Photo by Laura Kelly
P.P. Arnold isn’t called a soul survivor for nothing. She recently made a comeback with her first album in 50 years, following a long, hard fight, at the age of 73, to get her music career back on track.
In America, she had been an Ikette with Ike & Tina Turner and then moved to London at the height of the Swinging Sixties, where she hung out with Jimi Hendrix, had a sexual awakening among the rockstars of London, and was signed by Mick Jagger to his label, Immediate. She released the hit single First Cut Is The Deepest and two brilliant soul albums. But her third, 1971’s The Turning Tide, which was co-produced by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton, was blocked from being released.
After that, P.P.'s career floundered. She sang with Peter Gabriel, Billy Ocean and The KLF – who burned the money to pay her in their £1million stunt – and appeared in the musical Starlight Express, but musical dead ends danced with tragedy, when she lost her daughter in a car accident. Her solo career never quite got back on track – until she encountered the British mod band Ocean Colour Scene. Steve Cradock from the band helped her finish The Turning Tide and produced her first new album in 50 years, The New Adventures of... P.P. Arnold.
And what an adventure it’s been. P.P's story is incredible and her laugh is infectious, as she remembers her first interracial relationships, hanging out with friends like Brian Jones and what she really thinks about Rod Stewart. We went back to the place where it all started, the Bag O’ Nails in Soho, now a sleek members club, to talk about being an "authentic" soul singer in 1960s London, her journey from then to now and how she’s made it – with a few famous flings along the way.
This episode contains discussions about domestic violence, which some may find triggering, and so listener discretion is advised.
P.P. Arnold's episode was produced by Cassandra Denton.
With thanks to Gaby Green at Gab Green PR and The Court, WC1.
With thanks to The Rondo Brothers for the use of their tracks Triple Threat and Cinquefoil http://www.rondobrothers.com/. Music also used in this episode: Checkie Brown - Yesterday, Social Capital - Glad Rags and Bobby Mitchell - Try Rock and Roll.
TRANSCRIPT: P.P. ARNOLD
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Kate Hutchinson: Pat, PP Arnold - you've had such a storied career and done so many amazing things it's hard to know how to start this interview.
PP Arnold: I worked really hard to survive through the years. I learned that I was a long distance runner back in the late 70s, so that's helped me, I mean, I'm running for my life. I've stopped running now, but I walk. I mean my knees, I've got to watch out for my knees. [Laughing]
Kate Hutchinson intro: P.P. Arnold isn’t called a soul survivor for nothing. She recently made a comeback with her first album in 50 years, following a long, hard fight, at the age of 73, to get her music career back on track. In America, she had been an Ikette with Ike & Tina Turner and then moved to London at the height of the Swinging Sixties, where she hung out with Jimi Hendrix and was signed by Mick Jagger to his label. She released the hit single First Cut Is The Deepest and two brilliant soul albums. But her third in the 70s, The Turning Tide, which was co-produced by the very famous Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton, was blocked from being released.
After that, things were never quite the same. She sang with Peter Gabriel, Billy Ocean and The KLF, and appeared in the musical Starlight Express, but musical dead ends danced with tragedy, when she lost her daughter in a car accident. Her solo career floundered – until she encountered the British mod band Ocean Colour Scene. Steve Cradock from the band helped her finish The Turning Tide and produced her first new album in five decades: The New Adventures of... P.P. Arnold.
And what an adventure it’s been. Her story is amazing and her laugh is infectious. We went back to the place where it all started, the Bag O’ Nails in Soho, which is now a sleek members club, to talk about how she's made it.
This episode contains discussions about domestic violence, which some may find triggering, and so listener discretion is advised.
PP Arnold: [Observing the former Bag O’ Nails club in Covent Garden] Wow! Yeah, this is definitely different. This is extremely different than it was. Wow. But the space, it was a big club... and where was the stage? I feel like the stage was... there was a dressing room here... yeah the dressing room would've been here. Yeah, when I peeped out to see who that guy was surrounded by all those women, this black guy from the States everybody was talking about, you know, it was Jimi Hendrix.
PP Arnold: I first met Jimi at the Bag O'Nails and my guitar player, Roger Dean, came in the dressing room and told me that there's this guy, this American guy, he's in the audience and he's a guitar player and he wants to know if he can jam with the band. You know, so I told them, "Yeah, tell him he can jam on the second set". I looked out the door and I saw this guy, this like really kind of cool American guy with all this hair and wild, wild thing surrounded by women. I'm going like, "Who is this brother?". So then on the second set he came, he came up and he played and just blew everybody away, and that's the first time we met. We clicked straight away because it was like a brother and sister in London at the same time, on the same scene, from the same roots and ah, so I was really glad that he was there because I was, I was shy, you know. Jimi knew what he was doing– this was his dream. He was living his dream and I was just kind of going with the flow [laughing]. I didn't really know what was going on. Everybody always thought that if you're a black girl you know, you gotta be like, you know, black girls always seem to be like so hip and so everything, where I wasn't, I was really quite square.
Kate: Did you and Jimi ever write any songs together?
PP Arnold: No, no, no, no.
Kate: You never jammed?
PP Arnold: No, we just made a lot of love together. [Laughing]
PP Arnold: I was born into a gospel family, a family of gospel singers. We used to have church in my aunt Francis' living room on Sunday mornings. We just sang. I just remember singing all my life, I never had any training. We used to sing all the old gospel hymns - [singing] "I love the Lord, I love the Lord he heard my cry, and pitied every mourn. I love the Lord he heard my cry" - and that would just all be in harmony! Everybody would just have their own harmony. I mean I get goose pimples just thinking about it.
Kate: I've got goosebumps listening to that, Pat!
PP Arnold: I loved school, and I was a honourable student and I would never, ever ditch school. All my other friends, they were ditching school and everybody was already kinda doing it, as we say. But I was just this kind of good christian. Cos I was like - my father was very strict, so I was really afraid. I was told that "if you ever get pregnant I'm gonna kill you". So I really took my father's word. I always tried to obey him.
PP Arnold: The first record hop I went into I saw this guy – everybody saw him – David Arnold. Everybody wanted David to ask them to dance, for some reason, David asked me. I started dancing with him and so, I sort of like got infatuated by this guy. So David had been trying to get me to ditch school, and I would never ditch a whole day, but he finally kept on and on and on at me, and so I decided to ditch one class, my music appreciation class, because I knew I could make it up with no problem. I used to love to kiss, you know, and he was a good kisser, so I thought, you know, "I'll ditch this one class and we can do a little kissing and hugging", but yeah. He ended up taking me to his house to show me where he lives and I got pounced on and you know, before I knew it, boom - it was over. You know, I had sex, and it was that one time. And then I missed my period, so I got pregnant from that naughty day of ditching school. I wasn't allowed to see David, I didn't see him the whole time I was pregnant. And then suddenly then after I had the baby and he heard how beautiful this baby was he came around and my father, he did this deal with my father where he could come and see my son, I had a beautiful baby boy, and he could come and see my son if he gave my father 25 dollars a week. I had no say in it. You know, and he'd come around and there we were playing, playing house, you know [laughing] with a new baby child. And um, so, you know, I kind of got involved with him again and then I got pregnant again. My teenage years were very very difficult as a result of that.
PP Arnold: One Sunday morning I was doing my Sunday job of getting everything ready for the week and cooking and cleaning and ironing, and I was washing in the laundromat and I said a prayer. And I just prayed and I asked God to show me a way out of the hell that I had created for myself – I realised that it was my fault – David didn't twist my arm and make me skip school that day, you know. He was on me but I said yes so that was my fault. And so it was like, my father always had this expression: "If you make your bed hard you gotta lie in it". So I was just lying in my hard bed and getting on with it. I loved my babies, I had a beautiful son and a beautiful daughter, and so they were my inspiration to just keep going. And so, yeah, yeah so I said this prayer and then I went inside and then an hour later the phone rang and my girlfriend said, "You gotta help us, you gotta help us!". They had this audition to audition for Ikettes. They were singers, they were, that was their ambition, they were singers. And Maxine Smith was an ex-girlfriend of my brother's, and so she knew that I could sing cos I sang in church. They were desperate, because the other girl that was supposed to go with them, she didn't show up. My husband wouldn't let me go, there was no way he was gonna let me go. She goes like, "Tell him anything. We're coming to get you" - bam, she hung up the phone. Next thing I knew they were at the door and I asked David if he would keep the kids for an hour while I went shopping - he thought I was just going to the shops! Next thing I know I was singing Dancing In the Streets in Ike and Tina's living room, and Tina goes, "Right girls, you got the gig!". I said, "I'm gonna get in trouble, I should've been home two hours ago", and she goes, "Well if you're gonna get in trouble for nothing, why don't you ride up to Fresno with us and then you can see the show?". Made sense to me that day because I never had any fun, and there I was a Tina Turner's living room and she was so glamorous and so beautiful, she took us into her bedroom and showed us all her lovely clothes and furs, and she had, you know. She looked like she just had the life. The day had taken on a life of its own and I went with it, so I rode with them to Fresno, I didn't call home or anything. So I went to Fresno and we were playing this club, you know a nightclub - I'd never been into a nightclub like that. I left home around noon that Sunday morning and then I got home about six o'clock that Monday morning and my husband was waiting for me, as soon as I put my key in the door he was waiting for me. Bam, and he hit me. He would always hit me in the head, body stuff, so people couldn't see that he was beating me up, right. When he hit me that time it was like he knocked some sense into me! I just thought, "Wow". That morning I didn't have a way out - suddenly I had a way out. I left my husband because he got even more violent because where I had left and I had always been told that I was ugly and I was like the ugly duckling, and then when I came back, being an Ikette I had turned into a swan, right? So [laughing] so I was getting beat for looking too good then, so I eventually ended up leaving him because he threatened to kill me, you know, knife on the throat, you know, crazy stuff. And so, boom, so, I left him after that first tour.
Kate: What was touring with the Ikettes and Tina and Ike like, around America, what was that like?
PP Arnold: Hard. In those days, you know like, we did the Chitlin' Circuit, it was like a very, you know America's very racist, so the Chitlin' Circuit was a circuit where all the black clubs were in the South. So we would leave LA and we'd go on tour for 90 days and we were working 87 days out of those 90 days, all through the South and through these little clubs, you know, party clubs. Mostly it was a, we'd do East Coast theatres, like the Apollo Theatre in New York, the Howard Theatre in Philadelphia, you know like all the hot theatre clubs where all the James Brown, and all that followed, you know so. So it was great, it was fun, all that part of, but it was hard, we were travelling in really old raggedy buses. You know, to me, Ike Turner was like a pimp, right? He called the shots. The first time that he actually, I saw him beat Tina, that was really hard for me. I mean I get really emotional just thinking about it because she had saved me, being with her saved me. It got me away from that situation and she was so beautiful and so positive and so strong, so that was really hard for me, coming out of that and having to deal with watching her suffer like that because I loved her so much. I couldn't help her, there was nothing I could do. I'd get fined for crying on stage, so I had to learn not to cry, because after the gig Ike and Tina would be back together and I'd be like minus 25 or 50 dollars.
Kate: How did that circuit in America compare with playing in London? You arrived smack-bang in the middle of the Swinging Sixties!
PP Arnold: Right bang in the middle. It was so different. London to me, you know, you think London you see all the movies, all the fog and stuff, I didn't know anything about you know, the scene, the whole culture, and suddenly I was like free and all those teenage years that I had lost it was like I, there I was, I was still a teenager and I was in swinging London having a ball - and all the fashion and the music and the discotheques! Coming out of the Chitlin' Circuit and the first gig we played in England was the Royal Albert Hall, you know, so it was like, "Wow". You know, like a whole other world, you know. I always say I think Queen Victoria must've turned over in her grave that night, because we really, really rocked the house, and the Stones and you know Jeff Beck and Long John Baldry, you know loads of great artists were on that tour. I didn't even know who the Stones were. Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts had come to a club that we were playing at in Hollywood, the Galaxy Club, and I met them and I knew we were going to play with the Rolling Stones but I didn't know their names separately, and I thought that the Stones, Satisfaction, I thought that was Otis Redding's tune!
Kate: You know, there's a lot of talk now about people like the Rolling Stones appropriating blues music - taking music of black people and then selling it back to America. What did you make of that at the time?
PP Arnold: We were quite shocked that they were all so good! You know, the blues was a part of my life, my brothers and sisters, we thought the blues was the old folk's music, we knew about BB King and everybody, you know, but we were into Motown, you know, pop music, the young music. So when I came to England and there were all these English musicians and everything and they were like playing the blues, and singing it and doing it. You know, so I really had quite an education. I was educated by what I learned about the blues being in England, because they knew all of the art. Mick and I became friends. He used to make me laugh, you know, because, you know like he always tried to talk black and walk black and be black, you know, and it just make, just cracked me up, this white boy with these big lips – nice lips, very nice lips, and I loved to kiss, so we became good friends. Being with Mick Jagger for the first time, it was really strange. It was my first white relationship and to wake up next to a white man who was blonde with blonde eyelashes [laughing] that was different! It was taboo in America but it was also taboo in the UK at the time as well, you know, so it was difficult, but I was having fun because like certain things black men didn't do that white men were really good at… say no more. [Laughing]. That first six months, that was me on my own as a young woman, free, you know sort of like just learning about myself and my own sexuality and sensuality. I was like, suddenly, I can pick and choose! You know, I wasn't a groupie, you know, I had my own thing happening, my own thing, and I was very very independent and I was picking and choosing too, and I was having a great time. It was really a fabulous time. My relationships with different people were at different times. It wasn't like I was doing it to everybody at the same – ooh, maybe occasionally... [laughing].
Kate: How did you end up staying in London? Was it Mick that convinced you to stay?
PP Arnold: Yeah... well Mick invited me to stay, right. Basically we became good friends and when the Stones finished we were still in the UK for a couple more weeks touring on our own. So I got a call from Mick one day inviting me to come out to lunch and everything on one of our days off, so we went to lunch and then he invited me to go for a walk and Regents Park, and he made me a proposition you know. He said, had told me that his manager Andrew Loog Oldham had this new independent record label Immediate Records, they invited me to stay in England and sign to the record label. Well I was shocked, you know, because not only had I not planned to be in the music industry, I had never even thought about being a solo artist. The deal was that I would stay in the UK, Andrew would produce half of the album and Mick would produce the other half. So Mick insisted that I write my own songs, and I had never wrote a song before, any songs before. So I was just writing from where I was at the moment. I was like the authentic soul singer, you know, with this gospel sound and everybody wanted to work with me. I was the real deal. My deal with my mum was that she gave me six months - if nothing happened I would come home, and if anything happened I would come home and get my kids and bring my kids to be with me. After six months, I had the hit with First Cut. I was able to go home and get my kids and bring my kids back to London. And I didn't stay because of Mick, I stayed because of the opportunity - so Mick gave me an opportunity to change my life.
Kate: You were called the First Lady of Immediate Records. What was your experience like, and just finding your way through the music industry in the late 60s?
PP Arnold: It was really lovely, you know, it was really nice to be appreciated and everything. I've never really been, you know, all off into the celebrity of it all - maybe if I had've been it would've been a lot easier for me, but because I was shy, which is not a good thing to be in the music industry, you know. I wasn't a hustler, I never had to hustle my way in, I was just, these opportunities just came to me, things happened. The speakeasy was a really good place to hang out in because I was on the road all the time. The speakeasy was always open late and everybody would be there hanging out, jamming. Brian Jones, and one night at the, um, at the speakeasy, Brian - I don't know what he was on that night but he was like making this big prediction about me. He had this sort of visualised thing about the future with me and I don't know, I can't, I don't know what it was, I'm still hoping that it still sort of manifests while I'm still here! [Laughing} Whatever it is that he was sort of seeing and prophecising about that night. But he was a lovely guy.
Kate: How much LSD was he on?
PP Arnold: Maybe a lot! You know, so maybe he could see further into the future than we, you know, than we could. But he was a really nice guy, he was really, he really thought a lot about me, he was a good friend.
PP Arnold: When Immediate Records folded I didn't know what to do. All the artists sort of like went their own ways - they knew the industry in a way that I didn't know the industry. I just knew what was going on with Immediate Records and with Andrew Oldham, and that was my family. So I didn't know about all of the other managers and the other record labels, how to get a record deal - I didn't know how to get a record deal. You know, because I'd just been given one. When I first met Barry Gibb, Immediate Records had folded. Barry and I recorded about 10 tracks. On a business level, you know, he was locked in. His family, you know, that was family business, so he eventually had to get back and start working with his brothers again. Music industry politics are just what they are. Most of the producers that I've worked with have also been artists as well, so when something goes wrong in their camp, it affects me - and business is business. You know, it's really devastating, really really heartbreaking, because you know, I put my all into everything that I do and I've done a lot of great work that nobody has heard.
Kate: You say that you were shy and introverted but you've also had to be resilient because of all the things that happened with the album that didn't come out, until 51 years later.
PP Arnold: Yeah well that was like, you know, I had learned a bit between that period and between 1966 and 1970. You know, I learned a lot. My friend Doris Troy, she was the first one who taught me how to ask for my money, you know, make sure I get paid. I didn't know anything about the industry, I had to trust people, and I think everybody did, we all did, everybody got ripped off in the 60s. And as a woman, you know, women didn't have any power, you know, it was like an old boys network and it was all like young camp boys. It was all about young camp boys more than, because I was a black singer I had that extra thing coming from that cool – I came with the American cool thing, but it was just all about my voice.
PP Arnold: I was trying to get back to America because it was like all the British Invasion was happening at that time, and I was hoping to be able to connect in America as part of being a British artist. They were not interested, I missed the boat. The British Invasion did not include PP Arnold. Rod Stewart, who I worked with, well Rod and I were an item for a minute, and we sang together but that hadn't worked out. That's a whole thing, the session, Mick Jagger was producing that project with Rod and I. He thought Rod and I would be a good… an Otis Redding Carla Thomas kind of duet kind of thing, and it could've been great but it was just so difficult working with Rod.
Kate: How did you feel when he covered First Cut Is The Deepest, your big first hit single that Cat Stevens wrote?
PP Arnold: Well it was cool, you know, but I wasn't happy about you know he got paid - I never got paid. And I tried to contact Rod while I was in LA and everything to see if he could help me out and he wouldn't even take my calls. You know, but we had kind of like, we had last seen each other, it wasn't on a good relationship, and so, you know, everybody suddenly everybody it was celebrity time. You know, he was always a bit of a celebrity prima donna anyway, he was like, you know, he just didn't really want to know. I didn't have the right support system, the management that took us over, it all fell apart and I had taken my kids with me because we were gonna be there for a while, and I thought well my family is there and so they'll be able to spend time with my family. We had a beautiful home in the Cotswolds where my kids were safe and happy and we ended up selling the house and two weeks later I lost my daughter in a car accident. I did everything I could to try and protect her but if anything I felt that I knew that I was in the wrong place, and so when you have children, when you're in the wrong place you put your children in danger as well. So for a while there I felt really guilty because we were in the wrong place.
Kate: But she died in a car accident right?
PP Arnold: Yeah but it was the situation of the accident and the situation that made it, you know, very tragic. I came back to England in ’83, because I lost my daughter in ’77, I went to Miami in ’78, I lived in Miami from ’78 to 81 and I tried things there. Then I went back to LA to see if maybe I could possibly do something in Hollywood, but I'm too sensitive for Hollywood. Everybody was saying I was too old. I must've been 40, so I was already, as far as the industry was concerned, over the hill. Right, so I came back with, burning up you know thinking that that's gonna like, I'm gonna be able to get a record deal. I'm the only live thing on the record and I can't get a deal. KLF, they wanted to meet me, and they were doing 3am Eternal and all of that. I brought Katie Kissoon with me and we tracked all the stuff up. I'm on everything practically that they did with the Mu Mu Choir, and then the 3am Eternal I did that lead bit. You know that [singing] "KLF! Aha, aha aha". So the deal with them was that anything that I did where I had a lead part, that wasn't just a background session, they'd have to do, you know, that's a collaboration. So they were like, so the deal was that they would pay me 5% if they used whatever, if they used my lead bit. They decided to burn the money instead and ah, who knows? Hopefully Bill and Jimmy if you're listening, you know, you'll do the right thing by me at some point. And then I turn on Top of the Pops and I see some little girl miming to my vocal.
Kate: All these years later, 51 years later since you made the Turning Tide, you were sort of rediscovered - is it right to say that?
PP Arnold: I fought like hell to get that license back, for years and years and years. And I just like bugged the hell out of Universal to get it, and Bill Levenson helped me to find all the recordings. Some of the recordings in vaults in Germany, some of those recordings were in America, he found some of those tracks in America.
Kate: What was it that drove you to go and find those master tapes in all these different places?
PP Arnold: Because I knew they were good, and that was my development from PP Arnold and Immediate, that was my development. And had those recordings been released, it might've been a totally different story. But I never went back to Mick to ask him for help or anything because I always felt like he had given me that opportunity and whatever happened in my life, those were my, you know, bad decisions and whatever. You can't go back to people - people, when you're young, people have families and kids and problems in their own lives, and you know, I don't know, I haven't seen Mick since 1984. You know, so to just show up and ask for help. Maybe I've had a communication with him where and I got a letter back that was written by his assistant or something saying, you know, pleased to hear that I'm still, that I'm ok. But... yeah.
Kate: Do you forgive easily, Pat?
PP Arnold: Hey, it's easy to forgive because I'm not perfect. I do things, I know there's things that I've done in the past to people that I'm forgiven for. And I think it's really important to forgive, I think it's important to let go. I used to really get mad, I used to cry a lot and all of that. Before I go to bed at night and I brush my teeth and take off all my stuff and, you know, and I thank God for helping me get through another day, and I try to let it all go. I do my meditations before I go to sleep and I do them first thing in the morning before I wake up. I want to go to bed at night and be in peace. I'm letting go and forgiving everything from that day, and waking up and letting divine order take care of the next day. That works for me. You know, I always say that no matter that I may not have had management, proper management or anything around me, I always say God was my manager, because the universe just always gave me what I needed. I have a way of getting back on the horse every time I fall off, and it's all about keeping the faith really, and knowing that I've got angels all around me to help me through whatever it is I might be going through.
Kate: Why do people call you a soul survivor?
PP Arnold: I've managed to survive through the decades by collaborating, so ok, it may not be my thing that I've done, but I think I've made major contributions to the sounds of everybody who I've ever worked with, you know, I've kind of left my mark there. So it's great to be able to use my gift to project myself and for me to have learned how to do that and to have confidence in myself to still be out here fighting. I've learned how to fight for my rights and for, you know, and I still got God on my side, still opening up doors everyday. Everyday something, another blessing, and I stay open to blessings and miracles. My mind, body and spirit, beliefs - keep me going. [Singing] "I love the Lord, I love the Lord he heard my cry, and pitied every mourn. I love the Lord, he heard my cry".
Cass Denton: This episode was produced by me, Cass Denton. For more information on this podcast, including guests and the amazing team behind the series, head to thelastbohemians.co.uk.