The last few years have seen a steady release of retrospective pop albums. Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Billy Fury have all made posthumous returns to the album charts with albums featuring classic vocal tracks paired with new orchestral arrangements. In some cases the new albums appear overproduced or have limitations on the original vocal recordings that don’t quite pair up with current musical arrangements.
Its then with some trepidation, I found myself about to listen to the new Cilla Black release recorded with The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, (a new album project overseen by Cilla’s son, Robert Willis and produced by James Morgan and Juliette Pochin, who have previously worked on albums by Alfie Boe, Katherine Jenkins and Alexander Armstrong).
Like many, I grew up watching Cilla for her Saturday evening television shows in the early 1970s in which she opened with her signature tune Something Tells Me, Somethings Gonna Happen Tonight. At this time, I also became aware of Cilla’s music back catalogue from the 1960s via my mother’s record collection of singles and albums.
The first instincts before hitting the play button for Cilla Black with The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is how could these recordings even come near to those fabulous recordings of the 60s produced by the legendary George Martin?
The worries fall away quickly when track 1, Step Inside Love composed by Paul McCartney as the theme for Cilla’s 1968 TV series begins. Lifted from an original studio demo (featuring Paul on guitar) the static of studio banter and Cilla’s opening vocal is aurally brought forward half a century to a vibrant but equally powerful accompaniment from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Apart from a bit of flanging (as George Martin might have put it) nothing sounds remotely artificial about the process and if anything, it’s as if Cilla’s youthful vocal energy has simply stepped out of the 60s and into the present day to be greeted by an accompaniment that is moulded to her vocal talents.
Cilla’s vocals on hit recordings of Conversations (which also features stunning backing vocals from The Breakaways) , Don’t Answer Me and her 1963 debut hit Love of The Loved are all complimented with contemporary musical arrangements while still maintaining a nod to the originals.
A new arrangement for the 1966 classic, Loves Just A Broken Heart, allows Cilla’s vocal a bit more prominence and audible energy than the original, while a previously unused vocal of Cilla performing Van Morrison’s Have I Told You Lately That I Love You from 2002 displays that some three decades after her chart career, she still had the ability to turn out a strong vocal.
Intimate interpretations of Elton John’s Your Song and Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, mix up a varied programme of further Cilla hits including the upbeat Surround Yourself with Sorrow and Lennon & McCartney’s Its for You.
Perhaps most interesting are the duets on the album. While Rebecca Ferguson adds some additional soul alongside Cilla’s vocal on Anyone Who Had a Heart, Sheridan Smith (who played Cilla in the TV bio-drama) breaks away the 50-year gap to magically duet with Cilla on Bacharach and David’s Alfie. Its an awesome if not slightly surreal experience hearing Sheridan sing with Cilla, as both their vocal styles are incredibly similar but its an enjoyable mix all the same!
Cliff Richard sang several duets with Cilla on television over the years, so its nice to hear their vocal talents reunited on a moving new version of You’re My World which comes across as if the pair really are in the studio together.
A lovingly curated album, Cilla Black and The Royal Liverpool Orchestra is a genuine musical delight, adding something new to Cilla Black’s musical legacy while maintaining the magic of the original A magical tribute to a much-missed star on what would have been her 75th year!
Cilla Black and The Royal Liverpool Orchestra is available from Warner Music on November 16, 2018