song, perfectly capturing the ambivalence of love in a private moment of angst.  She looks back to past hurt and speculates on the possibility of its unwelcome return.  Last time – almost certainly her first – she fell naively and wholeheartedly in love and was hurt when love ended.  It mustn’t be like that this time.

Dusty Springfield also recorded I’ve Been Wrong Before but Randy Newman has said Cilla’s is the best version.  This is perhaps the only occasion on which Cilla trounced Dusty Springfield but I do believe Cilla’s version to be the better one.

Dusty trounced 

Taken at a slightly faster pace (2.24 to Cilla’s 2.12), Dusty offers elongated phrasing and greater sophistication and there is a dreamlike quality too.  With Cilla both piano Cillaand voice are that much sharper as if to highlight the very starkness of the situation.

Dusty evokes vulnerability with a softness in her voice whereas with Cilla we hear a youthful, heartfelt quality which wants to fully embrace her new suitor and yet pulls back from doing so.  It’s this unadorned quality, the heartfeltness always wanting to break through but tempered by learning which gives Cilla’s version so much power.

On the blurred cusp

Listen to how differently each singer handles the most important part of the song, the apex at the end of the final bridge – ‘Then he left me and a-broke my heart in two’ – going into the bequietened start of the final verse – ‘I see your face…’   This change from bridge to verse marks a sharp turnaround between a memory of past hurt and the seductiveness of the present moment.  It’s crucial to the song.  With Dusty, the cusp is blurred because of clever but disorientating changes of phrasing whereas Cilla switches from fervent cry to whispered intimacy in a trice.

And hear how she sings ‘I’ve…’ each time (against that austere D minor 7th chord).  There is a real edge there.

‘I’ve Been Wrong Before’ only made No 17.


If I Thought You’d Ever Change Your Mind 

Performed by Cilla Black
Written by John Cameron
Produced by George Martin
Parlophone A-Side, November 1969


Cilla

This attractive, literate, quasi-classical chamber piece is perhaps the closest Cilla gets to baroque pop.

Sometimes criticised for her foghorn voice, If I Thought You’d Ever Change Your Mind is proof that Cilla could, when required, tone down her natural exuberance and express tenderness as effectively as she does fervour and excitement.  During the 70s, her softer side was to dominate across a series of sometimes bland albums.  But here, married to Mike Vickers’ suitably intricate, intimate late 60s arrangement (harpsichord, cello, woodwind) it shines.

Little girl voice

Employing a lyric of feminine, miniaturist abundance, Cilla maintains a little girl voice throughout, offering up not only ‘sweet perfumes and columbine’ but also one of her most restrained 60s performances.

Even at the song’s imploring climax she holds back as if not daring to wish that hope might defeat despair – or is it that she feels compelled to hide the true intensity of her feelings behind an air of girlish charm, remaining in the role of supplicant if she is to win back her love?

The song seeks to escape from its depressed verses so that Cilla greets each hopeful chorus with breathlessness only to be delivered back again into the next verse’s melancholy litany.  And so to end.

Diffidence – or submissiveness? 

I was surprised when Agnetha Falskog covered If I Thought You’d Ever Change Your Mind as recently as 2004 as I had long assumed that, to a modern audience, the song’s female diffidence might be mistaken for submissiveness.  Unfortunately, whilst aiming for Cilla’s innocence and understatement, Falkskog achieves only flatness and the song is finally stifled by the predictability of its arrangement and curious airlessness of its production.

Marianne Faithfull might have brought out a darker side beneath the pleasing boudoir floweriness.  But I suspect it will remain Cilla’s version – beseeching, slightly coquettish, imploring but sympathetically so – which lives on to define the song.

Cilla’s quieter side can also be heard on the then children’s standard but now semi-forgotten I Can Sing a Rainbow from her 1966 album Cilla Sings a Rainbow.  Trees and Loneliness (from 1967 EP Time for Cilla) is another less winsome example, just pipped to the post by If I Thought You’d Ever …  as the second of our three songs here.

Photo Credit: Stenycotte via Compfight cc


Love of the Loved 

Performed by Cilla Black
Written by Lennon-McCartney
Produced by George Martin
Parlophone A-Side, September 1963 


Here we are right back at the start of Cilla’s recording career.

Some might say this song is a prime example of Cilla’s ‘foghorn voice’.   Somewhat more kindly and far more accurately, George Martin refers to Cilla singing Love of the Loved in her ‘corncrake voice.’  And – given strident competition from blaring brass – that’s just what the song demands.

‘Love of the Loved’ marks Cilla’s transition from Cavern Club cloakroom girl and Cilla Love of the Lovedpart-time performer to 60s hitmaker and star.  You can easily picture her belting this out on the tiny stage at The Cavern but it also became her first hit, a UK No 35.  Unlike most of Cilla’s future singles, its beat origins can be clearly heard and, if anything, are actually emphasised by George Martin’s brassy blasts.

Go to it Cilla!

Love of the Loved brims with early 60s confidence, optimism and above all, excitement.  The rawness of those Cavern days can be heard in every groove and the carefree exuberance of the song (‘So let it rain, What do I care?’) is perfect for Cilla’s unpolished, full blown voice.

I wonder would a soft voiced songstress have been heard at all above the bustle and noise of a smoke-filled Cavern?  It was all about giving it what you’ve got and showing the boys what you’re made of and this is exactly what Cilla does here.

I like the fact that Love of the Loved was written by Lennon and McCartney (and also performed by the Fab Four), as a reminder not just of Cilla’s Liverpudlian roots and close association with the Beatles, but her hipness in those early days.

Oh, I didn’t get round to commenting on Cilla’s vocal range but for that try the unusual jazz flavoured Follow the Path to the Stars where she indulges in a little upper register scat singing!

Cilla Black: 27th May 1943 – 1st August 2015

Cilla at the BBC
Cilla – lightspots review of ITV biopic
 


More Take Three Songs

Take Three Songs… on Blackpool
Take Three Songs… by David Bowie
Take Three Songs… or early 60s instrumentals
Take Three Songs… Lynsey de Paul – No Honestly!
Take Three Songs… on Suburbia
 

Cilla

Part 1/3  tx. 15.09.14  9.00-10.00pm, ITV1


Cilla at Granada Television, 1963

I’ve sometimes wondered what would have happened if Cilla Black had disappeared into obscurity around the end of the 60s/start of the 70s.  In this alternative universe, the 80s/90s Cilla of ‘Blind Date’ and ‘Surprise, Surprise’ never happened.  Would she have merited the same kind of adulation which greeted Sandie Shaw’s second career with The Smiths in the mid 80s?  We shall never know.

It’s maybe difficult to imagine Cilla ever being that cool but last night’s opening of Jeff Pope’s three part biopic was a reminder of the now almost forgotten Priscilla White/Cilla Black of early 60s Liverpool, The Cavern and John, Paul, George and Ringo.  How cool is that?

It was good to find that this wasn’t one of those truncated TV dramas which hatches and dispatches a storyline in one hour flat (the new ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ and the film remake of ‘Brideshead Revisited’ felt absurdly telescoped).  Some may say Cilla doesn’t merit a three part series but last night’s opener boldly said otherwise.  It positively fizzed with energy.

Obviously the period fascinates but so too does the story itself – an ambitious young, working class woman who resolutely put her singing and career first and amiable boyfriend and future husband to be, Bobby Willis, second to eventually find huge success with the top record producer in the country.  There is a lovely scene with Bobby making his way through the back-to-backs humming his own composition Shy of Love which was to become the B-side of Cilla’s first single.  He tells her he is twenty-four years old, works in a recording studio and owns a car.  When it emerges none of this is true (he works in a bakery) after her initial snub, it endears him to Cilla all the more.  We see him needling to become her manager which results in his own hopes of singing success dashed as he devotes himself to furthering Cilla’s ambitions.

Sheridan Smith sparkles as Cilla combining mischief and humour along with that backbone of ambition.  The live singing is impressive, especially her nerves during an uncharacteristically lacklustre rendition of Summertime before Brian Epstein.

The detail feels just right from the smoke-filled cafs to the badly dyed beehives and the way The Beatles are shown as just another local band.  I had problem keeping up with the Scouse accents but that kind of felt like part of the fun.

I’m not sure how up-to-date the three parts take us – until the end of the 60s, I would imagine.  Surprising that this missed out on Cilla’s fiftieth anniversary which was actually last year (marked by a Paul O’ Grady fronted tribute and a DVD set).  Or maybe there is an album to coincide with the series… I rather hope not, to be honest.  Sorry Cilla, but for me this is how I like to remember you.
   


Cilla at the BBC
Take Three Songs… by Cilla Black