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About A Week: Old Rockers

Old rock 'n rollers don't fade away, says Peter Hinchliffe. They simply turn up the volume.

There they all were, hanging on the wall, row upon row. The stars who filled our ears with bright new sounds in those heady days when rock was young. There was Sandie Shaw, the girl who in your dreams would have been living in the house next door. Marianne Faithfull who looked as though she has just invented the word s-e-x. Billy Fury, all mean and moody. A teenage Cliff, doing his level best to look like Elvis.

The Icons Of Pop exhibition, organised by the National Portrait Gallery, which toured Britain, was a journey back to youth for ageing rock fans.

The 50 photographs in the exhibition included stars from the 50s through to the 90s. There was Elton in his giddy days. Rod Stewart, whose rebellious hair looked as though it might one day get the better of him. Annie Lennox, Paul Weller, Boy George, Robbie Williams .. .

But Cliff and his contemporaries, the leaders of the British rock revolution in the 50s and 60s, were the ones who made me feel my age. Can 50 years have passed since I interviewed Cliff at the Ritz cinema in Huddersfield?

He had just finished a sweaty performance, sending a capacity audience wild with his gyrating admonitions to Rip It Up and Move It. Now he was all serious and businesslike. There were just the two of us. He was then 19. Me, five years older. What to ask the country's most famous teenager?

"Er . . . how are you spending all your money Cliff."

"Oh I only allow myself five shillings spending money a week," said he. "The rest is invested."

Invested? As someone whose weekly pay packet yielded just enough for a few pints in the Albert, half-a-dozen pork pies a week from a splendid butchers near the old Market Hall, and a couple of gallons of petrol to feed a rusty Lambretta scooter, the word invested was foreign to me.

Down the years, as spotty Cliff metamorphosed into Sir Cliff the Living Legend, I've found myself speculating on his current weekly spending allowance.

I encountered Sandie Shaw at the Dolce Vita nightclub in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, not many hours after she had won the Eurovision song contest with Puppet On A String. She was bubbly champagne bottled in a human frame.

Marianne Faithfull was also interviewed in Newcastle. Myself and another reporter sat either side of her bed in a room at the Royal Turk's Head hotel. She was lying on the bed, wearing the miniest of mini skirts. Marianne rang for room service, ordering, as I recall, an orange juice, a mineral water and a glass of wine. "I always order my drinks in threes," she announced blithely. "When they arrive I decide which one I want to drink."

The questioning went on for a long while. We almost got around to asking her whether she preferred her eggs scrambled or fried.

Any excuse to stay a few moments longer. Marianne was, and is, a most attractive lady. My colleague and I were reluctant to leave the room.

Then there was the occasion when I was in charge of the Evening Chronicle's news desk, and a young reporter came wandering in three hours late. "So where have you been?" I demanded hotly.

"Playing snooker with Billy Fury," he said. "In Consett Working Men's Club. Thought I could get something out of him to write a good feature."

He did too.

I saw the Icons Of Pop exhibition at Sheffield City Art Gallery. Dozens of imaginative LP covers were also on display. Records were played from the various ages of rock as the perfect accompaniment to the display.

A visitors' book contained dozens of comments from interested and enthusiastic viewers. "Why can't people have hair like Ian Brown and Liam Gallagher any more?" was one plaintive plea.

"I remember going out in one set of clothes and changing into a completely different outfit behind a tree then going on to a John Mayall concert. Great music," Caroline reported.

"Fab!" said a third, expressing succinct delight.

"Woo-hoo! Cliff is the definitive British pop icon," said another. "Long live the Knight!"

"Oh to be 21 again," was a profound cry from the heart of one person to view the exhibition.

If only ...

Ah well! I'm glad I was 21 when rock 'n' roll was newborn.

Sir Cliff, now in his 60s, is still pounding out the beat. Could it be that rock music is an elixir?
And old rockers don't just fade away. They simply turn up the volume.


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