P.P. Arnold: Exclusive Interview with the Soul Legend as she releases Lost Album
(conducted for Louder Than War by Ian Canty)
P.P.Arnold is a Legend. She is The Voice. The First Lady of Immediate – the Queen of Mod Soul….a singer who has worked with everyone from the Small Faces to the KLF… She had a rollercoaster ride through the 1960’s on both side of the Atlantic, as part of the unbeatable Ike and Tina Turner show and later as a solo artist in her own right recording for the ground-breaking Immediate label. After Andrew Loog Oldham’s imprint folded, she cut an incredibly strong album with Barry Gibb and Eric Clapton which unfortunately never saw the light of day…until now.
Turning Tide, to be released in October 2017, is everything you could wish for, a quite stunning record – the last unreleased great 60s album? For P.P. fans, it’s Christmas come early. So, to celebrate this and the news that she will be back on the road next month to support this release, LTW’s Ian Canty talked to the first lady of Mod Soul…..
LTW: Did you always think that singing would be your vocation?
P.P.: Never ever thought about it.
LTW: Did you sing with any bands before you joined with the Turner show?
P.P.: No. My only experience was singing in the Church choir.
LTW: It must have been a daunting prospect when you had the opportunity to join Ike And Tina Turner as an Ikette…what sort of introduction was that to the world of professional singing?
P.P.: It was, as I’d only gone to the audition to help my friends Maxine Smith and Gloria Scott out. The girl, who was supposed to go with them, let them down.
It was a most incredible introduction, as I had never imagined myself as a professional singer.
LTW: How much work did you have to do on the stagecraft and did this help as preparation for your later work in the theatre?
P.P.: I only had five days to learn their show and I knew nothing outside of singing in the choir.
I guess it did in a way although it was totally different from working in the theatre and as I had no theatre training, once again I was put in the position of learning on the spot and being directed by professionals who believed in me.
LTW: Why did you decide to leave Ike and Tina and stay in the UK?
PP: To be perfectly honest I was fed up with the Ike Turner’s macho violent treatment of women. Although he had no control over me, I had been a victim of spousal abuse in my first teen marriage and I hated the way he treated Tina and his other women who also worked and travelled with the Revue. I had planned to leave the Revue when I returned to the US and when I was presented with the opportunity to stay in the UK and become a solo artist, which I’d never imagined, I decided to stay and see how things would go for me. I had two young children to support and it was quite an opportunity for me.
LTW: I’ve read that Mick Jagger gave you some much need encouragement at the time, how did you meet up with him?
P.P.: Its true Mick gave me a lot of encouragement. I met Mick when I arrived in the UK with Ike and Tina as one of the Ikettes. They were the major support act on the Rolling Stones 1966 UK Tour and Mick and I became close friends.
LTW: Was it through Mick you came into the orbit of Andrew Loog Oldham and sign to his Immediate Records?
P.P.: It was, but Ian Stewart, the Stones road manager was the catalyst that actually planted the seed in Mick and Andrew’s mind.
LTW: What was the feeling around the label, from the outside it seemed like a happening scene?
P.P.: Quite overwhelming for a shy, introverted young black American girl who had never in her wildest dreams thought of being a solo artist in England working in an integrated music scene. I was forced into a teen marriage when I became pregnant at the age of 15 and I’d missed out on having a normal teenage experience, so to find myself in the middle of swinging London in the mid-60’s as the “First Lady Of Immediate Records” was very hip and very happening.
LTW: You worked a lot with the Small Faces around that time; at times you seemed like the 5th Small Face – what was it like working with them?
P.P.: There are so many memories. Traveling together with other Immediate doing live gigs and TV together in Europe. We always had fun, fun and more fun!!! We had a great time working together as label mates and as you know we collaborated together musically as well. I loved recording in the studio with them. Steve Marriott and I had quite a magical connection with one another and it was always a gas to sing and perform with him. I’d have to say that it was this connection with Steve that was at the root of my work with the band.
LTW: Were they very different offstage from their public image?
P.P.: No they were naturally the “cheeky chappy” lads that the public imagined them to be.
LTW: What other artists on Immediate did you work with?
P.P.: I’m sure that you know that “The Nice” were my backing band before they went out on their own. I gave them their name. David Skinner and Andrew Rose of the duo ‘Twice As Nice’ wrote the song Life Is But Nothing on the First Lady album and David Skinner wrote Everything’s Gonna Be Alright with Andrew Oldham. Rod Stewart and I could’ve been the Otis Redding/Carla Thomas duo of the UK if he hadn’t behaved so badly on the ‘Come Home Baby’ recording session that Mick Jagger produced for us.
LTW: How quickly did the Immediate empire come crashing down?
P.P.: For me personally, I had two very productive Immediate Years, 1966-68. The label was formed in 1965 and it all came crashing down in 1969
LTW: When did you first notice things weren’t right there?
P.P.: After the release of my second album Kafunta. My single from that album, Angel Of The Morning suffered from the poor distribution that had also affected my other three single releases. Of course I didn’t understand anything of what was really going on as I had no experience of the behind the scenes politics that were actually going on.
LTW: Who helped you through this difficult time?
P.P.: I was in a relationship with a guy named James Morris and it was Jim who introduced me to Barry Gibb.
Like me, Barry was also at a crossroads as he and his brothers were having a few sibling problems and he wanted to keep recording. I was a big Bee Gees fan and he liked my version of To Love Somebody that I’d recorded on my Kafunta album. It was his idea to produce me at the time.
LTW: As well as being a great songwriter what else did he bring to the recording sessions?
P.P.: He brought his brilliant production skills that he was perfecting and his arranger Bill Shepherd. As well as being a GREAT songwriter his musicality and natural instinct is amazing!!!
LTW: How did Eric Clapton get involved?
P.P.: Barry talked the Bee Gees manager Robert Stigwood into managing me, which Robert did only to keep Barry happy. He was not happy with Barry producing me. He wanted to get the brothers back together, understandably and I was caught in the middle of the politics that was keeping them apart. Robert finally convinced Barry to get back in the studio with his brothers and our project was shelved.
Robert also managed Eric Clapton and arranged for me to be the opening act on Eric’s tour, ‘Eric Clapton, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends’ tour. George Harrison and Billy Preston were friends on that tour as well. After the tour Eric and I went into the studio and he produced the three cover tunes, Medicated Goo, Brand New Day and You Can’t Always Get What You Want with Delaney and Bonnie’s band who later became Eric’s “Derek and The Dominoes”.
LTW: I suppose the obvious question about The Turning Tide is why did it not come out at the time and why has it taken so long to be released?
P.P.: Robert Stigwood wasn’t happy with any of the recordings and they were put on the shelf next to Barry’s productions that he wasn’t happy about either. Robert and I never had a proper artist/management relationship together. He had no idea what to do with me. At that time, I don’t think anybody did. I didn’t even know what to do. I was still trying to work out who I was as an artist and I was lost.
LTW: Given its obvious strength, was that a frustration for you?
P.P.: It was a BIG time frustration for me. I went in the studio with Caleb Quaye searching for my own expression. We produced and recorded two tracks of our own, If This Were My World and Children Of The Last War and those tracks got shelved as well.
LTW: One has to ask after The Turning Tide are there any other treasures lurking around on tape anywhere that are likely to see the light of day?
P.P.: There are quite a few hidden treasures, for all though I was lost I’ve always tried to be productive. It would be great if they all would see the light of day. Some of these treasures are truly lost and I only have rough demos of them but I have some Jazz/Funky work that I’ve done with Chaz Jankel that is also timeless. I’d love for these tracks to be released at some point in time if I’m still around….
LTW: You worked with many artists on sessions through the years, what is your favourite piece of work as a sessioner?
P.P.: Of course the Tin Soldier track is a favourite and The Beatmasters’ Burn It Up and You Make Me Feel were very cool and highlighted me as the lead singer as did my Top 10 hit with O.C.S. It’s A Beautiful Thing. The Perfect Sense track that I did with Roger Waters is mega and I love Sledge Hammer with Peter Gabriel. I also love the Nick Drake song Poor Boy that I did with my good friend Doris Troy. It’s so hard to pick one because as well as being a solo artist, I’m known as one of the UK Session Queens.
LTW: What it was like recording with the KLF?
P.P.: Well, recording with them was fine. As you know I sing the hook on 3am Eternal and Katy Kissoon and I are The Mu Mu Choir, which is on most of their work. The problem that I had and still have with the KLF is that they decided to burn all that money before paying me the royalty promised for my contribution to 3am Eternal. I understand that they’re re-releasing that work and it would be nice if Bill and Jimmy would make amends for the loss of memory that they had at the time. It was a horrible experience!!!
LTW: How did you come to meet and work with Steve Craddock?
P.P.: I was doing a musical at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre called, ‘Once On This Island’ and on the last night of the show I was called to stage door and there stood ‘The Ocean Color Scene’, the whole band with a big bouquet of flowers that they presented to me. They wanted me to come and hang out with them at their studio but it was my last night in Birmingham and I had to pack up and travel to London, so I couldn’t hang with them that evening. They were really lovely! Steve and I exchanged numbers and we just kept in touch. We all did a Small Faces Tribute album together and then Steve called me and asked me to sing Traveller’s Tune with them on TGI Friday and it all developed from there.
LTW: Finally what can we expect from the new album you have in the pipeline and are you looking forward to playing live again?
P.P.: You can expect some great songs that Steve and I have written together, separately and some great songs that Steve has brought to the table from some really great writers. You can also expect two great Paul Weller tunes, possibly a duet with the two of us and a Bob Dylan track that will absolutely amaze you!
I cannot wait to hit the road and it won’t be long now. I’ll be backed by Steve Cradock’s brilliant band: Tony Coote, Andy Flynn, Fred Ansell, Jake Fletcher, and Yasmin Kiddle on BV’s. I hope to see you at one of the shows.
The Turning Tide is an incredible recording and it’s a crying shame it has taken this long to release. PP’s is in wonderful voice throughout and is backed superbly and sympathetically. The material is out of the very top drawer – though it has taken nearly 50 years to emerge, it demands your attention. Pure class indeed and this record and the imminent live shows (which will hopefully incorporate some of these songs as well as P.P.’s other classics) are not to be missed.
The Turning Tide will be released on 6 October 2017
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here