I’d already done a few tours with Sir Cliff. Playing in large concert venues to packed houses and adoring fans, The band with this famously featured turn were always a joy to be with.
I’d travelled the world several times and had the privilege of playing before royalty and many dignitaries who obviously knew nothing of me but the collective and perceived shared recognition seemed to be enough at the time.
Cliff, through his personal faith, had been a friend to Billy Graham for many years. He had been asked several times to sing, offer his testimony and share at many rallies around the country when Big Billy was in Town.
He called up one day and asked if I’d like to play piano for him at one such rally taking place in Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre, London. We’d already done some acoustic gigs together with me on piano and him on guitar so I happily accepted and thought nothing of it. A couple of tunes would be an easy gig with no real rehearsal schedule. Just turn up, tune up and play.
We’d also written some songs together. These were often featured on what we optimistically called ‘The B Side’ of a single. I think he didn’t want to big up his writing whereas I was continuing to nurture the partnership to see if I could one day secure an A side, a hit, a smash, a song that would be deeply etched into the nations sub- conscious. But for now, these hidden gems would remain simply for the most devoted fans and keen archivists.
But it did give us an opportunity to do these songs live especially when it was just the two of us without the band.
Showing up at Earl’s Court without the usual entourage was quite an interesting experience, telling the doorman that I was here to accompany Cliff Richard:” You’re at the wrong venue mate!” Or “Is Billy Graham on drums then?”.
I’d never seen so many vicars and holy men gathered in one building. It was quite a heady atmosphere especially when, as the gig started, both Cliff and I were asked to sit on the stage amongst the ‘Holy of Holies’; Cliff in his subdued sparkles and me in pink dancing shoes. These of course would always get some giggles and colourful albeit polite comments.
It finally came to the time when we were introduced and I discretely made my way to the huge grand piano that had been previously used by the incredible Ted Smith leading the choir of thousands.
Predictably the songs went well and we played as we should with minimal errors and confident humility.
Thankfully we were allowed to leave the esteemed gathering on stage afterwards and headed to the dressing room to discuss what we’d done and see if there were any light refreshments for us, remembering of course that it wasn’t exactly a regular rock gig!
Worth mentioning here that this was well before the Internet, social media and streaming was limited to small tributaries along rivers.
It was then that one of the organization representatives came up to us and said how much he’d enjoyed the songs. “You do realise that we had a full house tonight? Twenty thousand souls out there”. But then he added. “And it was broadcast live to around fifty million people around the world!”.
Cliff and I looked at each other and immediately felt very nervous. Unlike what we felt before playing, the nerves became very tangible and I don’t think I’d ever had this feeling especially after playing on stage. Nervous after the event.
I almost wanted to run back on and tell everybody!
We both went back to our dressing rooms with that jittery feeling you get prior to playing, nervous for what we’d already done., trying to remember if there were any obviously glaring errors.
Brilliant, scary and definitely a first. Getting the shakes after we’d done the gig imagining how big the audience was. And very grateful we didn’t know lest that ever-familiar ‘rabbit in the road’ should appear just before hitting the first chords.
Innocence, naivety and ignorance should always be the key especially when so many millions are involved. And they say it’s harder to play in front of ten people? Not after this event!