Monday, 29 May 2017
As Sir Cliff Richard settles with South Yorkshire Police, remember that it named him in the media before he had been, as he never was, arrested. Not charged. Arrested. Think on.
The heavily orchestrated front page lynching of Sir Cliff not only made it impossible for him to receive a fair trial, but was possibly the greatest act of playground bullying that this country had ever seen. The cool kids in Fleet Street, on the BBC and on Sky had waited a very long time for that. Longer, in fact, than most of them could remember, or than well over half of them had been alive.
There is a strict canonical text of the history of this country's ubiquitous popular music. To be honest, I generally prefer the canonical acts to the apocryphal and pseudepigraphical ones. But that Authorised Version is incomplete to the point of falsehood.
Look at the charts in any week, month or year since pop music can reasonably be said to have begun. The apostles and prophets of the given period are all there, of course. But so are all sorts of other people, and not as novelty acts: they took themselves entirely seriously, as did the fans who bought their records by the bucket load.
Cliff was originally so cool that when my father, as a curate in 1950s Leicester, was deputed to take the church youth club to see him, they became so excited that they smashed up the theatre and broke my father's arm, which was never right again. In causing my father to be permanently injured, Cliff succeeded where Rommel, Mussolini and the Stern Gang had all failed.
But for most of British pop's history, Cliff has been the towering, the supreme, the definitive uncool act. Even stations dedicated to oldies have written policies of not playing him, bizarrely describing the long-dead as more enduring than a man who still performs live and who continues to record.
His response is to be the single biggest-selling British solo artist ever, and the third biggest-selling act in British chart history, beaten only by the Beatles and by Elvis Presley. He has had more Top 20 hits than any other artist. Only he and Elvis had hits in all six of the first decades of the UK Singles Chart. Only he has had a Number One single in each of five consecutive decades.
In this country, he has sold twice as many records as, say, David Bowie, and well over twice as many as the Rolling Stones. Now, give me Bowie or the Stones any day. But the numbers don't lie.
Moreover, he is only three years older than Paul McCartney, he is only two years older than Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and he was born in the same year as John Lennon. Yet he has been famous since well before any of them ever was. Let's face it, we are talking about being seriously famous here. Seriously rich with it, too. All as, and by being, something approaching an unperson to Everyone Who Matters.
Look how a Billy Graham Crusade was dragged into this long-predictable attempt at a takedown. And look how that event, already too ghastly in itself, has managed to surpass even that by being held in Sheffield.
No wonder that it was played out on television. Anyone would assume that it were the script for a work of fiction. One of those ones which are not as clever as they think they are, and which are only about laughing at the common people.
If Sir Cliff had been guilty, then he would have deserved whatever he got from the courts. At least the same is deserved by Bill Wyman. He was 47 when he repeatedly and flagrantly had sex with a girl who, at 13, was probably younger than the alleged victim in this single instance.
Notice how, while the man who had the effrontery to have a hit with Stairway to Heaven featuring a wobble board has been imprisoned and ruined, Jimmy Page himself has never faced any action whatever in relation to his 14-year-old girlfriend of yesteryear. Rolf Harris has rightly been stripped of his CBE; Page was awarded his OBE long after everyone knew about him.
I have often had cause, in relation to a wide range of artists, to wonder whether I can love the music while hating the drugs. I have decided that I probably can. But I am starting to doubt that. The elevation of Sex, Drugs and Rock'n'Roll into a kind of national and global substitute for politics, patriotism and religion has led both to the worship of idols and to the persecution of heretics.