Friday, August 07, 2015

Anyone Who Had A Heart: Cilla

British pop music, at the time when The Beatles and others invented it, was dominated by men. There's a photo of those who had appeared on an edition of "Ready Steady Go!". In it, there is only one female: the co-presenter, Cathy McGowan. But Cathy wasn't the original presenter. Dusty Springfield was. Dusty was to morph from the nice girl of the folk trio The Springfields into one of the great white soul singers. She assumed a role somewhat different to that of her contemporaries. Dusty was more edgy, and her later life confirmed this. Like the barefooted Sandie Shaw, she was to be rediscovered in the 1980s, thanks to the arrival of the synth pop groups. Dusty teamed up with The Pet Shop Boys, while Sandie collaborated with the British Electric Foundation, the product of two of the original Human League.

That collaboration started with a reworking of an old Burt Bacharach and Hal David song. Sandie was back in the public eye because of "Anyone Who Had A Heart". Eighteen years before, on 31 January 1964, that song had been released in the UK. It was to create a controversy of a type totally unassociated with its singer. That was because the original, by Dionne Warwick, was considered to be the better version and indeed Warwick herself was none too pleased that this rival version charted at number one in the UK.

Cilla Black was simply not the type of performer who would court controversy. There was much of the girl next door about her, as there was with another contemporary, Lulu, and the two of them were to develop this in a way that neither the edgy Dusty nor the quirky Sandie would have been able to: as television presenters.

In 1969 the music journalist Nik Cohn said of Cilla: "In her time, she will grow into a pop Gracie Fields, much loved entertainer, and she'll become institutionalised". It was an astonishingly accurate prediction but one that took time to be realised. "Blind Date" and "Surprise Surprise" didn't come along until the mid-1980s, around the time when Dusty was back in the studios with Neil Tennant.

If Cohn was able to see into Cilla's future, fifty years ago, almost to the date of her death, there was no hint of this when Cilla came to Mallorca.

The "Majorca Daily Bulletin" carried an advert for Cilla's appearances at the Tagomago nightclub. There were to be four shows (or galas as the ad put it). Cilla Black, the publicity went on, "with The Beatles, Britain's youngest and most sensational gift to pop music". Which might have been overstating the case somewhat in that it ignored the claims of The Who, The Kinks, or even Dusty, but it could be forgiven. Cilla was of course a star, and British pop acts of such status were thin on the ground in the Mallorca of 1965.

Along with that ad, there was also a report. In those days, the paper had a column entitled "Talk of the Town". Naomi Dorfman spoke to Cilla, and the article appeared under the heading: "Cilla Black: Famous - but she stays simple". Here is some of what that article had to say:

"Britain's most popular girl singer, 21-year-old Cilla Black, a graduate from Liverpool's now-famous Cavern Club, which produced The Beatles, will be playing in cabaret at the Tagomago nightclub tomorrow and Sunday.

Cilla is in Palma now, accompanied by her road manager, Bobby Willis, who writes some of her songs. She plans on having a few days rest in the sun before leaving for Barcelona to appear on television.

A tall, slim girl, completely undazzled by her sudden success, Cilla sprang to fame 18 months ago. Overnight, from being a clerk-typist-telephonist and singing in local shows, she became Britain's top girl singer.

But she still stays a simple girl and lives quietly at home with her parents and her three brothers, John, George and Alan. 'I don't know what I'd do without my mother.' 'When autograph seekers knock at our door, and I'm out, mum just gives then tea and cakes to console them.'

Cilla is not dewy-eyed about her career. 'I know a pop singer's life can be short,' she says, excepting The Beatles, who are the Adam and Eve of the game and will go on forever.

Cilla is convinced that people don't know their Beatles in Spain. As she puts it: 'I was met at the airport by a Spanish reporter who insisted I was engaged to one of The Beatles. Don't they know here that two are married and the other two are going steady?' "

Maybe they didn't, just as they would have had no idea that she was to become a British national institution. Cohn was right, but he might also have added that, of anyone who had a heart, it was Cilla.

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