When touring with the lovely Cliff Richard, we used to do regular tours. Not having travelled much before, these were an exciting opportunity to see exotic and diverse places and meet some great people. They often involved playing hits and the latest albums, performing in large venues and staying in some fine hotels.
In between these tours there were the less known and slightly mysterious gospel charity tours. Less known in that they were advertised outside of the mainstream and mysterious as they presented something of a difficulty when trying to describe them. They were often in smaller venues with a well know gospel support act. Catering was provided by the local churches and were similar to tennis club teas with buns, cucumber sandwiches and cups of tea. We would have to make our own way to the concerts and any accommodation was usually rather parochial and short on star ratings.
It was an opportunity for Cliff to talk about his faith in a more open way and sing slightly more ‘meaningful’ songs written by unknown song writers. Nevertheless, they were still great to do and japery would ensue despite the charity gospel status.
We were in Barcelona. The tour was sponsored by a charity called YFC (Youth for Christ) and adventurously promoted through Europe as well as parts of UK. We’d already done Lisbon in Portugal to a less than packed house and there were murmurs going round that advanced ticket sales were not as expected. We’d all be asked to gather in the hotel lobby to be taken to the venue. This was memorable only for the fact that the magician, Paul Daniels, was also in the same lobby desperate for an audience. Seeing us waiting he knew we’d be game for a couple of card tricks and proceeded to entertain while we gasped and whooped on cue to his sleight of hand and dwarfish genius. Disappearing as quickly as he appeared (another cool trick) it was then the promoter’s turn to do his magic. “Sorry boys but the show’s been cancelled”. He announced. “Not enough tickets sold unfortunately”. Quite how you could book a theatre sometime in advance and have a turn like Cliff Richard with supporting artists not filling the place was baffling to us all and we all turned to find out where Paul Daniels was appearing later; That and the nearest pub.
I overheard a conversation taking place close by: “Can we do an interview event with Cliff in like a studio-theatre-venue-club somewhere? Better than doing nothing and at least he’s free now!”
Not particularly feeling The Paul Daniel experience nor wanting to get through all my per diems in the bar, I sidled closer to the sotto voce plans:
“He could play a few songs on his guitar and then chat about stuff, life, God, girlfriends, whatever?”
“And I could play some piano if there was one available?”. No harm in trying I thought.
Meanwhile the crew were being prepped to undertake this smaller rig with a couple of mics, a stand, and…….. “A Keyboard?” I chipped in.
So was born the lovely unplugged gig with Sir on guitar and his stories, with me on piano keyboard doing some accompaniment as and when the songs were called. This Spanish impromptu gig was to be the first of many both in UK and abroad with a simple set up, a couple of chairs and generous potted plant. At first, we’d simply improvise with me sitting in the wings listening to the conversation and waiting for a cue to come on and play the song he’d just mentioned, often with no more than a simple intro and a hastily scribbled scrap of jumbled chords.
After a while these became slightly more organised and together, we built a set list that included some of the old rock and roll tunes, great ballads and new arrangements of the bigger band songs with occasional visits from the lovely Mikey Haughton on saxes and flute.
One such joyous occasion was an invite to do a corporate on a cruise liner moored just outside of Sorento, Italy. Two gigs, a week apart with several days in a luxury villa. What made this all the more special is that the guests on board didn’t know that Cliff was appearing. So, we were all smuggled on board, wined, dined and hidden from everyone until the time came to play. The boat almost tipped over when he was announced.
Cliff, Mikey and I played for over two hours doing the full setlist of old and new tunes with tumultuous reception throughout. I think I enjoyed these shows more than the big all singing, fully lit, huge P.A. extravaganzas. And all because of a last-minute cancellation. Never underestimate the accidents and always be around and available to pick up anything that may become something new, exciting and different.
The gig is dead, long live the gig, and if you don’t ask………