PP Arnold: An Interview with the 60s Soul Queen

The first lady of Immediate Records, PP Arnold talks about life in the Mod scene and working with everyone from The Small Faces to Bobby Gillespie.
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The first lady of Immediate Records, PP Arnold talks about life in the Mod scene and working with everyone from The Small Faces to Bobby Gillespie.
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Best remembered for her Sixties hits ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’ and ‘Angel Of The Morning’, and her perennial northern soul favourite ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’, American soul singer PP Arnold first arrived in England in 1966 as one of the Ikettes, backing vocalists to Ike and Tina Turner’s touring revue. Remaining in England to pursue a solo career once the tour had finished, she was soon billed as the First Lady of Immediate Records, working with Mick Jagger and The Nice, and regularly performing with the Small Faces, most noticeably on their hit single ‘Tin Soldier’ and on her own Marriott/Lane-penned ‘(If You Think You’re) Groovy’.

She subsequently worked with Barry Gibb but a planned third solo album produced by the Bee Gee failed to materialize, even when he resurrected the idea in America in the late Seventies. Despite working with artists such as Eric Clapton and Roger Waters, and remaining a sought after guest vocalist and backing singer, her dreams of further solo hits came to nothing. As a guest artist she reached the charts with the Kane Gang in 1984, the Beatmasters in 1988 and Ocean Colour Scene ten years later, but a proposed album produced by OCS’s Steve Craddock yielded just a cover version of Mike Nesmith’s ‘A Different Drum’ before the project was shelved.

Other collaborations have included a cover version of the Small Faces’ ‘Understanding’ backed by Primal Scream and a recently well-received album of duets with Dr Robert of the Blow Monkeys, which testifies to the continuing power of her voice. She still has plenty to say, too.

When did you first visit England?

I first came in 1966 with Ike and Tina Turner to do a tour with the Rolling Stones. While I was here Mick Jagger and I became pretty close friends and I was invited to stay in England and record as a solo artist by Andrew Loog Oldham, who owned Immediate Records.

How did you find the English music fans?

It was incredible. We were really amazed at the English and how much they knew about soul music and its history. We had been playing the Chitlin’ Circuit in the States and east coast theatres like The Apollo and The Howard and theatres like The Uptown in Philly but we hadn’t started playing arenas. The first gig that we did in England was at the Albert Hall and that was quite amazing – everybody went pretty wild about it.

“It was a big deal as we were playing with the Stones, who were just huge, but ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ had been a big hit in England so everybody was there to see Ike and Tina Turner too. Some clips of ‘The TAMI Show’ had been shown so people had a glimpse of the revue that we did with Ike and Tina, with all the high-energy dance routines. So they we ready for us when we got here.

Were you expecting that kind of reception?

We didn’t have a clue what to expect. We were just excited about coming to England. My knowledge of London was from the horror movies, all the Hammer films – you know, foggy London and all of that. I came here pretty open for whatever was going to happen – I think Ike and Tina did too because it was their first time coming to Europe so it was a big deal for everybody.

It was the white British artists that really opened the door for black American artists to move into a whole different arena of crossover acceptance.

What were your first impressions of England?

It was trendy and fashion was happening. We went wild about the clothes because we were very fashion-conscious and it was the beginning of mini-skirts. We weren’t wearing skirts that short in the States yet, if I remember correctly – it was before Ike and Tina went X-rated because we were quite hip but a little demure. We used to wear the sheet dresses with the go-go boots but it was still wasn’t the mini-skirts. The first thing we did when we arrived was to get the fashions because it was really hip in London: Mary Quant, Quorum, Granny Takes A Trip, the Kings Road, Carnaby Street, High Street Kensington – we just wore it out.

After leaving the Ikettes you stayed in England and during your early solo career you were very associated with the Small Faces and their singer Steve Marriott.

The Small Faces were cool and had the look. They were just like my brothers back home, real dapper. I didn’t realize that it was called the mod scene at first but it was new and I got with it straight away. The guys were all very dressed up – the suits, the white shirts and the white socks. It was what we called the Ivy League look and it was the way we dressed to go to school back home.

I was very much a part of the scene here. I never considered myself to be a mod or anything like that but the mods were into soul music – and I was soul music! I related to the whole scene because of the music and the fashion, but I never rode on a scooter. In fact, I don’t even remember Steve riding on a scooter in those days, as he was riding around in a Bentley if I can remember correctly. They were into Mini Coopers big time too – the Stones, the Faces, Immediate. I guess that’s why Immediate went bankrupt. It was a real high fashion, high rolling time.

For your solo recordings with Immediate, Andrew Loog Oldham wanted to position you between the progressive pop of the British bands and the soul of your roots.

And with a progressive pop production – the production was very English even though my style was a very gospel soul/pop. Andrew was a big fan of Phil Spector and the girl groups of that time, such as The Ronettes and all of the Motown stuff. It was so camp but they were into that whole scene. We were just really in sync on both sides of the water through soul music and through blues… like that whole thin line between the rockers and the mods. It was a thin line – I mean people don’t really relate to the Stones as being mods for some reason but they were very dapper in an Edwardian sort of way. Mick was very mod and very sharp in terms of fashion and Brian was great – he was very mod as well.

Was there any resentment from your contemporaries that these white British rock bands had reinvented black American soul and R&B?

No, the British bands were great. They were all great musicians and they had taken the music and created their own sound with it. It was the white British artists that really opened the door for black American artists to move into a whole different arena of crossover acceptance. In the States it wasn’t the same – in the States Tina wasn’t played on white stations and after she did the stuff with Phil Spector she wasn’t played on black stations either. When we came here it was Tina’s first taste of the whole crossover scene.

Steve Marriot wrote ‘Afterglow Of Your Love’ for you – but then decided it was too good to giveaway and he let you record ‘(If You Think You’re) Groovy’ instead.

'Afterglow’ still has special place for me and I really wanted to record it but it was his song and ‘Groovy’ was cool too, I was into ‘Groovy’. Steve and I were really good mates.

You lived with Ron Wood for a while in the Sixties.

No, Ron Wood lived with me in MY house. He and his girlfriend Chrissy stayed at my house for a while. We were mates – this was before everyone became superstars and celebrities. ‘Woody’ stayed with me in about 1967 because I had been here for a year and I’d had a hit with ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’ and then I went back to the States and got my kids. He lived with me in a house with my kids.

Your first solo single after leaving the Ikettes was ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’, which later became a big northern soul tune.

I didn’t know about that until I came back from America years later. I left England in the Seventies, once again to go halfway across the world to make a record that didn’t happen for whatever politics. I came back in 1982 and found out there’d been this whole northern soul scene and that ‘Everything’s Going To Be Alright’ had been really popular and people were paying like thirty quid for the single. It was quite incredible but I wasn’t around when the whole scene was in its heyday.

When I was away you always think that when you’re out of sight you’re out of mind. I just thought that people had forgotten about me. I recorded stuff that Eric Clapton produced after the tour I did with him, and I also hooked up with this guy called Fuzzy Samuels, who had played bass with Crosby, Stills and Nash, and we tried to do a Seventies fusion thing. When I look back, even though I was into that music, it was far too progressive for what was going on at the time. I was really lost as far as direction was concerned – that strong direction I had with Immediate and with Andrew Oldham, and even the period just afterwards working with Barry Gibb. EMI had wanted me to do a punk thing but I really couldn’t relate to that and then after I lost my daughter in a car accident I was just lost for a while.

Shortly after returning to the UK in the early Eighties you were back in the charts, singing with the Kane Gang.

Yes, I did that Staple Singers track ‘Respect Yourself’ with the Kane Gang. It was a hit but I didn’t even get a credit for that, even though people knew it was me – I pretended to be Mavis Staples for them. It was a great track but people don’t want to give up and share the profits. Even with ‘It’s A Beautiful Thing’, that was supposed to be a joint duet with Ocean Colour Scene and to a degree sometimes I was given that credit and sometimes I wasn’t. I certainly wasn’t rewarded on a monetary level for it, so everybody is having their hits but they don’t have time to scratch my back as well.

Your work with Ocean Colour Scene took you back in the charts in 1998 but that didn’t prove to be a springboard for your career, even though you got to release the impressive ‘A Different Drum’ as a solo single.

The thing with me is that I always end up working with producers who are artists as well, so it tends to become a conflict of interests. When people are having their own problems, then you’re not the priority any more. In all fairness to Steve Craddock, he was having lots of difficulty with his camp and people were not happy about the time he was spending with me. I went through similar situations in the Sixties after Immediate when I was working with Barry Gibb and the Bee Gees were having problems. When something like that sets in, you’re the first to go on the waiting list. Steve and I did a lot of pre-production on that stuff and it’s a pity that it wasn’t done. It was good and it could have been great, but once again it was the politics of bands – and working with a producer who was in a band that were having problems.

I think this business is all about timing and even though I’ve managed to stay here, and although I know there’s that love for me and that respect for me from the fans and from other artists, the politics of the business gets in the way. A lot of people just give up but I guess I’m too hard headed. I’m a singer and that’s what I do.

You have remained an in-demand guest vocalist, featuring on recordings by the Beatmasters, KLF, Alter-8, Oasis and Roger Waters, to name just a few.

Working with everybody was great but it was unfortunate that I didn’t get a chance to represent myself from a solo point of view during all those collaborations. That’s the whole point of collaborating, but politics always gets in the way. I didn’t really get the total solo respect and opportunities that I felt that I deserved.

You also recorded a cover version of the Small Faces’ ‘Understanding’ with Bobby Gillespie and Primal Scream, which was released under the name PP and The Primes.

That was cool, recording ‘Understanding’, and we hung out together too – well, up until the point where everyone gets wasted. Once everybody gets wasted I cannot understand a word they’re saying because their accents are so think. But once again people are doing their own thing and I’m working with producers who are in their own bands. That just doesn’t work for me. I need to find somebody to produce me who does just that – who produces.

You’ve also worked with Paul Weller.

I didn’t work directly with Paul. Basically with Paul I just jammed and did some gigs. Paul’s never seemed to be interested in working with me as a solo artist, even though he was quite supportive of the Steve Craddock productions that never took place in the end. I was going to record one of Paul’s songs in those sessions.

As someone who knew Steve Marriot so well, it must be strange to work with artists such as Paul Weller and Steve Craddock who have been so influenced by him.

Yeah, they’ve based their whole career on the music from that time and all the influences are coming from that music and that time. But there’s a saying: clothes don’t always make the man. You know what I mean? Steve Marriot was Steve Marriot… and Paul Weller and Steve Craddock, I know they’re greatly influenced by Steve Marriot, but they’re very different in a lot of ways.

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