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Soul Legend P. P. Arnold Tells Tootal Blog About Her New Album, 50 Years In The Making

P. P. Arnold arrived in England as an Ikette with the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, and was spotted by Mick Jagger who convinced Andrew Loog Oldham to sign her to his Immediate record label. Several hits followed, the best-known being  ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’, ‘Angel Of The Morning’ and ‘(If You Think You’re) Groovy’. P. P. was one of the iconic faces of London’s Swinging 60’s.

She has collaborated, recorded and toured alongside such luminaries as The Rolling Stones, Small Faces, with her own band, The Nice led by Keith Emerson, Jimi Hendrix, Rod Stewart, Barry Gibb, Eric Clapton, Humble Pie, Nick Drake, Peter Gabriel, Roger Waters, Ocean Colour Scene, Primal Scream, The KLF, Dr. Robert, Oasis, Paul Weller… the list goes on and on.

In 2017 P. P. Arnold finally gets to release an album started almost 50 years ago. Largely written and produced by the Bee Gees Barry Gibb, it also includes contributions from Eric Clapton, Jagger and Richards, Steve Winwood and Van Morrison.

Tootal Blog spoke to her as she prepares to set out on a U.K. tour in October.

Tell us something about your life in London in 1968?

50 Years In The Making: The Turning Tide on glorious red vinyl.

Well, in 1968 it was actually great. I was living in Clarendon Road in one of the brand new townhouses, in Holland Park. Everybody used to come and visit me there. Ronnie Wood and his girlfriend, Chrissie, lived there for a while; it was just a great, great time.

I had two kids already so I didn’t party as much as everybody else. I was working, if anything. And 1968 is when I met Barry Gibb, as well. All the recordings with Barry started during that period.

And Jim Morris and I got married in 1968. That was the end of ’68, ‘cause I moved to Surrey. Very stupidly, we rented this Georgian manor house in Tilford, between Guildford and Farnham. Eighteen rooms… crazy. We paid 30 Guineas a week for it and it cost about 100 Quid a week to heat. It was a very stupid thing to do but it was great while it lasted.

We had to move out; we only lived there for about 8 months, then we came back to London and lived in Pimlico. I was doing all the pre-production and recordings of The Turning Tide. That was the beginning of my artistic struggle really; of finding where I was going

How does an album like The Turning Tide, with such an array of talent, stay buried for so long?

The music industry is a weird business. Once you get put on the shelf, you stay on the shelf, unless you fight to get off. I never gave up on that work because it documents a part of my life, and my development when I was actually searching for my own identity, of who I was as an artist.

Nobody knew what to do with me. Robert Stigwood was my manager; he didn’t like the recording. I was this “Pop Girl” from the Immediate days, and they weren’t supporting my development.

The song ‘Bury Me Down By The River’ was released as a single in 1969. Did it do anything at the time?

P. P. Arnold: A small sample of an enormous musical legacy.

It didn’t get the attention it probably could have got if my management had been behind it. And ‘Bury Me Down By The River’ is a funny song for me; as beautiful as it is, I always felt that the lyric for me wasn’t positive. I got buried for a long time after that. As a singer you have to be careful about what we sing, words are powerful things. I didn’t have another record out for years.

You’ve appeared on hundreds of recordings yet this will only be the fourth album bearing your name. Is that a source of frustration?

Yes it is frustrating but black artists always have a struggle, don’t they? I think if I was a British artist or a white artist with all the credibility I have behind my name, it would be a different story. And I’m just saying it; I don’t like to hide behind any of that, it’s just a fact.

Were you tempted to go to America and try signing to a label over there?

I went to America in 1975 and it was the worst thing that I did. America is not a place to go to find a record deal. It’s very difficult to have records out if you don’t have management, if you don’t have a record label, if you don’t have a support system behind you. Today it’s easier. I manage to survive as an independent artist because of the internet. Having my own Facebook page, and my own website. Marketing and promoting and letting people know what you do. Back in those pre-internet days if you didn’t have a record out people just thought you were dead.

This is a crazy business, you know, but it is the music BUSINESS. I’ve learnt how to survive and I just keep singing. And I have a lot of fans; they have been so loyal, so supportive, you know, so I’m one of the lucky ones. Whether you like it or not, you have to get involved in “The Business”. And the record industry is male dominated; they’re not too keen on doing business with women.

You’re best known for your performances of other people’s songs but you have written your own material. Is that something you would like to have done more of?

Well I have written a lot, I’ve got bags full of songs. When I was with Ten Records (mid-Eighties) I was encouraged not to write. They did not want me to write. Steve Lewis, who was head of Virgin Music, told me they were signing me so their writers could have me singing their songs. They weren’t promoting me as a writer. He actually said to me, “Why do you want to write songs? You’ve got a great voice”. I thought I want to write songs ‘cause that’s where the money is, in publishing. As a singer you’re on an artist royalty, it’s WAY not as much money as owning the song. It’s the writers who get paid.

Did you work with Barry Gibb again in the ‘70s on an Andy Gibb record?

P. P. Arnold (Centre) with the Small Faces (L to R): Ian McLagen, Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane and Kenney Jones

Yes, I worked with Barry again. I hoped Barry and I were going to be able to finish my album but he was busy, he had a lot going on. It didn’t happen but we did the duet with Andy; that was the only thing.

I’m sure you know that you are revered by Mods, and not just for your own work. You are the only living person who can claim to have played with both the Small Faces and Paul Weller.

That’s my audience. I always say Paul is the Modfather and I’m the Modmother. I am so humbled by the love I get from the fans. I’m just loved up.

What were your musical influences growing up?

I’ve been singing Gospel from the time I was four years old. Then, of course, as a teenager; Motown, Stax, Atlantic, you know… all that music of the Sixties, all that West Coast stuff; The Ronettes, Phil Spector, Blossoms…

And how did your career in music start?

Ike Turner (L) with Ikette P. P. Arnold and Tina Turner

It wasn’t an ambition of mine to be a professional singer. Never, never thought about it. It called me. It came from a prayer. I asked God to show me a way out of an abusive marriage that I was in and I ended up being an Ikette. Without ever having a desire to be, it wasn’t an ambition of mine to be an Ikette.

Ike and Tina had two sets of Ikettes. One went on the road with the Dick Clark tours and the other set worked with the Revue. The girls that went with the Revue, Robbie (Montgomery), Jessie (Smith) and Venetta Fields, who also later worked with Humble Pie, they were leaving ‘cause they had their own record out and Ike Turner wouldn’t let them be independent. So they changed their name to The Mirettes, and they had their own hits on the Mirwood label.

I had a phone call, from a girl named Maxine Smith and a girl named Gloria Scott – they called me and said they were going to this audition to be Ikettes. They need a girl to go with them to help them get the gig. “Come with us”. BAM! Put the phone down, didn’t give me a chance to say “No”, showed up at the door. I lied and told my husband I was going shopping. Next thing I know I’m at Ike and Tina’s house singing background on ‘Dancing In The Street’. Tina goes, “Right, girls, you’ve got the gig”. And I go, like, “No, not me. I can’t go. I’m in big trouble. My husband’s gonna beat me when I get back. I should have been home two hours ago”. So, Tina said, “Well, if you’re going to get beat for nothing you might as well go up to Fresno with us and at least see the gig”.

I just went along because my life was miserable. I never did anything. I was still just a young girl but I had two kids already. So, I went to the gig, saw the gig, came home, my husband’s waiting for me, punched me in the head, “knocked some sense into me”. I had asked God to show me a way out and suddenly I have a way out. So, that’s how I came to get into show business. I never planned it. At all.

You’re best known as a Soul singer but you’ve sung Folk music – you did the Sandy Denny tribute shows – and on stage for Andrew Lloyd Webber. Do you change your style when you do other types of music?

Well, of course you do. You change to the music; the song’s about melody. I love doing different styles of music; I love being challenged. The thing that doesn’t change is my sound; I have a very distinctive sound. I’m known for Gospel or as a Soul singer but I can sing Hardcore Rhythm & Blues, like on the tracks that Eric Clapton produced. I sing a lot of Rock stuff; I do Musical theatre. The voice is an instrument so whatever it needs to be adapted to, that’s what you do. I like being flexible and I like fusing different styles of music together. I think that’s going to help my longevity in the industry as well. It’s the element of surprise, isn’t it? When they hear you, they think that you’re one thing then suddenly, “Oh, wow, she can do that too”. That’s an asset.

Has clothing style always gone hand in hand with the music for you?

That (Turning Tide) front cover photo, it’s of the times. That’s Granny Takes A Trip there. In those days you didn’t have stylists, you just bought things that you liked and you wore them. All the velvet, and gold braiding and stuff. Then you had all the Mod, Carnaby Street kind of stuff, all the real Dolly Bird looks, with Biba and all the different styles. But now, I hate shopping. My God, I never have time to shop; my life is always hectic. I like colour, old, new; I like vintage stuff but it’s a matter of budget too. You’ve got to have a good eye to find affordable things, ‘cause I’m not in the money yet. I’m not in the chips at the moment.

It seems the next 12 months are going to be very busy for you.

P. P. Arnold with Steve Cradock. A brand new album is due in 2018 (Photo © Karen Allen, 2017)

Yes, I think the next five years, the next ten years. I’m trying to stay healthy and fit so that I can deal with it. It’s demanding, you know. When things start moving, they’re moving fast. I have a lot of experience in the industry, like being able to do all these interviews, I got a lot to talk about. It’s great, I enjoy it but now the main thing on my mind is I can’t wait to get to rehearsal on Monday. It’s all about the music to me.

We’ve only got five days before the first gig. I’m doing six songs from the new album. These songs, I recorded them but I’ve never performed them live. And I’m doing ‘First Cut’, ‘Angel’, ‘Speak To Me’… I’m doing ‘(If You Think You’re) Groovy’, ‘Everything Is Going To Be Alright’, ‘Natural Woman’ and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Uptight’. And ‘Tin Soldier’ – I think I’ll put that at the end of the set. It’s a pretty demanding set. Even though I’ve been preparing my voice for two months, until you’re with the band you don’t really know what’s happening. I’ll just have to not think about it and know everything’s going to be alright.

I’m using Steve Cradock’s band. I’ve got Tony Coote on drums, Andy Flynn on guitar, Jake Fletcher on bass, a guy named Fred Ansell on keyboards and a lovely girl named Coco Malone is going to be singing backing vocals with Jake.

There’s going to be some limited edition red vinyl available at the gigs, some on the website too but at the gigs I can sign them. Vinyl’s back. I’m back. Full circle.

P. P. Arnold’s new album The Turning Tide is released by Kundalini Music on Friday 6th October 2017. You can order it here https://www.musicglue.com/PP-arnold/

Details of the P. P. Arnold U.K. Tour in October 2017 with The Steve Cradock Band can be found here http://www.pparnold.com/tour-dates/