Music interview: PP Arnold

PP Arnold. Picture Gered Mankowitz
PP Arnold. Picture Gered Mankowitz
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PP Arnold’s career began as a backing singer for Ike and Tina Turner, and she’s still going strong. Duncan Seaman reports.

PP Arnold was just 18 years old when she first came to England as a backing vocalist for Ike and Tina Turner. It was 1964 and for the young singer, who was born Patricia Ann Cole, the scene she discovered in swinging London was to provide a place to escape the tough life she’d been living in Los Angeles.

“I already had two children and I was in a very sad, abusive teen marriage. A phone call changed my life,” she says, explaining how she had “got the gig” with the Ikettes by accident after going to help her friends at an audition.

“I’d never in my wildest dreams thought about singing professionally or being an entertainer but I kind of told my husband a lie and went with the girls to help them get the gig and boom! Tina wanted me as well, so I ended up being an Ikette.” Music was to provide the answer to Arnold’s prayers and lift her out of a “hellish situation” with her violent husband. “I was a young girl and I had my kids and I was doing the best that I could – I was working two jobs, I was dealing with two children, but it just wasn’t the right situation. After my prayer that morning while I’m doing my Sunday laundry, getting ready for the week ahead, I get this phone call an hour later. The Lord works in mysterious ways,” she says.

When, in 1966, she considered leaving the Ike and Tina Revue, Arnold was encouraged by Mick Jagger, who was a friend, to stay on and start a solo career in 1966.

“We were still in London touring and Mick invited me to lunch one day. We were walking in Regents Park and he made me this proposition. I wasn’t sure what I could do because even then I still hadn’t thought of it being a long term career for myself.”

PP Arnold. Picture Gered Mankowitz

PP Arnold. Picture Gered Mankowitz

Fortunately her mother volunteered to look after her children in the US while Arnold joined Andrew Oldham’s stable of artists at Immediate Records. Six months later her single The First Cut is the Deepest was in the UK charts and Arnold was fast becoming a star. “I went home and I got my kids and came back to England and spent the majority of my adult life in the UK. My kids grew up in England and I’m quite British except for my accent.”

Arnold says she relished the creative community she encountered in England. “It was all happening on every level – music, the arts, theatre, fashion, it was such a great time. For me it was really amazing because in America we were right in the middle of the civil rights revolution and everything was very segregated. I had never lived in an integrated society, so myself and Jimi Hendrix and Madeline Bell all came out of the civil rights revolution into the rock ’n’ roll revolution of the UK.”

More hits were to follow in the 60s with Angel of the Morning and the Small Faces song (If You Think You’re) Groovy. After Immediate collapsed Arnold signed to the Robert Stigwood Organisation, and worked on an album with Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, though it was never released.

During the 70s Arnold worked in musical theatre and recorded with the likes of Nick Drake, Dr John and Graham Nash. While touring with Eric Clapton she met American bassist Fuzzy Samuels, with whom she had a son. But the relationship didn’t last and two weeks after they split, her daughter Debbie was killed in a car crash. “That really kept me away from the UK for a few years,” she says. “I found it very hard coming back to England without Debbie.”

Myself and Jimi Hendrix and Madeline Bell all came out of the civil rights revolution into the rock ’n’ roll revolution of the UK.

When she finally did return it was to work with Andrew Lloyd Webber on Starlight Express, resuming a relationship that had begun in 1970 on the cast recording of Jesus Christ Superstar. In the 80s Arnold was rediscovered by a new generation of British artists including the Kane Gang and Boy George; the following decade saw her have hits with The Beatmasters and The KLF and she later joined forces with Ocean Colour Scene, Paul Weller and Primal Scream.

In recent years she’s toured repeatedly with Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, and next up for the 69-year-old is her autobiography and the completion of a long-planned album with Ocean Colour Scene guitarist Steve Cradock. Both are due out next spring.

Arnold has been recording her new album in Devon with the Steve Cradock Band. “A lot of the stuff I’m doing with Steve is really interesting because he’s got such a great ear and he’s a real song man,” she says. “As my producer whatever he brings to the table I like to try things out. If it doesn’t work it doesn’t work but they all work and I’m loving them. I’m waking up in the morning with all of these songs going through my head.”

They include reworkings of two songs that Arnold co-wrote with her son Kojo, as well as revisiting tracks from her first album If It Hurts Me Badly and the Paul Weller tune Shoot The Dove.

“It’s great,” she smiles. “I’m still going strong.”

PP Arnold plays at Burton Agnes Jazz and Blues Festival on July 2.

She will also be a guest of The Manfreds on their Maximum Rhythm and Blues tour which visits York Grand Opera House on October 25 and Sheffield City Hall on November 27.