Written by Daniel Stad
Cliff first started expressing himself musically when he started studying piano at the tender age of 8. Despite having a piano teacher who was more interested in the neighborhood gossip than producing a child prodigy, Cliff managed to make it through to completing Grade 8 Royal Conservatory Piano and took on a couple students at 15.
In his teens, Cliff's walls were covered with pages from Smash Hits Magazine of lyrics of Brit-pop bands such as Depeche Mode, Tears For Fears, and the Eurythmics. Hours and hours spent listening to music in his room fostered his dream of one day having his very own pop band. This fascination first began after spending a crazy summer in the UK with his unconventional gran back in 1981.
Cliff started playing alto sax in high school and in 1984 joined a concert band playing bari sax where he had the opportunity once again to go to England for 3 weeks, competing with bands from around the world. Certainly it wasn't easy being a lanky lad playing baritone sax in a marching band, but it was a small price to pay to have another opportunity to be in the land such cool music was coming out of.
In his early twenties, Cliff bought a keyboard, sampler and sequencer and started composing world/classical inspired instrumentals. During this time he had his first paid gig, composing music for a documentary about the Koran entitled 'The Signature of the Creator'. Cliff struggled to break free of the rigidity of his classical training and after answering an ad in the local free entertainment weekly hooked up with a guitarist, Spencer Toyne, who was a student enrolled in Capilano College's jazz program. Their first project together involved composing an instrumental entitled 'Ethnic Jungle' which got airplay on CBC's Brave New Waves. Though Cliff was not jazz-trained, working with Spencer helped him develop his own style as a keyboardist and soon they started writing songs together with Spencer taking on the role of composer and Cliff the role of lyricist. Cliff and Spencer formed a duo called Chartreuse, made a three-song demo of cool, melodic jazz/pop and started gigging around Vancouver eventually becoming a trio with the addition of a lead female vocalist, the blues/r&b infused Clare O' Callaghan.
In 1996, musically the direction changed after Cliff started getting into the martini lounge scene that was hot and happening at the Waldorf Hotel in Vancouver. It was at this time Cliff and Spencer went their separate ways and with the Julie Andrews-infused Janet Thornton, Red Velvet Swing was formed. This was also a time when Cliff really developed his chops as a singer and started to find the inner voice with the help of opera singer/vocal coach Bremner Duthie. Often mistaken for a swing band, actually the name came from a 16-year-old, Evelyn Nesbit, who would often ride this opulent red velvet swing in the nude while her pervy 48-year-old boyfriend, Stanford White, lay underneath drooling over her.
In 1999 the duo evolved into a 4 piece with the addition of Shaun Warder on bass and Wayne Turone on drums and they released a CD entitled 'Paramours' in the fall of that same year. With 'Paramours' they had developed a cool-retro lounge sound that was designed to capture audiences who truly appreciated swooning harmonies, refined grooves and intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics. Needless to say, the people who came to hear a swing band were sometimes less than pleased.
In 2001, Red Velvet Swing disbanded after enjoying many successes including winning a semi-final position on VTV's Dreamseekers as well as a featured spot on CBC radio's afternoon show for a province-wide food bank fundraiser. Cliff continued writing and gigging as a solo performer and in that same year RVS and himself had their songs featured on a compilation CD entitled 'The Beautiful EP' available at gallerylounge.com.
Working with former Red Velvet Swinger, bassist/producer/engineer Shaun Warder, Cliff redefined his sound once again with the addition of electronic beats and a greater sense of intimacy, both lyrically and vocally. Cliff is now in the process of recording his first solo CD which is set for release in the summer of 2007. He plans to tour this CD extensively both in Canada and Japan where he has made lots of connections over the past five years as an ESL teacher here in Vancouver.
His path is now clear as he embarks on this scintillating new chapter of his music career.
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