Monday 3 August 2015

Vale: Cilla Black

To many Beatles' fans, Cilla Black was often caught in our peripheral vision. A fellow Liverpudlian who floated on the edge of the Beatles' story.

Cilla was, as has been noted many times, a cloak-girl at the Cavern Club. Occasionally she would jump on stage and sing with local bands. With The Beatles, of course, but more commonly with Gerry and the Pacemakers and Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes. It was only her father's reluctance to sign the contracts that prevented her from going to Hamburg with Kingsize Taylor and his band in 1962. Around this time she started dating Bobby Willis, an up and coming songwriter. For a short time Willis managed her, booking some gigs.

In September 1963, with the Beatles well on their way to world domination, Brian Epstein became her manager. Lennon had introduced them, and encouraged Epstein to sign her. When Epstein's stable of artists became too large for him to personally manage on his own, he kept only two artists for himself: The Beatles and Cilla. The others he passed on to assistants within NEMS.

Her first single, Love of the Loved, was a Lennon-McCartney original and was produced by George Martin at Abbey Road. Although she saw herself as a rocker, it was with orchestral ballads that Black went on to have a couple of number one hits in the 60s, including the theme to the movie, Alfie. In all, she recorded seven albums with Martin at the helm.

By 1967, music was changing. Black's musical style had fallen from popularity. Epstein saw her future career was limited and was smart enough to engineer her future in television, tragically only days prior to his death. Although resistant at first, she soon warmed to the idea and became a mainstay on British screens.

Willis, who was now her husband, had given up his career so Black could focus on hers. He took control of her management once more and, driven by her determination to succeed and her work ethic, she continued to rise in popularity. For four decades she was the queen of British television.

In 1968, Cilla recorded another Lennon-McCartney original, Step Inside Love, as the theme to her own television show.

Her relationship with the Beatles continued into the 70s and 80s. She attended John and Yoko's film premiere at Cannes (for Erection) along with George and Ringo, both of whom also wrote songs intended for her.

In 2014 a mini-series entitled Cilla, a bio-picture of her early musical career, aired to public and critical acclaim. Not only did it document her rise to fame and her relationship with Willis and Epstein, it also captured 60s Liverpool in all its grittiness. The Beatles appear throughout as part of the tale. Cilla considered the show to be an accurate portrayal.

Last night, in Spain, she passed away.

Overnight Ringo tweeted, "I just heard the news Cilla black has left us she was a good friend we will all miss her peace to Cilla peace and love to the family R&B xxx." [sic] McCartney also made a statement. "Such a shock to hear about Cilla’s passing. She was a lovely girl who infected everyone with her great spirit. From first meeting her as a cloakroom girl at the Cavern in Liverpool, to seeing her many times since, she always had a fun loving dignity that made her a great pleasure to be around. She had a fine distinctive voice and was always a bit of a laugh. It was a privilege to know and love her."

Although largely unknown outside the U.K., her involvement in the story of Beatles was deeper than many would have realised.

She was 72.

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