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Monday 3 August 2015

Cilla and The Beatles

Cilla Black, 1943-2015
Cilla Black was born Priscilla Maria Veronica White in Liverpool, England, on 27 May 1943 and grew up in the Scotland Road area of the city. Her parents were John Patrick White and Priscilla Blythen. Black had a Welsh grandfather, Joseph Henry Blythen, who was born in Wrexham, Wales, and Irish great-grandparents on her father's and mother's side of the family. She was raised in a Roman Catholic household, and attended St. Anthony's School, which was behind St. Anthony's Church in Scotland Road, and Anfield Commercial College, where she studied Shipping Management.

The Cavern Club or was it The Iron Door?
Cilla was working as a Dictaphone typist at BICC, the Cable Company, when she first started singing with local groups. It all began when she went to the Iron Door Club with her friend Pauline Behan (who was going steady with George Harrison at the time and was later to marry Gerry Marsden of Gerry & the Pacemakers). The group on stage was Rory Storm & the Hurricanes and Pauline asked them if Cilla could get up with them and sing "Fever". As a result she made several further appearances with the band. She was encouraged to begin singing by Liverpool promoter, Sam Leach, who booked her first gig at the "Casanova Club", where she appeared as "Swinging Cilla". Another account says that it was at The Iron Door that Leach booked Cilla for the first time. Never one to take anything too seriously, John Lennon used to announce her as Swinging Cyril when she joined the Beatles on stage to sing "Summertime", or "A Shot of Rhythm and Blues".

Meanwhile, she worked as a waitress at the "Zodiac" coffee lounge, where she later met her future husband Bobby Willis. Black was featured in an article in the first edition of the local music newspaper "Mersey Beat" by the paper's publisher, Bill Harry, who mistakenly referred to her as Cilla Black. She liked the name more, and took it as her stage name. Determined to become an entertainer, Cilla gained a part-time job as a cloakroom attendant at Liverpool's Cavern Club. This element of the story has turned into legend. According to Bill Harry, more people had seen her serving tea at the Zodiac coffee lounge than tending people's clothes at the Cavern Club.

Her impromptu performances impressed the audience and the Liverpool bands. Black became a guest singer with the Merseybeat bands Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes and, later, with the Big Three. When she performed with the Hurricanes, she used to share vocals on the song "Boys" with their then drummer, Ringo Starr.

Cilla signed her first contract with long-time friend and neighbour, Terry McCann, but this contract was never honoured as it was signed when she was under age (the age of majority was then 21) and her father subsequently signed her with Brian Epstein.

Audition for Epstein, backed by The Beatles
Epstein had a portfolio of local artists. At first, he showed little interest in Cilla. She was introduced to Epstein by John Lennon, who persuaded him to audition her. Her first audition was a failure, partly because of nerves, and partly because the Beatles (who supported her) played the songs in their own vocal key rather than re-pitching them for Cilla's voice. In her autobiography "What's It All About?" she wrote:

"I'd chosen to do "Summertime", but at the very last moment I wished I hadn't. I adored this song, and had sung it when I came to Birkenhead with the Big Three, but I hadn't rehearsed it with the Beatles and it had just occurred to me that they would play it in the wrong key. It was too late for second thoughts, though. With one last wicked wink at me, John set the group off playing. I'd been right to worry. The music was not in my key and any adjustments that the boys were now trying to make were too late to save me. My voice sounded awful. Destroyed - and wanting to die - I struggled on to the end".

Recording with George Martin
But after seeing her another day, at the "Blue Angel" jazz club, singing "Boys", Epstein contracted with Cilla Black as his only female client on 6 September 1963. Epstein introduced Cilla to George Martin who signed her to Parlophone Records and produced her début single, "Love of the Loved" (written by Lennon and McCartney), which was released only three weeks after she contracted with Epstein. Despite an appearance on ABC-TV's popular "Thank Your Lucky Stars", the single peaked at a modest No. 35 in the UK, a relative failure compared to début releases of Epstein's most successful artists (the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas). Under Epstein's management, Cilla made her concert debut at the Odeon, Southport, in a show with the Beatles on 30 August. She then appeared with the Beatles on the all-Merseyside edition of the "Thank Your Lucky Stars" TV show and was booked for the Beatles Christmas Show at the Finsbury Park Astoria in north London from 24 December.

Love of The Loved
"Love of the Loved" is a song written mainly by Paul McCartney, credited to Lennon–McCartney. It is one of his earliest compositions and featured in the Beatles live act in their early days. The group recorded the song at their 1962 audition for Decca Records, but never issued it on any of their official releases. The Beatles audition version was left off Anthology 1, even though the other Lennon–McCartney originals from the same session, "Hello Little Girl" and "Like Dreamers Do", were included. Cilla Black recorded it for her debut single, which was produced by George Martin. It was not a big hit for her, reaching #35 on the UK Singles Chart.

"Love of The Loved" Parlophone R5065
Black's second single, released at the beginning of 1964, was a cover of the Burt Bacharach–Hal David composition "Anyone Who Had a Heart", which had been written for Dionne Warwick. The single beat Warwick's recording into the UK charts and rose to No. 1 in Britain in February 1964 (spending 3 weeks there), selling 800,000 copies in the UK in the process. Her second UK No. 1 success, "You're My World", was an English-language rendition of the Italian popular song "Il Mio Mondo". She also enjoyed chart success with the song in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, South Africa and Canada. Both songs sold over one million copies worldwide, and were awarded gold discs.

It's For You
Black's two No. 1 successes were followed by the release of another Lennon–McCartney composition, "It's for You", as her fourth UK single. Paul McCartney played piano at the recording session and the song proved to be another major international success for Black, peaking at No. 7 on the UK charts.Paul McCartney, who had been present at Abbey Road Studios when Cilla Black had recorded her breakthrough hit "Anyone Who Had a Heart", had written "It's for You" with John Lennon using "Anyone Who Had a Heart" as the model although Black herself has opined: "For my money, ['It's for You'] is nothing like the 'Anyone...' composition." 

A Spanish EP featuring "It's For You" as the title track.
On 3 June 1964 McCartney cut a demo of "It's for You" to give to Black and producer George Martin. Black recorded the song at Abbey Road Studios that 2 July with Martin producing the session and she would recall: "That was some session...John [Lennon] and Paul [McCartney] joined me and George Martin. We made one track and then everyone had a go at suggesting how they thought it should be recorded. George said it should be one way, John and Paul another and I just added my suggestions while they were thinking of what else they could do with the composition."

Having Black, well publicized as an associate of the Beatles, record a Lennon–McCartney tune did not result in the anticipated smash hit: "It's for You" followed Black's back-to-back #1 hits: "Anyone Who Had a Heart" and "You're My World", into the Top Ten but remained there for only two weeks - 29 August and 5 September 1964 - at #8 and #7.

Cilla and Brian
Cilla was never aware of the fact that her manager was gay. In 2014, she told The Telegraph"With hindsight, he was gay. But at the time we didn’t have that word and I wouldn’t have known what it meant if we did. I didn’t know Brian was a homosexual – in fact, I fancied him. But then, I fancied George Martin, too. Not that I ever did anything about it. I was always faithful to Bobby." After the death of Brian Epstein, Cilla's partner and songwriter Bobby Willis took over the management duties. In 2010, Cilla unveiled a blue plaque in memory of Brian Epstein at Epstein's first London office on Monmouth Street, Seven Dials, London.

Cilla with her manager, Brian Epstein.

Step Inside Love
In late 1967 McCartney was approached to write the theme for Cilla's new variety show on BBC Television, "Cilla". It was a show that Brian Epstein had secured for Cilla shortly before he died. Paul recorded the original demo version of "Step Inside Love" at his London home, accompanying himself on guitar. The theme song  consisted of just one verse and the chorus.

Cilla's recording of this short song was used as the theme during the early weeks of the show, until it was decided that the song needed an additional verse, so McCartney came to the BBC Theatre and wrote it there. According to the producer of the show, the opening line of the second verse ("You look tired, love") came from McCartney's observation of Cilla looking tired from the long rehearsals for the TV show. McCartney then added a third verse and this version was recorded as a studio demo at Chappell Studios in London on 21 November 1967, with McCartney on guitar accompanying Cilla on vocals. This demo was the basis for the single, although where the McCartney demos were recorded in the key of D, the final arrangement of the single version was transposed up a fifth to G, to take advantage of Cilla's higher register.

McCartney recorded the song on 16 September 1968 during The Beatles (a.k.a. "The White Album") sessions, but it did not appear on the album. After ad libbing "Step Inside Love", McCartney led the group into "Los Paranoias", which (despite George Harrison not being present) was credited to all four members of the band. The two songs were released as a single CD track on Anthology 3 in 1996.

Paul and Cilla recording "Step Inside Love" Colourised EMI publicity photo.
The single version of the song (with Cilla singing live over the studio backing track) was premiered on 5 March 1968 edition of her show; the single was released on 8 March 1968, and reached number eight on the British charts in April 1968. The recording was also featured on Cilla's third solo studio album "Sher-oo!" Remixed club versions of Cilla's original 1960s vocal were released in 2009 on her album "Cilla All Mixed Up". An excerpt from the actual recording session with Paul, George Martin and Cilla can be heard as bonus material on the CD box set Cilla 1963-1973 The Abbey Road Decade and a longer extract circulates among collectors.

Other Beatles covers
Cilla Black continued to record Lennon-McCartney compositions throughout the period (1963–1973) that she was under contract to EMI's Parlophone; Cilla's recordings of "Yesterday", "For No One" and "Across the Universe" became radio favourites. Paul McCartney said Cilla's 1972 interpretation of "The Long and Winding Road" represented for him how he always intended the song to be sung. She also recorded John Lennon's solo composition "Oh My Love" as well as McCartney's "Junk".

With a little help from Ringo
On 6 February 1968, Ringo Starr made an appearance on the first episode of Cilla Black's television show. On this occasion the other guests were comedian Spike Milligan and ventriloquist Peter Brough.

Ringo and Cilla, 1968.
Ringo appeared during the opening credits and in a number of skits. In the first, he assisted Cilla in sorting through her fan mail and introduced one of her singing performances, "I'm Playing Second Fiddle To A Football Team". A second sketch saw him interact with Peter Brough and performing with his own 'dummy', introduced as Ariadne but actually Cilla Black in a school uniform.

Ringo and Cilla duetted unaccompanied on the 1905 song "Nellie Dean" while he drank from a pint of beer, and finally they sang and danced to a 1917 song entitled "Do You Like Me?". It was Paul’s father, Jim McCartney who had suggested the number, he used to play it when he had a jazz band.

On October 1, 1970, Ringo Starr recorded his second appearance on Cilla Black's television show "Cilla". It was aired on BBC1 on February 13, 1971 and featured the two duetting on "Act Naturally".

Cilla and Ringo at Geilo in Norway. From the TV special "Cilla in Scandinavia"
A 1971 special, "Cilla in Scandinavia" saw Cilla team up with Ringo again for scenes filmed at the Geilo winter resort in Norway. During the show, Ringo performed "It Don't Come Easy" and duetted with Cilla and children's show character Basil Brush on "The Snowman Song".

At a Cannes Film Festival during the 1970s, Cilla joined George Harrison, Ringo Starr and glam-rock pop star Marc Bolan to attend a screening of the John Lennon-Yoko Ono experimental film "Erection". She also holidayed with them on this trip aboard a yacht chartered by Ringo. "Photograph" was written on this trip - originally intended for Cilla to record - but Ringo decided to record it himself. George Harrison also wrote two songs for Cilla - "The Light That Has Lighted The World" and "I'll Still Love You (When Every Song Is Sung)". The latter she recorded in 1974, but it was not heard publicly until 2003, when it surfaced on a retrospective collection entitled Cilla: The Best of 1963-78.

Later life
Along with a successful recording career in the 1960s and early 1970s, Cilla Black hosted her show, "Cilla", for the BBC between 1968 and 1976. After a brief time as a comedy actress in the mid-1970s, she became a prominent television presenter in the 1980s and 1990s, hosting hit entertainment shows such as "Blind Date" (1985–2003) and "Surprise Surprise" (1984–2001).

By actively supporting the Conservative Party during the Margareth Thatcher years, Cilla alienated herself somewhat from her working class roots in Liverpool, but later in life considered herself apolitical and no longer saw herself as conservative.

In 2013, Cilla celebrated her 50 years in show business. British television network ITV honoured this milestone with a one-off entertainment special which aired on 16 October 2013. The show, called "The One & Only Cilla Black", featured Cilla Black herself and was hosted by Paul O'Grady.

In 2014, Cilla Black was the subject of a three-part television drama series, "Cilla", focusing especially on her rise to fame in 1960s Liverpool and her relationship with Bobby Willis. ITV aired the first installment on 15 September 2014, starring BAFTA award-winning actress Sheridan Smith.

Cilla was married to her manager, Bobby Willis, for more than 30 years until he died from lung cancer on 23 October 1999. Cilla herself died at her holiday home near Marbella, Spain, on 1 August 2015.

Even though her career as a television personality was longer than her singing career, she wanted her epitaph to be "Here lies singer Cilla Black".

The Beatles Bible
Mersey Beat
Daily Mirror


Unknown said...

Can someone tell me who originally sang Summertime?

Brett Alan said...

The original singer of "Summertime" was Abbie Mitchell, who played Clara in the original Broadway production of Gershwin's Porgy & Bess, for which the song was written. The first recording of it was by Mitchell for the album (back when "album" had its original meaning, a group of 78s packaged like a photo album) George Gershwin Conducts Porgy & Bess. Both the album release and the Broadway premiere were in 1935. The first hit version was by Billie Holiday, a year later.