When PP Arnold arrived in London on September 23, 1966 to support The Rolling Stones as one of Ike & Tina Turner’s backing singers, The Ikettes, little did she know that her world was about to be turned upside down. The shy but vivacious 19-year-old caught the eye of Mick Jagger, who would persuade her to stay in London and record as a solo artist – ultimately leading to a five-decade career working with everyone from Jagger, the Small Faces, Rod Stewart, Barry Gibb and Eric Clapton, to Nick Drake, Peter Gabriel, Roger Waters, the KLF, Paul Weller, Ocean Colour Scene and Primal Scream, to name a few.
“I met Mick on a day-off at the end of that tour and we went for a walk in Regent’s Park,” explains PP (born Patricia Ann Cole and known off-stage as ‘Pat’). “We’d become close friends. Mick told me that The Rolling Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, wanted to sign me as a solo artist to his label, Immediate Records.” Within a few months, PP was at Number 18 in the UK charts with her first single, ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’, written by Cat Stevens. “That song was my story, all my pain was in there,” she says.
The “pain” in question relates to PP’s abusive teen marriage in Los Angeles, which – while being far from the last heartache she’d ever experience – was the catalyst for her joining The Ikettes. “I never planned to be in the record industry,” she says. “I was just a young woman who sang gospel in church. God answered a prayer, and the next thing I knew, I was at Tina Turner’s house singing ‘Dancing In The Street’. I’d just gone there with a friend who was trying out for them. But Tina liked my voice and gave me a way out of the horrible life I was living. It gave me a way to support my two children.”
PP hit the road, playing 90-date tours on the Chitlin Circuit with Ike and Tina. “I was young and shy, and wasn’t very worldly. It was gruelling but I loved singing with Tina, who was such a strong inspiration for me. I always enjoyed the girly time with Tina and The Ikettes in the dressing room before the show. Performing on-stage with her was always exciting and exhilarating! The musical side of working with the entire Ike & Tina Turner Revue remains a dynamic highlight of my career.”
It was only after careful consideration that the singer decided to take up Andrew Oldham’s invitation to sign with his ultra-hip Immediate label, and leave her two children in the care of her parents. A string of timeless singles followed, including ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’, ‘(If You Think You’re) Groovy’ and ‘Angel Of The Morning’, plus two iconic LPs, ‘The First Lady Of Immediate’ (1967) and ‘Kafunta’ (1968).
By this time, the singer had been taken under the wing of another black American artist who’d managed to bowl up in London at the height of the Swinging Sixties. “I first met Jimi Hendrix at the Bag O’Nails club,” recalls PP. “My guitar player said there’s this American guy in the audience, he wants to come up and jam with you on-stage. I could see this brother, surrounded by women, wild hair (laughs). He came on for the second set and blew us away! By chance, he lived in Montagu Square behind where I lived. He was like a support system to me, like a brother looking after me. I was shy. He would tell me, ‘You’ve gotta go with the experience!’ He knew the culture I came from.”
It was while PP was contracted to Immediate that she first encountered Rod Stewart, with whom she recorded the song Come Home Baby, with Mick Jagger producing. “Mick thought Rod and I could be an Otis Redding-Carla Thomas type [soul duet] thing. That was Mick’s idea, Rod didn’t even have a deal then.” But it was PP’s connection with the Small Faces, via a romance with vocalist Steve Marriott, that would truly enhance her already sizeable musical reputation, most notably via her ripping soul backing vocals on their 1968 hit ‘Tin Soldier’. It was, she says, a reflection of the “great vibes” she felt in the company of the Faces and their charismatic frontman.
“Steve was cheeky and fun-loving,” she laughs. “He was gifted too, a multi-talented singer, songwriter, musician. He was an amazing guitar player and to me, he was the best British male vocalist of the era. We always had a great vibe together. People said he was heavy and they couldn’t deal with his energy, but I was always quite full on energy-wise too. We loved singing together. We had like a brother-sister vibe, same as Mick and Jimi.”
When Immediate Records went bust in 1969, PP was left without a deal and manager, or the confidence to search for a new label. Help came soon after in the guise of The Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb, who was suffering a similar bumpy comedown to the end of the ’60s. “Both Barry and I were at a crossroads. I was totally lost after Immediate and searching for my own identity. The Bee Gees had just split up, a big feud between the brothers, but Barry wanted to keep working in the studio. He’d heard my version of The Bee Gees’ ‘To Love Somebody’ on ‘Kafunta’ and he liked it. So we started work on an album.”
But after nailing several covers and Gibb originals, Bee Gees manager Robert Stigwood pressured Barry into re-joining his brothers for another record. “I didn’t have much confidence in myself back then,” says PP, “but while I was working with Barry I thought, Maybe I’m as good as they say I am! (Laughs) Then The Bee Gees got back together and my record was put on hold.”
The sessions with Gibb set the pattern for the next two decades of PP’s career, when projects would get shelved for reasons beyond the singer’s control. A case in point was a May 1970 session produced by Eric Clapton, using his fellow Delaney & Bonnie band members drummer Jim Gordon, bassist Carl Radle and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock. “Those were in effect the first recordings by Derek & The Dominos,” explains the singer. “We did Traffic’s ‘Medicated Goo’, Van Morrison’s ‘Brand New Day’ and the Stones’ ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’. They sounded really good, but were never released.
Once again PP was left without a record to re-launch her solo career, though nearly five decades later the Clapton sessions were collected together with the unreleased Barry Gibb material for PP’s ‘The Turning Tide’ compilation, released on Steve Cradock’s Kundalini Music label in 2017.
Desperate for work, the singer turned to theatre work, appearing in the West End musical Catch My Soul, and also singing on the original album recording of Jesus Christ Superstar. “I enjoyed doing something different, but [in the theatre] they want you to do the same thing every night,” she says. “I’m a soul singer, so I don’t sing a song the same way every time, or I get bored. So I was always getting notes from the producer… (laughs).”
Moving back to Los Angeles, PP had teamed up with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s bass player, Fuzzy Samuel, and together they formed a band called Axis (the name a tribute to Jimi Hendrix), which made lots of recordings that, once again, were never released. Together PP and Fuzzy had a son, Calvin Kodzo, aka Kojo, who would grow up to be a successful producer/composer/musical director, working with artists such as Jesse Glynne, Rita Ora, Rudimental, Jessie J, Plan B, Sugarbabes and Tinchy Stryder, as well as now contributing to ‘The New Adventures Of PP Arnold’.
But, just weeks after PP and Fuzzy split in the mid-70s, the singer suffered the loss of Debbie, her daughter from her first marriage, in a car accident. The experience, understandably, “devastated me,” says PP. “I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Help came in 1978 in the guise of none other than Barry Gibb, who invited PP to the LA premiere of The Bee Gees ill-starred ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearst Club Band’ movie, then suggested they finish the album they started all those years ago. But once again, PP’s chance to make a solo comeback ebbed away.
“I went to Miami where The Bee Gees were based to finish the album with Barry,” PP explains. “But then I got caught up in another feud among the brothers! Everybody wanted to work with Barry then, and without proper management my album fell by the wayside.” Barry’s recording of his younger brother Andy and PP duetting on the Goffin/King classic ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ did appear on Andy Gibb’s ‘Greatest Hits’ album in 1980, however.
PP returned to London in the early ’80s, where she recorded a version of The Staple Singers’ Respect Yourself with electro pop act the Kane Gang, which became a UK and Australian chart hit. (“I was channelling my inner Mavis Staples, I loved her voice”). This return to the limelight was followed by a role in Starlight Express; the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical performed entirely on roller-skates. PP believes it was the subsequent muscular strength in her legs that made what happened next less catastrophic than it could have been: while rehearsing for a tour with Billy Ocean, she was involved in freak road accident.
“I was hooking up the leads to jump-start my car one morning and my spirit told me to turn round,” she recalls, “and there was a car coming straight at me. It crushed me between the two bumpers. I couldn’t work for a while after that.”
An invitation to sing backing vocals on Peter Gabriel’s worldwide smash ‘Sledgehammer’ got PP’s voice back into the charts, after which she “ended up doing a lot of jingles – Alton Towers, Kellogg’s… that’s how I met The Beatmasters, because they were a jingle production company. Then they got into house music. I said, House music, what’s house music? As long as it’s funky! We collaborated on [the 1988 hit] Burn It Up, which was structured more like a traditional song. I was the only live thing on the track. We’d go and do gigs and everyone was miming except me. And, everyone had a record deal except me. I couldn’t get a look in.”
The singer’s dim view of the music industry wasn’t improved when she felt inadequately remunerated for her vocals on the KLF’s recordings, only to see them set fire to a million pounds in cash. But by the ’90s, her star was in the ascendant again, thanks to the intense re-interest in the Small Faces and Immediate catalogue in the wake of Britpop, and the unalloyed admiration of artists such as Paul Weller, Ocean Colour Scene – whose duet record with PP, It’s A Beautiful Thing, reached Number 12 in the UK charts in 1998 – and Primal Scream.
“I connected with Primal Scream through the Small Faces tribute album [‘Long Agos And Worlds Apart’], and that’s when I came into Paul Weller’s vibration,” PP explains. “I wasn’t here in the UK when The Jam were big. So I now found all those guys who liked what we did in the ’60s. That was a very good feeling, it was great! You think everyone has forgotten about you, out of sight out of mind. But Northern Soul and the Mods and the indie thing, that helped keep the vibe alive.”
For the first decade of the new century, PP was kept busy by Roger Waters’ ‘In The Flesh’ and ‘Dark Side Of The Moon Live’ world tours, before Steve Cradock got in touch in 2015 to say he’d rediscovered demos that he and the singer had made in the mid-’90s. This led to the idea for ‘The New Adventures Of PP Arnold’ album (a double LP, no less), the making of which involving PP travelling from her home in southern Spain to Cradock’s studio near Totnes, Devon, for several week-long vocal sessions, in between which Steve worked on producing and recording the backing tracks.
The record – spanning emotive orchestral soul, sunshine pop, house music, an epic, edgy reading of Bob Dylan’s poem ‘The Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie’, two Paul Weller original compositions and an extraordinary, soulful elegy to the singer’s lost daughter Debbie, recorded with a choir and pipe organ in Exeter Cathedral – finally represents the truly magnificent album that fate denied PP in the decades following her solo success on Immediate in the late ’60s.
“I’ve got to thank Steve for pulling this record together,” concludes PP. “It’s soul music, really, I can’t get away from my gospel roots. My whole sound, my soul and expression is coming through my spirit. I’m a vehicle, God gave me a gift. I’m a gospel singer. Making this album now is destiny.”
Pat Gilbert, MOJO magazine, 2019
‘The New Adventures Of… P.P. Arnold’ is out via earMUSIC on August 9th (CD, Double LP Vinyl, Digital Download/Stream)
Manchester M1 6DD