Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Magic Mole in the Adventure of the Velvet Curtains

Has there ever been a less likely Torch singer than Cilla Black? She spent her teens and early twenties looking as though she'd borrowed her big sister's clothes, and her later years as the ginger love child of Mrs Thatcher and Larry Grayson. She's got a Liverpool accent so thick that even when singing it keeps popping through like an unwelcome neighbour scrounging sugar. And she has that weird mole, sometimes blacked in like a beauty spot, sometimes covered over with enough make-up to fill the space under every nail on your hand. And latterly, gone altogether.

You can certainly have plain torch singers (Nina Simone was no classic beauty for a start) but Cilla surely takes the prize for plain odd.

In any case, she was a marvellous singer when she got going, with a set of lungs like a bouncy castle and a huge voice with so much power that it could turn geraniums into coal. And that's what counts really - the fact that any self-respecting record collection should have a cd of her singles.

The one I have on just now is this one, and as well as nearly twenty brilliant singles (and sundry crap later tracks) it also contains a decent dvd summary of her career, showcasing performances ofrm the 60s and 70s on various TV shows, including her own eponymous one.

She starts off doing You are my World at the Royal Command performance, wearing her mother's old velvet curtains turned into a dress, sensible shoes and a haircut presumably designed to woo her lesbian following. Barely moving from her spot in the centre stage, Cilla's fine but nothing special.

Skip forward a few months and here she is on Ken Dodd, fashionable haircut and 60s mod dress in place. It's a far better look, even with the puppy fat and mole on her chin, so it's just a shame that she seems to have been taking lessons in hamming it up from Donald Sinden as she does a very nice live version of Don't Answer Me partially ruined by a series of huge sweeping motions which wouldn't have looked out of place in an early Kate Bush video.

Next up is the brilliant Step Inside Love. I'll forgive Cilla for talking at the beginning of the clip - it's not her fault she's Liverpudlian after all -because her singing is so good. Her skirt's micro-short this time round, the mole is coloured in and Christ does she look uncomfortable, battering the song into submission in that gigantic voice of hers and waving her skinny arms around in vague approximation of the beat like some prototype Ian Curtis doing a cabaret turn at Butlins...

1968, and she's obviously decided that wearing skirts so short you can all but see her knickers is not for her - so she's decided to dress like Princess Anne's idea of a Mod instead. Oh well, it's her show, she can wear what she like. And she absolutely nails Love's A Broken Heart.

TOP OF THE POPS! One of her lesser songs, true, but even doing Where is Tomorrow? Cilla on TOTP is something to savour. Disappointingly the majority of the performance has been directed by a git, determined to show only Cilla's head and shouders, so it's impossible to tell if it's just the collar of her dress which is curled up on itself or if she's buttoned it up wrong and thus looks a little bit special in full view.

Liverpool Lullaby is obviously a song Cilla is comfortable singing, but even so she couldn't look more odd than in this clip from 'Cilla'. She's wearing another very short dress and cool shoes, for a start, which is a better look on Twiggy than Cilla, but with the sort of haircut more suited to her mum and which at times threatens to make her look middle aged. For the first time on this dvd in fact she looks like an entertainer than a singer, someone who parents might like at least as much as teenagers do. Take away the dress in fact and chuck her in a trouser suit and she could present Surprise Surprise no bother. The only surprise in this really is that there's no dancers pretending to be starving in the snow or anything behind her as she sings.

Arrgh - duet with Cliff! He's a good looking lad that Cliff - until he sings, when his mouth goes all weird and you can hear his bloody cringingly sincere voice. Horrible.

20th February 1969 - I was an embryo by this point! I suspect even then I could dance better than Cilla, who bops around at the start of Surround Yourself in Sorrow on TOTP, but presumably in time to a different song that only she could hear or even to the voices of dead christian missionaries singing Hallelujah in her head. Or maybe she was having a very minor stroke? And she's miming! Bah. Humbug.

I can't stand Yesterday and would have skipped past it had it not been the first colour clip. Even then I only managed 27 seconds: just enough time to check out Cilla in a red dress which just about covered her arse and with her hair now long and ginger, as opposed to short and an indeterminate colour in black and white. She looks almost exactly like Liz from Corrie actually.

From what is presumably the same 71 tour, she then does Going out of my head fairly dully, except for the fact she's back to wearing curtains as clothes again, this time yellow and billowing, making her look like Margot from the Good Life or a slimmed down post-op Demis Roussos. Not great on any level.

You've Lost the Loving Feeling - hate that song and Cilla's rubbish at it, starting off too low to allow her to hit the later high notes. I am Woman? You're So Vain? I can Sing a Rainbow? Imagine!?!?! Oh bugger off - all that's left is a succession of bad cover verisons briefly envlived by Alfie from 1973 sung by Cilla looking every inch the comfy seventies variety artiste so I turned the dvd off there and watched Black Books instead.

All in all The Ultimate Cilla is worth picking up for the superb disc of singles. The extra disc of music is patchy, leaning towards rubbish at times, but with enough interesting stuff to pass a happy hour.

And the bonus video is awesome! From 2003, it features Cilla miming in a tasselled cowboy jacket and boot cut jeans, spinning like a compass on the heel of one boot, with a slightly humiliated bunch of what seem to be christian rockers playing behind her. You just don't get enough of that sort of thing...

Cilla and the Christian Rockers

Cilla when she was good, doing Norwegian Wood with the Shadows


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